Couturier Photo Courtesy of Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers will have little pressure on them during the 2023-24 season.
After all, few people expect them to challenge for a playoff spot, let alone the Stanley Cup. But after several half-hearted attempts at a rebuild, management – which includes two rookies in the front office, Danny Briere and Keith Jones – finally seems to get it.
Let the rebuild begin.
A true rebuild.
The Flyers, who have missed the playoffs in each of their last three seasons, will take their lumps as they use several young players. But the hope is that many of those players will blossom and become part of the foundation.
So enjoy watching the kids make the climb. Young players like Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, Cam York, Tyson Foerster, Owen Tippett, Noah Cates, Bobby Brink, and Emil Andrae, among others, could play prominent roles this season.
Briere is excited about the season, and he put his stamp on the team by dealing defenseman Ivan Provorov to Columbus in a three-way deal in which the Flyers’ return included a first-round pick and two second-rounders.
From the time he was a player, Briere said, he envisioned himself being a part of management someday.
“I was always more interested in how teams were being built,” the new general manager said.
Now it’s his turn to do the building. He will construct the Flyers with an emphasis on the draft and developing players.
“We want to continue to have our younger players develop into more than what they’ve already demonstrated,” said Jones, the Flyers’ president of hockey operations.
Jones said he and Briere want “player development to become a really high standard for where we want to go.”
Heading into training camp, here is how the roster was shaping up under John Tortorella, who is in his second season in Philadelphia:
The Flyers averaged a paltry 2.68 goals per game last season, placing them 29th in the 32-team NHL.
Improvement is expected. For several reasons.
The main reason: Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson are healthy again. Both missed last season with injuries.
If they can regain their form, the Flyers will be getting a pair of top-six offensive threats. They will also help a power play that was last in the NHL a year ago, clicking at just 15.6 percent.
Couturier’s return from two back surgeries is the key to the Flyers’ season. He plays in all situations and scored 31 and 33 goals the last two times he played at least 80 games in a season.
The 30-year-old center will anchor the top line, which could include two players coming off career seasons – Tippett (27 goals) and Travis Konecny (31 goals, 61 points in 60 games).
Atkinson is rebounding from neck surgery, and he could be on a line with Frost (career-best 19 goals) and Farabee. Farabee (15 goals), 23, should be much improved after being slowed last season by the effects of neck surgery.
Cates, 24, a strong two-way player who had 13 goals and 38 points as a rookie last season, should center the third line. Scott Laughton (18 goals), another hard-working 200-foot player, and the ultra-promising Foerster could be his linemates.
Foerster, 21, owner of perhaps the team’s hardest shot, had seven points in an eight-game stint with the Flyers last season. Brink and Elliot Desnoyers are other rookie forwards vying for jobs.
“It’s going to come down to the guys who want to grasp it and make the most of that chance,” Jones said before camp started.
Wade Allison, 25, is also in the running for a spot. The right winger has lots of promise but has had an injury-plagued past.
The fourth line might have Ryan Poehling centering hard-nosed wingers Nicolas Deslauriers (6-1, 220) and Garnet Hathaway (6-3, 208). Poehling, 24, is a speedy center who was drafted in the first round, two choices ahead of Frost in 2017. He and Hathaway were free-agent signings.
With Provorov traded, the Flyers will have a new look on their top pairing.
During his seven seasons in Philadelphia, Provorov was an uneven performer. He mostly underperformed since being drafted No. 7 overall in 2015, but he was still a guy who blocked loads of shots, ate up minutes, and contributed on the power play.
He was the warrior of the Flyers’ blue line.
But with Provorov gone, Travis Sanheim will have to take on a bigger role. Ditto Cam York, who was solid in 54 games last season.
Heading into camp, it seemed likely that Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen would compose the top pairing. York was favored to be on the second pairing with Marc Staal, who signed as a free agent. Staal played five years under Tortorella with the New York Rangers, so he knows what to expect.
The third pairing is the most difficult to predict. The Flyers could go with steady Nick Seeler and veteran Sean Walker.
Or they could roll the dice and go with one or two young guys.
Andrae, Ronnie Attard, Egor Zamula, and Helge Grans will get a long look. It wouldn’t be surprising if one or two are on the team when the Flyers start the season on Oct. 12 in Columbus against Provorov, Johnny Gaudreau and the Blue Jackets.
The 21-year-old Andrae has been compared to a young Kimmo Timonen. That’s a huge compliment.
Briere said that just because Andrae doesn’t have lots of experience – he played 10 games with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season – it doesn’t mean he can’t play in the NHL this season.
“He’s played pro in Sweden as well; he’s played against men over there,” Briere said.
A year ago, the Flyers allowed 3.37 goals per game, 23rd in the NHL. Unless some of the young defensemen make a quick transition to the NHL, that figure probably won’t improve.
Then again, having defensive whiz Couturier back in the lineup should help the overall defense.
Carter Hart, 25, is the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender. He has been a good-to-very-good goalie for most of his five seasons but has yet to reach an elite level. And he will be playing behind a defense that, on paper, looks like the Flyers’ weakest link.
Hart, who had a 2.94 GAA and .907 save percentage last season, was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason. Those rumors will surface again at the trade deadline, especially if one of the other goalies shows he is highly capable.
At the press deadline, the situation surrounding promising goalie Ivan Fedotov was muddled. On Aug. 14, the International Ice Hockey Federation ruled that Fedotov’s contract was the Flyers was valid – and that he breached the contract when he signed a two-year deal to play in Russia.
The Russian Federation appealed that ruling.
If Fedotov comes to Philadelphia, he would be the frontrunner for the No. 2 spot and might challenge Hart for playing time. He led Russia to a silver medal in the 2022 Olympics, and the 6-foot-7 netminder has all the tools to be an NHL regular.
Sam Ersson, who was capable in 12 games with the Flyers last season, and Felix Sandstrom are other goalies trying to demonstrate they are ready for the NHL.
The other goalie is the once-promising Cal Petersen, 28, who struggled with the Los Angeles Kings last season, but has some good work on his resume.
The Flyers are expected to finish in one of the last two spots in the Metropolitan Division. But this isn’t a year about wins and losses. It’s about the development of the youngsters and laying the foundation for the future.
That future will one day include players like center Cutter Gauthier – now a sophomore standout at Boston College — and Matvei Michkov, an 18-year-old phenom playing in the KHL.
Gauthier could be the Flyers’ No. 2 center in 2024-25. Michkov, a right winger and center who has a three-year deal in Russia, may be in their top six in 2026-27.
By then, the Flyers hope to return to their glory days.