Russian history is full of notable people who are remembered as being either valiant heroes of their time or notorious villains. For the most part these figures are portrayed as cut and dry. Either they were good or they were bad. In many cases, the way that history remembers these important figures is in their name. For example; Ivan the Great (Ivan III) was essentially known as a strong leader who defeated the Mongols, expanded and unified Russian lands under the rule of Muscovite Russia, and built many vast cathedrals and monuments including the Kremlin. Great guy. Conversely, Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV, son of Ivan the Great) is also known for expanding Russian territory albeit through brutal and repressive means and for having a vicious temper. His ‘accomplishments’ included allegedly killing his infant son, starting the first secret police to crush rebellion, the restriction of movement of the peasant class (leading to serfdom) and was responsible for the Massacre of Novgorod. Terrible guy. The names give a pretty accurate picture of the individual being described.
Similar to those Ivan’s, the Flyers own Ivan Provorov is dividing fans on what role he should play and how his current contract squabble with management should play out. Once a fan favorite based on his stellar ability to do many of the little things that a defenseman needs to do to be successful in this league, many (myself included) were disappointed at how Provorov performed in his third year. Undoubtedly, many thought it may have been too unrealistic to expect Provorov to lead the league in goals among defenseman again this past season, but it was his sloppy reads, breakdowns in coverage, and giveaways during critical moments of games that was unexpected. So moving forward, which Ivan can Flyers fans expect to see next season and beyond: Ivan ‘The Great’ or Ivan “The Terrible? Here are Ivan Provorov’s year by year statistics in his career thus far:
While one cannot predict with absolute certainty what the future will hold, there are many reasons to believe that Provorov will rebound from his down season and once again be a consistent performing top pairing defenseman for the Flyers again this season.
Reason #1 – The Offseason
After a season which saw GM Ron Hextall and Head Coach Dave Hakstol both relieved of their duties, change was bound to happen. New GM Chuck Fletcher used his time in charge to assess the roster and figure out what the teams most pressing needs were. It goes without saying that a team that started out the season slow out of the gate (a trend with the Flyers in recent years) needed a new bench boss that had a track record of success and could clearly and effectively communicate to and motivate his players. Enter new Head Coach Alain Vigneault. The former Jack Adams award winner and two-time Stanley Cup finalist identified the Flyers as the team that he believes has the ingredients to finally achieve that elusive Stanley Cup Championship. He made specific reference to the ownership and management team desiring to achieve that ultimate goal, but also referenced the stable crop of young talent that the Flyers have on their roster and in the AHL at Lehigh Valley. Without a doubt, Ivan Provorov was one of those key young players that Vigneault was referring to.
In addition to the coaching hires of former head coaches Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo as assistants, Chuck Fletcher also decided to use the free agency period to surround the aforementioned key young players with veteran support. Enter Kevin Hayes to solidify the 2C spot in the lineup to get Nolan Patrick better matchups and assist with the penalty kill. On defense, the Flyers acquired Matt Niskanen from the Washington Capitals and signed Justin Braun as a free agent from the San Jose Sharks.
All the acquisitions (especially the defensive ones) should be a tremendous help for Provorov going into his fourth season. The Flyers reliance (I might even characterize it as over-reliance) on Provorov shows in his usage. He averaged over 25 minutes a night, was used on both the PP and the PK, and was deployed in all situations against the top lines of opposing teams. With the slow start that escalated to last place in the standings by early January, the only response to Provorov’s struggles was for him to play through it and hope that his game rounded back into form.
That doesn’t have to happen again this coming season. Niskanen and Braun will relieve Provorov of heavy minutes (especially on the PK). This can free Ivan up a little more to refine the offensive side of his game and should lead him to cut down his giveaways and turnovers significantly in the process. The stats do show some evidence that the Flyers usage of Provorov may have impacted his play in terms of him not being able to regain the confidence and swagger of his first two seasons. His shot attempts dipped by 96 (to 294) when most top tier defensemen see their shot totals increase yearly in the early part of their careers. This tells me that Ivan simply wasn’t shooting the puck effectively or consistently to create chances in the offensive zone and could mean that the player spent too much time outside of the offensive zone last season, or that he lacked the confidence to shoot the puck, or both. Either way, the presence of the new additions will help guide Provorov through the difficult games and lighten the burden of being the jack of all trades on the blueline. A bounce back season from Gostisbehere and continued improvement and development from Sanheim, Myers should help and everyone buying in to Alain Vigneault’s system should also pay dividends.
Reason #2 – The Comparables
Another reason to believe that Ivan Provorov will bounce back this coming season is to compare his progress through three seasons with other NHL defensemen. Player development never occurs in a straight-line trajectory. There will always be ups and downs throughout the course of a young player adapting to the speed and precision of the NHL game. Great players find a way to learn from those down seasons and take the next step in their development because of it. This is especially true for young defensemen who typically go through struggles early on and take some time to fully develop.
I began looking at Norris Trophy finalist defensemen and then expanded my research into players that were clearly top tier defenders for their respective teams. While my research did show a few defensemen that didn’t have a regression year (ie. E. Karlsson, Seth Jones, John Klingberg, Roman Josi), a large portion of them did experience at least a minor step back. What is really interesting to me is that most of these players experienced their troubles in their third season like Ivan Provorov. Here are some comparables:
***Note: I counted season one as the first season that a player played at least 60 games.
*Hedman’s first four season were pretty consistent, but he didn’t make his breakthrough until Season #5 (2013-2014)
* Pietrangelo’s shortened Season #3 would project to about 42 points in a full season.
So what do these numbers tell us about young defenseman? While no two develop along the same path, it is clear that the early part of a defenseman’s career will see some inconsistency. While generally the third year tends to be the season that defenseman tend to regress (some more than others), the examples of Morgan Reilly and Victor Hedman show that this development timeline can differ. The data also shows that there are many things that factor in to a player having a difficult year such as injuries, team performance, and the play of the player themselves. The key to keep in mind is that a down year is a natural part of the development process. If it happened to varying degrees to players of the caliber that were examined above, it can and probably was going to happen to Ivan Provorov as well.
Provorov’s statistics in terms of Total Shot Attempts (TSA) and Average Time On Ice (ATOI) bear a little further examination. Of all the players examined, Provorov had the lowest TSA in year three (other than Hedman) and the second most ATOI (tied with Pietrangelo but behind Drew Doughty). Logic would dictate that the more time you spend on the ice the more shots would be attempted; yet the exact opposite happened with Provorov. His shot attempts decreased by 94 shots from year two to year three even though he averaged an extra 58 seconds of ice time per game for that season. This leads me to believe that not only did the Flyers struggle defensively in their own end, but I feel that Provorov never quite regained his confidence or his game while the team struggled. He was being used heavily to cover up many of the defensive deficiencies that were on this team to begin with while not being able to work out the inefficiencies in his game. It should come as no surprise that the Flyers missed the playoffs as a result.
It must also be noted that all the other players examined above had a fairly significant increase in shot attempts except for Victor Hedman who had 192 in 2011-2012 and 156 in 2012-2013. Tampa Bay missed the playoffs in both those years only to return to the postseason in 2013-2014 when Hedman amassed 342 shot attempts and initiated his ascent into the elite level of NHL defenseman with a 55 point season. Let me be clear: Hedman is a better defenseman than Provorov. However, Provorov can certainly rebound much like Hedman did and take the next step in his development. Provorov needs to generate more TSA based on his ice time. Smarter usage from a fresh set of eyes behind the bench, reinforcements coming to help with the PK, and reducing Provorov’s heavy minutes (especially if the new system can keep the Flyers in the offensive zone for larger stretches) should all help Provorov make the turnaround.
Other defenseman have done the same after a down year, and work ethic will not be an issue for Ivan Provorov whose offseason training regiment is borderline psychotic. The player will be invested in a turnaround season. If you are a Flyer fan that believes that the team has improved with their additions this offseason acquisitions and coaching changes, then you also should feel confident that the team is investing in a turnaround season as well. After all, these changes were done with the young players in mind and should allow them to succeed far more than in seasons past.
Fans should confidently bank on seeing Ivan ‘The Great’ rather than Ivan ‘The Terrible’ suit up for the Flyers in the 2019-2020 season.
Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com, I remain
Manny Benevides @mannybenevides
photo credit: fastphillysports.com
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Correction Note: Justin Braun was acquired via trade from the San Jose Sharks. This was done prior to the free agency period. – M.B.