Rumors broke in late April that Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov wanted to sign a new contract before the World Championships started in May. The World Championships came and went, yet no Provorov contract. Now here we are, a few weeks away from training camp and the start of the 2019-20 season and Ivan Provorov is still holding out for a new contract.
Now it is time to face the possibility that the Flyers will start the season without their star defenseman. They need a plan, and quick.
The Flyers added a couple bodies over the summer in Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. Both men are 32 years old and are looking to bounce back from lackluster seasons. The rest of the cast of characters on the blueline consists of Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Samuel Morin, and Robert Hagg.
By my count, that is seven bodies. So it’s not like they are short on players, but it’s the talent those players possess that is worrisome.
The man that would fill Provorov’s role as the top defenseman will probably be Travis Sanheim, who has shown flashes of brilliance over the past few seasons. Sanheim was oozing talent once Hakstol got fired last December and he was allowed to play like he could. He was regularly seeing 23+ minutes a night from February on. Sanheim managed to post 9 goals and 35 points on the season, five of those points coming on the powerplay, and that is the key. The special teams was horribly managed over the past few seasons, and with new assistant coaches at the helm, hopefully they utilize Sanheim much better.
The other option to take the top spot would be Matt Niskanen. Even though his play has slipped over the past few seasons, Niskanen is no stranger to being the top guy. He was relied on heavily during his days in Pittsburgh, as well as his first couple seasons in Washington. Last season was a bit of a conundrum for Niskanen. He saw the most time on ice he played in three seasons, he scored the most goals he has in five years, and recorded the most hits he has in his whole career. Even with all that, his overall play slipped as he regressed into more of a stay-at-home role, as he was passed on the depth chart by Dmitri Orlov.
Phil Myers has been confirmed to make the Flyers roster in October. The 22-year-old made his NHL debut in February, playing 21 games registering one goal and one assist, numbers that were relatively disappointing given the hype surrounding him. Myers was averaging around 15 minutes a night last season, and given the depth chart, he will probably see similar time this season. Myers has a lot of promise, and much like Sanheim his potential level will depend on how he is utilized by the new coaching staff.
Shayne Gostisbehere is at a bit of a crossroads. His offensive production hit a career low last season and his defensive abilities are suspect to say the least. Even partnered with Ivan Provorov, he wasn’t capable of holding his own in the defensive zone. It is difficult to predict where he will slot in this season. With the potential absence of Provorov, there is a chance Ghost could get the call to eat minutes.
The rest of the defenseman, Braun, Hagg, and Morin, are all interchangeable. Given the Flyers went out of their way to acquire Braun this summer, he will probably be given a fair shot to make the top six. Hagg and Morin are a toss up. Hagg has proven himself as a physical presence on the ice, but at this point, his ceiling is extremely low. Morin is on the comeback path and quite frankly his potential is unknown. He played five games last season after returning from a torn ACL and looked perfectly fine. He slotted in with Phil Myers during their tenure and played very well, so it is possible he could earn a third pair spot with him.
If Provorov isn’t available at the start of the season, my best guess is the back end looks something like this-
Not bad, but not really inspiring. Sanheim and Myers have plenty of potential, but the rest of the lineup is a big question mark. Can Niskanen and Braun still have big seasons even at 32 years old? Can Ghost have a bounce back season and re-establish his offensive dominance. Can Samuel Morin finally prove he is an NHL caliber defenseman? Can Robert Hagg do more than just hit?
Recently, Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets signed a new three year, $15 million contract. As probably the best comparable for Provorov, it is a win for the Flyers, but a bridge deal isn’t what the team needs. After re-signing Travis Sanheim to a two year extension earlier this summer, the Flyers have Sanheim and Carter Hart to deal with in the summer of 2021 and Giroux and Couturier in 2022. So a bridge deal would just complicate an already complicated situation.
Will Provorov be signed by the start of the season? Possibly. If he isn’t, there is reason to be concerned, but his absence gives the other defensemen on the team an opportunity to step up. Sanheim getting a taste of the unquestioned number one role couldn’t hurt for his future, and giving Myers and potentially Morin more ice time will give the team a better idea of what they have on the roster. So they may not be doomed, but the Flyers need Ivan the Great to return to the lineup, and in peak form, to get the most out of the improved defense corps and try and make something out of this season.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: detroitnews.com