Another Philadelphia Flyers season is in the books and for the first time in eight years they made it to the second round of the playoffs, but after a rough series with the Islanders, it’s clear change is still needed. There’s an air about this team that feels special. Even though there were a lot of positive steps in the right direction this season, there’s no rest for the weary and they need to keep their foot on the gas if their dream of a Stanley Cup is attainable. Chuck Fletcher will have his plate full trying to make improvements in a flat cap era, so what should he be fixing first?
Number 5: Backup Goaltender
A low-key issue the Flyers face is their depth in the net. Carter Hart is the unquestioned starter, but with Brian Elliott’s contract up, one has to wonder if the Flyers look outside the organization for help. The free agent market for a backup goalie is relatively thin, but is highlighted by Thomas Greiss and Anton Khudobin, both of which are having phenomenal playoff runs with the Islanders and Stars respectively. If the Flyers can’t get their hands on either of them because they’re playing themselves out of the Flyers’ price range, Elliott may be the best option available, but is it good enough for one more season? Elliott played 31 games during the 2019-20 season with wildly inconsistent results. Finishing with a 2.87 goals against average and .899 save percentage, he also posted two shutouts. His role is essentially to take the bullet to protect Carter Hart from his weaknesses like road starts and back-to-backs, but the Flyers may need more than a placeholder and should be on the lookout for a backup to form a solid 1-2 punch to tandem with Carter Hart.
Number 4: Depth Scoring
Even though the team got contributions from most of their depth forwards, consistency was a big issue. This may be one that sorts itself out next season depending on the growth of some of the young guns. Joel Farabee had 8 goals during the regular season, Nicholas Aube-Kubel had 7, Oskar Lindblom had 11 before his cancer diagnosis, and Morgan Frost had 2 in his 20-game stint with the Flyers mid-season. With an extra year to develop and a full season to show what they got, there’s a chance the youth can lead the way from within rather than look for a high-priced free agent. There aren’t too many open spots in the forward group, so an outside addition will have to be well placed by Fletcher, but finding a perfect complimentary depth forward could go a long way to sparking the team’s offense overall.
Number 3: Goal Scorer
If there is one takeaway from the 2019-20 Flyers season it is that goal scoring was hard to come by. Travis Konecny was their leading scorer with just 24 goals, and only four players overall broke the 20-goal plateau. Even though they were seventh in the league in Goals Per Game with 3.29, their top guys were streaky to say the least. With the problem exasperated in the playoffs with Giroux only scoring once and Konecny held goalless, it really put the lack of star power on full display. This is by far the hardest position to fill, but there are some names that have been floated around in the rumor mill, though it won’t come cheap. If Fletcher feels as though the team is only a piece or two away, maybe he makes a blockbuster move that will take the team from good to great.
Number 2: Depth Defenseman
The Flyers may have a lot of defenseman, but they don’t necessarily have a lot of effective defenseman. With Ivan Provorov, Matt Niskanen, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Mark Friedman, and Samuel Morin under contract next season, Justin Braun a UFA, and Phil Myers and Robert Hagg both RFA’s, there’s a plethora of options the team can take the defense next season and there are far more questions than there are answers right now, like- Does Robert Hagg return? Do they trade Shayne Gostisbehere? Do they trust Matt Niskanen on the top pair again? Can Mark Friedman make the jump to full-time NHLer? No matter the outcome, it’d be smart to try and add a depth defenseman, and luckily the market is saturated with depth defensemen this offseason. Sami Vatanen, Chris Tanev, Zach Bogosian, just to name a few are some players the Flyers may have their eye on in the offseason, though the right fit will be determined by any alterations to their current lineup.
Number 1: Legitimate Third Line Center
Once upon a time the Flyers had so many centers that some ended up playing on the wing against their wills. Today, however, depth down the middle is a bit more scarce. The Flyers signed Kevin Hayes last summer and they’re very lucky they did. Not only did he lock down the second line center role, but with Nolan Patrick on the sidelines and Morgan Frost not quite ready to make the jump, the center depth was pretty much non-existent behind Couturier and Hayes. The 3C role became a glaring hole during the season as the job bounced between Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Tyler Pitlick, and at one point even Misha Vorobyev. With Patrick’s future still unknown, Laughton excels better on the wing, Pitlick might hit free agency and Vorobyev has already ditched the organization, can Chuck Fletcher come through again this summer with a big time center acquisition? While the organization still seems intent on not giving up on Nolan Patrick, given that he’s still not cleared for contact, they can’t wait for him for another season. Whether addressed by trade or free agency, finding some legitimate help down the middle might be the biggest helping hand Fletcher can lend to the Flyers organization.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: dailyfaceoff.com