The Flyers are going to live or die by their defense during the 2022-23 season. It’s the only area of the team with any kind of palpable upside but is just shaky enough to sow a seed of doubt as to whether or not the six-man unit will see through their full potential. Barring injury, the six man unit is set and will feature five returning faces and one new addition. New bench boss John Tortorella will be tasked with setting the defense on the right path and maximizing the value of a punch of players that need a new leader capable of extracting the best they have to offer.
Other than goaltender Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov may be the most critical member of the team if they hope to have any success this season. We’ve seen just about everything from Provorov in the past. From top shutdown defenseman with an offensive upside to a guy stumbling over his own feet making boneheaded plays in the defensive zone. The level of his play tends to be heavily dependent on his defense partner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Provorov has spent the majority of the last two seasons along side Justin Braun, who was well over his head as a top pair defenseman.
Now he’s got Tony DeAngleo to work with, which isn’t exactly inspiring on paper, but it could end up being a decent pair. Provorov having a puck mover to play with means he can focus more on playing defense, whereas he was trying to do everything on his own while partnered Braun. Time will tell what version of Provorov they get, but for the Flyers’ sake, they better hope a true top defenseman steps into the lineup in October.
The new guy on the block will have his plate full from the get go. He’ll be counted on to step into the top RHD role with as minimal defensive flaws as possible. He’s projected to line up with Ivan Provorov to start the season and he’s had success in the past playing with players with similar styles. He’ll be counted on to produce a vast majority of the points coming from the back end and be the top QB on the powerplay. Hopefully he can manage all of that as well as playing respectable defense. And if they’re lucky, he may make it through a full season without punching out Cater Hart.
Coming off the best season of his career, now in a contract year, Sanheim will have quite a bit to prove to either earn an extension on a crowded Flyers blueline, or to maximize his value in the free agent market next summer. He came short of hitting a new career high in points, racking up 31 compared to his previous high of 35, but his overall play was easily the best of his career by season’s end. His play in the defensive zone still isn’t quite up to snuff, but he managed to keep his head above water more often than not, while managing to put his puck-carrying skills on full display. Time will tell if he’ll get the same freedoms under Tortorella that he did under Yeo, but for both his sake and the sake of the defense, hopefully Sanheim’s confidence is still strong and he remains a net positive on the blueline.
Much to the chagrin of the “well ackshually” crowd, Ristolainen had a perfectly fine first season in Philly. Now with a shiny new five-year contract in tow, he will have to continue to play at an acceptable level for the foreseeable future. The odd couple paring with Sanheim actually worked well together last season and, baring injury, will spend most of the 2022-23 season together as well. The name of the game for Ristolainen will just be keeping it simple. Bang bodies and gain possession of the puck. It’s the second he tries to do too much or go out of his way to make that check that things start going south. He does have a history of producing offense, regularly reaching the 40-point plateau in Buffalo, something the Flyers didn’t utilize much last season as he only registered two goals and 16 points with just a single one coming on the powerplay. Deploy him smartly and they won’t have to worry about egregious mistakes. Ristolainen also seems like a player that will benefit greatly from the presence of John Tortorella as well.
All eye will be on Cam York and his development during the 2022-23 season. He’s almost a guarantee to open the season on left side of the third pair alongside returning veteran Justin Braun.
York did spend most of his time in the NHL last season lining up on the right side, his off wing, with mixed success. It didn’t go well when he was paired with Keith Yandle in the third pair earlier in the season, but he looked much better in the role when he finished the season on the top pair with Provorov. Being able to play both sides is definitely a positive asset to bring to the team, but it’s better to just let this guy grow and develop on the left side with the mission of overthrowing Sanheim and potentially Provorov for ice time in the very near future.
You have to question the man’s sanity voluntarily coming back to the Flyers after how the last two seasons have turned out, but his presence is a good thing for the team. Provided he can just chill on the third pair, a role he was supposed to take for the last few years but injuries always forced him to play above expectations.
Even at 35, mentoring Cam York and playing limited but important shutdown minutes is a role he can still handle.
What happens if DeAngleo or Ristolainen get hurt?
As noted, York played on the right side last season, meaning if there is an injury he may be the one floated over to a top four RHD role rather than forcing Braun to play over his head again. Then call up Egor Zamula to take York’s place on the third pair where Braun can continue his mentorship of another up-and-coming prospect. Provided the defense doesn’t get decimated by a comical amout in injuries, they need to do their best to make sure Braun doesn’t spend the season playing over his head once again when he can be so much more useful in limited minutes.
For all intents and purposes, Ellis’ career is more than likely done, but there’s a good chance we haven’t seen the last of him just yet. A mysterious, multi-layered hip injury forced him to miss practically all of last season and will start the 2022-23 season on the shelf as well. But by all accounts he’s still working towards an eventual comeback. There’s a chance we see Ellis don a Flyers sweater at some point during the season, but it probably won’t be long term. It may be a case of him feeling a little better and trying to mount a return, but ultimately realizes he can’t go anymore. It’d be awesome to add Ellis back to the mix, but there’s just no way to pencil him in long term given his current medical state.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com