After an offseason where the Flyers felt completely lost without any semblance of a direction, more and more quotes are emerging from the players and coaches ahead of training camp, and it finally appears there’s a foundation of an actual plan the Flyers are poised to follow during the 2022-23 season.
Even though they didn’t make any notable additions throughout the season, the two things the Flyers do have going for them are simple; an injection of youth into the lineup and a coach who preaches accountability.
The young players likely to make the roster opening night include Owen Tippett, Noah Cates, Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, Tanner Laczynski and Cam York with guys like Bobby Brink and Tyson Foerster showing up eventually. That’s a lot of kids and not a lot of roster spaces as the plentiful number of veterans on the team will get first dips on the available spots, and that’s where step one starts.
Step 1: Young Guys Earning Ice Time
Now, it is possible all six healthy players listed above make the opening night roster, but are all potentially stuck in the bottom six given the logjam on the wings. They’ll be tasked with one simple objective- play well enough to earn more ice time. If Tortorella is serious about accountability, as long as the kids keep their nose to the grindstone, they will be rewarded for their hard work under the new coach’s system.
Step 2: Torts Pressuring the Vets
John Tortorella was brought in to overhaul the culture in the room, and he’s wasted no time tearing into his new team. He will more than likely be especially hard on the veteran players, who are rather comfortable on a team where they’ve had no real pressure put on them in years. It will be a real test to see if the core can rise to the occasion when the heat is on.
Step 3: Youth Overtake Vets
Players like James Van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny and Cam Atkinson will all have to keep their play at a high level to fend off the impending changing of the guard. But sooner or later, there’s a good chance that a few of the youngsters usurp one or two of the veterans. If by January the youth are playing superior hockey to the vets, there’s no reason ice time should not be dealt out accordingly.
Step 4: Deal Vets at the Trade Deadline
Let’s say that Wade Allison, Noah Cates and Cam York all have phenomenal seasons and their respective veteran counter parts Travis Konecny, James Van Riemsdyk and Travis Sanheim don’t. That should give the green light to part ways with the core members at the trade deadline and stock up on draft picks in the 2023 draft, something the Flyers clearly covet after refusing to deal JVR during the 2022 offseason. It provides a chance for the young guys to get full-time top-six spots while continuing to change the culture of the team they keep preaching about by moving on from long tenured players.
Step 5: Young Core Emerges and Potential to Add Next Summer
Leave the team in the hands of the kids to finish out the season and insulate the new young core with veteran stars in free agency or via trade during the 2023 offseason. The wins and losses ultimately don’t matter as long as the rookies are seeing a bulk of the ice time and look promising doing so. Then, go into the summer with a young foundation and find a couple veteran star players to fill the most obvious holes whether it be center, wing or defense. With some core member’s contracts off the books and an influx of entry-level deals, there should be more than enough cap to bring in at least one top forward to propel the youth to the next level during the 2023-24 season.
Can Chuck Fletcher manage to be this competent?
This is a relatively simple plan, something that most “rebuilding” teams do at some point or another, but Fletcher never seems to have a real plan. His idea of what he wants the team to look like seem to change every few months based on where they are in the standings. “they’re at the bottom of the standings, time for an aggressive retool” then when it’s time to put his money where his mouth is, it turns into “we like our team, we have Couturier returning that’ll be good enough!”
Can Fletcher see through the entire plan?
Plain and simple, Chuck Fletcher has very little good grace at the moment. After refusing to pay a discount for Alex DeBrincat and turning away a begging Johnny Gaudreau, it tarnishes the final step of “potential to add next summer.” Does he possess the killer instinct to hunt down David Pastrnak if available? The Flyers will once again have very little money to work with, especially if they do something stupid and re-sign Travis Sanheim, so it’s possible the team makes it through steps 1-3 relatively easily during the season, but whether Fletcher has the stomach to actually do his job and wheel and deal has yet to be seen.
To piggy back on this entry, it’s also one of the biggest fears about this season; the Flyer sell minor improvements as a major win, and run it back once again with a nearly identical roster for the umpteenth time in a row claiming that this current group is back on track. They’ve been trying to shove the same square peg in a round hole for years now, why change when there’s actually a sign on improvement? It’s worst case scenario, but also something that feels very possible from this inept front office.
Does Tortorella commit to playing the kids?
Torts preaches accountability, thus players that suck should be punished and players that succeed should be rewarded, no matter their status on the roster. But we also know Torts isn’t the biggest fan of younger guys playing to their own script.
The Flyers don’t really have a Patrik Laine or Trevor Zegras or Connor McDavid, so maybe it won’t be a major concern this season, but it is a thought that lingers because it could easily derail the entire plan if Torts is curmudgeonly towards a potential breakout star.
This should be a rather simple, idiot-proof plan. Add youth, weed out the vets, trade them for assets, rinse and repeat. It’s the healthy cycle of most successful hockey teams. Though, the Flyers have never really been able to grasp this concept. They never had to do it pre-salary cap, Holmgren got in trouble by avoiding it, Hextall did a poor job executing by not trading vets and wasting a vast majority of his picks, and Fletcher has changed direction so many times that believing he can stick to something for more than a few months seems hard to believe.
Though the framework is laid out. The organization is desperate for any success and this very much appears to be the “transition year” they’ve been promising for quite some time. The cautious optimism that the franchise may actually handle this right is incredibly fragile and we won’t see tangible results until a few months into the season, but for now, there does appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)