Flyers Need to Overhaul Their Center Depth

After a season when injuries and lackluster play overtook the Flyers, the decision by general manager Chuck Fletcher to run it back in 2022-23 with an almost identical roster has already bit the team in the behind, especially when it comes to their center depth, or lack thereof. Sean Couturier is back on the shelf with another back injury and subsequent surgery, meanwhile Kevin Hayes is delivering some wildly inconsistent play on a night-to-night basis and Morgan Frost just isn’t cutting it as an everyday NHL center. The team will have to seriously reconsider their approach during the 2023 offseason to overhaul a critical position that has gone untouched for years.

Ignoring the center depth is kind of becoming an on-running gag by Chuck Fletcher, who acquired the rights to and eventually signed Kevin Hayes back in the 2019 offseason and has basically ignored to position ever since, despite the major faults that have been obvious for years. They have relied upon and been failed by Morgan Frost’s development for the last few seasons, and have duct taped the rest of the depth together with waiver claims and random depth pieces like Patrick Brown, Derick Brassard and Nate Thompson.

Needless to say it hasn’t worked and they’re finally going to have to admit that and make actual additions to the roster if the organization actually intends on being competitive in the near future.

Luckily for them, the Flyers do have a few internal options finally on the way. 2022 fifth overall pick Cutter Gauthier and 2020 fifth round pick Elliot Desnoyers are both potential solutions at the NHL level next season. Gauthier is playing in his first NCAA season and has already made it known he intends to turn pro next season, while Desnoyers is a rookie in the AHL and is already playing well after a successful post-draft junior career.

While it’s obviously no guarantee either start in the NHL out of camp in 2023, they can be options in the not-too-distant future.

But relying on two rookies, 19 and 21 years old respectively, to save the franchise may not be the smartest plan. They put quite a few eggs in the basket of Morgan Frost over the last few years and time and time again he has proven he just isn’t good enough to be an everyday center in the NHL. They can’t just assume both of Gauthier and Desnoyers have flawless, immediate transitions to the NHL next season, there needs to be a real plan featuring outside additions, and if the kids pan out sooner rather than later, it’s a bonus instead of a necessity.

They’re going to have to perform some surgery on this roster, and that is going to have to start with removing Kevin Hayes to provide the necessary funds to add a bigger name free agent to insulate the youngsters.

Hayes, who will turn 31 shortly after the 2022-23 season comes to an end, has three more years on his contract with a $7.1 million cap hit. He does have a modified no-trade clause for the remainder of his contract which is a 12-team no trade list.

At the time of this writing, Hayes does lead the team in points with 10 in the first eight games, but it certainly hasn’t been a pretty road to get there. His two-way game hasn’t been nearly good enough, and there have been times when he’s just flat out lazy, indicated by Tortorella sticking him to the bench now and again.

Then there’s Sean Couturier, who is in the first year of his eight-year, $62 million extension, is once again on the shelf with a season-opening back injury that required surgery. The injuries are mounting for Couturier, who turns 30 years old in December, and one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank? Even if he can somehow return later this season or next year and play fine more often than not, you gotta assume this hurts his longevity through the rest of his career.

Two borderline washed up veteran, two promising prospects who may or may not be ready, and a bunch of meaningless plugs simply aren’t going to be good enough for next season.

The 2023 nhl free agent pool is shaping up to be a strong one. Dylan Larkin, Ryan O’Reilly and Bo Horvat highlight the available centers, and the trade market will undoubtedly open up as the offseason draws closer, leaving quite a few big targets for the Flyers to pursue in search of an upgrade down the middle.

Gauthier, Desnoyers, the corpse of Couturier and Dylan Larkin could provide a decent punch at center, albeit there are plenty of doubts in that plan as well. What if Gauthier and Desnoyers aren’t ready or Couturier’s career is essentially over? Finding a few higher-end depth options like Dylan Strome (who should’ve been on their radar in 2022) or Sean Monahan should be brought in as insurance pieces as well. Add an over abundance of centers to make sure problems like what the Flyers have faced the last few years don’t happen in the future.

You wouldn’t think addressing a painfully obvious hole that’s been effecting your franchise for years would be that hard of a job, but for Fletcher, doing the bare minimum required as an NHL GM is clearly very difficult. Luckily for him, a bulk of the roster is already under contract and there is very little interior work for the organization to address this summer. If they’re serious about becoming contenders in the near future, they’ll have no choice but to finally address the piss poor center depth they have built. But looking back at their lackluster track record, it’s a very valid question as to whether or not he has the stomach to do whatever’s necessary to provide the Flyers with a competitive roster.

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By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: nbcsports.com

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