The 2022-23 Philadelphia Flyers’ season was expected to be a struggle. They were going to take their foot off the gas for a season to let new head coach John Tortorella instill his system in a young, very raw roster. While the organization stuck to those plans, there were plenty of weaknesses being exposed in their ongoing renovation. Even though rookie GM Danny Briere has stated the team is in a rebuild, theoretically, the front office will take the finding from the season and go into the offseason looking to address the major holes on the roster with pieces that make sense for the current state of the team.
Rolling with the assumption everyone under contract is healthy and ready to go on opening night in 2023, which is a major question in and of itself, here’s what the roster could look like to start the season.
Alex DeBrincat – Morgan Frost – Owen Tippett
Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett may not be bonafide first liners, but they were two of the Flyers’ best players in 2022-23, and adding high-caliber player like DeBrincat should only make them both better. Adding a legitimate forward to the ranks is an investment and reward for your in-house players taking steps forward.
Tyler Bertuzzi – Sean Couturier – Tyson Foerster
Sean Couturier’s back after missing the last 22 months. Foerster dazzled during the 2022-23 season for the Phantoms and looked good during his eight-game sample size with the Flyers and Bertuzzi represents a high-risk, high-reward move that could become a worthwhile add if he stays healthy more often than not.
Joel Farabee – Noah Cates – Bobby Brink
Farabee left much to be desired during the 2022-23 season, which makes him hard to pencil in as a de fecto top guy on the left side. If he can regain his mojo playing behind the new additions, they’ll have a better idea of where he can slot in long term. Cates is a two-way forward on the rise, whose growth is going to be stunted by the return of Sean Couturier, who will be playing a near-identical role. Brink is yet another right wing prospect that plays a style of hockey that will fit nicely on the third line as a two-way scorer.
Nic Deslauriers – Elliot Desnoyers – Wade Allison/Cam Atkinson
Deslauriers is still under contract for three more seasons. Yeehaw. Desnoyers’ ceiling is probably substantially higher than a fourth liner, but with the hodgepodge of middle six centers above him, he’ll have to earn his uptick in ice time. Cam Atkinson’s return from injury throws a monkey wrench in the positional depth chart, but the prospects should absolutely be taking priority over him at this point, and Wade Allison falls in as the 13th forward.
Cam York – Rasmus Ristolainen
In a post-Provorov era with no notable names on the right side internally or externally, this is what qualifies as a top pair in 2023.
Travis Sanheim – Ronnie Attard
Sanheim’s new eight-year $50 million contract kicks in for 2023-24. Welcome to the NHL, Ronnie Attard, enjoy your anchor you need to carry.
Egor Zamula – Nick Seeler
Zamula’s new contract seems to indicate he’ll be in the NHL next season, so it’s just a matter of whether or not he plays on his natural left side, bumping his holiness Nick Seeler over to the right.
Hart is entering the last year of his cheap $3.9 million contract and is still the unquestioned starter.
Ersson is clearly the darling prospect while the organization seems to very much dislike Felix Sandstrom, so it won’t be surprising when Ersson is named the full-time backup next season with his sights set on usurping Carter Hart’s starting role.
It’s all but a guarantee the Flyers will move on from Hayes this summer, it just comes down to how they manage to do it considering he’s got three years left on his deal at a whopping $7.1 million cap hit. It more than likely comes down to a trade where the Flyers retain at least a bit of cash in exchange for a random draft pick or two. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Flyers retain $2 million and trade him for a third round pick. It has very little to do with the concept of this piece, but the money retention comes into play.
Speaking of players that have already expressed interest in parting ways, step right up Ivan Provorov. Dealing away Provorov is arguably the biggest move the team can make right now, as they need to capitalize on any return they’d get for the 26-year-old. Ideally, he’d be moved in a “hockey trade” with the Flyers receiving some main roster help in exchange, but for the sake of this piece, we’ll consider moving him for a cocktail of draft picks and prospects instead.
Moving on from Konecny is two-fold, the organization is still preaching a rebuild, and he’s the player that will garner them the most assets for the future, and the team is overloaded with up-and-coming right wingers and he’s the easiest player to move to open a roster spot for a player that will more than likely be just as good, if not better, than Konecny himself.
DeAngelo didn’t exactly have the best showing with the Flyers, and after a late season scrum with head coach John Tortorella, it sure feels as though he’ll be a one-and-done in Philly. He’s only got one year left on his contract at a $5 million cap hit and did manage to score 40 points during the 2022-23 season with half of them coming on the powerplay. All that for a right-handed defenseman during a summer where the free agent pool at that position is rather slim, they sould have no problem dealing away someone who just doesn’t fit with the current team. This is a can’t-miss trade for Briere, as he can get a return for the guy that’s less than they paid for him last summer, but can blame that on Chuck Fletcher’s incompetence rather than selling low on a bad player.
It’s pretty clear the Flyers don’t value Sandstrom. Ideally, he can sneak through waivers and play out the last year of his contract with the Phantoms, but he absolutely deserves a real chance with an NHL club elsewhere at this point.
The Flyers passed on Alex DeBrincat last summer when he was traded away from Chicago, and rumor has it he doesn’t want to sign in Ottawa long term. He’s a restricted free agent accompanied by a $9 million qualifying offer. He’d be a nice hint of offense for a Flyers team that was fourth worst in goals-per-game as well as a top left winger, a position of need for the Flyers especially with Joel Farabee’s play in limbo.
Bertuzzi is the de facto big fish in an otherwise very shallow free agency pool. The big risk is his extensive injury history, something the Flyers should theoretically be moving away from rather than leaning directly into, but the risk-reward factor his is incredibly high with Bertuzzi. He’s been a offensive dynamo when he’s on the ice. He had 30 goals and 62 points with Detroit last season in 68 games, then posted 30 points in 50 games between the Wings and Bruins this season.
This potential roster seems like the perfect marriage of “rebuilding” with in-house talent, adding a few extra assets through selling, and somehow the team still gets better with outside additions that fit the current age group of the roster.
The return of Sean Couturier and the additions of Alex DeBrincat and Tyler Bertuzzi brings a bit of parity to the forward group that was otherwise top heavy at right wing and lacking everywhere else. It may not be a bonafide Cup contending roster, but if everyone can stay healthy (obviously a big if for the Flyers these days) it is possible to see them snag a playoff spot for the first time in four years.
The center depth is less than intimidating to say the least, but if Frost can pick back up where he ended the 2022-23 season and Couturier can be even somewhat useful with Cates stepping up and Desnoyers hanging at the NHL level, it should be enough of a patchwork to hold them over until next summer when the can reassess outside options to look for real upgrades down the middle.
The defense is a bit of a gongshow. There’s practically no real options at right-handed defenseman in the free agent market and nobody has emerged via trade as of this writing that would make a ton of sense for the Flyers either. So they’ll just have to hope Ronnie Attard and Egor Zamula can step up and do a decent enough job to hold down the fort until either the trade deadline or next offseason to scope out a legitimate upgrade.
Losing Provorov and Konecny could possibly sting in the short-term, but neither are true franchise-altering players and will be replaced internally within the next few seasons, even in the chance that the prospects struggle to fill their shoes immediately.
Working the Cap-
The beauty of this lineup is for the first time the Flyers get to use entry-level deals to their advantage. Historically, they’ve wasted every opportunity that has come their way when it comes to using ELC’s to create extra cap room, but not this year. The abundance of prospects knocking at the door gives them four ELCs in Foerster, Brink, Ersson and Desnoyers, and more than likely three-sub $1 million players in Allison, Attard and Zamula.
Now, there is a contingent here and that’s that Provorov and Konecny are dealt exclusively for draft picks or young players on entry-level deals. Proper rebuilding deals rather than hockey trades. Shedding their combined $12.25 million will cover a bulk of the additions along with the team’s expected $7.7 million in legitimate real life cap space they’ll have this summer.
They do have three notable restricted free agents to get under contract this summer in Cam York, Morgan Frost and Noah Cates. All three had promising seasons, but none have an extensive NHL track record that could lead to them demanding a big financial raise. We’ve penciled them all in at $2.5 million AAVs next season, totaling $7.5 million, a number that seems to be fair to wrangle all three under contract for at least one year, even if it’s not a perfectly even split of the pie.
They’re just over a $70 million cap hit, that’s about $13 million less than the ceiling of $83.5 million. The Flyers can make upgrades and still relish in their cap savings. Crazy!
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: espn.com / dailyfaceoff.com