I think a very important nugget of information heading into the 2023-24 season and beyond is that just because the Philadelphia Flyers are entering a rebuild, doesn’t mean they are going to hand roster spots to prospects.
There was a lot of distaste towards the Flyers signing depth pieces and veteran players this past week in Ryan Poehling, Rhett Gardner, Garnet Hathaway, Marc Staal, and Victor Mete. With the amount of prospects who are NHL-ready and vying for a roster spot heading into training camp, it seems like a road-block but at the same time depth and veteran pieces are always required, whether you’re tanking, rebuilding, or contending.
Daniel Brière has said it from day 1; he’s not tearing things down in his first season. Kevin Hayes had to go due to his relationship with the head coach, mammoth contract, and he actually served as a roadblock to prospects since he’d be patrolling the top-9, maybe top-6. Ivan Provorov had to go because his relationship with the organization had been ruptured and there was no way either side was coming to an extension once his contract came up. Tony DeAngelo has to go primarily because he’s an expiring contract but his defensive acumen drew the ire of the head coach and Travis Sanheim was on the edge solely due to his contract.
All the other rumours pertaining to Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, and Carter Hart were just the Flyers doing their due diligence on listening to what other teams had to offer for players they’d like to keep. If Laughton was in the same boat as Hayes, Provorov, and DeAngelo, then he would’ve been traded ahead of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft for what some reported was an offer by the St. Louis Blues that included a late first round pick and a future second rounder.
Other teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs offered their late first round picks, but the Flyers weren’t biting on a veteran they see as part of the solution and therefore the future. Same can be said about Konecny but a part of listening to offers is essentially starting a bidding war and seeing who the first team will be to bite. Their contracts still carry term so it’s not like the trade talks are completely off the books but they both seem like important pieces for the present and possibly still for the future.
As for the on-ice product heading into the new season, it is relatively the same with the Flyers not being bad enough to be in the lower rungs of the basement but not being good enough to be in the middle either. They are essentially replacing Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk with the impending returns of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson on offense but defensively they have replaced Ivan Provorov and Tony DeAngelo with Sean Walker and Marc Staal, while the goaltending has remained status quo even if Cal Petersen is around at the NHL-level.
Travis Konecny – Sean Couturier – Cam Atkinson
Joel Farabee – Morgan Frost – Owen Tippett
Scott Laughton – Noah Cates – Tyson Foerster
Nicolas Deslauriers – Ryan Poehling – Garnet Hathaway
Extras: Bobby Brink, Elliot Desnoyers, Wade Allison
Cam York – Rasmus Ristolainen
Travis Sanheim – Sean Walker
Nick Seeler – Marc Staal
Extras: Egor Zamula, Ronnie Attard, Emil Andrae, Helge Grans, Victor Mete
You look at this setup and notice that Foerster is the sole prospect with a roster spot in the offense, while the defense is a mishmash of players that shouldn’t bring about excitement or confidence. A part of that logic is just based on the fact that we are still months away from training camp but if we were to try to guess or assume how Daniel Brière and John Tortorella would try to set up a lineup, this might be it as of today.
Training camp has always been the be-all-end-all for Tortorella, and he doesn’t care what you did last year, what your potential is supposed to be down the road, or who you are in terms of reputation; you have to come into training camp and earn your spot. Just because Cam York had a great finish to his 2021-22 season, didn’t mean Tortorella was going to staple his name to the opening night roster as we noticed in quick order. Same premise and principles apply this year with prospects like Ronnie Attard, Emil Andrae, Helge Grans, and Egor Zamula vying for a spot.
We’ve heard Brière and company utter that this rebuild is time for the prospects and young players to play and get their ice-time, however they still have to earn their spot and earn their ice-time. With veterans like Couturier, Atkinson, Laughton, Konecny, Ristolainen, Sanheim, and a goaltender like Hart, it’s hard-pressed to think the Flyers are going to throw in the towel. Tippett, Frost, York, and Cates are trying to improve on their good seasons from the year before, so they’ll have fire in their bellies entering training camp. Walker, Staal, and Mete will know that their spots aren’t guaranteed and should be aware that Attard, Zamula, and Andrae are NHL-ready.
Poehling’s spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed but with experience under his belt he’ll be trying to win that spot. Hathaway is a feisty bottom-6 player who’s responsible on both ends of the ice and is going to be a near lock in the bottom-6, Walker, Mete, and Staal provide experience and wisdom to pass onto the younger generation of players but as for their on-ice play, their previous seasons don’t give you much hope or confidence, meaning a prospect or two can take their spots if they can show up and outplay them both.
Once again, the Flyers aren ‘t going to be handing open spots for free; everyone has to earn it. However, If the prospects fail to impress or can’t beat out the veterans like Staal and Mete, then maybe they need more time in the minors.
On the flip side, the younger players and prospects need veteran leadership, someone to teach them ropes, and someone who’s been around the game. Staal has 1,101 regular season games under his belt with another 128 games in the post-season, including 3 lengthy runs in 2012, 2014, and 2023. You also can’t just place a young player like Attard or Zamula into the lion’s den and expect them to play 20 minutes a night. It has to be gradual until they’ve shown they can handle the load.
It also doesn’t hurt that players like Poehling and Staal welcomed coming to a rebuilding team with open arms and were excited about playing for team with a storied history. In an article by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall, they both talked about their decisions and playing for a team like the Flyers:
Staal: “We lost to them the last game of the season in a shootout,” the 36-year-old Staal recalled Wednesday in a Zoom press conference. “Through those chunks of years there where we were right next to each other in the standings and the games were always super intense, the building was very loud and a very fun rink to play in.
“It hasn’t been the same obviously the last couple of years going in there. But I think with what’s going on, with the people I’ve talked to and the people like Danny and Torts and everyone running things now, what they’re trying to do, they’re going in the right direction. It’s a fun place to play, obviously very passionate fans. I look forward to be able to play in front of them every night.”
Poehling: “I’ve always, throughout my life, just wanted to be a part of something special, being a big part of something that starts from the ground up,” he said Wednesday in a Zoom press conference. “I think this is an opportunity to do just that.
“I just want to prove myself. I think that’s the biggest thing, you can never bet on yourself too much. I’m excited for the challenge.”
Staal’s acquisition can also bear fruit in the future as he could be seen as a trade deadline pickup for a contending team. So until then, he has a lot of wisdom and gamesmanship to display for the young Flyers. Brière made mention that the two discussed the idea of flipping him at the deadline already.
Danny Briere said Flyers did not expect a player like Marc Staal to be interested in a rebuild. They were very happy to hear he was interested.
Briere said Flyers’ staff was unanimous in Staal being their veteran support. pic.twitter.com/f2j83c3zyL
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 3, 2023
As we look to the standings and at the teams that finished below the Flyers, Columbus should be a lot better this year with their injured players getting healthy, adding Adam Fantilli to the mix, as well as Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov. Montreal is always a true wild card based on some of the pieces they have, Chicago and Anaheim are going to be bad again, Arizona and San Jose will improve but not by much, and the Flyers seem to fall in that same category.
Their defense with or without prospects is going to be slightly worse off than last year, no matter who is tending the twine. The offense should be better with the returns of Couturier and Atkinson, however it’s not going to be enough to propel them into the middle of the league – nor should we want that.
This is all a lengthy process and it’s not the worst thing in the world if Brink, Desnoyers, Lycksell, Attard, and Zamula get AHL-time because at some point in the season, they will get the call-up. Injuries play a major role in that but so will a player playing lights out in the AHL or a player at the NHL-level struggling mightily and until that time, hone your craft and take advantage of your advanced role with the Phantoms.
Some believe the moves have no merit, others believe the moves make no sense, but have people forgotten that teams need depth, not just for the NHL but for the AHL as well? The injuries have piled up for the Flyers over the years and has forced us to watch players like Kevin Connauton jump into the lineup or have Justin Braun paired up with Ivan Provorov, or have a young guy like Kieffer Bellows placed into the lineup and struggle immensely. Even if you look at other teams, Columbus had nearly half their team on IR at one point last season.
The Flyers did a very good job at addressing their depth at the NHL and AHL levels. They weren’t egregious deals, most of them were 1-year deals, and some could even surprise us during training camp. Victor Mete and Ryan Poehling were both at one point in time high-profile prospects for the Canadiens, Garnet Hathaway will become an instant fan favourite akin to Nicolas Deslauriers, and Marc Staal – as long as he isn’t used in a top-4 capacity – will be a solid option on the third pairing.
If injuries start to pile up, they have a bevy of options at their disposal; young and old to power their way through the NHL season.
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