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The Flyers’ improved play over the last few weeks will affect draft stock, but is a testament to newfound culture and system

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

It’s almost poetic in some ways that as the Philadelphia Flyers are improving and winning hockey games, Connor Bedard just torched the World Juniors and is showcasing why he is far and above the next generational talent in the draft and first since Connor McDavid.

The Flyers aren’t world-breakers by any means as they currently sit in 26th position in the NHL standings, but they are only 5 points behind a potential playoff team in the Nashville Predators, who are 19th. I don’t think they were ever supposed to be as bad as they were last year when they finished 4th-last, and bringing in John Tortorella was a way to improve and make inroads without spending money they didn’t have on free agents they couldn’t afford. The system took a little longer to adjust to with all the injuries that came about to start the season, but they are 5-3-0 in their last 8 games with 2 of their losses being near-come-from-behind victories against some of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. It seems that they are getting better by the game, which is only going to make their draft position falter – something that the front office, coaching staff, and players don’t care about.

Of course, it’s a draft lottery, and as the old adage goes – anything can happen – which we have seen come to fruition in the past. In 2019, the 3rd-last New Jersey Devils won the lottery to draft Jack Hughes, the 6th-last New York Rangers moved up 4 spots and drafted Kaapo Kakko, and the 12th-last Chicago Blackhawks moved up 9 spots and selected Kirby Dach. The 2020 lottery was a little different due to COVID but the Rangers ended up winning the lottery after losing out in the first stage of the playoff bubble to draft Alexis Lafreniere and the Los Angeles Kings also moved from 4th to 2nd to draft Quinton Byfield. Finally, just as recently as last year, the Devils moved from 5th to 2nd and drafted Simon Nemec as the draft lottery changed to just the top 2 selections.

The same rules apply ahead of the 2023 lottery and no team can move up the draft board by more than 10 spots. Unfortunately for those who want the best odds to winning the lottery and drafting Bedard, the Flyers won’t be that team. The Blackhawks have 22 points in 38 games, the Columbus Blue Jackets have 24 in 37, the Anaheim Ducks have 28 in 40, the Arizona Coyotes have 31 in 38, the San Jose Sharks have 32 in 40, and the Montreal Canadiens have 33 in 39. These 6 teams were always meant to be at the bottom since they’re all rebuilding with nothing to lose with the exception of Columbus, who had high hopes entering the season but were absolutely hammered with injuries to more than half of their roster at one point.

Ahead of the Flyers sit the Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and even the Colorado Avalanche – only ahead by 4 points. The Avalanche are getting healthier, the Sabres, Red Wings, and Senators were always meant to be dark horses for the Wild Card with the moves they made in the summer, and then the Blues, Predators, and Panthers have regressed terribly from last year and have not come close to their expectations for this season but still possess talented players that could make things interesting in the second half.

Enter the Flyers, who at best were going to be a low teens-high twenties team and at worst were going to be in the 24-26 range. There was no way they were ever going to compete with the likes of Anaheim, Chicago, Arizona, and Montreal in terms of finishing at the bottom since all 4 teams are well into a rebuild and know the prize is well worth a wasted season.

It took the Flyers longer to adjust to the system that Tortorella and company wished to have instilled as soon as possible because of in-season injuries to James van Riemsdyk, Scott Laughton, and Travis Konecny that rocked a roster that was already without Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, and Rasmus Ristolainen to start the season. They still aren’t a fantastic team by any stretch of the matter but they are always competing, have a strong forecheck, never give up, and are doing the best they can with what they have to offer.

Maybe they should have never been in a position where they had to try and mount a 3-goal comeback and a 4-goal comeback in the third period of back-to-back games, but the fact that they never gave up and came inches away from tying either game is a testament to their accountability, leadership group, and ability to play a system. They have mentioned it several times now that they are not going to roll over and we are witnessing a team that is coming together even when they are bereft of legitimate talent.

Their hardworking acumen, aggressive nature, and opportunistic behaviours have been recognized by the league as opposing head coaches, players, and even broadcasters will constantly mention those 3 themes that Tortorella is known for and is trying to make the Flyers understand. They might’ve swept a California road trip that included 2 bottom-feeding teams, but it was the first time in franchise history that they pulled the feat off and they did so rather comprehensibly at times with strong goaltending from Samuel Ersson and their ability to block shots.

Their upcoming slate of games for the month of January is a mix of good and bad as they have the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals back-to-back, Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, and Jets again. Of those 12 games, only 2 teams are below them in the standings in Anaheim and Chicago, 2 of them are within striking distance in Buffalo and Detroit, and then the remaining 7 teams are all squished in the top 12 with Boston far away at the number one spot.

Their lineup has been almost untouched with a few exceptions on the back end as they are rotating Nick Seeler and Justin Braun in and out of the lineup. The 12 forwards have played in their respective trios for weeks now and it doesn’t seem like Tortorella will tinker around anymore as he likes the chemistry and the build up from each one. Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett, and James van Riemsdyk have been playing very well ever since the veteran returned from a 20-game absence. Noah Cates has taken to the idea of playing down the middle and has been given 2 talented wingers in Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee, while the third line has just been reconstructed with the returns of Kevin Hayes and Wade Allison who have formed chemistry with Scott Laughton. Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Brown, and Zack MacEwen are the prototypical fourth liners who do what they’re asked to do and aren’t irresponsible with or without the puck, which is definitely a boon at the bottom of your lineup.

They are now extremely dangerous while shorthanded with a league-high 7 goals, they are figuring out their power play little by little, and their defensive pairings are also getting more comfortable with one another after a months of tinkering and in-game juggling.

This isn’t to say that the Flyers are going to keep running up the standings, and this isn’t to say that the Flyers are a good team either, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge that for the first time in years they are finally playing and adjusting to a system that is tailored to their abilities. They finally have a head coach that will keep them on their toes, accountable, and level-headed while also patting them on the back if they deserve it. As fans, we’ve been waiting for this change for quite some time but unfortunately it comes during the season that Connor Bedard becomes available.

As badly as we want them to continue to lose games to ameliorate their chances of winning the lottery, the silver lining is that anything can happen come June and maybe they finally get lucky after years of disdain and torture. However, Tortorella and company have heard all the whispers of the “tank”, and want us to know that they aren’t going to fall down and quit for the chance of getting a better draft pick.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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