PHILADELPHIA — Even after the Flyers went on 10-game, 13-game losing streaks in one of the worst seasons in franchise history, there were fans who showed up to games and watched the television.
These fans deserve better than a 25-46-11 season, the players and general manager Chuck Fletcher agreed. The players have committed to work in the offseason, and Fletcher said he will aggressively reorganize to get the team back into playoff contention for the first time in three years.
Fletcher and the players believe the Flyers can turn things around quickly with the core group they have. But a long list of things will have to go right, as well as things the Flyers will need to improve to back up their point and get back to the playoff mix next season. Here are the six biggest keys to a Flyers turnaround in 2022-23.
Break bad habits
Caretaker coach Mike Yeo has been preaching about “bad habits” throughout the season. It wasn’t just an explanation. The Flyers actually have a lot of bad habits they can’t break.
On the forecheck, players often cheated or didn’t go in hard enough, which reduced the team’s chances of recovering the puck in the offensive zone. In defense, players tended to move away from the areas of coverage they needed to occupy. In other areas of the game, they failed to make the simple call, and small details, like stick positioning or getting the puck out of the crease, were often poor.
Yeo has emphasized these things many times, and some players have definitely improved in these areas. But bad habits, especially those that tend to set in and fester during losing seasons, take a long time to break. And the lack of reward in terms of wins for doing the right things makes it very tempting to cheat the details.
Be healthy and stay healthy
Injuries are a valid excuse for many — but certainly not all — of the Flyers’ problems this season. With 501 games against a man lost, the Flyers were the second most injured team in the league.
Important players were also injured. With top two centers, Sean Couturier (back) and Kevin Hayes (groin), out for much of the season and marquee acquisition Ryan Ellis (pelvis) out for virtually everything, there has been a knock-on effect. training throughout the course. . While Hayes has finished the season, Couturier and Ellis will still need to return to their pre-injury form for the team to make a meaningful step forward. As Fletcher said on Tuesday, it’s not that easy to replace a great two-way center and No. 1 defender.
The Flyers need their depth players, from the bottom six to the Phantoms, to stay healthy as well. As this year has proven, asking guys for waivers won’t be enough. Given the experience many youngsters have gained this season, Fletcher believes one of the benefits will be a larger pool of NHL-caliber players to call on next season.
Injuries are inevitable, so for those who do get injured next season, as Fletcher pointed out, it’s important the Flyers and their medical staff do a better job of ensuring players are fully prepared to return so that ‘they don’t continue to aggravate injuries like several players – Hayes, Ellis, Derick Brassard – have done this season. As the team learned the hard way in 2021-22, sometimes it’s best for all parties to err on the side of caution.
Better conditioning could also help both prevent injury and break bad habits. Bad habits tend to appear later in games and later in the season when players are tired. In many games throughout the season, the Flyers jumped and then faded.
Many Flyers could also get stronger. Cam Atkinson talked about the need to play harder, and adding and developing stronger bodies will help them do that.
Find the finishing touch
Unless the Flyers find an elite, consistent scorer this offseason through trade or free agency, they’ll need more of their key players to figure out how to score. The Flyers have shot a lot this season, but it hasn’t led to any goals. The Flyers finished midfield (16th) in five-on-five shooting, but were 27th in high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick, and as a result were 31st of 32 teams in scoring with 206 goals.
Frankly, the Flyers just don’t have offensive players to scare opponents, especially now that Claude Giroux is gone.
Newcomer Owen Tippett (four goals in 21 games for the Flyers) and winger Travis Konecny (16 goals) are two potential inside solutions. They both have goalscoring pedigrees, but for all the chances they created, both had shooting percentages of only around 7% (top scorers usually shoot above 15%). Joel Farabee has also struggled, going from 20 goals in 55 games last season to 17 in 63 last campaign. Then there was Atkinson (23 goals) and James van Riemsdyk (24 goals), both of whom were frustrating.
Develop your youth
The Flyers have several young players who have potential, but who haven’t yet reached cruising speed or become stars at the NHL level.
Konecny, 25, and defender Travis Sanheim, 26, showed flashes of getting there and showed steady improvement in the second half of the season. However, neither has produced at this level over an entire season in recent years and both are unlikely to become top-flight stars.
Farabee, 22, has struggled with injury and confidence but has a major upside, and with his attacking ability he could become a perennial 30-goal scorer. Goaltender Carter Hart, 23, has rebounded somewhat in 2021-22, but he must also progress if he is to be the long-term answer between the pipes.
Tippett, Morgan Frost and Cam York all had strong performances at the end of the season. However, the organization cannot continue to say that it needs more time. If the Flyers want to turn things around next season, as they say, they need those three to start producing now. Development will also be essential with rookies such as Bobby Brink, Noah Cates and Ronnie Attard, as well as young prospects on the road such as Tyson Foerster, Samu Tuomaala and Elliot Desnoyers.
Finally, org depth players need to make progress so that if called upon, they can do more than fill a spot on the roster. Otherwise, as soon as the Flyers suffer a few injuries, things will go back to the way they have this season.
Hitting in the draft
Copywriting is one of three ways to transform a franchise, alongside building on what you have and adding key elements in free agency. While Bob Clarke infamously repeated this season, the Flyers had the second-round pick in 2017 and picked Nolan Patrick. The three players selected after Patrick, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson, all became NHL stars. Morgan Frost, the team’s other first-round pick that year (27th overall), is just beginning to find some semblance of consistency in his game at the NHL level.
In 2018, they chose Farabee (14th overall), who made an impression, as well as Jay O’Brien (19th). O’Brien, 22, has yet to join the Flyers organization and is looking more and more like a bust. Cam York, their 2019 first-round pick (14th overall), looks set to have a bright future while German Rubtsov, the team’s 2016 first-rounder (22nd overall), is no longer with the organization. and played only four NHL games.
The Flyers had a few hits, a lot of misses and a bunch of picks they’re still waiting for. With a guaranteed top-six pick in the 2022 NHL Draft as well as a ton of picks racked up over the next two years, the Flyers have a major opportunity to inject some much-needed high-end talent into their future. Now they just have to pick the right guys.
Open the way
As the longest-serving captain in Flyers history, Claude Giroux left a huge leadership hole when he was traded to the Florida Panthers. The team did not name a captain after his departure, but they will likely do so next season. Many players have stepped up in his absence, but it will be difficult to step out of the shadow of his legacy.
Before that, the Flyers need a coach. They have officially left Yeo and must decide which way to turn next. With their last two full-time hires, they tried the junior varsity coaching route in Dave Hakstol, and they settled on a well-known veteran name in Alain Vigneault. None of them were able to bring the team to perform at the height of their abilities for an extended period of time.
Now Fletcher will have to figure out what kind of coach the team will respond to and what kind of identity the Flyers should embrace. It’s another decision this summer that the organization needs to make right.
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