The Philadelphia Flyers’ season hasn’t gone exactly as planned after shuffling around the roster. Injuries have caused them to sink near the bottom of the standings for the second season in a row and make it appear as if they will miss the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in nearly 30 years.
With every team, there is good and bad. We won’t exactly be looking at one in particular but instead looking at players that may be of more interest to follow how the rest of the season plays out for them. There will be changes coming, so the second half of this season could determine the outcome of these individuals’ time as Flyers.
Something to watch before the season was if Travis Konecny could bounce back from a down year in 2020-21 after his All-Star year in 2019-20 that saw his record 61 points in 66 games. So far, it’s looking like more of the same. His ice time has significantly increased, up 1:25 per game, and is the highest average ice time he has received in his career. So why isn’t he producing like his potential suggests he should?
It is the hope that his All-Star year wasn’t the peak of his career and that he will return to that level of play and production. But as more time passes with no improvement, the hope for that fades. The Flyers have a decision to make on Konecny, but I think they should at least wait until the end of the year to do so, even giving him one more half or full season.
The tough decision lies in trading Konecny too soon in his career and having him excel somewhere else, becoming the player the Flyers had hoped he’d be. Or they could hold onto him and see his value decline, contract run down and either trade him for less than he is worth or lose him for nothing. But the best possible outcome is that he comes around and even if Konecny can’t score at a 0.92 point-per-game pace, a 0.70 or better would be just fine.
That way, they have a young player putting up 55-60 points making $5.5 million. There are worse contracts and there’s also that possibility he explodes one year and has another All-Star level season. Nevertheless, the Flyers could see him as a valuable trade chip, and teams will most likely check in on him.
This might also not be the best year to judge Konecny and expect him to bounce back in a big way when analyzing the rest of the Flyers and how the season has gone. His linemates have been switched up and he hasn’t consistently been able to play with one of the team’s top centres due to injury. All factors that they could consider when looking at the lack of production. This is why I suggest that they give him even another year to a year and a half to show if he can produce at the high level he was capable of.
Ivan Provorov is as durable as they come, missing just three games in his entire 413 game career, all due to COVID-protocol this season. He has never been known for producing a ton of points, but he was considered the Flyers’ number one defenceman. Usually, the top defenceman on the team is paid more than $6.75 million, which may be an indication as to what the team actually thinks of him. With the addition of Ryan Ellis to cover and add to more of the offensive side as Provorov’s defensive partner, I would chalk them both up to top-two defencemen, not number ones.
This doesn’t mean the Flyers should move Provorov, it just means with the lack of offensive production, they will have to focus their efforts on rounding his game into full form and become a great defender. I believe his scoring touch will come back if the team improves around him. He has had two career years, 2017-18 and 2019-20, both of which saw him score 13-plus goals in each of them and produce at a 0.50 points-per-game or better.
Not every player can have their best season every year, and as a defenceman on a struggling team, mistakes are put under a microscope and pointed out every time. Among defencemen to play at least 10 games for the Flyers, Provorov has the fourth-highest GA/60 (goals against per 60 minutes) of 3.0, behind Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Kevin Connauton.
His GF/60 (goals for per 60 minutes) of 2.2 is also dependent on the production of the rest of the team. The two seasons the Flyers made the playoffs while Provorov was a member of the team just so happened to be his most productive seasons where there isn’t criticism towards him. A lot will be changing on the back-end for the Flyers, but if the Flyers can ice a competitive team, his numbers are more than likely to increase and this season’s struggles will be forgotten.
A healthy Ellis for most of a season should really help stabilize Provorov and take some of the pressure off of him at both ends of the ice, allowing him to focus on critiquing his game where it may lack. That was the goal this season, to get Provorov a defence partner that would allow him to play at the highest level possible like he had alongside Matt Niskanen.
Unlike the other two players mentioned above, Ristolainen is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. For most players, that causes them to play better because the final year is what matters the most in contract negotiations.
Ristolainen had a rocky start but has really settled into his role as a big physical defenceman who is tough to play against. He contributes just over 3.5 hits per game and has recorded as high as nine hits in a game this season. That style of play makes the opposing player not want to carry the puck up his side of the ice and either forces them to dump it in for a chance to turn the puck over or feed it through the middle of the ice in the neutral zone.
The menacing size of this 6’4, 220lbs defenceman will also make forwards think twice about driving into the corners and taking a beating in front of the Flyers’ net. As a team that is focused on being harder to play against, Ristolainen definitely fits that bill.
Despite his role with the Flyers, Ristolainen has been able to be very effective offensively during his career as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. In four consecutive seasons, he recorded more than 30 assists and 40 points while contributing 20-plus points on the power play in three of those seasons before Rasmus Dahlin arrived on the scene. Ristolainen was tasked with doing everything in Buffalo, but in Philadelphia, he is starting to understand his role and that he doesn’t have to be the same player he was in the past. But instead, lock in on what the Flyers need him to be as a second pairing physical shutdown defenceman.
The second half and even the time leading up to the trade deadline will be very important in the decision-making process that goes into how the Flyers are going to proceed with Ristolainen. It’s been made clear that he wasn’t just brought in to be a one-year rental and that the intention was to always extend him. This makes the most sense in a retooling process and they aren’t going to get as much back now as they pair for him at the start of the season. Teams will be calling, but if they want to bring Ristolainen back, contract negotiations need to be getting underway to at least see where the player’s stance on the situation is.
All three of these players will most likely be coming up in the rumour mill about trades as they were left off the group of core players mentioned by Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott, but it also doesn’t mean things can’t improve and they can’t all start performing like the players we’ve seen in the past. Decisions will have to be made, but the second half of 2021-22 will be important and worth watching closely to see how things unfold.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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