5 Flyers Questions That Must Be Answered in 2022

The Philadelphia Flyers enter the year 2022 at a crossroad. Dave Scott, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor who governs the franchise, has questions to answer about the immediate and long-term future of the team. General manager Chuck Fletcher aggressively acquired prominent veterans Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Cam Atkinson as part of an offseason roster overhaul designed to help the team contend for a Stanley Cup in a short-term window. Just a few months later, a full-scale rebuild isn’t off the table.

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A miserable losing streak cost head coach Alain Vigneault his job on Dec. 6, and the Flyers would need a highly improbable turnaround to become a playoff threat in the Eastern Conference this season. The poor start to 2021-22 has led to a time of uncertainty for an organization mired in mediocrity for the past decade. The organization will need to determine its overall direction during the upcoming year, and five key decisions will indicate their choice between a rebuild or continuing to chase a Stanley Cup in the short term.   

Decision on the Future of Claude Giroux

Claude Giroux is currently playing in the final season of his eight-year, $66 million deal signed in July 2013. The long-time captain has carried too much of the load for the Flyers over the past decade, willing them to multiple playoff appearances with outstanding individual performances despite the lack of standout defensemen, forward depth, and sustainable good goaltending surrounding him. Only Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and Alexander Ovechkin have more points than Giroux over the past 10 seasons. He leads the team with 25 points in 2021-22, and the Flyers once again have failed to build a suitable supporting cast around him.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (a href=httpswww.facebook.com38PhotographyAmy Irvina The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers need to determine whether or not they’re still trying to contend in the short term and address Giroux’s future accordingly. He will turn 34 on Jan. 12, and they should not keep the franchise’s second all-time leading scorer on the roster for the final years of his career if it will rob him of the chance to win his first Stanley Cup. 

If they intend on keeping the majority of their current roster intact, Giroux will likely stay with the organization he has been with for over 15 years. If they plan to rebuild in the immediate future, they should explore the option of trading him to a playoff team at the trade deadline. A package including Giroux could bring a considerable return of prospects or draft picks. He himself will make the ultimate decision on his own future thanks to a no-movement clause in his contract, but the direction of the franchise will unquestionably factor into that decision.

Full-time Head Coach

Fletcher appointed Mike Yeo as the interim head coach when Vigneault was fired. Immediately hiring a full-time head coach from outside the organization wouldn’t have been an ideal circumstance with so many unanswered questions currently surrounding the situation in Philadelphia. He also knew any changes to their roster wouldn’t be coming immediately.

Related: Flyers Have 5 Good Options to Replace Vigneault

The Flyers will continue to assess their roster and develop a strategy to make moves before the March 21 trade deadline. Once they have a better idea of their full-time direction, they can choose the next bench boss properly with an understanding of who could fit well into the role they’re looking for him to serve. They will have a list of qualified NHL head-coaching candidates to consider, most notably John Tortorella and Rick Tocchet.

Evaluating Pieces on the Blue Line

Ellis was the crown jewel of the offseason overhaul. He looked like an ideal fit to partner with Ivan Provorov on the top defensive unit. However, he has missed 25 of 29 games this season. The former Nashville Predators star is under contract through 2027 with a $6.25 million annual cap hit, and he will turn 31 on Jan. 3. The Flyers need to decide if they can rely on the veteran as a top defenseman moving forward.

Ivan Provorov Philadelphia Flyers
Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Provorov has struggled throughout the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. The Flyers hoped he could be a foundational piece of the organization and a top defenseman for a Stanley Cup contender when they drafted him seventh overall in 2015. However, they should not consider him more than a partner-dependent defenseman on a top pair moving forward.

If the organization decides Ellis and Provorov are not the future of the blue line in Philadelphia, they will need to evaluate prospects Cam York and Egor Zamula as potential long-term replacements. York, a first-round pick in 2019, and Zamula, a 21-year-old project player with great size, both have the potential for bright NHL futures. They have, however, failed to make legitimate cases to join the big club this season despite the struggles of the third defensive pairing. 

Trade Deadline Strategy

The Flyers will need to catch lightning in a bottle over the next two months if they want to convince management to move future draft capital or prospects to help a playoff push this season. Fletcher will likely sell off pieces in March, and the extent of his seller’s approach will indicate the organization’s plans for 2022-23. In addition to Giroux, Ristolainen would bring interest from playoff hopeful teams because of the way his physical style aligns with the demands of tight-checking playoff hockey. The 27-year-old is an impending unrestricted free agent (UFA). The Flyers gave up a substantial package to acquire him in July, and moving on from him in less than one season would be somewhat of an admission of the failure of their plan laid out during the 2021 offseason.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers
Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, and Kevin Hayes will likely stay in Philadelphia because of their contract situations, and it’s hard to imagine the organization moving on from their prized franchise goaltender Carter Hart. James van Riemsdyk is having a down season at age 32, and he carries a $7 million cap hit through next season. Fletcher should move him if a reasonable deal presents itself, which isn’t likely. Veteran impending UFAs Justin Braun, Keith Yandle, and Derick Brassard could be on the move, but they will bring minimal returns.

Identity of the Flyers Organization

The Flyers once considered themselves one of the best organizations in the NHL. Founder and long-time chairman Ed Snider grew the franchise based on loyalty and “the common bond” of being a member of the Flyers. However, it’s been over 46 years since the Broad Street Bullies unified and won consecutive Stanley Cups. Snider passed away in 2016, and the organization hasn’t established a new era for itself since. The Flyers have slipped off the radar of mainstream sports fans in Philadelphia after missing the playoffs in five of the past nine seasons. They convinced their fans that their young talent would lead a resurgence when Fletcher and Vigneault began. They’ve fallen once again, and now they’re left to determine how to begin the course of a new era in 2022.