The NHL season has begun, and the Philadelphia Flyers will open against the Vancouver Canucks at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night. Fans and media have high expectations for the 2021-22 season, in which the Flyers hope to rebound from a disappointing effort in 2020-21 that fell drastically short of preseason expectations. General manager Chuck Fletcher retained long-time captain Claude Giroux, former Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier, and young goaltender Carter Hart. He added prominent new faces like Ryan Ellis, hoping to restore the identity of a once-proud franchise that used to expect to be in the Stanley Cup conversation every year.
Votes from players, writers, broadcasters, and fans determine the choices for the Flyers End of Season Awards. They are awarded during a pregame ceremony before the final home game of the regular season. Three writers from THW shared their preseason picks for this year’s recipients.
Bobby Clarke Trophy – Team MVP
Colin Newby: Sean Couturier
Bobby Bader: Claude Giroux
Matt Grazel: Carter Hart
Couturier has won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s most valuable player in three consecutive seasons. The 28-year-old has emerged as one of the best 200-foot players in the NHL. The organization locked him up to an eight-year, $62 million extension this offseason that will run through 2030. The financial commitment indicates their view of Couturier as the franchise centerpiece, and he’s the favorite to win the award if he stays healthy.
Giroux has won the award five times. Most pundits consider him past his prime years, but his performance in 2020-21 didn’t indicate that. He tied for the team lead in points with 43, and he was their most consistent player. Hart didn’t perform up to high standards last season. In fact, he was the worst statistical full-time goaltender in the NHL. His effort to rebound in 2021-22 will be the key to the Flyers’ season. He remains a legitimate question mark between the pipes.
“Claude Giroux is going to step up in his contract year and lead a resurgence for the team into being competitive again. Regardless of where he ends up next season, he’s going to put on a show.”-Bobby Bader, The Hockey Writers
Barry Ashbee Trophy – Most Outstanding Defenseman
Colin Newby: Ryan Ellis
Bobby Bader: Ryan Ellis
Matt Grazel: Ryan Ellis
The Flyers acquired Ellis from the Nashville Predators this offseason. He will play alongside Ivan Provorov on the top defensive pair to begin the season. The void left by the sudden retirement of Matt Niskanen ahead of the 2020-21 season disrupted the team’s plans on defense last season, and they hope that Ellis can solve that issue. He is the most reputable defenseman on the roster and the logical favorite to win the award. However, the 30-year-old blueliner has missed 20 or more games in four of the past seven seasons. He will need to stay healthy if he hopes to win the franchise’s version of the Norris Trophy.
Provorov has already won the award in three of his first five NHL seasons. He is a workhorse defenseman who has never missed a game in his career. He can log big minutes at five-on-five and on both special teams units. Other candidates include Travis Sanheim, Keith Yandle, and Rasmus Ristolainen.
“The new top defensive pair for the Flyers has developed a good rapport in training camp and the preseason, which will carry over into the regular season and culminate in Ellis winning the Barry Ashbee Trophy in his first year as a Flyer.”-Matt Grazel, The Hockey Writers
Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy – Most Improved Player
Colin Newby: Oskar Lindblom
Bobby Bader: Carter Hart
Matt Grazel: Oskar Lindblom
The Flyers hope for bounce-back seasons from players like Hart and Travis Konecny, who have already achieved certain degrees of NHL success despite down seasons in 2020-21. Their play will go a long way in determining Philadelphia’s fate this season. However, the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy typically goes to a player who achieves a level of success that he’s never reached at the NHL level. Joel Farabee won the award in 2020-21 with a breakout season at age 21. Scott Laughton, Sanheim, and Couturier won the previous three awards with similar breakout efforts.
If Oskar Lindblom can develop into a top-six point producer on the wing, he will have a great chance to win it. The 25-year-old Swede scored at a career-best pace early in the 2019-20 season before suffering an unfortunate battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. If he can recapture that level of play, he will be a leading candidate.
“Lindblom will contribute on the penalty kill, on the second power-play unit, and at both ends of the ice at even strength. He could also easily put up career bests on the scoresheet if he plays a full season.”-Colin Newby, The Hockey Writers
Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award
Colin Newby: Sam Morin
Bobby Bader: Kevin Hayes
Matt Grazel: James van Riemsdyk
The Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award goes to the player who “best illustrates character, dignity, and respect for the sport both on and off the ice.” The Flyers version of the Lady Byng Trophy went to James van Riemsdyk last season. He will be in consideration in 2021-22 as the team’s union representative for the NHLPA.
Defenseman Sam Morin suffered yet another knee injury ahead of training camp. The constant battle with injuries has slowed the development of the former first-round pick. He emerged as a depth option last season, however, and played in 20 games. His spotless reputation as a tremendous teammate on the ice and a great person off the ice will boost his candidacy if he can make contributions at the NHL level this season.
“You’ll never hear a bad word about Samuel Morin. Everyone familiar with the organization praises his efforts whenever they speak about him. It seems like he’s impossible to root against.”-Colin Newby
Gene Hart Memorial Award
Colin Newby: Kevin Hayes
Bobby Bader: Sean Couturier
Matt Grazel: Kevin Hayes
The Flyers fan club determines the unique Gene Hart Memorial Award, given to the player who “demonstrates the most heart” throughout the season. Couturier has won three of the past four, and another one in 2021-22 wouldn’t surprise anyone.
However, Kevin Hayes owns a reputation as a likable and charismatic guy who brings life to any room he walks into. He suffered a terrible tragedy with the passing of his older brother, Jimmy, this summer. An abdominal injury will also keep him out for at least the first 10 games of the season. Hayes is the type of player and person who has a tremendous heart in the face of adversity, and Flyers fans respect that about him.
“Hayes will look to put his struggles he had last season behind him, and the Flyers need him to be one of the team’s top point producers in 2021-22. After his disappointing season in 2020-21, expectations are high for him to be one of the premier forwards for the franchise once he returns this season from injury.”-Matt Grazel
Colin Newby: Claude Giroux
Bobby Bader: Sean Couturier
Matt Grazel: Carter Hart
The organization awards the Toyota Cup to the player who accumulates the most points associated with being selected as one of the three stars of the game. Any player with enough standout performances can win. Giroux’s flair for the dramatic or Couturier’s smooth all-around game could win it for one of the respective veteran leaders. Goaltenders have somewhat of an advantage because their best performances get recognized easily in the selections for the three stars, so Hart is the most likely candidate.
“Hart has displayed the ability to be a difference maker for the team during his first two seasons in the NHL.”-Matt Grazel
Flyers Fans With High Expectations
Preseason picks frequently look silly just a few weeks into the regular season. The NHL is such a fluid league based on injuries, performance, and world-class competition. A lot can change between now and the final home game against the Ottawa Senators in April.
Who would you choose as your preseason favorites for the Flyers End of Season Awards?
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to no-namers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also writes fictional sports stories and covers the Philadelphia Eagles.