Flyers 2022-23 Season Preview: Power Play

The Philadelphia Flyers enter the 2022-23 season hoping to stabilize after two disappointing seasons and the least successful decade span of hockey in franchise history. Their struggling power-play unit finished 32nd in the NHL in 2021-22. New head coach John Tortorella and assistant Rocky Thompson will look to revamp the power play with a new structure and new personnel.

Thompson Inheriting a Struggling Power Play

Tortorella has emphasized accountability, defensive structure, and a stronger mental approach during his short time in Philadelphia. His track record as a respected head coach who has won a Stanley Cup will carry weight with his players. However, his recent history doesn’t include many teams with dangerous power-play units.

The New York Rangers finished 28th in the NHL with the man advantage during his five-year tenure from 2008-09 through 2012-13. The Vancouver Canucks finished 26th in his lone season behind the bench in 2013-14, and the Columbus Blue Jackets finished 29th in the league during his six-year tenure from 2015-16 through 2020-21. It’s no surprise that he feels comfortable deploying a bulk of the responsibilities to Thompson.

Kevin Hayes Philadelphia Flyers
Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Thompson is a former enforcer who racked up 117 penalty minutes in just 25 career NHL games. However, he’s shown appreciation for the growth of the finesse game during his time as a coach. He developed as an offensive mind during stints as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers and the San Jose Sharks.

The Flyers haven’t finished higher than 14th since Joe Mullen stopped coaching the unit after the 2016-17 season. They simply couldn’t get their bearings at all with the man advantage last season. Their 12.6% conversion rate was less than half the final rate of the top four power plays in the league. They scored just twice on the power play in 21 tries in six preseason games, and they allowed an ugly shorthanded goal (SHG) in the preseason finale on Tuesday night.

Cam York, who made the misplay that led to the SHG, remained confident in the unit’s ability to gel throughout the regular season despite the sluggish sneak preview. 

“It’s been ok. The units are switching a lot, and you are out there with different guys every time. It’s a little bit of an adjustment each night, but I think it’s going alright. As the season progresses, it will continue to get better,” York said.

Power-Play Shooters

The NHL exploded offensively in 2021-22 with eight players scoring over 100 points on the season and superstar performances all around the league. Travis Konecny led the Flyers with 52 points, landing him 119th overall. General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher moved the franchise’s long-time captain and power-play stalwart Claude Giroux and openly identified the lack of top-end talent on the roster. He also spoke early last season about the lack of capable personnel on the power-play unit. 

“There’s no question. The most successful power plays in the league are teams that shoot the puck well from the flank. We don’t have a lot of natural scorers from that area, nor have we for a long time,” he said.

Related: Flyers’ Lack of “Top-End Talent” Shows on Struggling Power Play

The return package for Giroux included winger Owen Tippett. The former 10th-overall pick brings the type of skill set Fletcher identified as a missing component on the man advantage. His ability to fire the puck can certainly catch the eye of anyone watching, but it hasn’t translated enough to make Tippett a reputable threat from the flank just yet.

Owen Tippett Philadelphia Flyers
Owen Tippett, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tippett’s career shooting percentage of 7.9% falls well below the league average and less than half of big-time snipers like Leon Draisaitl and Auston Matthews. The Flyers will hand him opportunities on the power play early in the season, but he must refine his raw ability as a shooter to earn a role as a goal-scorer and a full-time NHL player.

The Flyers also selected Tyson Foerster with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. The potent sniper will begin the season in the American Hockey League (AHL), but he should be on the short list of capable call-ups to join the big club midseason. If the power play can’t gel early, the organization could look to one of their top prospects to provide a spark.

Power-Play Quarterbacks

“A good quarterback on the power play creates space for the flanks. And if the flanks can get some space, you’re going to be able to generate some offense in various ways,” Thompson said in a past interview on TSN Radio.

After Fletcher addressed the priority for a flank shooter like Tippett, he made another move that aligns with Thompson’s power-play vision with the acquisition of an expected new quarterback for the top unit. Tony DeAngelo finished tied for 14th among NHL defensemen with 20 points on the power play in 2021-22. The organization hopes that his style as a distributor will create opportunities for the forwards to shoot from high-danger areas.

Tony DeAngelo Carolina Hurricanes
Former Carolina Hurricanes Defenseman Tony DeAngelo (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Keith Yandle struggled to operate the power play from the back end last season. His continual misplays led to chances at the other end and a flurry of SHGs early into his only year in orange and black. Ivan Provorov possesses some of the tools necessary to play the point on the power play, but he hasn’t proven himself capable of carrying a top unit during his six-year NHL career. The chance to play the point on the second unit might get passed to Travis Sanheim or York, who is not a lock to make the roster on opening night.

Flyers on the Power Play 

The glaring disparity of talent between the elite teams in the league and the Flyers will keep them outside the top 10 with the man advantage in 2022-23 barring dramatically unforeseen circumstances. However, the skill players on the roster are capable of improving a unit that looked downright dismal at many points in 2021-22. James van Riemsdyk is past his NHL prime, but he still brings a valuable skill set to the bumper position as a bigger body who can score around the crease. His nine power-play goals in 2021-22 led the team by a considerable margin.

Kevin Hayes and Morgan Frost will have to pick up the slack as the top two centers in the absence of Sean Couturier to begin the season. In addition to Tippett, Konecny and Cam Atkinson will also see plenty of ice time on the power-play beside the top two centermen. Joel Farabee will factor in regularly once he returns from a neck injury that kept him out most of the offseason.

Without as much offensive firepower to work with, the Flyers will need to capitalize on the chances they do have with the personnel available to them. Their declining power play has stunted momentum in recent seasons, and it must do the opposite if they expect to compete in 2022-23.

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