The Philadelphia Flyers begin the 2021-22 season on Friday, Oct. 15, with something to prove after a disappointing campaign in 2020-21. The chances that the Flyers rejoin the NHL’s elite this season will hinge on their key contributors, who must regain their form from 2019-20 when the team finished with their highest point percentage since 2011 and advanced to the second round for the first time since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That team had tremendous chemistry under first-year head coach Alain Vigneault. Their two top centers, Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes played as well as they have at any point of their career. Couturier, Hayes, and Vigneault will all need to do better than their 2020-21 performances if the team hopes to improve as a whole. If they each succeed, they should become candidates for the NHL’s top awards.
Frank J. Selke Trophy – Sean Couturier
Couturier won the Selke Trophy, given to the NHL’s best defensive forward, in 2020 after finishing second in voting in 2017-18 and sixth after the 2018-19 season. He has built a reputation as one of the best 200-foot players in the league and is routinely asked to match up against the opposition’s top line. The Selke has morphed into a distinction of great two-way players, and his development into a first-line offensive center should keep him in the annual conversation for the foreseeable future.
In 2020-21, Couturier missed 10 games early in the season with a hip injury. Vigneault mentioned in his season exit interview that Couturier “had a good year but didn’t have a Coots-type season” in comparison to the previous one. However, his down season was still better than a good year for most NHL players. He finished with 41 points in 45 games and won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s MVP. If he can play at an even higher level in 2021-22, he should be among the Selke favorites.
Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron won the award four times between 2012 and 2017 but hasn’t won it since. He is now 36, as a younger group of players have become the best 200-foot forwards in the NHL. Recent Selke recipients Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues will likely be in the conversation again alongside Couturier. Mark Stone has also established himself as a defensively reliable winger for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy – Kevin Hayes
Throughout the NHL, Hayes is considered a loveable and energetic person who can bring a smile to anyone’s face. His charismatic personality infused the Flyers dressing room with life during his first season in Philadelphia in 2019-20. His older brother and former NHL winger Jimmy Hayes died suddenly in August at age 31. The tragedy devastated Kevin, the Hayes family, and the hockey community.
Kevin then suffered an injury setback just days before training camp and underwent his second abdominal surgery of the 2021 offseason. He discussed the tragedy and spoke candidly about his situation at the Flyers’ practice facility two weeks ago. He could return to the ice in November.
The Masterton Trophy is given annually to the NHL player “best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship, dedication to hockey.” Hayes has a strong character and an inspiringly positive outlook on life. His ability to fight through adversity, both on and off the ice, could earn him the award. His teammate, Oskar Lindblom, won the Masterton last season in recognition for his incredible courage in battling Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
Jack Adams Award – Alain Vigneault
The Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year typically goes to one whose team improves considerably from the previous season. General manager Chuck Fletcher gave Vigneault a vote of confidence entering 2021-22, despite the fact the Flyers players were reportedly unhappy with the coaching staff last season. Vigneault finished second to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy in Jack Adams voting following the 2019-20 season.
This season will go one of two ways for Vigneault, given the new sense of optimism in Philadelphia. If the Flyers can’t recover from last year’s disappointment and return to the playoffs, the finger will likely be pointed at him. If the team can impress similar to 2019-20, their head coach will get a lot of the credit. A galvanized group pushing a major turnaround is great for improving the chances of a Jack Adams candidate.
Flyers Looking for Rebound Season
The Flyers have never had a Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman. They haven’t had a Hart Trophy winner as league MVP since Eric Lindros in 1995 or a Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goaltender since Ron Hextall in 1987. The 2021-22 team won’t rely on the strength of superstar power to merit any of the prominent league awards mentioned here. However, if Couturier, Hayes, and Vigneault can rebound from 2020-21 and excel at their position, the Flyers will have a better chance to compete for a playoff spot this season.
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.