The Philadelphia Flyers’ offseason hasn’t been what many envisioned it to be given the “aggressive retool” that was supposed to happen. That being said, even though some young players are expected to be integrated into the lineup in more important roles next season, others might regress. Here’s a look at the three players and why they might be less productive in 2022-23.
James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk has now been back with the Flyers for four seasons. In his first season back, he improved his points per game average from the previous season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he regressed in the following season. It was a surprise when he put up his best offensive performance in 2020-21, tying for the team lead in points with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Though van Riemsdyk scored 24 goals in 2021-22 (in part because a lot of the key contributors missed time), he finished with five fewer points than the season before in 26 more games. He is now 33 years old, still not a fast skater, and weak defensively. He also doesn’t play a physical game. Next season under head coach John Tortorella might be a tough one for him as he isn’t the type of player Tortorella favors.
The veteran winger might still be a force around the net and score some goals while contributing on the power play, but he could regress even more if his role is decreased as younger players push for roles. On a healthy Flyers team, van Riemsdyk should be playing on the third line, at best. Management had their chance to move on from him and avoid what could be a tough season while adding what they needed to at forward but failed to do so, and he will likely play out the final year of his contract with the team.
The Flyers made two free-agent signings, and bringing back a 35-year-old Justin Braun was one of them. The team has three top-four right defensemen who won’t give up playing time so that the veteran can get into games, while Cam York is more than ready for a full-time role in the NHL on the left side. There are only two reasons I can think of why general manager Chuck Fletcher would use cap dollars to bring back Braun. The first is Ryan Ellis, who might miss more time than initially thought, and second, he becomes their seventh defense option. The flaw in that is they had already signed Nick Seeler to a two-year deal (the first is a one-way contract), and they have Kevin Connauton.
The decision to bring Braun back aside, he’s now a year older, which means he will inevitably slow down even more. He may have played above his weight class last season, but he shouldn’t need to this season. In his prime, he was hitting a ton, but not as much in recent years. When he was traded to the New York Rangers at last season’s deadline, Braun was given a role more suited to him, which became even smaller in the playoffs, when he recorded just one assist in 19 games and averaged under 13 minutes a night. That’s about what we should expect from him this season as the team has six better options, and if he does get in the lineup, it will be as a replacement on the third pairing.
I don’t expect a huge regression from Cam Atkinson, but we may see a small one. He should have his centerman Sean Couturier back and will have his old coach Tortorella back, but he is also 33 years old (from “Why Atkinson vouched for Tortorella in exit meeting with Fletcher,” NBC Sports Philadelphia, 6/21/22). Last season was better than his previous two with the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he flew under the radar. But it may have also been his last kick at the can. I don’t expect the Flyers to make massive improvements offensively in 2022-23, as Tortorella is a defense-first coach. But to level out some of the possible regression, Atkinson will have better players surrounding him for most of the season.
A lot of Atkinson’s production comes from goals, and those are harder to come by as players get older. It also doesn’t help that the Flyers have no star players, and the team was the second-worst offensive team last season. He can maage to avoid a regression partly by staying healthy and partly by developing chemistry with other players if they can also stay healthy. He has only hit 50 points four times in his career, and the Metropolitan Division will again be strong. He should have the biggest impact among the three players listed here and be relied on the most, but don’t expect him to produce more than last season.
It may be tough sledding this season as the Flyers have more than a few veterans who have already shown signs of regressing. If they can hold off a big drop-off next season, the team should be fine. I know this is focusing on the negative, but don’t count on any improvements either.
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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