Dear Santa: Flyers’ 2022 Christmas Wish List

The Philadelphia Flyers began the season with a 5-2-1 record during October but have struggled since. They have been marred by injuries to key players such as Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, and Cam Atkinson, in addition to young players such as Wade Allison and Bobby Brink. James van Riemsdyk, Scott Laughton, and Travis Konecny also missed playing time earlier this year.

Carter Hart has been their most valuable player despite not receiving much offensive support during the first half of the season. Coach John Tortorella knew he had his work cut out for him in rebuilding an organization in the midst of a crossroads it has not seen since the early 1990s. Back then, they were rebuilding around Eric Lindros, who ended up being the club’s top player for a number of years. Today, they have some players with the potential for bright futures, but they do not have a bonafide superstar, which is usually acquired with a top-three draft pick. Here’s what the Flyers should wish for this Christmas.

Further Recognition for Carter Hart’s Play

Hart has been one of the Flyers’ top players during the first two months of the season. He’s shown the capability of being a top goaltender in some of his starts, even though he has not received much offensive support. Due to the lack of goals, he is forced to play flawlessly on a regular basis, which is not sustainable over the course of a long season. If he continues to play the majority of games through the season at a top level, it will be a remarkable year for a goalie on a struggling team.

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One of his top starts in 2022-23 so far was on Dec. 15 against the New Jersey Devils, in which he saved 48 of the 49 shots on goal he faced. Following the 2-1 victory, he received compliments for his play. Konecny commented, “Like I’ve been saying all year, Carter Hart keeps us in every game.” He has the opportunity to cement himself as the franchise goalie for several more seasons with further good play this year.

The Flyers have been searching for a goalie they can build their team around for a number of years. Hart has shown potential despite the standing of the organization over the last few seasons. He has one more year on his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent (RFA) following the 2023-24 season. But he will be entering the prime years of his career when he becomes an RFA. Tortorella recognizes his potential, which is why he has started him in the majority of games this season.

Improved Goal-Scoring

The Flyers continue to rank near the bottom of the league, with 2.48 goals for per game played (GF/GP); they only scored more than two goals in four of the 15 games during November. The lack of goal-scoring has continued, as they have tallied more than two goals in four of the 10 contests played so far during December.

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The injury to Couturier has not helped with their lack of offense, as he is skilled at both creating scoring opportunities for his linemates as well as tallying goals himself. The roster is adjusting to playing under Tortorella’s coaching scheme, and some of the young players have had a difficult first half of the year statistically. The goal is for continued progress offensively throughout the year from the roster so forwards such as Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Owen Tippett can take positive steps in their development.

Konecny has been their most productive player with 14 goals and 14 assists, and he’s appeared to have redeemed himself through 27 games following a difficult two seasons. Before the year began, it was fair to wonder if he could be a top producer for the Flyers again like he was following the 2019-20 season, in which he had 24 goals and 37 assists in 66 games. 

Progression in Tortorella’s First Season

The Flyers have been transitioning to Tortorella – an experienced, no-nonsense, tough head coach. He has the ability to help the young players mature and grow with his aggressive nature. Atkinson, who previously played with the Columbus Blue Jackets, had been coached by him between the 2015-16 and 2020-21 seasons. The 33-year-old forward became a better athlete under his tenure based on his comments at the end of last season, in which he credited the coach and hinted the club could benefit from more toughness.

John Tortorella Philadelphia Flyers
John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tortorella is establishing a culture change within an organization that is aiming to avoid further irrelevancy in a passionate sports city. The lack of postseason success over the previous decade includes one series win and six years in which they did not advance to the playoffs. The five consecutive years in which they did not play in the postseason from 1989-90 to 1993-94 ended up being a rebuild followed by many competitive years for the Flyers. The last few seasons have been baffling in terms of the direction of the franchise, so Tortorella has the monumental task of implementing a culture to lead to a turnaround for the organization.

Better Luck With Injuries

The Flyers have been plagued with significant injuries again this season. Expectations were for Ellis to carve out a role as one of their top two defensemen, but he had only played in four games for them since being acquired before the 2021-22 year began. He suffered an injury to his pelvic region early last season, and general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher raised the possibility at the start of training camp that the ailment may end the 31-year-old’s playing career:

“Certainly that’s a possibility. I’ll just say that my assumption is he won’t play this season. If he does, it’ll be a bonus. That’s how we’ve prepared this offseason by making the additions we did on the blue line. The rehab, there’s been ebbs and flows. I think he made progress earlier in the summer. I would say the last two months, there hasn’t been any visible signs of progress. It’s been a frustrating injury. Nobody’s more frustrated than Ryan. Nobody wants to play more than Ryan. But we’re dealing with reality now. He’s not skating, so clearly he’s a long way away from playing.” The GM confirmed on Dec. 1 that the veteran defenseman will miss the season with a torn psoas muscle in his back.

Atkinson sustained an upper-body ailment on Sept. 25 and has not played this season. On Dec. 19, Fletcher ruled him out for the remainder of the year with a neck injury. At the start of December, it appeared he could play soon, but he was unable to get healthy enough. His future became more of a priority than playing this season, and he will undergo neck surgery. He had a good season in 2021-22 for the Flyers with 23 goals and 27 assists in 73 games played and was one of the top veteran players for a struggling club.

Couturier has not played all season after undergoing a second back surgery, and the timetable for his return was 3-4 months at the time of his procedure on Oct. 27; his initial back surgery occurred last season on Feb. 11. He is one of their dynamic playmakers and arguably their best forward when he is healthy. According to Sam Carchidi of Philly Hockey Now, he is expected to skate soon, but his return is not anticipated until late February or March (from ‘Flyers’ Cam Atkinson Done for Season; Sean Couturier Update, Philly Hockey Now, 12/19/22). 

Allison returned on Dec. 20 against the Columbus Blue Jackets after suffering an oblique strain and a hip pointer during the Nov. 12 game versus the Ottawa Senators. While he has shown glimpses of talent on occasion, he has battled a variety of ailments during his career. Brink sustained a hip injury last summer during off-season training and underwent surgery in July for a torn labrum. He’s expected to be back soon as he is progressing, according to the five-month recovery timetable at the time of his procedure.

The Flyers have gone 6-13-6 since their decent start, as they have struggled with injuries and a lack of offensive production. While there have been some positives, such as the play of Konecny and Hart, the roster is still adjusting to playing for Tortorella. As the year progresses, the hope is the club adjusts further to the head coach’s style and that the young players continue to develop. The organization needs a core of players to emerge so they can build the rest of the team around them.

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