Flyers’ Framework for a Successful Roster Retooling

It appears as if the Philadelphia Flyers will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year, something they haven’t done since 1992-93 and 1993-94. There are a number of reasons why things went sideways for this team once again after retooling their roster and putting out a competitive squad that looked like real contenders.

Injuries and underperforming players have played a huge part as well as the inconsistencies with line combinations due to so many players coming in and out of the lineup. It’s really tough to win when a team’s top four centermen are injured at the same time. The Flyers have had a total of two games with all four of their centremen in the lineup at the same time, and that was in November.

Check Fletcher, president of hockey operations and general manager (GM), and Dave Scott, Flyers governor, sat down with the media to discuss the state of the team, what has happened, and what will be the plan moving forward. There has been speculation as to whether the team will rebuild or re-tool and it could go either way. They expressed that the Flyers are going to retool, but things could quickly change their minds with the decision Claude Giroux makes, the trade deadline and free agency.

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher (Jose F. Morena/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

It’s very unlikely with how the season is going that the Flyers will climb back into the playoff race. The trade deadline is quickly approaching and that’s the first step in deciding which direction the team is headed for next season. There are a number of upcoming unrestricted free agents (UFA), players with more serious injuries, and prospects ready for time in the NHL.

Re-Sign Giroux & Ristolainen

Giroux is having a good year for the Flyers, one of the only players on this team I can say that about. He has 15 goals and 34 points in 40 games. He is 34 years old and is in the last year of his contract. It was brought up in the media availability that whether Giroux gets traded or not will be his decision. He has a full no-move clause but may still want to chase a Stanley Cup.

If he does this year and also thinks it could be good for the team to get something to help them out in the near future in return for him, a possibility is to go to a contender, chase a Cup, and re-sign with the Flyers next season. Nobody for sure knows what Giroux is thinking, but he could also decide that his time in Philadelphia is over.

Claude Giroux Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Flyers go the route of bringing back Giroux to start next season with the team, whether he leaves or not before the trade deadline, they can’t sign him to anything more than 3-4 years at a reduced salary than what he’s making now ($8.275 million per season). The Flyers are bound to rebuild eventually, especially if their promising prospects don’t turn out or are impactful soon, so they can’t be having a veteran making a lot of money while on the decline in his career. Plus it will also make it harder to move him for valuable assets if a rebuild is on the horizon.

The topic of Rasmus Ristolainen‘s future also came up in the media availability. Fletcher reiterated the initial plan to keep Ristolainen around for more than just this season when they traded for him. Losing him for anything less than what they acquired him for would be seen as a loss, so re-signing him and keeping his physicality and toughness on the back-end is going to help with any quick turnaround for next season.

Though Ristolainen has struggled, he has played better than he did at the start of the season and has settled down. Next year we could see the player who was dominant on the blue line in Buffalo despite the team struggling every season. Both Ristolainen and Giroux could fetch a nice return at the trade deadline, but both would also be key players that would need to be brought back for next season if the Flyers don’t want to hang around the basement of the standing again.

Trade Braun, Jones, Brassard, & Test Rookies

There are more UFAs on the Flyers roster that are much more likely to be moved due to the impact they have on the team. Braun is a third-pairing shutdown defender that has been elevated this season in place of Ryan Ellis. This has shown his versatility and he has played solid hockey in that place. He will entice teams to add to their defensive depth and slot in on a bottom pair. He comes at a low price of $1.8 million.

The backup goaltender market is always one of importance, and Martin Jones will be able to fill a team’s needs to serve as an option to give their starter rest down the stretch, replace a struggling backup, and to add a layer of support if injuries come up. Jones is signed for $2 million and is another candidate that probably won’t return next season anyway.

The other option who may even fetch the best return for the Flyers if he returns from injury soon is Derick Brassard. He is a veteran who has played for nine different teams in the NHL. He started the year very well and elevated himself to the top-six after an early-season injury to Kevin Hayes. He put up 11 points in 19 games and showed teams that he could be a viable replacement in the top-six if a player on their team were to go down to injury.

Related: 3 Reasons Flyers Should Start Selling Now

Moving these three UFAs will bring back mid to late-round picks and create the space to test out the rookies and young players trying to break into the Flyers. It would serve as an early training camp and allow the organization to see what they have to work with before deciding on how to proceed with acquiring players in the offseason for a reset next year. The Flyers brought in a number of new faces after their bad finish in 2020-21, so the same process will have to be followed again since the results aren’t any better.

Shut Down Ellis & Couturier for the Season

Fletcher stated that both Ellis and Sean Couturier are working hard and that it could go either way in regards to if they play again this season. He says “there’s a chance they could come back this year and there’s a chance that they will need procedures that will take them out for the rest of the season.”

At this point with all the other injuries and performances knocking the season off the rails, it would be best for both players not to rush or push themselves too hard to return to a losing team. I could see them really trying for a return and the need that would be there if the Flyers were in the thick of it. But rushing an injury or returning before they are 100 percent healed could reaggravate something. We’ve already seen that result with Hayes, as he returned from injury this season and immediately went back on the injured reserve. Fletcher mentioned that the medical staff will be evaluated after the season, though he didn’t see a problem with the process those player who re-injured themselves went through.

Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers
Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Flyers are planning on having a successful turnaround and being competitive next season, they will have to have their top-line centre and best defensive forward playing every game as well as see what Ellis can do over a full season beside Ivan Provorov, for the team’s sake and both of the players’. The Flyers are looking to avoid season-ending injuries, but where they are in the standings, the goal is and should be to have them ready to go for the start of training camp in 2022-23.

The Flyers will have work to do to have a successful turnaround for next season, and I still question the choice to re-tool once again. But I’m not the GM and we shall see where it takes the team in a year’s time. The trade deadline and free agency will be when we get a real insight into that plan for next season and how the team may look.

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