It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers’ struggles last season were due in part to the team’s defense. From dealing with injuries to flat-out getting outplayed, the Flyers’ defensive core was one of the worst in the league. After losing veteran defenseman Ryan Ellis early in the season, it seems the team never recovered from his absence. By the end of the campaign, the Flyers had a minus-87 goal differential, good for third-worst in the league.
While losing Ellis was difficult, there is no excuse for how poorly the rest of the defense played. One player can certainly make an impact, but not enough to completely turn the team around. With Cam York and Ronnie Attard potentially playing more minutes, the following veterans will have to step up and make a difference if the Flyers want to start winning games in 2022-23.
Last season was certainly not Ivan Provorov‘s best. Heading into his sixth season with the Flyers, he was expected to be a key factor in developing a solid defensive front, but things did not go as planned. The once smooth and explosive defenseman looked lost at times, and between turnovers and missed opportunities, he finished with nine goals, 22 assists, and a minus-20 rating.
There were even moments when he became a liability, which was a huge problem down the stretch. Despite his play, he was on the ice for all but three games, so it was easy for fans and the media to blame him for the team’s struggles. During his exit interview, he mentioned his frustration with how the season turned out: “We definitely went through a lot in one season that most teams don’t go through,” Provorov said. “Hopefully, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Heading into next season, he needs to put 2021-22 behind him and just play. He has the potential to be one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league if he continues putting in the work to get better, especially in leading the young players like York and Attard.
“All of those guys have tons of talent, tons of potential,” Provorov said. “It means a lot for me to be able to, kind of, help them, show the way, and be able to pass some knowledge that I’ve been able to learn and pick up through six years now of playing in the NHL. What I thought of my adjustment and what helped me my first year and the first, whatever, 15, 20 games. I think all of those guys were eager to learn and wanted to do good and wanted to help the team. I think they did pretty good so far in all the games that they’ve played.”
Provorov is officially the longest-tenured defenseman on the team, along with Travis Sanheim, so all eyes will continue to be on him. If he doesn’t turn things around next season, it might be time to move on from him and allow some of the younger guys to step into his place.
Coming off one of his best seasons in the orange and black, Travis Sanheim has huge expectations heading into 2022-23. He was one of the more consistent defensemen on the ice last season despite the losses. He finished with seven goals, 24 assists, and a plus-9 rating – the best plus/minus rating on the team.
Before the season, he struggled to find his game but truly bounced back to becoming a more consistent player. He made sure he would be one of the best players on the ice and did exactly that (from “Inside Travis Sanheim’s bounce-back season and what it means for his Flyers future,’ The Athletic, 4/28/22).
“One thing that I’ve tried to work on in the past is not let my play (dip) depending on how the team is playing,” Sanheim said. “I wanted to be a more consistent player and a guy that you know what you’re gonna get every night. And I think, no matter how the team is playing, I gotta continue to keep playing my game and play to the ability that I can, and not let outside factors dictate how I’m going to play.”
The Flyers could not have asked for more from the sixth-year defenseman. He did everything they asked of him and more following his struggles in 2020-21. Not only did he improve his game, but he also proved he can be a leader in the locker room. This season was truly a break-out year for him and showed why the organization drafted him in the first place.
“I think the game has just really slowed down for me,” he said. “And that’s when I’m at my best, is when I’m controlling the play, jumping up, using my skating ability, my hockey sense, and making plays. And I think you could see that in the second half that there was no hesitation. When I saw an opportunity, I was full force ahead and trying to make the most of it. Sometimes (at other times in the past), I was half in. It’s never a good thing when you’ve got hesitation in your game. The outcome’s usually not going to be very good.”
Next season is going to prove if the Flyers are ready to compete or if a major rebuild needs to happen. Provorov and Sanheim are two pieces of the puzzle; they have been here for a few seasons now, so their leadership on and off the ice is going to be a major factor in the success of the team moving forward. There is so much potential in the organization, but the pieces have to fall into the right places at the right time. Next season could be the year things finally start to come together, but only if the team puts in the work this offseason to get better.
Bobby Bader Jr. is a freelance journalist born and raised in Philadelphia, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the start of the 2020-21 National Hockey League Season. He currently works with the Hershey Cubs Hockey Club (USPHL Premier) as the team’s media coordinator and serves as the Assistant Sports Information Director at Penn State Harrisburg. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Bobby on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo in articles like this one.