Fans of the Philadelphia Flyers have watched the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs wishing they could see their team competing, but all they’ve seen is their former head coach from a forgettable era succeeding behind the bench for a franchise in its infancy. Rumors about Blake Wheeler and a possible trade involving Ryan Ellis, however, add some intrigue to the beginning weeks of a critical offseason.
Wheeler for Ellis
Jeff Marek mentioned the Flyers on the 32 Thoughts podcast as a potential destination for Wheeler. The Winnipeg Jets have decisions to make this offseason about how their big-name veteran players fit into their long-term plans. The 36-year-old former captain carries an $8.25 million cap hit on the last year of his contract in 2023-24. He has declined only slightly in offensive production since the 2019-20 season with .88 points per game after averaging over a point per game during his prime years from 2015-16 through 2018-19.
Bill Meltzer pointed out on the Flyers Daily podcast that Wheeler has very little reason to waive his no-movement clause to come to a team that isn’t expecting to contend for a playoff spot in 2023-24. He did also mention that moving Ellis’ contract would make sense if a deal did end up going through and that the Flyers could possibly acquire and flip Wheeler again before the trade deadline in 2024.
If Wheeler did agree on a trade to Philadelphia, it might help solve one of the biggest black marks on the organization. The Flyers have finished toward the bottom of the NHL in three consecutive seasons despite one of the highest payrolls in the league. Brutal cap restrictions forced them to buy out Oskar Lindblom and pay the Arizona Coyotes with draft compensation to take on the contract of Shayne Gostisbehere in consecutive offseasons.
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Ellis is unlikely ever to play hockey again, but he is still under contract with a $6.25 million annual cap hit through 2026-27. Moving him would be a positive step toward fixing the embarrassing cap constraints and eliminating a situation that forces the Flyers to utilize long-term injured reserve (LTIR) for four more seasons. The Jets might benefit from losing Wheeler’s salary immediately and pushing Ellis to LTIR to gain short-term cap space. The Flyers could handle Wheeler’s expensive cap hit for one season if they don’t plan on contending in 2023-24 anyway.
Interim general manager (GM) Danny Brière faces an uphill battle with the financial mess left behind by Chuck Fletcher. Finding a way around the cap constraints of older players with expensive long-term contracts will require some serious creativity. The situation with Wheeler and the Jets might be the young GM’s first opportunity to think outside the box with an effective move to help the Flyers rebuild.
President of Hockey Operations
The search for the new President of Hockey Operations continues to dominate the conversation in Philadelphia. Scott Mellanby, Doug Wilson, Dave Poulin, Cammi Granato, Ray Shero, and Brad Treliving make up (part of) a long list of candidates still in the running. However, the Flyers don’t appear ready to make their decision just yet.
Jason Myrtetus spoke about the responsibilities of the new president as a “liasion between the fans and ownership” and between the business department and the hockey operations department. He mentioned Eddie Olczyk as a potential fit for this unique type of position that won’t include as much involvement with roster construction as President roles with some other organizations.
He also spoke about the peculiar situation involving Brière. The former Flyers forward worked his way up to the top level with experience managing the Maine Mariners of the ECHL, an organization also owned by Comcast Spectacor. He looks just short of a guarantee to land the full-time GM job, but his role with the Mariners aligned more closely with the expected responsibilities of Philadelphia’s new President of Hockey Operations.
While candidates continue to interview for the new role, it’s fair to wonder what kind of dynamic the Flyers hope to build. Charlie O’Connor wrote about the expectations the organization should have for the new hire.
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“Comcast Spectacor needs to strike a delicate balance here. They need to identify someone with the hockey knowledge and evaluation skills necessary to both earn (John) Tortorella’s trust and respect, and legitimately help Brière in terms of making his final roster decisions” (from The Athletic, Flyers president of hockey ops position: What are they looking for from likely candidates?, 4/26/23).
The organization thinks highly of Tortorella, who had more influence on roster decisions in his first season with the Flyers than any coach had in the recent history of the franchise. He will keep significant influence while Brière, who has very little front-office experience, gets his first shot in the big seat. The new President will have to mesh with the head coach and the GM effectively.
Fedotov Staying in Russia
It appears that one of the most unexpected and frightening stories in the NHL finally has a resolution. Russ Cohen of Sirius XM reported that Ivan Fedotov is expected to return to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the rest of his career after completing his required service to the Russian military.
The Flyers selected the 6-foot-7 netminder in the seventh round in 2015. He starred in the 2022 Winter Olympics, helping the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to a silver medal, and in the KHL in three full-time seasons beginning in 2019-20. He signed a one-year, entry-level deal with Philadelphia on May 7, 2022. However, he was taken to a military base by Russian law enforcement officers just ahead of his planned move to the United States, his agent J.P. Barry told the Associated Press.
The extreme circumstances in world politics will affect future decisions made by NHL teams. Matvei Michkov is under contract in the KHL through the 2025-26 season. Most draft experts consider the 18-year-old forward one of the four best prospects in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. However, teams will need to think twice about the possibility of international complications ruining Michkov’s chance to play in the NHL.
If he slips outside the top four, other teams will have the opportunity to take a risk on a talented player falling because of circumstances outside of his control. If the Flyers don’t move up in the NHL Draft Lottery on May 8, they’ll pick seventh, eighth, or ninth. Would the scars of the Fedotov saga prevent them from taking the best available player?
Hakstol Leads Surging Kraken
Only Fred Shero and Mike Keenan have coached more games for the Flyers than Dave Hakstol. The Seattle Kraken bench boss made the playoffs twice during his tenure in Philadelphia from 2015-2018, but the Flyers fell quietly in the opening round both times. However, he led the Kraken to a series win in their first playoff appearance ever, and it came against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
Hakstol’s time with the Flyers was underwhelming at best. Former GM Ron Hextall handed him rosters that didn’t have the talent to compete for the Stanley Cup, and the first-time head coach failed to maximize the middling talent. The organization’s insistence on patience never paid off, and Hakstol unquestionably ran his course by the middle of the disastrous 2018-19 season.
The Flyers should not regret moving on from a coach just because he is experiencing success with another organization. Watching Jim Montgomery succeed with the Boston Bruins might’ve also made them think “what if” after the Jack Adams Award favorite had interviewed just months earlier. However, Tortorella helped the organization regroup last season despite a roster without enough offensive firepower to compete. Any other coach’s success has very little to do with the direction of the franchise in their current rebuild.
Prospects Cutter Gauthier and Ronnie Attard will represent Team USA at the 2023 IIHF World Championship in Tampere, Finland and Riga, Latvia. Gauthier scored 16 goals and added 21 assists in 32 games as a freshman for Boston College in 2022-23 after the Flyers selected him with the fifth-overall pick in July 2022. Attard is a 24-year-old defenseman who spent most of last season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The tournament begins on May 12.
Egor Zamula signed a one-year, $775,000 contract with the organization. The 23-year-old defenseman played 14 games with the Flyers in 2022-23 and 44 games with the Phantoms. He underwent shoulder surgery on May 10, but he expects to make a full recovery in time for training camp.