Flyers News & Rumors: Tortorella Scratches Hayes, Atkinson, Gauthier

The Philadelphia Flyers suffered through a rough week. Even after they got a much-needed regulation victory against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, they still had a mess waiting for them off the ice with drama between their head coach and their leading scorer, long-term injuries marring their plans, and a contributing player picking up and leaving the team in the blink of an eye.

Atkinson Out for Season

Cam Atkinson underwent neck surgery on Dec. 21, and he will officially miss the entire 2022-23 season. He had skated with the team over the past month, but nobody in the organization ever set a definite timetable for his return. Before the season, the former Blue Jacket looked like a key veteran piece to the team as the only player on the roster with NHL experience playing under John Tortorella. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s MVP for the 2021-22 season, his first in Philadelphia.

Cam Atkinson Philadelphia Flyers
Cam Atkinson, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Ellis will also miss the entire 2022-23 season, and Sean Couturier is questionable to return during the second half. Atkinson has two more seasons remaining on his current contract with a $5.87 million cap hit while Ellis is locked up through 2025-26 with a $6.25 million cap hit. Couturier has never played a game on an eight-year contract worth $7.75 million in average annual value (AAV) through 2029-30. All three players are at least 30 years old, and their combined AAV falls just shy of $20 million. It’s fair to wonder whether or not any of the three will ever regain the form they showed before suffering their respective injuries. 

Tortorella Scratches Hayes

Tortorella made the most controversial move of his Flyers tenure, scratching a healthy Kevin Hayes for a matchup against the New York Rangers on Saturday, Dec. 17. Hayes leads the team with 29 points, but Tortorella has made it clear throughout the season that he isn’t happy with the defensive game of a player who entered the season with expectations as the top-line center.

“It’s kind of a big picture in my mind, as far as team concept. Again, I don’t want to get into a long conversation about it, but it’s a legitimate question. I’ll put it to you this way. I can’t keep looking by things because we’re worried about scoring. I’ve got to worry about the big picture of what this team is going to be, what the standard is of how we have to play. That far outweighs losing some offense in a particular game,” Tortorella said during his pregame availability.

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

The media later asked Tortorella to evaluate Hayes’ first game back in the lineup against the Blue Jackets on Dec. 20. The first-year head coach brushed away the question.

“I’m not going to have the Kevin Hayes update. You guys are trying to pit him against me and me against him, which is so ludicrous,” he barked.

It’s not ludicrous for media members to ask about a team’s leading scorer who had recently been a healthy scratch, if that’s what Tortorella meant. The reaction of the Philadelphia media to the controversial decision has been somewhat mixed, but there is no doubt that it will be a topic of conversation all season. Possibly the most critical comments came from former NHL defenseman and current TNT broadcaster Keith Yandle, who maintains a close relationship with Hayes.

“It’s hard for me to see what the point is right now. Just even watching some of their games this year, it almost seems like they’re being outcoached in a lot of those games, that there are games that they could’ve won, maybe a decision that the coaches make where it cost them a game. You talk about accountability and being there for the team…is it time maybe a coach gets healthy scratched?” Yandle said on his Instagram page.

Yandle played 77 games for the Flyers in 2021-22. He finished with a minus-47 rating and a cringe-worthy 42.40% expected goal share (xGF%). He was a defensive liability signed to contribute on a power play that ultimately finished 32nd in the NHL. He failed to execute a line change that led directly to a goal late in his 16th season in the NHL. The Flyers avoided scratching Yandle solely for the purpose of allowing him to break the NHL Iron Man record for most consecutive games played.

Tortorella made the decision to sit Hayes during the afternoon before he knew that winger Zack MacEwen would miss the game with an illness. The Flyers bench boss still chose to dress seven defensemen rather than inserting Hayes. Late addition Justin Braun ended up playing just 4:41 of ice time on a crowded blue line. Hayes reentered the lineup and went scoreless in 14:25 against Columbus. He assisted a Tony DeAngelo power-play goal in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, Dec. 22.

Sedlák Returns to Czechia

If things weren’t bad enough with the players at the top of the lineup, Lukáš Sedlák was placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of returning to Czechia. The former Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) star wasn’t thrilled with his situation in Philadelphia, and he wanted to be closer to family members. He now plays for Pardubice HC in Czechia.

Sedlák scored three goals and added five assists in 27 games for the Flyers after they claimed him off waivers in October. He currently ranks second on the team in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi For percentage (CF%) behind only Cam York, who has played just seven NHL games in 2022-23. Sedlák ranks first in percentage share of high-danger chances.

Related: Dear Santa: Flyers’ 2022 Christmas Wish List

Rumors have swirled for weeks about the Flyers’ desire to free up a contract to promote veteran Artem Anisimov to the NHL level. However, Jason Myrtetus poured cold water on the idea on the Flyers Daily podcast. 

“Would he grab that contract and come up? I don’t know that that’s going to happen. First of all, I think they like that Anisimov is down there helping some younger players as a veteran influence, and I think the team wants to look at young guys to find out what they are at the NHL level and what they’re capable of,” Myrtetus said.

Cutter Gauthier at World Juniors

It’s a time of overwhelming negativity in the world of the Philadelphia Flyers, but top prospect Cutter Gauthier could breathe some life into a fan base that desperately needs it. The 2022 fifth-overall pick will represent Team USA at the World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick from Dec. 26-Jan. 5. He’ll play on the top line for the Americans with third-overall pick Logan Cooley and 23rd-overall pick Jimmy Snuggerud.

All advanced stats apply to 5-on-5 play, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.