In 2022-23, one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ biggest issues was their depth, particularly offensively. Game after game, head coach John Tortorella tested out new lines with depth pieces to find something that worked. In the end, the team’s bottom-six was inconsistent, and their top-end talent didn’t perform at an elite enough level to offset that weakness like the best teams in the league are able to.
After prioritizing bottom-six stability this offseason, the Flyers are now stronger in that department than they were last season. If they can have one of the best bottom-six units in the league, they might win more games than expected.
Flyers Addressed Depth in the Offseason
Although general manager (GM) Danny Briere didn’t do much this summer, he found some depth options to help solidify the fourth line, adding veteran winger Garnet Hathaway as well as center Ryan Poehling.
Briere had to let go of some offensive options to make room for these acquisitions, such as Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk. However, bringing Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson back not only offsets their absence, but they are also an upgrade. This offseason was more about adding offense and getting a new identity rather than subtracting.
Poehling is a solid fourth-line center. At least, he is better than what the Flyers had for most of last season in Patrick Brown and Zack MacEwen. As for Hathaway, he is an elite fourth-liner. It’s unlikely he’ll see a regular role on the penalty kill, but he has done it in the past. He is also a great physical presence and can provide some even-strength offense if needed, with 13 goals at 5-on-5 in 2022-23. Some regression is likely, but he is a definite improvement.
Injuries will always make it so new players get new opportunities. This is not always a good thing when a team is trying to win games, as it changes the routine, and the best depth players might not be on the ice every night.
In 2022-23, the Flyers had a different bottom-six on (what seemed like) a nightly basis. However, Brown, MacEwen, Kieffer Bellows, Lukas Sedlak, and Brendan Lemieux were depth options who are no longer with the club. In addition, the team used several American Hockey League (AHL) players to fill in for injuries. The only player from last season who will remain a depth option is Nicolas Deslauriers.
However, Couturier and Atkinson should have much bigger roles than the players they had in those spots last season. Getting top-six talent back helps the bottom-six improve as well. Instead of a player like Noah Cates being a first-line option, he can slot into the middle-six, where he is better suited.
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The Flyers can also use fringe NHL players such as Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison, Elliot Desnoyers, and Olle Lycksell less frequently than they did last season. Even though Briere only acquired depth, it should help the team tremendously.
Flyers’ Youth Will Improve
The Flyers will also benefit as their prospects develop and improve. Last season, the team lost prospect Bobby Brink to a torn labrum before training camp, and it seemed as though he could make a push for a lineup spot, given he had appeared in 10 games the year prior. Even though he is now healed and spent most of his season in the AHL developing, he seems like more of a longshot to make the roster than he did in 2022-23. This is a good problem to have.
Rushing young players out of necessity is not something that successful teams typically do. If the Flyers have the luxury of letting their prospects develop properly, as was the case with Brink and Desnoyers as well as Cutter Gauthier, they should take advantage of that. Development is key in building a Stanley Cup contender. If a player struggles to develop early, that can have long-lasting effects on their career. In adding two athletes that played in a combined 137 regular season games in Poehling and Hathaway, the Flyers can now focus more on developing their players in the AHL rather than calling them up and sending them down on a weekly basis. If the Flyers’ young players can be comfortable and find a routine in their game rather than being called up to the NHL just to be sent back to the AHL, it might help them in the long run.
The Flyers will likely rely on Tyson Foerster to be a breakout star this season, which gives them yet another player that they did not have for most of last season. Given the team’s new depth, they should be prepared to deal with injuries. Since the Flyers no longer have several elite top-end players, they will need their bottom lines to be better, and they should be.