General manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher commented earlier in the 2021-22 season that the Philadelphia Flyers will undergo an aggressive retool and not a rebuild to remain in the mix for a playoff spot next year. There is doubt the organization has the talent to be in the Eastern Conference playoffs even if they do not struggle with injuries, as they did this season. It is unknown which players will be a target during the offseason for GM Fletcher to provide a spark to a struggling franchise.
The Flyers will test the trade market during the summer on some players who may generate interest from other clubs. Fletcher needs to consider making changes as the roster has not been productive since the 2019-20 season was put on hold due to COVID-19. The last two seasons have been some of the worst in the history of the organization. Let’s take a look at three players who may be on the trading block this offseason.
Ivan Provorov has not consistently performed like a top defenseman, which the Flyers envisioned when they selected him with the seventh-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. He has been effective when paired with a veteran blueliner such as Matt Niskanen or Ryan Ellis. With the acquisition of Ellis and the Rasmus Ristolainen extension, the organization appears to be looking for one of the two to take the mantle of its top defenseman.
Provorov has three more seasons under his current contract with a $6.75 million average annual value (AAV). His AAV will be the fourth highest on the current roster in 2022-23 behind Sean Couturier ($7.75 million), Kevin Hayes ($7.142 million), and James van Riemsdyk ($7 million). The Flyers defenseman’s name surfaced in rumors during the trade deadline as well, and while rumors should be taken with a grain of salt, it is not a good sign when management may be looking to move on from one of their top players.
The Flyers’ former first-round pick’s production is hindered by the struggles of the franchise to an extent but he has not performed like a No. 1 defenseman as his draft position suggests. He appears more like a No. 3 defenseman and would have better production on a playoff club. Provorov is a minutes-eating defenseman who can contribute offensively at times but shouldn’t be anywhere near a good team’s power play and is getting the second- or third-most minutes on a blue line (from ‘Flyers mailbag: Ryan Ellis’ situation? Evaluating Ivan Provorov? ‘Aggressive retool’ realities’, The Athletic, 4/27/22). Although he has the highest AAV of all defensemen on the team, he lacks the consistency to be the unequivocal top blueliner as his production is impacted depending upon whom he is paired with.
While Provorov is a solid player, GM Fletcher’s aggressive retool, in which everything is on the table in getting the Flyers back to contention, creates uncertainty among players such as the team’s top defenseman because he has been with the organization for six seasons during which it has not had much playoff success. The pairing of him and Ellis earlier in the season showed promise before the former Nashville Predator suffered what turned out to be a pelvic injury that ended his season after four games. The duo may be paired together next season unless they receive a worthwhile offer that involves the 25-year-old defenseman during the summer.
James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk proved to be the most effective player on the Flyers’ power-play unit, which finished last in the league during the season. However, he is on the decline for a player entering the last year of his contract with a hefty $7 million AAV. The organization may not find any other clubs willing to trade for a player entering the final year of his deal unless they agree to pay at least $3.5 million of his salary. If they want to move on from him, the franchise may decide to buy out the final year of his contract.
van Riemsdyk played in all 82 regular-season games this year, a season after playing all 56 games in the 2020-21 shortened season. His durability is a positive attribute for a playoff team with cap space to consider acquiring during the offseason. He finished with the most goals of his career (24) since 2018-19 even though his assist total (14) was the second-lowest of his career. His strength as a goal scorer is using his 6-foot-3 frame in front of the net to create screens for the offense and battle for rebounds and deflections.
Fletcher commented during the press conference on May 3 that the Flyers, “Need to get younger. We have to get more talented. We have to get faster. We have to aggressively look at trades, free agency, and can we add a couple players to supplement what we have here and make this team better.”(from ‘Chuck Fletcher talks what’s next after ‘beyond unacceptable’ season’ Philly Voice, 5/3/22) Based on the GM’s comments, the club will be looking to trade away some veteran players in favor of youth, which makes van Riemsdyk a candidate to be on another team in 2022-23.
Based upon Fletcher emphasizing the Flyers need to get younger and mentioning Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, and Joel Farabee as players the team hopes continue to improve, Cam Atkinson is a candidate to possibly be moved during the offseason. The 32-year-old forward played well during 2021-22, but his production dropped after the trade of Claude Giroux as he had success playing with the franchise’s former captain during his first season with the organization. He has a modified no-trade clause in his contract in which he submits a list of 10 teams he would not accept a trade to, so the GM needs to consider that if he pursues trading the forward during the offseason.
Atkinson did not shy away from his honesty and criticism of the Flyers’ season, “I’m just embarrassed, I guess. It’s a crappy feeling. Almost a waste of a year in my mind, but I hope Chuck is going to do some things in the summer to help this team. I want to be here. I want to win here. We will turn this thing around. Have a good summer and get back at it for next year. I think going into next year, we need to find a way to have some more grit, some more jam, more ‘F you’ to our game, on both sides of the puck, in our crease, defending our goalie and in their crease. I thought we were a pretty soft team this year in my opinion.”
The bottom line is Atkinson wants to win regardless of the team he is on and the Flyers do not look like a playoff contender for the next couple of seasons unless there is quite a turnaround beginning in 2022-23. If GM Fletcher thinks trading the veteran forward would be best for the organization in the long term, he can reference the 2021-22 season as evidence of what the 32-year-old can bring to a franchise during his first year with a new team. He can still contribute at a fairly high level on offense and to special teams in addition to having several seasons of being a reliable playmaker.
GM Fletcher has a significant offseason in front of him to make the correct changes to the roster and hire the best head coach to prove the aggressive retool is the correct approach to improve the Flyers rather than undergoing a rebuild. Aside from the early 1990s, and the 2006-07 season, the outlook of the organization has not looked more somber than it is currently. The team managed to become a playoff contender in 2007-08, but it looks far from a certainty that history will repeat itself at this point.
The roster does not contain much depth nor does it look much more talented even if the club has better luck with health next year. Couturier, Ellis, Hart, Ristolainen, Atkinson, Farabee, Hayes, and Scott Laughton are all current roster members who missed time with injuries in 2021-22. The Eastern Conference looked stronger than the West this season as the eight playoff teams all were in the hunt to qualify for the postseason months before the conclusion of the season. The organization has its work cut out for it this summer with the goal of being in the playoff mix next year, which looks to be too much to ask for currently.