During the Philadelphia Flyers’ struggles since last season, several players have not lived up to expectations. Due to injuries, a head coaching change, an underwhelming offense and defense, the Flyers will miss the postseason for the second consecutive season. The organization has not missed the playoffs for more than two years in a row since 1992-93 and 1993-94.
The Flyers have their share of work to do in the offseason, even though general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher remains focused on retooling rather than rebuilding the roster. Considering the team has not improved from last year’s disappointing season, it is fair to wonder if some players who are a part of their core should be traded this offseason.
Claude Giroux waived the no-movement clause in the final year of his contract, and Fletcher traded the Flyers’ captain to the Florida Panthers on March 21. The team traded veteran players Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere last offseason, and more players on the roster could get dealt to other teams this offseason during the retool.
One player is Ivan Provorov, who has been under scrutiny for the past year. Last season’s acquisitions of Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis served as an altering of the defense. Provorov played well this season when paired with Ellis and previously with Matt Niskanen in seasons past.
The acquisition of Ellis was meant to aid Provorov as he would be paired again with a more experienced blueliner. Unfortunately, a lower-body injury has limited the former Nashville Predator to four games played this season, and it’s uncertain if he will return at some point during the final month of the season. With Provorov struggling again, it is fair to wonder if he will be dealt during the summer as his name surfaced in trade rumors before the deadline passed.
Ristolainen, Ellis, Travis Sanheim, and Cam York are the Flyers’ other top defensemen on the roster. Sanheim was also the focus of trade speculation before the deadline, but he remained a Flyer after March 21. Let’s take a look at why Provorov‘s future with the Flyers is in doubt.
Provorov Is No Longer the Flyers’ Top Defenseman
Provorov has had high expectations surrounding him since the 2015 NHL Draft. The Flyers selected him with the seventh overall selection with the impression he could be the franchise’s top defenseman for the next several years. He made a positive impact once he debuted at the start of the 2016-17 season.
However, given the team’s struggles the past two seasons, along with the additions of Ristolainen and Ellis, Provorov could be wondering if the team is moving away from him as the main player on the blue line. The Flyers signed Ristolainen, who has not had a good year in his own right, to a five-year extension on March 10. And it appears the Flyers are centering the defense around players other than their top selection in the 2015 draft.
Related: Flyers Extend Rasmus Ristolainen
Ristolainen will be one of their top defensemen entering training camp before the 2022-23 season. If Ellis is fully healthy by next summer, he will also be a top player for the Flyers. Sanheim’s long-term future with the Flyers is uncertain, as he will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after next year. Given the collective difficulties of the organization this season, Sanheim has struggled at times, but he has played decent enough to where Fletcher should consider keeping him for at least another year.
Provorov has been the Flyers’ top defenseman in ice time on both the power play (PP) and the penalty kill (PK). Unless Fletcher acquires or signs another defenseman in the offseason, the Flyers find themselves without a replacement as the 25-year-old was taken off of the power play by interim head coach Mike Yeo. If healthy, Ellis could assume Provorov’s role as he contributed to the Nashville Predators’ special teams.
May Petry Be Provorov’s Eventual Replacement?
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry generated interest from other teams at the trade deadline, and the Flyers were a possible destination for the veteran defenseman. In addition to Ristolainen and Ellis, Fletcher has an interest in acquiring more experienced defensemen in a reshuffling of the blue line.
If Fletcher signs or acquires another defenseman as a part of an aggressive retool that he’s referred to, it raises further doubts about Provorov’s future with the Flyers. York has seen more playing time recently and is a player the team hopes can become a top defenseman for the organization. With a bigger role for the 21-year-old blueliner, the return of Ellis, and a potential acquisition or signing of a veteran defenseman such as Petry on the horizon, Provorov will be relegated to a lesser role on the team.
Provorov Has a Large Salary
Provorov’s $6.75 million average annual value (AAV) until the end of 2024-25 is a high salary for a player with a questionable future. If doubts remain about his role, Fletcher is better off moving him during the offseason. Due to Yeo experimenting with different defensemen on the power play, the role of the blueliner on the Flyers is getting reduced. The argument can be made he’s becoming overpaid for his new role as a top-four defenseman rather than a top-two player at his position.
The Flyers are better off acquiring or signing another defenseman this summer than having Provorov in a top role because he has not been consistent enough to be a top defenseman. If they prefer a retool rather than a rebuild of the roster, having another veteran blueliner along with Ellis and Ristolainen supports the general manager’s agenda more than playing young prospects on defense.
Is Provorov a Product of His Environment or a Depth Defenseman?
Given the Flyers’ horrendous year, you can make the point that none of the players are performing up to their standards. After a loss to the Canadiens, Yeo mentioned the team has to be open-minded to changes that occur in the lineup. In regards to Provorov’s reduced ice time on the power play, Yeo commented, “I think (the decision-making process has) got to be real fluid. And one thing, I was real impressed with Ivan’s game last game (against Carolina). We’ll keep that in the back of our minds. Obviously, when things aren’t going well, we have to be open to making changes, and I think that goes for everybody, whether it be forwards or defensemen,” (from ‘Flyers reach a new low; accountability the main theme as trade deadline looms: O’Connor Observations, The Athletic, 3/14/22).
Yeo may be changing the lineup and defensive pairings in order to create a spark for the Flyers. But it is telling that he is advocating change, which is synonymous for what will happen with the roster during the summer. Fletcher may not consider a retool a rebuild. Depending on what players leave the team this offseason, fans and the media will debate whether or not the organization is undergoing a rebuild or not.
But Provorov is considered a core player for the Flyers despite his struggles, Sanheim’s bigger role, and Ristolainen’s contract extension. However, the Flyers’ assistant captain has underwhelmed when not paired with a veteran defenseman such as Niskanen or Ellis. The ongoing problem of Provorov needing to be paired with an experienced blueliner in order to reach his potential is a concern. At some point, Fletcher needs to find another core defenseman who can be productive no matter who his partner is, such as the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox. While blueliners like the Rangers defenseman are difficult to find, the Flyers need to address the Provorov situation this offseason because he no longer is Philadelphia’s top defenseman.