There aren’t many teams across the NHL that can say they endured a more disappointing season than the Detroit Red Wings. One team that can, however, is the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished with a record of 25-46-11 despite adding big names like Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen in the 2021 offseason. Because of their struggles, the Flyers hold the fifth pick in the 2022 draft, and general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher is under pressure to deliver a perennial playoff team to the City of Brotherly Love.
In what was perhaps a microcosm of the Flyers’ struggles last season, defenseman Ivan Provorov recorded one of the worst seasons in his young career. The 25-year-old Russian had a career-worst plus/minus rating of minus-20, his .39 points per-game rate (P/G) was the third-worst of his six season career, and his team was routinely caved-in in their own zone when he was on the ice. Once heralded as one of the league’s top up-and-coming defenders, he now finds himself in a bit of a precarious position with the Flyers.
The Red Wings have a firm understanding of what constitutes “defensive struggles” as they have averaged 3.54 goals-against in the three seasons since Steve Yzerman took over as GM. To that point, Yzerman will look to upgrade the team’s defense this offseason, whether it’s through free agency, internal growth, trades, or some combination of the three. With the Flyers looking to shake things up for their franchise and the Red Wings looking to add talent to their blue line, could Detroit be a “clean slate” for Provorov?
Provorov Endures Frustrating Season
You know a player’s season went sideways when they stuff like this at their year-end media availability:
“No matter what I say, you guys are going to give me your own grades,” Provorov said. “It doesn’t matter, you’re all experts in hockey, so you’re going to give me all your super experienced grades. I don’t think my opinion really matters to you guys.
I don’t need anyone to write glory stories on me. You all have an opinion. I have my opinion. So, yeah.”
Drafted seventh overall in 2015, all expectations were that Provorov would develop into the top player on the Flyers’ blue line. He was supposed to compete for Norris Trophies and usher in an era of defensive stability for a team that has gone through many different defenders since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. While he has shown flashes of that potential (he received votes for the Norris Trophy during the 2019-20 season), he hasn’t been able to take that next step that would launch him into superstardom.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flyers were outshot 785-741 at even-strength with Provorov on the ice this season, and they controlled just 45.6 percent of high-danger chances while he was on the ice. The season prior, Philadelphia was outshot by a smaller margin, 500-483, and they controlled just under half of high-danger chances (49.5 percent). The numbers look even better the season before that, suggesting that this season might have been an anomaly or perhaps a bottoming-out point for this player.
Furthermore, the Flyers were absolutely decimated by injuries this season. Ellis was brought in to add some star power to Philadelphia’s blue line, but he only skated in four games before going down with a season-ending injury. Top center Sean Couturier played in just 29 games before he finished the season on injured-reserve as well. All those injuries lead to a lot of losing, and the Flyers eventually had to move long-time captain Claude Giroux at the trade deadline. All of this is to say that the Flyers are likely not as bad as their record this season suggests.
However, while Provorov seemingly fell victim to the Flyers’ circumstances, others seemed to jump at the opportunity. Travis Sanheim, drafted one year before Provorov, had arguably his career-best season, and now he’s being talked about as the Flyers’ top defender. Rookie Cam York also made his way into 30 games this season and did not look out of place. The general consensus is that York will be ready for more responsibility next season, meaning Sanheim and York are probably the team’s top-two options on the left side of the blue line, leaving Provorov as the odd man out.
With others beginning to pass him by on the depth chart, it may be time for Provorov to get a fresh start somewhere else.
Red Wings Need Left-Handed Defensemen
Heading into the 2022 offseason, the Red Wings have just one left-handed NHL defenseman under contract: Jordan Oesterle. The perennial sixth/seventh defenseman should fill that role again next season, so the Red Wings essentially have three openings to fill on the left side of their blue line. Many expect one of those spots to go to the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 draft, Simon Edvinsson, so that leaves two spots unaccounted for. Considering it would be unwise to assume Edvinsson will enter the NHL and immediately become a minute-munching defender, one of those open spots needs to go to a player that can comfortably play 20 minutes or more on a given night.
When the Red Wings encountered a similar need during last year’s offseason, Yzerman made a deal with the New York Islanders that sent defenseman Nick Leddy to “Hockeytown”. The idea was that Leddy would be a veteran partner and mentor for rookie defenseman Moritz Seider while also adding some veteran leadership to the team as a whole. While the Leddy acquisition did not play out perfectly in the end, Yzerman could still look to the trade market to fill the team’s need on the blue line.
Provorov would fit the Red Wings’ needs nicely for a few reasons. First, he plays a two-way game that seems to lean more on the defensive side. He’s never going to be a Cale Makar-type of defenseman that lights up the scoresheet, but he could be a consistent source of around 40 points a season (he has averaged around half a point per-game in three of his six seasons.) With that focus on a two-way game, he could actually be the perfect partner for Filip Hronek, who is known around Detroit for his offensive abilities and his defensive miscues. Maybe Hronek gets freed up more offensively if Provorov is there to play a sound defensive game.
Second, Provorov is just 25 years old, which puts him right in the same age group as most of the Red Wings core players. When Yzerman was asked at his year-end availability if he would trade future assets for help right now, he said he would only do it for players “that fit into the timeline of our nucleus.” He went on to specifically mention 24 or 25-year-olds would fit that description.
Third, with three more years on his deal that carries a $6.75 million cap-hit, he would help the Red Wings hit the cap floor (yes, that is something that has to be considered this offseason) while also giving the team options in terms of who they keep and don’t keep heading into the future. If he works out, the Red Wings can extend him in two years. If he doesn’t work out, they’ll have plenty of time to find a trade partner.
Red Wings Have Assets to Trade
Sooner or later, Yzerman will make a move that shifts the narrative around the Red Wings. Moving on from head coach Jeff Blashill signaled that change was in order. Taking on a player like Provorov would send an even clearer message that the team is trying to take a big step. Regardless of Provorov’s struggles, though, the Flyers are not going to give him up for nothing.
This is where Yzerman would have to be true to his word about being willing to move future assets. While the Flyers would likely want a first round pick for Provorov, the Red Wings are not going to give up any of their first rounders anytime soon. Instead, they have a treasure trove of prospects the Flyers could pick from, as well as some additional picks outside of the first round Detroit could be willing to add. As for their prospects, in our most recent Red Wings prospect rankings, four of their top-10 prospects were left-handed defensemen, with the lowest-ranking one being 20-year-old Donovan Sebrango. If there are any Red Wings prospects the Flyers have their eyes on (outside of the obvious untouchables), maybe there’s enough there to work out a deal.
Provorov is a player that seemingly needs a change of scenery. With Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana as examples, Detroit may be one of the best places to get a clean slate from. Are you convinced yet?
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.