More Sports:

December 14, 2023

NHL power rankings roundup: The Flyers are turning heads

The Flyers are playing well and have themselves in the playoff hunt, and the hockey world at large is starting to take notice.

Flyers NHL
Travis-Sanheim-Flyers-Predators-Goal.12.14.2023-NHL.jpg Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

People are starting to take notice of Travis Sanheim and the Flyers.

Typically a rebuild comes with the understanding that a team won't be anywhere near the playoffs for a good while. 

These Flyers, however, don't seem all that interested in treading the beaten path. 

They're playing well, have beaten some quality opponents along the way, and in mid-December, more than a third of the way through the season, here they are holding a playoff spot

Are the Flyers actually for real? Is this stretch going to last all the way into April? No one can say for sure just yet, but they can say that many around the league are really starting to take notice. 

Just take a look at the latest wave of power rankings (with some added input from yours truly)...

Daily Faceoff: 10th

Scott Maxell: Hey, don’t sleep on the Flyers. They’ve won four straight now after back-to-back victories against their state rivals in Pittsburgh, snapping the Coyotes hot streak and besting an always strong Avs team. Everyone keeps expecting the falloff to happen soon, but they keep sticking around.

Mike Gould: I continue to be stunned at how good this Flyers team has been through the first two months of the season. They’re not fake good. They’re good. It can’t all be Sean Couturier, right? The Ivan Provorov trade was a clear-cut case of addition by subtraction, and the Tony DeAngelo buyout also falls into that category. John Tortorella also deserves some credit for getting this team to clamp down on things in their own zone. 

My take: The biggest thing for me with the Flyers so far is how much smarter and how much more responsible of a team they've become. They've been backchecking well, clogging up the neutral zone, and have generally taken care of things in their own end, which in turn, has swung back around into some effective offense on the rush. 

A healthy Sean Couturier has played a big part in that (more on him in a second), and so has a revitalized Travis Sanheim who's been walking the blue line and jumping in down low with confidence again, along with notable progress and flashes from a number of younger pieces ranging from Cam York to Tyson Foerster and Bobby Brink. 

It's all added up to the Flyers holding a playoff spot in a crowded but vulnerable Metro division through mid-December. I don't know how long this will last, and I speculated on their playoff chances on Wednesday HERE, but to sum it up: The longer this solid stretch of play continues, and the more quality opponents they beat, the more serious of a team the Flyers become. 

And I'd argue we might already be at the point to start taking them pretty seriously. 

The Hockey News: 16th

How could this team not exceed the lowly expectations? John Tortorella’s squads play hard, and they got a No. 1 center (essentially) for free with Sean Couturier returning from injury. They’ve got nice depth, even if the pieces move around a lot and, more importantly, really solid goaltending. – Jason Chen

My take: Couturier was out for so long and the concerns over his back were so great that I honestly forgot how dominant of a 200-foot center he is. 

It took a bit of time for him to fully get back into the swing of NHL games, but ever since, his positioning has been as fundamentally sound as ever, his protection of the puck as strong as ever, and his advantage in the faceoff circle has been steadily building back up. 

He's the type of player who can slow everything down and really take control of a game's tempo, which I think has been a major and somewhat underrated component of the Flyers' success to this point. 

Can definitely say with confidence at least that they missed him these past couple of years. 

Also, Carter Hart has been great for them in goal. A reliable starter in net always makes the team in front of him more confident in what they can do, which I also think we've been seeing manifest in the results. 

CBS Sports: 11th

I continue to be blown away by the job John Tortorella and Flyers are doing this year. I assumed Philadelphia would be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, and I have a whole carton of eggs on my face at this point. The Flyers are third in the Metro Division -- ahead of the Hurricanes and Capitals -- and their underlying numbers are exceptional. Their 53.7% expected goals share at five-on-five ranks fifth. People need to start taking them more seriously. – Austin Nivison

My take: The Flyers have been playing well, but also working to their advantage has been that the expected top contenders in the Metro have been fumbling. 

Goaltending issues have kept Carolina and New Jersey from getting off the ground, Washington was slow out of the gate, Columbus is a complete mess, and Pittsburgh is lacking depth while somehow having a worse power play than the Flyers – which is just unacceptable when you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Erik Karlsson all on the same team. 

The Flyers are playing better but also might be getting an additional boost from simply being in the right place at the right time. 15th

Look no further than special teams for the Flyers’ pro and con. The pro is their penalty kill; they are at 85.9 percent (73-for-85) on the PK and have scored an NHL-high seven short-handed goals. The con is their power play. They are clicking at 12.2 percent (10-for-82) and have allowed one short-handed goal. – Dan Rosen

My take: That the Flyers are more likely to score when they're down a man rather than with the actual advantage is one of those weird things in hockey that is both awesome and hilarious. 

Look, if the Flyers are on the kill, I'm just waiting for that pass to come flying up to Travis Konencny over center ice. You know he's looking for it, and teams just keep losing him somehow. 

The Athletic: 15th

OK, OK, OK — we get it. This team is better than everyone thought. John Tortorella is a fantastic coach getting the absolute most out of a team many expected to do nothing. But let’s be honest about this team’s future; this kind of feels like a pyrrhic victory. They’re winning the battles, but losing the rebuilding war. Maybe adding Matvei Michkov to the culture this team is instilling will be enough. Or maybe this team ends up in no man’s land at season’s end: outside the playoffs and the lottery. A little losing streak would do wonders. (That doesn’t mean you can’t cheer for back-to-back wins against the Penguins, of course. Those rule). – Sean Gentille, Dom Luszczyszyn
My take: OK, so I've struggled with this part. Yes, the Flyers are in a clearly stated rebuild and no one in the front office nor the coaching staff has seemed to lose track of that. And yes, a bad roster that loses games has been the tried and true route to securing high draft picks and a team's best shot at getting better down the road.

But the Flyers don't exactly have a bad roster, and above all, they're playing good hockey, probably way better than most expected, and with key young pieces already contributing.

And it's not like the Flyers have to completely restock the farm either. Emil Andrae is down with the Phantoms developing, chances are Cutter Gauthier will be on his way after the NCAA season, Oliver Bonk and Denver Barkey are looking sharp skating for London in Juniors, and the wait for Matvei Michkov can't end soon enough. 

They're going to need more in a few years' time, for sure, but they're not starting entirely from scratch either. 

Realistically, no one was expecting the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup this year or even make the playoffs. 

But I'm having a hard time believing that a surprise playoff run now would be a bad thing long-term. 

If anything, I'd take it as a major step in the right direction. Because if this team is good enough to make the playoffs as it is now, and so long as guys like Tyson Foester, Owen Tippett, and Bobby Brink keep developing, then imagine what they'd be like once Gautheir and Michkov finally do enter the fray. 

I guess what I'm saying is it's OK to have the glass half full on this. 

Follow Nick on Twitter: @itssnick

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports