More Sports:

January 06, 2023

Who is in the Flyers' long-term picture?

Which guys are looking part of the long-term picture and who might be on their way out?

The Flyers went on their annual holiday road trip – because Disney on Ice is non-negotiable at Christmas time – and came back from it with pretty good results. 

They lost in Toronto and Carolina before the break, but tried and nearly did climb back into both of them, then went out West and swept a California slate of San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim for the first time in what feels like forever. 

"It's for morale," head coach John Tortorella said ahead of Thursday night's return home against Arizona. "We've been in a lot of close games. Some games, I think we earned a better result and didn't get 'em. I think they all come out in a wash in the long season, but they find a way. Played good, played bad, inconsistent, but they play hard. That's what we constantly get out of our team. I think our team plays hard every night, and we got some results in California."

And they will get more, as they did in Thursday's 6-2 win over the Coyotes for their fourth straight. The Flyers are far from a great team right now, but with where things stand in the NHL, there are a handful of groups they're better than and a few more they can pull one over on if they can play smart and outwork them. 

But at 26th in the league with 37 points (a 15-17-7 record through 39 games) they are more than likely not making the playoffs – and yes, we know, reading that there are teams they can beat is not what fans want to hear when it comes to draft positioning and the best possible shot at Connor Bedard (who speaking of, just went OFF in the World Junior Championship for Canda). 

Either way, the Flyers are "building" and using this year as the starting point. Tortorella has said it multiple times now over the past couple of months and part of the process, alongside re-establishing an identity and good habits, is figuring out who's in it for the long haul. 

And just a game shy of the halfway mark on the 82-game schedule, we're starting to get a clearer picture of what this team is going to become long-term. 

So who's who? 

We'll go up and down the current roster, breaking each name down into sections: The ones who are looking in it for the long haul (the next several years), the ones who are in the picture and can prove themselves part of the future, the ones on the fence, then finally the names who are likely on their way out. 

Note that some non-roster players will also be included here, but for right now, not prospects like Cutter Gauthier, Tyson Foerster, or Elliot Desnoyers. They're going to get their shots, but those won't come along until later in the year. 

Plans can always change, of course, but here's a quick-hit rundown of the current makeup

The immovables – Forwards: Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson. Defensemen: Ryan Ellis.

Starting with the immovables these are the guys who aren't going anywhere right now because of injury or term or both. 

Couturier is still out from back surgery and only just began an eight-year extension. Before his back issues, he was one of the best defensive centers in the league, but at 30, will he still be that when he does finally return?

Atkinson never skated this season and was ruled out for good when he needed neck surgery. He has two more years on his contract at $5.875 million. 

Ellis is not playing at all this season and may never play again at this rate. He's still working through a "multi-faceted" lower-body injury and until he recovers, provided he does, his remaining four years at $6.25 million will be stashed away on long-term injured reserve. 

For the long haul – Forwards: Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Joel Farabee. Defensmen: Travis Sanheim. Goaltenders: Carter Hart.

Konecny has emerged as the Flyers' best skater, shouldering way more responsibility and leading the team in points in the process. With a goal and two assists Thursday night against Arizona, he's well over a point-per-game pace with 40 (20 goals, 20 assists) through 33 games.  When the Flyers find the net, more often than not, Konecny had something to do with it. 

Laughton is the only player wearing a letter on his chest right now, which says a lot about how much Tortorella trusts him. He isn't a superstar but has been a more than reliable two-way center in the bottom six ,who has been with the team for years and is tasked with leading by example for the younger players. He's also on a relatively inexpensive cap hit at $3 million through 2026 so there's no real issue in keeping him around. 

• Still just 22, Farabee is under contract for five more seasons at $5 million per and was getting some high praise as the Flyers' next star during the leadup to Claude Giroux's exit last March. Injuries have slowed him down – the disc replacement surgery in the summer was a clear setback – but he's been given plenty of time and has shown positive signs of late on a line with Konecny and Noah Cates. He registered a point in each of the three games before the Christmas break and has three (two goals and an assist) in the last two games. 

Sanheim got signed to that eight-year, $50 million extension right before the start of the season. He's had ups and downs this season, but he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 

Hart, at numerous points this season, has been considered by his teammates as the Flyers' best player, and for good reason. The 24-year-old netminder has kept them in a ton of games already and has outright stolen a couple for them too. There's been a few leaky goals for sure, but he's had a noticeably shorter memory and much cleaner technique compared to the past couple of seasons. Goaltender is a tough position to figure out if you don't have one – Philly is painfully aware of this – and the Flyers do have one. Hold on to him. 

In the picture – Forwards: Noah Cates, Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, Owen Tippett. Defensemen: Cam York, Ivan Provorov, Egor Zamula. 

Cates is a definite favorite of Tortorella's and has been thrown into a ton of situations, including a recent move to center between Farabee and Konecny – and so far so good there. He has only 16 points on the season but is one in the handful of plus players in the lineup right now (+3). A responsible middle-six forward that will be an RFA this summer, but likely not at too steep a price tag. 

Frost and Tippett look the most confident they've ever been in their careers so far. Frost especially has been on a tear, with 14 points (five goals and nine assists) since the start of December, which included a four-assist performance Thursday night against Arizona. Tortorella noted afterward that he's been fighting way harder for the puck of late, and the work is clearly paying off. 

Tippett also registered an assist Thursday night and had two goals on the West coast trip. His scoring touch was what always needed work, but he's been getting time to find it and so far has a career-high 12 goals and 21 points on the year. 

Both forwards are 23. Tippett is under control for another year. Frost is on a one-year "prove it" deal and then will be an RFA, though he's making a case to be back right now. 

• The trick with Allison has always been injuries. He stayed healthy through camp and finally made it up, but has already missed time with a hip pointer. Part of it's just the type of player he is. He skates like a heat-seeking missile, which puts him at risk. But Allison brings clear energy when he's on the ice and the Flyers do seem to like him because of it. He's 25 and under contract for next season. Staying on the ice consistently will be key to his future. 

York has probably been the Flyers' best defenseman since his call-up from the Phantoms. He's been getting the puck moving the other way with tons of efficiency and has looked incredibly smooth while doing it. I mean look at that spin move:

He did it to the Coyotes on Thursday night too. The 2019 first-round pick only just turned 22 and is on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov with a whole lot of room to grow. He is going to need a new contract, however. 

• Speaking of Provorov, he was in an odd place at the end of last season. The team was a mess, his play was too, and trade rumors started to pop up. General manager Chuck Fletcher maintained that the defenseman's standing within the organization was still good and things have settled down since. Provorov's still taking up major minutes on the top pairing and is playing a much cleaner game compared to last year but isn't back to where he was when Matt Niskanen was his partner back in 2019-20. He's here though and at a hit of $6.75 million per until 2025. 

Zamula, 22, is a defense prospect the Flyers have frequently spoken highly of, but one that will need plenty of time. The 6'3" blueliner has gotten a taste of the NHL this year and last and has shown flashes of great puck movement, but he's down with the Phantoms for now because the actual defensive part of his game needs work. Zamula's on the last year of his entry-level deal. 

On the fence – Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Nic Deslauriers, Zack MacEwen, Bobby Brink. Defensemen: Tony DeAngelo, Rasmus Ristolainen. Goaltenders: Samuel Ersson, Felix Sandström.

Hayes was leading the Flyers in scoring for a while – even between benchings, a move to the wing, and shifts up and down the lineup – but after a benching and subsequent scratching in the middle of December, that production fell off (though he did score Thursday night against Arizona and has five points in the last two games). Tortorella has insisted there are no issues and Hayes has repeated that he's just trying to play the right way, but where he really stands isn't entirely clear. that said, Hayes is a hard move. He's owed $7.1 million over the next several years still, plus he's an All-Star.

• Both Deslauriers and MacEwen are fourth-line bruisers that will jolt a game with a big hit or a fight, but that isn't usually a role for longevity. Deslauriers is the most likely to stay put with the newer and bigger contract. MacEwen is an arbitration-eligible RFA after this season and maybe could fetch something on the trade market. 

Brink, 21, was great at the University of Denver and is getting set to return to the ice with the Phantoms, but hip surgery is a long one to come back from. 

Ristolainen has been an analytical punching bag for years, but his size and ability to rack up points at least worked in his favor. He has only two assists so far this season, so really, that five-year, $25.5 million contract is just giving the Flyers a big hit every now and then. In fairness, he did pick a guy's pocket and took off on a breakaway Thursday night. He just couldn't slip it past the goalie. 

DeAngelo is under contract for next season and will likely be back for it. So far, he's been exactly what the Flyers traded for, an offensive-minded defenseman who quarterbacks the power play and isn't scared to go for the risky play up the ice. He's produced 23 points through 34 games. 

Ersson looked good filling in for Hart on the three-game trip out West and Tortorella was high on him in camp. Sandström, by comparison, has been shaky – 1-6-1 with .888 save percentage in eight starts. One of them has to back up Hart while the other goes down to the Phantoms. 

On the outside – Forwards: James van Riemsdyk, Kieffer Bellows. Defensemen: Justin Braun, Nick Seeler. 

• The trade deadline is March 3, and with van Riemdsyk in the last year of his contract, he's been an obvious target from before the season even started. A net-front presence that can put up 20-25 goals, playoff teams do place value in that, and that can fetch some draft capital. 

• A former first-round pick claimed off waivers, Bellows hasn't moved the needle any. In 12 games with the Flyers, he has no points and is -5. He's an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer. 

Braun is a depth defenseman who the Flyers dealt to the Rangers for a draft pick at the deadline last year. Wouldn't be surprising at all if they make the same move again this year. 

• 29 years old and a bottom-pairing defenseman at a low cost? Yeah, maybe the Flyers can find a partner that would want to add Seeler for playoff depth too. 

Follow Nick on Twitter: @itssnick

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports