January 10, 2023
The Flyers were looking good and finally seeing some results.
They went out west and swept the road trip, then came back home and dominated Arizona to win four straight for the first time in a long time.
But a reality check was inevitable.
While mostly everyone in Philadelphia was preoccupied with the Eagles on Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs came into the Wells Fargo Center and punched the Flyers straight in the mouth – not that the Flyers really did anything to help themselves there. It was embarrassing.
"We haven’t got spanked like that in a while, and we deserved it," head coach John Tortorella said after the 6-2 pummeling. "Not only through self-destruction, but our positioning, just everything about our game defensively. We just weren’t on it."
To their credit, they traveled out to Buffalo the next night and responded with a 4-0 shutout of the Sabres for the first of goaltender Samuel Ersson's very young NHL career.
The Flyers are still showing as having won five of their last six, but look at those last few opponents – only Los Angeles and Toronto are in the playoff picture right now – and then look at their place in the standings – 16-18-7 for 39 points, and 14th out of 16 in the Eastern Conference.
There aren't any real misgivings about where the Flyers are right now.
The March 3 deadline is still a bit of a ways away, but it is on the horizon, and with the Flyers more than likely to sell, there are going to be increasing murmurs about certain names and where this ship is ultimately headed.
Some of it's already started this week. Here's what they're saying about the Flyers...
Go back to the end of the last season: The Flyers were a spiraling mess and was so Ivan Provorov.
Once thought to be the franchise's cornerstone defenseman, he spent the bulk of the 2021-22 campaign playing as if he was on an island, holding on to the puck for way too long, trying to force passes that just weren't there, or being outright reckless with the puck. He was still eating major minutes for the Flyers night to night, but he looked lost.
After the decision was made to extend Rasmus Ristolainen for five years, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, on his 32 Thoughts podcast with co-host Jeff Marek, hinted that the signing might have been just the first step in a makeover of the Flyers' blueline and that it might eventually include a trade of Provorov, with the thought that he could benefit from a change of scenery.
But talk of that idea quieted down over the summer and into this season. Until Monday, that is.
Said Friedman on the latest 32 Thoughts:
"This kinda came to my attention early Sunday morning and I was kinda working on it. It's a difficult thing to pin down, but to say that there is something going on here, I think you're gonna hear Provorov's name out there. He's got two more years under contract. The cap hit is [6 years, $6.75 million per], which is very reasonable for him...This is a guy who had 41 points a few years ago and he looked like he was gonna be one of the best young defensemen in the National Hockey League, I still think the talent's there, but it hasn't worked as well as it could've and should've in Philadelphia.
"Now I look at this, I think probably some of it is on the player and some of it is on the team. Look, the team hasn't been what everybody thought they were gonna be, and everybody suffers with that. But I've heard that there has been a conversation about 'Is it time? Is it just time for him to go somewhere else and the Flyers to look to send him somewhere else?'
"I don't think this is anything imminent. I think this is something that might develop over a little while, but I think you're gonna hear his name. I think he has frustration with what's going on there and I think there's some frustration directed towards him too.
"But this guy is a really talented guy and I can't help but look at him and wonder if he goes somewhere else and flourishes." [Sportsnet]
Provorov, of course, has been dealt a bad hand since the Toronto playoff bubble in 2020. Matt Niskanen, his partner on the top defensive pairing that season, retired and he hasn't been the same since, and the Flyers – though they tried – never found a dependable replacement. They traded for Ryan Ellis two summers ago, but he's been injured ever since. They acquired Tony DeAngelo at the draft back in June to skate with him, but that combo was eventually broken up, and right now it's 22-year-old defenseman Cam York on a pairing with him.
Working against Provorov, however, is that by a certain point, it stops being about who his partner is. He just hasn't taken the reins like a No. 1 D-man should. Guys like the Rangers' Adam Fox, the Sharks' Erik Karlsson, and the Lightning's Victor Hedman – all Norris Trophy winners in the past – are still elite defensemen regardless of who they're playing with, in fact, they make everyone around them better.
Provorov is still playing heavy minutes with 23:12 of average ice time through 41 games, and while he has steadied himself more compared to last year, he isn't on the power play anymore and has had just three points since the start of December.
Between York, Travis Sanheim (signed to an eight-year deal this season), and defensive prospects Emil Andrae and Egor Zamula, the Flyers aren't exactly lacking in lefthanded d-man depth. And with only two years left on his contract at age 26, Provorov's potential and term could net the Flyers a decent return for down the road, whether that be a younger player or draft capital.
It might be time for both the player and the team to move on.
Add in the fact that Sanheim is now locked up for eight more years, York is coming into his own at the NHL level, the org still likes Zamula, & Emil Andrae looks legit in Sweden, & you do start to wonder if Provorov could end up as an odd man out on the left side.— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) January 9, 2023
Morgan Frost finally looked like he was one to something. The former first-round pick put together a run of 14 points through 16 games and Tortorella praised him for being more aggressive in chasing after the puck, but the Flyers' coach was sure to note too, that a 2-3 week run doesn't put you in the clear.
What was important to acknowledge also was that eight of Frost's points during that stretch were tallied in two games against the Arizona Coyotes, who linger near the bottom of the Western Conference.
So what happened when the competition ramped up Sunday night for Toronto's visit? Frost was absolutely brutal, failing to crack the scoresheet and causing two turnovers that led directly to goals for the Leafs.
The 23-year-old is on a one-year "prove it deal" to keep himself part of the Flyers' long-term picture, or at the very least, establish himself as an NHL regular elsewhere.
He's had no problem capitalizing on weaker competition but Sunday, against one of the NHL's best, showed he's far from proven anything yet.
Wrote The Athletic's Charlie O'Connor, who did a deep dive into Frost's play based on the strength of opponent:
But Sunday’s Toronto game was a reminder for everyone — fans, the front office, even Frost himself — to not get too excited just yet regarding the 23-year-old. Thirteen points in the last 12 games aside, Frost still has a ways to go to truly be viewed as part of the future for the Flyers, even in a middle-six role.
The good news? He’ll get every opportunity to make that case over the rest of this lost season. After all, it’s not like Tortorella benched him for the turnovers.
“We talked about it, to be honest with you, we talked about it between periods, him and I,” Tortorella said after the game. “OK, it’s not going your way, find a way to make a difference here in the third period. This is part of the process for some of our guys that have to go through. I kept on throwing him out there.”
But, as Tortorella made clear this weekend, two or three good weeks aren’t going to make the decision for the Flyers regarding Frost’s future. [The Athletic, $]
The Flyers are far from an offensive powerhouse right now, and in the short term, developing a lethal power play is probably isn't their immediate focus.
But if you want to point to an on-ice reason for why the Flyers are where they are right now, you can just take a look at how impotent they've been over the years on the man-advantage.
Via Jacob Russell over at Broad Street Hockey:
Over the last five seasons, this is how the Flyers’ man advantage has graded out compared to the rest of the league:
• 2018-19: 22nd in the league, 17.1%
• 2019-20: 14th in the league, 20.8%
• 2020-21: 19th in the league, 19.2%
• 2021-22: 32nd in the league, 12.69%
• 2022-23 (thus far): 29th in the league, 16.7%
Clearly this has been a longstanding, organizational issue that has not been addressed, but the most difficult part for Tortorella is that he is now having to try and build a successful power play without a blueprint for success with the players at his disposal.
For the entire time Travis Konecny has been a Flyer, they have been poor on the power play. Same with Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Kevin Hayes; basically pick anyone that you would think fits on PP1, and they have never seen or been a part of a successful Flyers power play. The closest they came was in 19-20, where they were just slightly above league average in the year of Dave Hakstol’s firing, but even then it was marginal.
29th in the league thus far this year, and no major changes in sight. [Broad Street Hockey]
Maybe fans were on to something when they were yelling "SHOOOOOOOOT!!!" all those years.
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