Flyers’ fans can relate to the ups and downs of an NHL season, and are now enduring a seven year plus drought since their last playoff series win. Despite the Flyers’ absence from the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent years, there are signs pointing to future success that all started from the franchise’s rebuild.
When Philadelphia thinks about a rebuild, they might think of “Trusting The Process” or the fielding of a non-competitive team. In fact, the Flyers have taken a different approach by building a deep prospect pool, and then slowly filtering in young players in place of veterans.
Yes, drafting and developing prospects while making Kevin Hayes your big off-season signing may not inspire the fan base, but it is a good long term strategy. Let’s first address the Kevin Hayes signing, and why it was a better move than targeting a big name free agent. Hayes was an alternative option compared to sending a large qualifying offer to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner last off-season.
Some fans in Philadelphia complained that Hayes received a higher annual salary than what he was worth, but by how much? A million per year? If so that is far from what the Flyers would have needed to overpay to pry Marner away from the Leafs.
Remember the six year contract that carries a $10.893 million cap hit (according to Spotrac.com) for Marner was proposed by the Leafs, it would have taken a much steeper price for the Leafs to not match. In a hard cap league teams can’t afford to overpay even a star player by a few million per year.
Now onto the young core that will be the future of the Flyers, and what name is more polarizing with Philadelphia hockey fans than Carter Hart? Taking chances on young promising goaltenders has been if anything historically inconsistent.
Hart is different though. For starters Hart might have entered his professional career as the most decorated junior hockey goalie of all-time. Not many goaltenders that are as dominant as Hart stay at the junior level, but the added success gives more reason to be confident in the former Everett Silvertips goalie to succeed as a pro.
Worst case scenario, Hart is an inconsistent goalie that plays great in stretches. The more likely scenario is that Hart becomes a more consistent version of what fans have seen so far, because of his work away from the ice, ability to stay big in the butterfly, and make post to post saves seem routine.
As we look further at the list of young Flyers players, we cannot skip over defenseman Ivan Provorov and winger Travis Konecny. Both players were drafted in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and each have had their struggles, but also moments of brilliance.
Is Provorov a first pair defenseman? The 2017-18 season seems to be evidence that the Russian defenseman can score at the next level when he finished tied for the league lead for goals by a defenseman with 17.
What about Provorov’s defense? In the first round of the playoffs that year Provorov averaged around 25 minutes per game while drawing a tough assignment with the Penguins’ star center Evgeni Malkin.
Provorov’s scoring so far in 14 games is on pace for his career high season less than two years ago, the key will be consistency. Konecny on the other hand has been consistent in the start to this young season as he is tied with another young teammate (Oskar Lindblom) for the team lead in goals.
While Konecny is on pace for a 40 goal season, a 30+ goal season would be a step up from his oddly similar 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns. Konecny and Provorov were both drafted to be major pieces of the Flyers future, and so far it appears to be moving in a promising direction.
One part of the Flyers’ long-term success is having key young pieces to the puzzle that are already taking steps forward like Hart, Provorov, and Konecny. Another important piece is organizational depth, because having four functioning lines and three competent defensive pairs is even more important than having a generational star player.
Oskar Lindblom, Joel Farabee, Nolan Patrick (when he returns), Morgan Frost, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, and German Rubtsov all expect to play bigger roles on the team in coming years. We are talking about players in their early 20’s who have given fans confidence that they are NHL players, and their ceilings are quite high.
Expectations for the Flyers’ infusion of young talent was sped up unnecessarily over the past few years, the key has always been patience. Developing prospects in hockey can be similar to baseball, where a first round pick might not make an impact for years.
The major difference in a baseball rebuild and a hockey rebuild is the Flyers cannot toss big money at a few free agents to speed the process up without having major cap ramifications. Let’s run through a checklist to see where the Flyers stand:
Do the Flyers have their franchise goalie? Check.
Do the Flyers have a good young core currently on the roster? Check.
Is there still a deep pool of prospects within the organization? Check.
Finally, does the team have big long-term money committed to players in their mid-late 30’s? Nope, check.
The Flyers have quietly built organizational depth while avoiding the disaster contracts (Jake Voracek’s contract isn’t good, but isn’t a disaster) that impacts a team’s cap health long-term. Being a Flyers’ fan is about to pay off in the coming years, and a big reason why is how the “Orange and Black “ went about their rebuild.