At this point, it’s painfully obvious that the Flyers will not even be sniffing the playoffs. To say that this season has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Is that partially due to having too high of expectations? Probably, but only being one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals a year prior will set high expectations. And it’s up to the coaching staff and the players to step up and meet those expectations. Now, you can blame the poor play on all sorts of COVID related circumstances. That being said, every other team was dealt the same hand, and the Flyers just seemed to fold.
When you think of ways to right the ship, you first have to address the biggest problems. Obviously, goaltending has been a significant issue this year, but a 22-year-old goalie will have some growing pains. He’ll get lots of coaching as he continues to grow, and barring something catastrophic, he will be the Flyers franchise goalie. One big obstacle, however, is the defensive play in front of him.
Watching the Flyers attempt to play defense this year has somehow made me a worse hockey player. Did we expect Matt Niskanen’s retirement to hurt? Yes, but NO ONE expected Myers and Sanheim to regress from top-4 guys to AHL quality defensemen. The third pair is another liability, but that’s a constant, and a lot of teams don’t have great third pair defensemen.
So what’s the answer here? Dougie Hamilton, Tyson Barrie, and Adam Larsson are all set to become free agents this year, each being right handed, and each providing their own possible benefits. Dougie Hamilton obviously has a great all around game as a defenseman, and him being a right handed shot greatly increases his value as he can slot in with Provorov and give the Flyers a great top pair. The only problem is he’ll command a high price, assuming he even leaves Carolina, which the Flyers may not be able to afford. If they can make the space, Hamilton should be heavily pursued.
If Hamilton doesn’t end up in orange and black, it begs the question what type of defenseman do the Flyers want to go with? Do they want a more offensive minded defenseman in Tyson Barrie? He’s good at moving the puck and starting the breakout, something the Flyers desperately need help with. That being said, he has a reputation for being a defensive liability, and the Flyers already have too many of those. Do they think he can improve defensively enough to gamble on his playmaking ability? It’s entirely possible.
Lastly on the free agent side of things is Adam Larsson, who is finally playing a defensive game the way Edmonton hoped for when they made the infamous 1-for-1 deal. He’s taking the body, going hard in the corners, and really become a defensive asset to the Oilers. That most likely means he re-signs, because Edmonton has struggled defensively more than anyone in recent memory. If he does leave, however, he would be a great addition to the Flyers lineup to help keep the puck out of the net. Even better is the fact that since he’s not as flashy, he will come at more of a discount, which will be so important dealing with a flat cap. I think this is the most realistic signing if he makes it to free agency, but that’s a big if.
If free agency isn’t the answer, the onus falls on prospects like Cam York in addition to the current defensemen figuring it out. Cam York was the Big 10 defenseman of the year, and is expected to be at least a solid top-4 defenseman. It’s a little too soon to be completely reliant on this kid, but he may be able to surprise some people. While the Flyers wait for him to come into his own, they would have to rely on the current squad getting out of this year long funk. That would be way too much of a gamble, as a year long funk usually is tough to come out of.
So long story short, the answer to the Flyers defensive problems is a free agent signing. Ground breaking advice, I know, but that’s what makes the most sense. Hopefully signing one of the three aforementioned defensemen in addition to a full offseason and training camp can greatly improve their defense. Lord knows they need the help on the back end, and we haven’t even started on the forwards.
Let’s go Flyers.