The rebuilding Flyers are facing a long, arduous road back to relevance
A flawed roster, lots of bad contracts, a so-so prospect pool, and John Tortorella. Interim Flyers GM Danny Briere has a lot of work ahead of him.
In a move that happened at least a year too late, the Philadelphia Flyers finally removed Chuck Fletcher as GM. Now it’s up to Daniel Brière and a possibly reconfigured Flyers front office to rebuild this roster and farm system into something resembling an actual contender.
Will they have the patience to get shoved into a few more lockers before transforming back into the Broad Street Bullies? Did they snooze through too many history lectures to learn from past mistakes?
Let’s hit the books and ponder what lies ahead for the Flyers.
Flyers’ current roster has some pieces, but little-to-no star power
At this point, it’s downright amusing to see NHL GMs tremble at using the word rebuild, instead indulging in euphemisms such as "reset." So, credit Brière with actually uttering the word, though he applied the expected caveats.
"I believe it's needed," Danny Briere said, when asked about a rebuild. "I want to be clear it's not a firesale ... but I'm not afraid of the word rebuild."
— Giana Han (@giana_jade) March 12, 2023
Brière showed hesitation about shopping players 24 years old or under, though he also admitted that no one is truly untouchable.
Briere: "The young guys are obviously not the guys that we'll be shopping" this offseason. But he does say that no one is untouchable and references the Gretzky trade (drink!).
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) March 12, 2023
Unless you’re looking at that roster through orange-colored glasses, you'd agree that there isn’t an untouchable superstar. Either way, the Flyers might actually be wise to move two of their best pieces. Trading Carter Hart and Travis Konecny might sting, but take a moment to consider why such moves would make sense for Philly’s timeline.
Carter Hart: A sober review would probably place the 24-year-old closer to “solid” than spectacular. The real key factor is that he’s only signed at a hair under $4 million for one more season, slating him for RFA status with arbitration rights by the summer of 2024. Hart could easily become expensive years before the Flyers are relevant.
If the Flyers simply can’t stomach that idea, they could gain some cost certainty by signing Hart to an extension as early as this offseason.
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Travis Konecny: Honestly, it’s a relief and a surprise that Konecny is one of those rare offensive stars who’s actually escaped John Tortorella’s wrath (so far, at least). By just about any metric, Konecny played at a level above his $5.5M AAV. Even so, he turned 26 on March 11, and his team-friendly contract only runs through 2024-25. Replay the Hart talking points, basically: he’ll be older and likely much more expensive by the time the Flyers (ideally) return to relevance.
Clutching to players like Hart and TK might actually increase the Flyers’ odds of falling into puck purgatory: too good to land premium picks, too weak to credibly fight for a playoff spot. So you could stack long-term benefits if you bite the bullet and move one or both while their value is high.
Is Torts really the right coach for a rebuild?
Speaking of forces that might move the Flyers to the mushy middle: is John Tortorella really the best choice for "years of pain?" Sure, it’s cool that he’s at least willing to write some nice letters about it.
John Tortorella sends a letter to #Flyers season-ticket holders.
"I'm not going to lie to you ... we're not there yet. This year was the first step in building the future of the Flyers and restoring our reputation as one of the most respected teams in hockey." pic.twitter.com/gAMQ7P0leU
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 6, 2023
Yet, for a number of reasons, Torts seems like an iffy fit. For one thing, he’s 64 and has two decades of NHL head coaching experience, so you can’t really blame Tortorella if he gets antsy through a rebuild. The players may get antsy, too, with a testy coach who thirsts for healthy-scratching top players like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell. Those antics grate even in the best of times, but what about in the grind of a doomed season? Factor in his prickly nature and a clear fixation on defense, and it’s fair to wonder if he’d stunt the development of some prospects.
Even if one’s worst fears end up exaggerated, Tortorella’s drive for those sweet, sweet loser points might derail tank attempts. Would the Flyers have a better shot in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes without the desperation hire of Torts? Maybe not, although you can bet the Blue Jackets didn’t plan on spending so much money to possibly end up with the top odds.
The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor reports that the Flyers would like to keep Tortorella around amid front office changes, but maybe it would be best for everyone if they moved on.
Prospect pool and picks: further renovations needed
If you want to paint a picture of the Flyers’ tendency to have one foot in a rebuild and one foot out, you could do worse than to review their mixed bag of future picks (via Cap Friendly).
The Flyers’ situation could be worse, but it’s irritating that they’ve squandered second-rounders via unforced errors such as trading for Tony DeAngelo’s rights. (This is where you may be tempted to grumble about the sunk costs related to keeping Fletcher around too long.)
As far as Philly’s current prospect pool goes, there’s good news and bad news. The good: the system doesn’t appear to be totally barren, with The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler placing the Flyers at a respectable 14th NHL-wide in late January. The bad news is that there may not be any stars on the way, pushing their system closer to "quantity over quality."
To be clear: it could be worse. It just seems like Brière or another GM will need to unearth star talent instead of surrounding an elite core with a stellar supporting cast.
No doubt, Flyers plagued by plenty of bad contracts
Scroll the Flyers’ Cap Friendly page, and you’d be forgiven for feeling grim.
Their defense might as well be titled Fletcher’s Follies. Over a few years, the beleaguered GM burned a stunning array of resources bringing Tony DeAngelo and Rasmus Ristolainen in while shuffling Shayne Gostisbehere out.
Truly, the Flyers' timeline with Shayne Gostisbehere, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Tony DeAngelo is ... pretty horrifying. Also the sort of mistakes that were critiqued in the moment, not just in retrospect.
— James O'Brien 📎 (@cyclelikesedins) March 14, 2023
Getting Travis Sanheim out of Tortorella’s doghouse is crucial; Sanheim’s frightening $50M(!) extension hasn't even kicked in yet. Even those who align with Ivan Provorov’s politics would admit he hasn’t fit the bill as a No. 1 defenseman.
Much like Sanheim, it’s tough to shake concerns about Torts clashing with a pricey young player such as Joel Farabee ($5M AAV through 2027-28).
As it stands, the Flyers’ salary structure is stuffed full of problem contracts, potentially limiting how much a new regime can actually change things.
Why there’s some hope if the Flyers are clever (and lucky)
Squint enough and you can imagine some silver linings, though — at least if their next GM knows how to work the phones.
For all of Chuck Fletcher’s misadventures, he didn’t saddle this team with many no-trade clauses. Now, you could definitely joke that the contracts themselves are no-trade clauses, but recent NHL history argues that you can almost always find a sucker. (Sometimes that sucker was Chuck Fletcher; other times, it was someone actually giving the Coyotes valuable assets to take on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s headache of a contract.)
To reinforce the thought that just about any contract could be traded, consider that Kevin Hayes — one of the few Flyers with actual trade protection — came up in some rumblings. If you can move that brutal Hayes deal (more than $7M per season through 2025-26), then you could trade just about anyone. Let’s be honest: there’s almost always at least a few GMs who would talk themselves into trading for Ristolainen because he’s tall. (See: Fletcher, Chuck.)
Not every issue on the Flyers’ books boils down to pure incompetence — there’s been some bad luck, too. Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier were both fantastic players before their health fell apart.
Granted, even those situations point to room to make changes, or at least to tweak their process. For instance: while the scale of Ellis’ issues may be surprising, the end of his run with the Predators was plagued by injuries. By looking back at that situation, the Flyers may determine that they need to add to their medical staff, or make other changes.
Whether they could’ve avoided certain risks or not, the Flyers are stuck with those contracts … kind of. Merely recall the journey of Chris Pronger’s contract and you’ll realize that, once a team comes to grips with the bummer of a player essentially retiring, that contract could feel close to a "write-off." Ideally, insurance covers much of the actual money, while a cap hit migrates to LTIR or to a salary cap wasteland such as Arizona.
Is that a bummer? Of course, and at 30, it’s too early to assume Sean Couturier is done. But the point is teams can maneuver around such issues.
Ultimately, the Flyers are in a tough spot, and it will take time (plus some luck) to work out of this situation. If they actually learn from their past failures and embrace a brighter vision, they might actually become relevant again.