Flyers will look to build off a productive season

The foundation appears to be in place.

Now, can the Flyers build on it?

Although they came up short in their quest to go from non-playoff team in 2018-19 to Cinderella final four status this season, things appear to be headed in the right direction.

It started way back in April of 2019 when general manager Chuck Fletcher decided to hire a proven winner for the head coaching position.

Alain Vigneault not only produced a winning record, he began to change the culture.

His biggest achievement? Getting players to believe in themselves.

Fletcher’s other most important move was to bring in a few quality veterans, with Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes and Justin Braun topping the list.

While Niskanen and Braun stabilized the defense on short-term contracts, it’s the seven-year deal Hayes inked which will pay the most dividends.

As core players Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk demonstrated in these playoffs, the leadership baton appears to be on the way to landing in the hands of players such as Hayes, Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier and even Scott Laughton.

Area hockey fans knew Hayes was a good player but they were a little puzzled the Flyers would shell out $50 million over seven years for his perceived talent.

Then they got a look at how versatile Hayes is – from tying for the lead in NHL shorthanded goals to becoming a powerful (and humorous) voice in the locker room.

The other building block is Carter Hart.

It’s still early, yet what Hart showed in the postseason could give the Flyers something they’ve been lacking for years – a steady hand in goal.

The poise displayed by the 22-year-old Hart during pressure-filled overtime games against the Islanders should serve him well for years to come.

While Travis Konecny did not score a goal in the postseason and will be under a lot of scrutiny for that, the intensity level of his play did not diminish.

The NHL All-Star Game player was still a valuable playmaker (just ask Hayes) and, to his credit, did not sulk when shots were blocked or hit posts. His brilliant regular season shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand; he should be able to pick up right where he left off when training camp opens in November.

The immediate future holds plenty of promise for a team which in 2020-21 will be looking for back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2011-12.

A second defense pairing of Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim, both in their early 20s, will only get better.

With the veteran experience of Niskanen, the 23-year-old Provorov is developing into a potential All-Star defenseman.

A healthy Oskar Lindblom should give the Flyers more firepower up front.

Plus, there’s depth, with players such as Tyler Pitlick, Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel making the Flyers a more well-rounded team.

Waiting in the wings are talented young players such as Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Connor Bunnaman. Each has shown the ability to play at the NHL level.

Fletcher will have some decisions to make, with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere topping the list.

Gostisbehere, recovering from a pair of knee surgeries, did not have much impact in the playoffs and basically lost his job to Robert Hagg.

He’s making top-four money but does he still have a chance to return to that level, given Provorov, Niskanen, Myers and Sanheim?

Gostisbehere has been the subject of trade rumors before. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months ahead.

As with all professional sports, there’s a lot of financial uncertainty with hockey moving forward. If no fans are allowed in NHL arenas this winter, is it financially viable to keep playing just for TV audiences?

So with a flat salary cap, there’s bound to be a lot of player movement.

Maybe Fletcher will pull another rabbit (Hayes) out of his hat.

But regardless of what transactions he makes, he’s already made the most important one of all: Hiring Vigneault.


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About Wayne Fish 2473 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.