A season which began with so much hope has dropped off into one long, frustrating injury list.
Any hopes the Flyers could salvage something from this campaign were pretty much dashed on Friday when Sean Couturier underwent season-ending back surgery. Defenseman Ryan Ellis and center Kevin Hayes could soon be following him out the door.
General manager Chuck Fletcher admits it’s pretty vexing when a roster contains so much talent but so little of it is available for use on the ice.
Ellis has be particularly disappointed. He came on board as a high-priced free agent, hoping to fill the role of partner to Ivan Provorov left vacant by the retired Matt Niskanen two seasons ago. But it was not to be.
“It’s been terrible for him,’’ Fletcher said. “You go on the road and he stays behind. He comes in early to get his rehab done and you don’t even feel like you’re part of the team. I know there’s been a lot of frustration from Ryan and what’s ailing him this year. It’s hard to know how these things happen but he’s dealing with it the best we can.’’
When you only have the services of one-half of your top defense pairing, it changes everything.
“He (Ellis) only played four games and I thought in three of those games, he and Provorov played well,’’ Fletcher said. “It looked like they had the ability to have good chemistry. Obviously he’s an all-situation player.’’
There’s a very good chance the Flyers will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the early ‘90s and that has to be an uncomfortable place to be.
“This has been an extremely difficult season,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s all looking forward now and how do we get better. It’s going to be an opportunity for not just the players but for our group to do that as well.’’
>York, Frost staying in AHL for now
Former first-round draft picks Morgan Frost and Cam York were loaned to the Phantoms before the NHL All-Star Game break and a few eyebrows were raised when the Flyers didn’t bring them back once play resumed on Wednesday.
Fletcher indicated there was to timeframe on a recall.
“The idea really isn’t to rush to get them back up here,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s just allowed them to continue to play in all situations and develop. If it’s up here, that’s fine or down there. These guys are very important parts of our future. To me, it’s ice time and the opportunity to get puck touches. We feel Lehigh Valley is the best place for them to achieve that.’’
Apparently the Flyers weren’t completely satisfied with the two players’ recent trial run.
“It (the NHL) is a tough league to develop in,’’ Fletcher noted. “I thought Morgan was getting better and better, showing signs. I thought with Cam, he played well. There were times he played a top four role, there were times he played a third pairing role. Once his minutes dropped a bit, that sort of pushed me to consider the Lehigh Valley option.’’
Most people agree York will be a mainstay on the Flyers defense in years to come.
“He’s a really good player,’’ Fletcher said. “He showed everybody what he could do in terms of retrievals, puck movement, his ability to play on the power play. He’s not the biggest body but defends well, particularly for his size. I think he has all the attributes to be a long time NHL player. I just think there are times we rush these kids and we don’t give them enough time to develop.’’
>Briere’s new role
Daniel Briere was named special assistant to Fletcher the other day and the GM said the ex-Flyer will have a prominent role in a lot of different areas.
“Danny’s been involved with us really since the 2019-20 season,’’ Briere said. “At the ’20 draft, he spent a lot of time watching video on the top kids. I think he’s been in every meeting we’ve had, whether it’s free agency, trade deadline, draft.’’
Briere was recently a finalist for the Montreal Canadiens’ GM job. He’s been president of the ECHL Maine Mariners and even taken courses at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Things have really worked out well making a full transition to us,’’ Fletcher said. “I think interviewing with the Canadiens really showed him that it’s something he wants to pursue. He’s going to have a bright future in this game.’’