Watching these Stanley Cup playoffs brings to mind what the Flyers should be adding to their shopping list as their long offseason begins to sink in.
As promising as the possible healthy returns of Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis might sound (along with the development of a busload of young prospects), the team could still have a few aspects of the roster to address.
Having seen what veterans such as ex-Flyers Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Patrick Maroon have done for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a series win over Toronto and a commanding lead over Florida in the conference semifinals, the Flyers might want to consider adding some players of this type for the 2022-23 season.
After all, the old guard has pretty much left the scene. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds have all been traded. That leaves Couturier, Ellis and a handful of others such as Cam Atkinson, Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton and Ivan Provorov to provide leadership.
If chosen, Couturier should make an excellent captain to replace Giroux, mainly because he sets a fine example by playing the game the right way. He’s a proven 30-goal scorer who also can dominate on the defensive side of the puck, as exemplified by his Frank J. Selke Trophy for NHL’s best defensive forward a couple years back.
Atkinson and Hayes have the experience and the personalities to complement Couturier. The Flyers should have enough offensive firepower with Joel Farabee and Travis Konecny among others.
However, the Flyers should look at improving their toughness, size and grit by adding a couple players along the lines of a Maroon. All he’s done is win Stanley Cup rings in each of the past three seasons (one with St. Louis, two with the Lightning) and could very well be on his way to a fourth.
Or how about Colorado bad boy Nazem Kadri, a pending UFA who is just coming off the best year of his career and recently knocked out St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington with a questionable hit?
And it’s not just about the physical side of these possible candidates either.
For example, the Flyers still haven’t gotten over the sudden unexpected retirement of defenseman Matt Niskanen after the 2019-20 season. It was the steady, cerebral presence of Niskanen which brought out the best in Provorov as the Flyers got within one game of the Eastern Conference finals.
General manager Chuck Fletcher tried to find a substitute for Niskanen and the best he could come up with was Erik Gustafsson, who didn’t perform up to expectations.
This past season, Fletcher brought in Ellis for that role on the No. 1 defense pairing but the former Nashville Predator backliner was injured (pelvic area) during preseason and managed to get into only four games which counted before shutting it down for the year.
The guess here is adding another Niskanen-type on defense wouldn’t hurt, especially since veteran Keith Yandle won’t be returning to the Flyers and Justin Braun has already been traded to the Rangers. Aside from Ellis, the rest of the blue line group (Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cam York and possibly Ronnie Attard) averages under age 25.
While the idea of adding another “sniper’’ or high-scoring type might garner the big headlines around here, bringing in a couple more players cut from the same cloth as a Simmonds might be strategically sound as well.
Ask Flyer fans who follow the team closely and they will be quick to tell you the past season’s team had a very fragile psyche. Too often the Flyers would take leads in the second period or early in the third, only to give them away in frustrating fashion.
That’s when you need someone like a Maroon, who has a combination of hockey talent and toughness to energize a bench. Who can forget the image of Maroon dashing over to embrace Blues coach Craig Berube after the 2019 clincher? Two birds of the same feather.
No one here is advocating a return to the Broad Street Bullies era of dropping the gloves and trying to win by intimidation.
We’re just suggesting the Flyers get a little bigger, a little nastier and a little more fired up when it comes to crunch time.
If they do, at least the fans at the Wells Fargo Center won’t be staring at their telephones around 9 o’clock on a Thursday night.