Home Sports 2021-22 Flyers Preview, schedule and 5 bold predictions

2021-22 Flyers Preview, schedule and 5 bold predictions

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has compiled 858 career points in 943 games. He enters the final year of his contract this season. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

A lot of drama unfolded in the offseason as the Philadelphia Flyers failed to make the postseason for the fifth time in the last nine years during the 56-game 2020-21 campaign. 

Longtime staples were traded away and veterans were acquired as the franchise attempted to shake things up after a rather stale decade of Flyers hockey in which the team has surpassed the first round of the playoffs just twice in the last 10 years.

Did they do enough? 

No one is expecting the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup in June. As of early October, most betting sites have the Flyers at 30-to-1 to win the Cup, placing them behind 14 or 15 other more favorable picks. But if the Flyers fall short of the postseason in back-to-back seasons — something they haven’t done since the 1994 season (which stands as the longest such streak in the NHL) — the entire thing would be considered a disaster. Some might say a first-round exit, depending on circumstances, might also reach that description.

The lingering question is, are the Flyers a better team than they were last year? 

For starters, they better hope so. The Flyers missed the playoffs by a whopping 13 points last year during a 56-game season. They traded away youth for experience and plugged the No. 1 concern of a top-pairing defensemen after the departure of Matt Niskanen prior to last season exposed a glaring weakness.

They did little to upgrade the goaltending and are all-in on the hopes that Carter Hart will rebound from a statistically atrocious year. They put a lot of faith in a few newcomer players in hopes they will have bounce-back seasons inside what the Flyers consider a better hockey environment.
Let’s take a minute to rehash. Gone are Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nolan Patrick, Philippe Myers, Robert Hagg, Carsen Twarynski and Brian Elliott. That’s after the team had already unloaded Michael Raffl, Erik Gustafsson and Mark Friedman at the trade deadline.

That’s half a team that left over the last six months.

New bodies include Ryan Ellis, Cam Atkinson, Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nate Thompson and Derick Brassard. You can add Morgan Frost as an honorary newcomer after missing all of last season. 

Newly acquired Ryan Ellis is expected to pair with Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ top defensive pairing. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Ellis, when healthy, is a top-pair defenseman who can play in all situations. He’s Kimmo Timonen with a little added physicality and will help Ivan Provorov immensely as the key shutdown pair. Ellis, however, has missed an average of 20 games a season over the last four years.

Atkinson loves to throw pucks at the net and is only a few years removed from a 41-goal season. He’s coming off his two worst shooting percentage seasons of his career, which means he’s due for a resurgence. He can also play all situations and is a threat to score on the penalty kill.

Jones is a big goalie (6 feet 4) who had a remarkable start to his career in San Jose, posting three straight seasons of .912 or better save percentage. However, as the Sharks tanked, so did he, running .896 over the last three years. The Flyers are hoping a change of scenery will help Jones regain his early form and become a reliable backup.

Yandle hasn’t missed a game in more than 12 years. His 922-consecutive game streak is just 32 short of Doug Jarvis’ NHL record. Yandle’s strength is quarterbacking a power play unit and the Flyers seem to be willing to give him that chance, rolling with the No. 1 unit in preseason. Playing for near the veteran minimum on a one-year deal, Yandle’s arrival could help provide offense on the cheap. He has surpassed 50 points five times in his career, but the Flyers would probably be extremely happy with 30-40 considering the investment.  

Ristolainen’s underlying numbers have always dragged down the large Finn’s reputation as a defender. In the past, he’s given the Flyers fits as an opposing player who plays with an edge. The hope is that he can form a solid, reliable second pairing with Travis Sanheim and be tough to play against every night.

Thompson was here for a short stint two seasons ago and is known as a reliable fourth-line center who is good at the faceoff dot. He won’t score a whole lot, but he could be a good mentor for Morgan Frost, especially while Kevin Hayes heals from offseason abdominal surgery.

Brassard could be considered another sneaky good low-risk signing by General Manager Chuck Fletcher. The 34-year-old is well past being a 60-point guy who can still produce about a half a point a game if put in the right situations as he did two years ago with the New York Islanders.

The offseason transactions caught the attention of long-suffering Flyers fans, but a lot of the improvement will need to come from the returning players.

Hart will need to be better, no doubt. 

But the Flyers will also need a rebound season from Travis Konecny, who had just 11 goals in 50 games last season, following a year where he played in the All-Star Game. Oskar Lindblom, who appears to be much stronger after recovering from Ewing’s sarcoma, will be counted on for more than the 16 points he posted last year.

And the Flyers will need to continue to get stellar play at both ends from Sean Couturier (41 points in 45 games last year), as well as scoring from Joel Farabee (20 goals last season) James van Riemsdyk (17) and Hayes (12), once he returns from injury.

And then there is Claude Giroux.

It was another season where Giroux led the team in points (tied with 43), yet received a noticeable amount of blame for the team’s shortcomings.

Giroux, the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia and the longest-tenured captain in Flyers history, has yet to sign an extension to his contract that expires next summer. He has a no-movement clause so the Flyers cannot trade him at the deadline unless he agrees to waive the clause. Giroux is still a valuable player but not the 100-point guy he was in the 2017-18 season. Will he be back in a Flyers uniform next season? The next 82 games will probably have a large influence.

Flyers huddle up and listen to instruction during training camp. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

5 Bold Predictions

The National Hockey League will finally return to a “normal” 82-game season after two straight years that were shortened due to the pandemic. But, for the Flyers, it’s been a year that seems tough to gauge due to a ton of offseason moves. We make five bold predictions anyhow that could happen this season with a little wishful thinking.

Flyers will actually have a good start

Even without Kevin Hayes early on, they have a chance to come flying out of the gate. The Flyers open with four straight home games, including Vancouver, the expansion Seattle Kraken, Boston and Florida. They then hit the road for a three-game swing through western Canada against Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary, before returning home to host the lowly Arizona Coyotes.

Is it too much to ask for a good start to the season? It’s conceivable the Flyers could go at least 3-1 on their opening home stand and possibly take two of three in Canada and complete the eight game stretch with a win against the Coyotes on home ice. A 6-2 start would be wonderful. Anything less than 10 points would be disappointing. Only three of those eight games are against 2021 playoff teams.

Cam Atkinson will lead the team in goals

You wanted bold, right? But when you really think about it, this isn’t that far-fetched. In the most recent full regular season (2018-19), Atkinson potted 41 goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Yes, his production has slipped in the last two shortened seasons, but a shoot-first mentality guy on a team full of pass-happy players could be a great spot for Atkinson to ramp it up again. For context, the last Flyers to score 40 in a season was Jeff Carter (46) in 2009. The career high for any current Flyer, aside from Atkinson, is James van Riemsdyk’s 36 goals while in Toronto. Claude Giroux’s career high is 34, while Sean Couturier’s is 33. No other current Flyer has broken 30.

Ivan Provorov will finish top-five in Norris voting

It’s going to happen at some point and he could be a Norris finalist in the very near future, maybe even this year. The 2021-22 season is built for a workhorse like Provorov, whose iron man streak (he’s never missed a game) will be put to the test with an added trip to the Olympics undoubtedly mixed in. A condensed schedule and the addition of his new partner Ryan Ellis play into Provorov’s strengths. The only drawback is an abundance of capable power play-anchoring defensemen on the team this year to take away some point-piling opportunities. A Flyers postseason berth should push Provorov up a few Norris ballots this season. HIs best finish was 17th in 2020 when he was paired with Matt Niskanen. The Flyers haven’t had a top-five Norris candidate since a 35-year-old Chris Pronger finished fifth in 2010.

Travis Konecny will finally get his 25 goals

He’s come close. Three times, he has finished a season with 24 goals before ending up with a disappointing 11 last year in 50 games. Konecny, a new father, has reportedly shown up to camp in great shape and could see the bulk of his time playing next to Claude Girioux and Sean Couturier. Maybe it’s not too bold to say he scores 25. So let’s go with 30.

The Flyers will win the Metropolitan Division

This doesn’t mean there would be any playoff success to follow, but why not think they can finish with 100 or so points? The division overall is pretty good, but it’s tough to find a juggernaut in the Metro these days and the Flyers should be an improved team. Pittsburgh won the East Division last year but will start the season with a few significant injuries. Carolina let Dougie Hamilton and their goaltending duo walk and an old Washington is another year older. The Islanders have yet to prove they are a regular season dynamo despite turning it up in the postseason and will play their first 13 games on the road. It’s there for the taking and if you believe they have a chance, you can get about 9-to-1 odds on it at the moment.

Alaign Vigneault returns as coach of the Flyers this season. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

FLYERS OPENING NIGHT ROSTER

FORWARDS

Cam Atkinson 13

Nicolas Aube-Kubel 62

Derick Brassard 16

Patrick Brown 38

Sean Couturier 14

Joel Farabee 86

Claude Giroux (C) 28

Travis Konecny 11

Scott Laughton 21

Oskar Lindblom 23

Nate Thompson 11

James van Riemsdyk 25

Garrett Wilson 47

DEFENSE

Justin Braun 61

Ryan Ellis 4

Ivan Provorov 9

Rasmus Ristolainen 55

Travis Sanheim 6

Keith Yandle 3

GOALIES

Carter Hart 79

Martin Jones 31

HEAD COACH: Alain Vigneault

ASSISTANT COACHES: Michel Therrien, Mike Yeo, Darryl Williams

GOALTENDING COACH: Kim Dillabaugh

VIDEO COACH: Adam Patterson

Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov will once again play a major role in the team’s success. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

FLYERS 2021-22 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Oct. 15 Canucks 7:00

Oct. 18 Kraken 7:00

Oct. 20 Bruins 7:30

Oct. 23 Panthers 7:00

Oct. 27 at Oilers 10:00

Oct. 28 at Canucks 10:00

Oct. 30 at Flames 10:00

Nov. 2 Coyotes 7:00

Nov. 4 at Penguins 7:00

Nov. 6 at Capitals 7:00

Nov. 10 Maple Leafs 7:30

Nov. 12 at Hurricanes 7:00

Nov. 13 at Stars 8:00

Nov. 16 Flames 7:00

Nov. 18 Lightning 7:00

Nov. 20 Bruins 7:00

Nov. 23 at Lightning 7:00

Nov. 24 at Panthers 7:00

Nov. 26 Hurricanes 3:30

Nov. 28 at Devils 5:00

Nov. 30 Islanders 7:00

Dec. 1 at Rangers 7:00

Dec. 5 Lightning 6:00

Dec. 6 Avalanche 7:00

Dec. 8 at Devils 7:00

Dec. 10 at Golden Knights 10:00

Dec. 11 at Coyotes 9:00

Dec. 14 Devils 7:00

Dec. 16 at Canadiens 7:00

Dec. 18 Senators 7:00

Dec. 21 Capitals 7:00

Dec. 23 at Penguins 7:00

Dec. 29 at Kraken 10:00

Dec. 30 at Sharks 10:30

Jan. 1 at Kings 10:30

Jan. 4 at Ducks 10:00

Jan. 6 Penguins 7:00

Jan. 8 Sharks 7:00

Jan. 11 Hurricanes 7:00

Jan. 13 at Bruins 7:00

Jan. 15 Rangers 7:00

Jan. 17 at Islanders 7:30

Jan. 18 Red Wings 7:00

Jan. 20 Blue Jackets 7:00

Jan. 22 at Sabres 1:00

Jan. 24 Stars 7:00

Jan. 25 at Islanders 7:30

Jan. 29 Kings 1:00

Feb. 1 Jets 7:00

Feb. 5 All-Star Game TBD

Feb. 7-22 Winter Olympics Break

Feb. 23 at Red Wings 7:30

Feb. 26 Capitals 12:30

Feb. 28 Blues 7:00

March 1 Oilers 7:00

March 3 Wild 7:00

March 5 Blackhawks 3:00

March 8 Golden Knights 7:00

March 10 at Panthers 7:00

March 12 at Hurricanes 3:00

March 13 Canadiens 7:00

March 17 Predators 7:00

March 18 at Senators 7:00

March 20 Islanders 2:00

March 22 at Red Wings 7:30

March 24 at Blues 8:00

March 25 at Avalanche 9:00

March 27 at Predators 6:00

March 29 at Wild 8:00

April 2 Maple Leafs 7:00

April 3 at Rangers 7:00

April 5 Blue Jackets 7:00

April 7 at Blue Jackets 7:00

April 9 Ducks 7:00

April 12 at Capitals 7:00

April 13 Rangers 7:00

April 16 at Sabres 7:00

April 17 Sabres 5:00

April 19 at Maple Leafs 7:00

April 21 at Canadiens 7:00

April 24 Penguins 4:00

April 25 at Blackhawks 8:00

April 27 at Jets 8:00

April 29 Senators 7:00

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