It’s tough to remember heading into a Flyers season with this much uncertainty.
The 2022-23 hockey season is flying on the wings a brand new coach, its top center returning from significant injury, its best young scoring star undergoing a risky procedure, the promise that one of its best defensemen will return after missing almost an entire year and some serious uncertainty in the goal crease due to off-ice issues.
Just when you think the 2021-22 season was a low point in franchise history, a pessimist’s outlook of the 2022-23 campaign says “hold my beer.”
Best-case scenario says John Tortorella comes into town, guns blazing, and whips a mostly underachieving team into a defensively responsible bunch with strong goaltending, skill and size up the middle and a drastically improved power play. If all things go right, 90-99 points and possibly sneak into the playoffs.
Now let’s take a look at what could possibly go wrong.
First, we still have no clarity on Ryan Ellis. The Flyers acquired the first-pairing defenseman last year in an attempt to help out minute-munching Ivan Provorov round out his game. It was a disaster, as Ellis played just four games and doesn’t appear to be ready for the start of this season. Will he come back at all? Time will tell. However, any significant time lost will hurt the defensive corps greatly, as there was no real improvement on the blue line this offseason, sans the acquisition of offensive-minded Tony DeAngelo.
Next up is Sean Couturier and Joel Farabee. Couturier underwent back surgery in February and will hopefully be ready to start the season, as his eight-year, $62 million contract extension is set to begin. The Flyers have a lot riding on the former Selke Trophy winner not only this year but in the future. Even if he does return 100-percent healthy, how long does he stay there? He’s played a total of just 74 games in the last two seasons and he turns 30 in December. A decline is inevitable for a big body that has played a lot of professional hockey over the last 11 years.
Farabee had offseason surgery to replace a disk in his cervical region. He became just the third NHL player to undergo that type of surgery, following Jack Eichel and Tyler Johnson. Eichel had a tough time adjusting when he returned to hockey with the Vegas Golden Knights last year, posting just 25 points in 34 games as the Golden Knights failed to qualify for the playoffs. Farabee’s potential arc looked promising, but could this recovery set him back? His career high is 38 points, so asking him for top-line production could be a stretch.
Lastly, let’s have a look at the goal crease. At last we checked, Carter Hart has been advised to let lawyers do the talking as his name still stands on a list of possible accusers for a sexual assault case stemming from the 2018 World Junior Hockey Tournament for Hockey Canada. There’s no indication that Hart took part in any of the accusations. We don’t know the truth yet, so there’s no reason to rush judgment. If he was somehow involved, there will be consequences, likely swift and severe. And if he’s completely 100-percent innocent, it’s certainly a distracting bubble to live in. If Hart is innocent, he would probably love to tell the world that fact, but he can’t because his lawyer is also looking out for the best interest of the other names on the list. So he has to sit and stew as accusations and assumptions are thrown his way as names get crossed off the list. In no disrespect to the victim of the case, the innocent parties who played hockey on the same team as the guilty will still have a tough time as this all comes to fruition and justice is served.
And then you get to the backup goaltender position, which had a good chance of being Ivan Fedotov’s spot. The last we heard, Fedotov was being detained in Russia on the accusations that he evaded military commitments and was sent to a remote military base.
The 2015 seventh-round draft pick signed his entry-level contract in May after his KHL contract expired, freeing him up to come to North America and compete for a roster spot on the Flyers, following a fantastic season for CSKA Moscow.
The Flyers certainly need a lot of things to hit that high-end situation 90-something points. A new coach will help, but it’s still a long shot. A top-five pick in the draft is the more beneficial option. And the more likely one.