The Flyers found a way to lose again on Saturday in Montreal despite leading with seconds left to play. Carter Hart once again posted lackluster numbers in the defeat, though for those watching it was clear the Flyers’ netminder was not the issue. Christian Dvorak bullied Ivan Provorov to score from inside the Flyers’ crease before Mike Matheson ghosted through nonexistent coverage to slot home after an outrageous stop from Hart. Cole Caufield scored twice, first on a two-man advantage and later after the Flyers failed to clear their zone for over a minute. Flyers’ fans know what they will get from Hart: high-level stops interspersed with lapses in focus. What, though, can they rely on from a mostly healthy defensive corps that takes up over $24 million in cap space? Despite their monstrous combined price tag, the Flyers’ blueliners have not protected their crease or broken out of their zone effectively. It is time to shake up a group that has not justified the organization’s investment in them.
Cleaning house might seem like an attractive option to fans given the deficiencies of the Flyers’ defense, but the team is locked into four of its NHL defensemen. Tony DeAngelo is a new signing who has played as advertised, an offensive defenseman with an edge. John Tortorella likes DeAngelo enough to make him the team’s leader in ice time at over 25 minutes played per game. At $5 million AAV, DeAngelo holds one of the Flyers’ few fair contracts. Travis Sanheim is on a more puzzling contract, which will pay him $6.25 AAV from 2023 until the end of time. Sanheim is a good skater whose physical weakness limits his defensive presence. The left-handed shot’s lack of offensive output, meanwhile, has been publicly lambasted by Tortorella. The Flyers will need to cross their fingers that the 26-year-old grows into his inexplicable deal; no one else is taking Sanheim on that number. Nick Seeler and Justin Braun each play an honest 15 minutes a night for $1 million or less. Their contributions to the “Torts” brand of hockey are well worth the money. That leaves Ivan Provorv and Rasmus Ristolainen.
A few short seasons ago, the suggestion of trading Ivan Provorov might have seemed blasphemous. Provorov came into the NHL a ready-made top-four D-man with a good stick and an eye for a timely goal. Now in his 7th season, Provorov is still just that, a solid top-four body with a few elite strengths. Despite those strengths, a tendency for untimely turnovers and an inability to clear his net-front area have prevented Provorov from becoming the elite top-pair guy the Flyers have treated him like. The Flyers are not badly overpaying their top defenseman ($6.75 million AAV), and so have the opportunity to swap him for a considerable return. The Los Angeles Kings may be the ideal dance partner in a Provorov trade.
GM Rob Blake has invested heavily in what he hopes can be a fruitful twilight for Stanley Cup-winning trio Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. Blake has surrounded that trio with forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault, and Kevin Fiala in the hopes they have enough juice for another playoff charge. Los Angeles’s defense has badly failed them through 21 games (3.29 GAA), though, and if Blake is not scrambling for blueline reinforcements, he should be. Provorov is an attractive option to shore up the Kings’ back end in what would be a mutually beneficial deal. Trevor Moore, Matt Roy, one of the Kings’ 2023 third-rounders, and a 2024 second-rounder would be an appropriate swap for Provorov and a mid-round pick.
Moore, 27, is on an expiring contract despite steady improvement since his arrival in LA. Moore collected 48 points last season and already has 6 goals and 16 points (second on the Kings) in 2022-2023. The Kings cannot pay yet another forward, and Moore would instantly invigorate an injury-hit forward group for the Flyers and can play special teams on both sides. Roy has coupled with veteran Alex Edler on the Kings’ second pair and is a steady presence on either end of the ice (+23 last season). Roy may not have Provorov’s upside, but for a talent-starved team like the Flyers would surely get top-four minutes, perhaps as a direct replacement for “Provy.” The traded picks would reflect the greater desperation of the Kings in this scenario as they seek to cash in on Kopitar and Doughty’s remaining seasons. Moore and Roy make about $5 million combined and would be candidates to resign this and next offseason, respectively, before their age 30 seasons.
Moving Ristolainen will be a mite trickier for the Flyers, who will need to acknowledge that they overpaid for and then overpaid the big Swede. “Risto” inked a $5.1 AAV, five-year contract last season in an attempt by Chuck Fletcher to justify what was a costly trade with the Buffalo Sabres for the defenseman. Ristolainen is physical and clears his goalie’s crease better than any of the Flyers’ other defensemen, but is a stiff skater with little in the way of offensive ability. Tortorella is not a fan and has decided not to reinstate last year’s second pair of Ristolainen and Sanheim, shuffling the former to the last pair alongside Seeler. Ristolainen has been little more than a bigger, better Robert Hagg. That is not a level of play the Flyers should rely on far into the future. A cap graveyard awaits Ristolainen upon his departure from Broad Street.
The Coyotes, despite a Central Division-worst 6-9-1 record, are probably overachieving this season. Their organizational youth and temporary relocation to the campus of Arizona State University are no small hurdles to overcome. Ristolainen, himself a veteran of Buffalo’s lengthy rebuild, can help the ‘Yotes on the ice as a stay-at-home D-man and in the locker room as a veteran presence. As is, the Coyotes’ defensive group is made up of kids and NHL journeymen; Ristolainen would almost certainly walk into their top pair. In return, the Flyers would receive 29-year-old Travis Boyd (10P, 16GP) on a 2-year deal ($1.75 AAV) to address their center crisis, a second-rounder from Arizona’s deep draft war chest, and a clean break from an unfortunate association with Ristolainen.
The Flyers have signed four defensemen on hefty multi-year deals; they have not shown the ability to gel over two pairs through a quarter of the season. Lest they hope for an unlikely turnaround during the next 2+ seasons, trading Provorov and Ristolainen makes sense on the ice and, perhaps more importantly, on the books. The lefty duo’s departure would open space for either Egor Zamula, who has been scratched for most of the year, or Cam York, who has impressed in the AHL, to show what they can do in an extended NHL audition. While a shakeup would acknowledge that the Flyers have failed to assemble a cohesive defense, it could save Carter Hart years of being hung out to dry.
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