Last week, Philadelphia Flyers’ Chairman Dan Hilferty dropped GM Daniel Briere’s interim tag and hired Keith Jones as his direct superior in the president of hockey operations role.
The three, along with coach John Tortorella, sold a vision of a team focused on overhauling its roster with a focus on the future.
Briere has said much of the same since he took over for the deposed Chuck Fletcher months ago, and it seems a long-overdue rebuild is on the way. That will be more apparent in the team’s forward group than anywhere else, as while the Flyers’ front line is full of players Tortorella has tabbed as “part of the solution,” there are just as many veterans that will likely ply their trade elsewhere next season.
In a lost season that served as many players’ auditions for a future on Tortorella’s Flyers, the coach identified a core group he trusts with big minutes in important roles. His clout with Briere, evidenced by the late-season games they analyzed together, means that many of Tortorella’s guys will likely be protected over the off-season.
Owen Tippett and Noah Cates are young, cheap, and among Tortorella’s favorite players in the entire organization, let alone the forward group. Tippett arrived in the trade that sent Claude Giroux, now an Ottawa Senator, to the Florida Panthers. The former 10th overall pick never stuck in Florida and could not crack the top six. An injury-hit, talent-starved Flyers squad gave the 24-year-old a chance to flex the skills that made him an amateur standout, and he has not looked back.
Tippett is big, fast, and the best shooter on the roster. He remained streaky in his first season in Philadelphia, but 27 goals on the league’s fourth-worst attack showed that Tippett has serious value to the Orange and Black. Expect him to sign an extension; his value on the ice is far greater than on the trade market, where his stock is still volatile after a 2022-2023 season that was his first as an NHL contributor.
Cates is something of an anti-Tippett. Where Tippett is just now scratching the surface of what could be legitimate top-line potential, Cates came into the NHL tailor-made as a third-line penalty killer. While the 24-year-old Minnesotan is already one of the best forwards in the league in his own end, what you see is what you get. Cates will never be an elite offensive player, but he is the kind of level-headed hard worker every team needs in a tight game.
Pencil Cates, a homegrown undrafted player who fits right into Tortorella’s vision, into the Flyers’ bottom six during 2023-2024 and beyond.
Tortorella is not as sold on Morgan Frost because of his spotty defensive instincts and lightweight frame, but there is no denying the left-handed shot began to justify his first-round grade down the stretch in 2022-2023. Injuries opened the door for Frost to shine, and he used his amplified minutes to prove he is a scoring threat at the NHL level. Frost scored 32 of his 46 points and 12 of his 19 goals after the new year, and Briere and Jones will want to explore his ceiling next season.
Tippett, Frost, and Cates are locked in for prominent roles on a young team next season, but others will be back due to varying degrees of deservingness and necessity.
Wade Allison is an excellent bottom-six forechecker with some net-front chops and would be highly regarded in the organization if not for an abysmal injury record. The Flyers are a better team when #57 suits up. Until he starts to play more, he does not have a trade market anyway.
Scott Laughton will be sought-after via trade thanks to his defense and versatility, but even selling teams must recognize the importance of intangibles. Trading Laughton, a quick two-way forward who very well could be the next team captain, and his reasonable contract would send a clear message that the organization does not value hard work and leadership. Such a cynical move so early in the Briere/Jones regime would leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Joel Farabee struggled through his worst NHL campaign yet, but most fans are willing to chalk that up to a lost offseason; the winger’s neck injury kept him from training over the summer. His value has never been lower, and at $5 million AAV (thanks, Chuck), ‘Beezer’ is not going anywhere. Lucky for the Flyers, Farabee is still just 23 and could yet become the elite goalscorer his potential once suggested.
Nic Deslauriers is a top-five fighter in the league, and the Flyers would have to take on dead money to trade his $1.75 AAV contract in return for a middle-round pick. They will save themselves the trouble and keep him on to protect a roster that is only getting younger.
To the readers who scanned through “Who Stays?” searching desperately for Travis Konecny’s name: avert your eyes. The pesky dynamo finally broke through in 2022-2023 to become the star he had always threatened to be, scoring 31 goals and 61 points to pace the team despite playing in just 60 games. The good news? Konecny’s value has never been higher. The bad news? Konecny’s value has never been higher.
Konecny is a Philadelphia Flyer through and through. He is all heart, never afraid to do the dirty work or needle the opposition. Tortorella wants Konecny here, and Konecny wants to be here, but this has all the makings of a painful decision that Briere and Jones have to make.
Konecny is only under contract until 2025 on a $5.5 million salary, which is a thoroughly tradable number for a player of his quality. He just played the best 60 games of his career on an anemic offense, and teams like Seattle and Nashville have every reason to believe his scoring punch can take them to new heights. Why wait to prove them wrong? Unlike Laughton, Konecny could net a return that speeds up the team’s timetable by years.
In 1995, the Flyers traded Mark Recchi to Montreal under similar circumstances for a package that included John LeClair and Eric Desjardins. That trade formed the foundation of a perennial contender. By divorcing themselves from the emotion of the situation, Jones and Briere must realize moving Konecny could begin a similar paradigm shift. It will be hard on the player and even harder on the fans, but Konecny is just too good for a team this bad.
Elsewhere, other veterans will depart in scenes far less tearful. James van Riemsdyk is a UFA, and his star-crossed 15-year association with the Flyers has reached its anticlimax. Oh well. Fellow albatross Kevin Hayes is not gone yet, but he may as well be.
Hayes is a decent player that can fill out a second power play, but he does little to justify his $7 million cap hit. Well-liked though he is, Hayes is, first and foremost, a 6 ‘5 reminder that Alain Vigneault and Chuck Fletcher used to work here. Worse yet, he and Tortorella are locked in a months-long cold war that only ever had one winner. ‘Torts’ does not think Hayes’s offensive usefulness (18G, 54P, 81GP) is worth his low-intensity forechecking. The coach has all but publicly begged the front office to shine the former Ranger on.
He will probably get his wish this offseason when Hayes reunites with old friend Johnny Gaudreau in Columbus, a team whose courtship of the center is no secret. Hayes and the Flyers were never a match, and the latter would retain a part of his salary to end the relationship.
That covers the addition-by-subtraction Briere loves to reference, but the Flyers will also do plenty of addition-by-addition. Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier will be the most significant new-old faces on a team that sorely missed them last season. Both can find the back of the net, play the hard-nosed hockey that Tortorella loves, and are untradeable thanks to hefty contracts and fresh career-threatening surgeries. If the Flyers are stuck with Atkinson ($5.75 million through 2025) and ‘Coots’ ($7.75 million through 2028) on the books, then it will not hurt to benefit from the duo on the ice. If Konency does go, they are the Flyers’ two most pedigreed forwards. Atkinson’s net driving and Couturier’s Selke-winning defense will only enhance the Flyers’ new on-ice identity.
Finally, the Flyers will welcome some highly-touted youngsters into the fold next season. Tyson Foerster led the Phantoms in points last season with 48 and impressed with 3 goals and 7 points during an 8-game taste of the NHL. He will likely suit up for the big team on opening night. Though Phantoms leading-goalscorer (23) Elliot Desnoyers and former Hobey Baker award finalist Bobby Brink will more likely play the bulk of their hockey in the AHL, both could make cameo appearances throughout the year and will be in the mix to make the roster this fall.
Briere and Jones would love nothing more than to strip this roster down to its tack strips, but that sort of overhaul is not on the cards due to some of Fletcher’s signature overpays. Still, the Flyers’ new regime could be in a worse position to start a rebuild from.
Cates, Tippett, and Frost, could all still be Flyers the next time the team makes the playoffs. Keeping that young, stable roster spine in place alongside Carter Hart and Cam York will be critical to avoiding the constant turnover that destroys team spirit à la Sam Hinkie’s Process.
Laughton will return as a high-character veteran, while Atkinson and Couturier play the same role with more scoring potential. Placing either of those two on a line with some combination of Frost, Tippett, and Foerster gives the Flyers more juice in their top six than they had at any point during 2022-2023. Perhaps Farabee can enter that conversation as he treks back to relevance.
Another year of advancement from a Flyers forward group with plenty of potential could make things interesting when top-prospect Cutter Gauthier of Boston College enters the fray in 2024-2025. They would become even more interesting if the Flyers manage to snag Zach Benson in June’s draft.