When taking a look at the Philadelphia Flyers defense, it is clear that there are not many top-end players on the blueline. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are head and shoulders above the rest of their defensive teammates. Beyond the team’s number one pairing, however, there is much left to be desired.
The team has defensive prospects in the system that are ready to step up to the NHL level. Having players like Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas playing prominent roles in the lineup cannot continue for the Flyers to succeed. It is time to give the younger players a chance and make a change to the Flyers defense.
Flyers Defense Needs To Be Changed
To find the problem with the Flyers defense, one needs to look past the top pairing of Provorov and Gostisbehere. The two players on that pairing both had a career season, especially Provorov.
Taking a bigger step this season, Provorov continued to prove that he is a number one defenseman in the NHL. From a points perspective, he reached a new career high with 17 goals and 41 points. His 24 assists tied his season total from last year. He added three assists in six postseason games, his first time in the playoffs.
The advanced statistics also show that Provorov took a step forward this season. While his Corsi percentage fell around a similar mark this season, his relative Corsi reached closer to even. Provorov went from a -2.7 to a -.01 relative Corsi.
It was no surprise that his ice time also increased after his first season in the league. Provorov jumped from 1,431.8 minutes at even strength to 1,610.6 minutes this season. He averaged 24:09 ice time per game this season, a jump from 21:59 last season.
Bringing together the pairing of Gostisbehere and Provorov only further proved that the two belong as the team’s number one and two defensemen. Gostisbehere’s numbers prove that as well.
Gostisbehere was moved up to the top pair with Provorov in late December. The two became a tough defensive pairing to play against after that.
“We look toward the challenge,” Gostisbehere said after a 3-1 win in January. “Obviously we’re playing against the other teams’ top lines and it’s a challenge every game, it’s the teams’ best players. I think as a pair, we just need to keep it simple, pick our spots and it’s working.”
Gostisbehere’s 52 assists and 65 points were career highs, with his 13 goals were second to the 17 he scored during his rookie season. He added one goal in six playoff games. 38 of Gostisbehere’s points came after being paired with Provorov. The duo proved more often than not that they could beat teams with their offense, effectively keeping them out of the defensive zone as well.
Looking at where Gostisbehere stood possession-wise, his numbers fell similar to where he finished last season. His 51.5 percent Corsi-For and +3.2 relative Corsi were the second best percentages of his three-year career. The movement to the top pairing had Gostisbehere finish with an average of 21:27 ice time per game, his most since his rookie season.
The pairing has shown that they are more than capable of handling top minutes. It is the players behind them, however, that needed to be looked at more closely.
Problems Lie With Second and Third Pairs
During the season the Flyers bottom pairings Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, Radko Gudas, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg. Hagg and Sanheim where both appearing in their first long-term stints in the NHL. Hagg had played a game at the NHL level before this season.
Starting with MacDonald, the offensive numbers themselves only tell part of the story. His six goals were a career high, while his 21 points were the third highest of his career. While the numbers were high for him, MacDonald was primarily used as a top-pair defenseman during the beginning of the season.
The possession metrics show that he is not a top-pair defenseman, however. His 45.7 percent Corsi for was his worst since the 44.9 percent he had with the New York Islanders in 2013-14. While he has finished with a worse relative Corsi five other times in his career, the -4.5 he finished with is not acceptable for someone playing big minutes.
Despite being taken off the top pairing in late December, MacDonald averaged 19:51 time on ice this season. This was only less than four minutes from Provorov’s average time.
Brandon Manning finished in a similar situation this season. He reached career highs with seven goals, 12 assists, and 19 points. The possession numbers fell around even for him, a 50.0 percent Corsi for and a +0.9 relative Corsi. Those numbers were among the worst of his career, however.
Manning’s ice time increased this season as he finished with 1,062.6 minutes at even strength, the most of his career. He averaged around 17:57 of ice time this season. While Manning averaged less ice time in the playoffs than both Provorov and Gostisbehere, it was the situations he was used in that proved to be costly.
Manning’s relative Goals For percentage was the second worst on the team at -30.07. The team gave up eight goals while he was on the ice, while only scoring one with him on.
It will be easy to replace Manning as the team has already mentioned that he will not be returning this upcoming season. Manning will be an unrestricted free agent.
Gudas ended the season with two goals and 14 assists during the regular season. His two goals were his worst since the 2014-15 season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. His 16 points were his lowest since 2015-16, his first season with the Flyers.
Despite having fewer points than both Manning and MacDonald, it’s his other statistics that show he was actually a better defenseman during the regular season.
The possession numbers fall on a more positive side when it comes to Gudas. He finished with a 51.8 percent Corsi-for and a 2.6 relative Corsi. Even though Gudas finished with better numbers in these categories, he had less time on ice. His 1053.8 total even strength minutes were his lowest since coming to Philadelphia.
He would end up with more time in the playoffs, but his performance left more to be desired. While he finished on the positive side when it came to his relative goals for percentage, the team was outscored when he was on the ice. The team scored five goals but gave up nine with Gudas on the ice.
Time To Let The Kids Play
The Flyers did give some of their younger players a chance to shine at the NHL level. Both Hagg and Sanehim made the team out of camp, however, Hagg was the only one to stay for the whole season.
Sanheim saw himself make multiple trips between the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season. He finished the season with 49 games played for the Flyers. He posted two goals and eight assists during that span.
For a player in their first season, Sanheim handled himself well on the ice. Among teammates who started the season with the team, he finished with the best Corsi for percentage at 53.5 percent. His +5.8 relative Corsi was second best behind Samuel Morin, though Morin only played two games despite starting the season with the team.
Hagg posted three goals and six assists in 70 games this season. The possession metrics left more to be desired, though. He finished with a 44.7 percent Corsi-for and a -6.9 relative Corsi. There is room to grow for Hagg, which will come with more opportunities in the NHL.
This leaves the Flyers will other defensive prospects that have an opportunity to make it to the next level this upcoming season. The one with the biggest chance is Philippe Myers
Myers was brought into the Flyers organization as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He is no stranger when it comes to proving himself. He did so after the Flyers signed him and he did so again this season during his first pro year.
In 50 regular season games for the Phantoms, Myers finished second among defenseman with 21 points. He had five goals and 16 assists overall. In 12 postseason appearances, Myers is tied for third on the team with seven points.
The knock on Myers has been about his inability to stay healthy. Myers missed 26 games this season due to injuries. But when he was on the ice, he proved to be one of the team’s best defenseman. Most of his time on ice was spent with Sanheim, a pairing that could remain together on the Flyers defense.
The injuries are the only thing that could potentially stop Myers from a stint in the NHL next season. This should not be the case, however.
Defensive Pairings For Next Season
There is no question that Provorov and Gostisbehere will remain as the number one pairing on the Flyers defense. The bottom pairs could change drastically going into next season, however.
With a few years still left on his deal, it is likely MacDonald will remain with the organization. Taking away his top minutes should be a priority, however. Using MacDonald on the third pairing, or even as a seventh defenseman at times should be a direction the team goes in.
With the success Sanheim and Myers have shown together in the AHL, keeping them as a pairing in the NHL should be looked at.
That leaves the team with Hagg and Gudas as the remaining defenseman. These two have seen ice time together and could be good as the team’s third pairing. If the Flyers use a Sanheim-Myers duo, these two could see time as the second pairing as well.
No matter what pairings the team goes for next season, the younger players need to be given more of a chance to succeed. It would be a step in the right direction for the Flyers defense.
Main Photo: SAN JOSE, CA – DECEMBER 30: Ivan Provorov #9 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on during the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on December 30, 2016, in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)