By Matt Mastrogiovanni, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
It's no secret that the Flyers are looking to bounce back after a tumultuous 2020-21 season. GM Chuck Fletcher was a man on a mission during the offseason to enable that come to fruition. With multiple roster moves throughout the summer, the team is seeking to redeem themselves going into the 2021-22 season.
Bolstering the Blue Line
It's been said that defense wins championships. However, the Flyers defense wasn't anywhere close to championship-caliber last season. They led the entire National Hockey League in goals against, giving up 197 tallies in their shortened, 56-game campaign. Additionally, the lack of veteran presence on the blue line was evident as it seemed that young Ivan Provorov regressed without a rock-steady vet paired with him.
The first wave of relief came in the form of Ryan Ellis. On Jul. 17, the Flyers acquired Ellis from the Nashville Predators in exchange for forward Nolan Patrick and defenseman Philippe Myers.
At age 30, the right-shot defenseman checks some much-needed boxes for Philadelphia. On top of his play, Ellis brings that necessary veteran presence to the Flyers blue line and locker room. Also, he should make for a stellar defensive partner to get Provorov back on track.
Next, the team brought in some muscle. Less than a week after the Ellis acquisition, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was acquired by the Flyers from the Buffalo Sabres. The sizeable, yet mobile blue-liner was traded in exchange for Philadelphia's 2021 first-round draft pick, a 2023 second-round pick, and defenseman Robert Hagg.
Although the price for "Risto" was considered by many to be high, he can bring more skill to the Flyers defensive core. Additionally, he can provide the team as a whole with grit, tenacity, and plain old physicality, other traits the team has lacked. Opposing players may think twice when they see Ristolainen take the ice in the Orange and Black.
As if the two additions weren't enough for the Flyers, Fletcher added yet another proven, veteran defenseman in Keith Yandle. On Jul. 28, Yandle inked a one-year, $900,000 contract with the club.
Most notably, he brings a staggering streak of 922 consecutive games played in the NHL which leads the league and is an all-time defensive record as well. However, the former Florida Panther also brings offensive depth to the blue line, healthy special teams minutes, and great off-ice chemistry which will hopefully in turn create a positive on-ice product.
With new faces combined with the current core, the Flyers defense has the potential to be a top unit in the league.
Helping Out Hart
Philadelphia has long waited for their next franchise goaltender to burst onto the scene. Carter Hart did just that as he made a splash his first couple of seasons with the big club. However, after last season's struggles, fans are hoping he regains his previous form.
In regards to a tandem partner, now-former Flyer, Brian Elliott, was mostly able to do his part while with the team. Now, Elliott is a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning while the Flyers inked goaltender Martin Jones to a one-year, $2 million deal also back in late July.
As a long-time San Jose Sharks goalie, Jones had his moments of greatness but has since fallen from grace after his team fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The 31-year-old's numbers have been worrisome in the last few seasons, but here's hoping that a lighter load on his shoulders will remedy that.
Regardless of recent stats, one can hope that Jones can stop pucks when needed and possibly regain some of his old self just like young Hart.
Adding Some Offense
One of the crown jewels of the offseason for the Flyers was trading mainstay winger Jakub Voracek back to his original team in the Columbus Blue Jackets. In exchange, Philadelphia received winger Cam Atkinson in a classic, one-for-one "hockey trade". The 32-year-old has racked up 402 points in his 627-game career, all with Columbus.
Atkinson seemed to immediately hit it off with fans as he donned a Gritty t-shirt from his wife during his introductory interview as a Flyer via Zoom. Hopefully, he can stay in the good grace of the Philadelphia faithful and provide some strong offense for the team this season.
Another addition to the forwards included the return of a familiar face. Forward Nate Thompson inked a one-year, $800,000 deal with the Flyers after a previous stint with the team back in the 2019-20 season. Thompson spent last season with the Winnipeg Jets playing in 52 of the 56 regular season games.
Although Thompson may not provide much on the scoresheet, his veteran qualities as well as his grinder-type style of play can definitely aid Philadelphia in areas of need. If utilized correctly, his return can be very beneficial to the lineup.
Last but not least, on Aug. 25, the Flyers rounded out their offseason by adding forward Derick Brassard on a one-year, $825,000 contract. The 33-year old spent last season with the Arizona Coyotes appearing in 53 games and posting 20 points.
Brassard, along with Yandle, spent time with head coach Alain Vigneault when all were members of the New York Rangers in the 2013-2014 season. He's also bounced around the league spending time with the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, and New York Islanders. Adding him to the Flyers lineup can just solidify things that much more.
Redemption on Broad Street?
This summer was one of the most active in recent memory for the Flyers. Multiple new faces are now in Philadelphia while familiar faces were dealt to new destinations. As training camp begins and a new season is ushered in, the new and old of the team's roster look to bring some form of redemption to the franchise after such a letdown of a season prior.