Back in the 2020 playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers matched up against the New York Islanders. In high-scoring games, the two teams fought down to the wire. The Flyers were shutout in game seven and shut out of a chance at the Eastern Conference Final. Coming into this season, the Flyers were looking like one of the top teams in the East Division. Young goaltender Carter Hart was hitting his stride, the offence was rolling, and the defence was stifling. Winning seven out of their first 10 games, they looked to be living up to those expectations. And then…well, there’s a reason this article is criticizing the Philadelphia Flyers defence and not praising it.
The Philadelphia Flyers Defence Needs Serious Help
Since the start of the season, the Flyers have given up four or more goals in a game a shocking 16 times. That’s about 47% of their games. They are tied in second for total goals against with 121 and are second in goals against per game. They’re fourth-worst in penalty kill, at a measly 73.3%. While Carter Hart is currently at an abysmal .869 save percentage and a 4.04 goals-against average, and was a healthy scratch their past two games, it is not all his fault. While he has let in some easy goals that should have been saved, the Flyers defence is doing him zero favours.
On Tuesday, the Flyers put defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere on waivers. By doing so, they lost their defenceman who held the third most average time on ice for defenceman. While Gostisbehere was not the most impactful (25 games played, 5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points), he still had potential. He’s been regressing since the 2017-18 season, but he is still a somewhat valuable player to keep in the Flyers’ organization. The fact the Flyers chose to waive ‘Ghost’ shows you what the market was for the player. The Flyers probably tried to trade him for a younger and unproven defenceman but had no takers. It will be interesting to see if any team claims Gostisbehere while he is on waivers, which would clear all or part of his $4.5M salary off the Flyers cap.
What the Flyers don’t have a shortage of is offensive defenceman that can produce points. Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Erik Gustafsson all have the ability to create offence. However, their defensive abilities are lacking. Gustafsson’s liability in his own zone. So much so, that he is primarily deployed on offensive faceoffs. When forced to defend, he looks lost, especially in an odd-man situation. Extremely aggressive and offence-focused, Gustafsson often takes risks that end up leaving his partner to defend the rush.
Top defenceman Provorov and defence partner Justin Braun make up two of the top three spots in giveaways on the Flyers – equal in number to spots two, four, and five on the list. Three out of the top five players with the most giveaways are defencemen. The Flyers are careless with the puck in their own end, and those turnovers usually end up in the back of the net.
How To Fix the Philadelphia Flyers Defence
If the Flyers want any shot at turning this defence around, they need shutdown defenders. They need to be able to protect Hart better, and defensive-minded players are the way to do so. Offensive defensemen are helpful until they don’t produce, and then they are essentially useless. Shutdown defenders are helpful night in and night out, and with a weak goalie and defence, they will shine bright. In addition, they will help the Flyers’ bottom-five penalty kill to be more effective.
A player like Mattias Ekholm could bolster the defensive capabilities of the roster. With Ekholm on a struggling Nashville Predators team and only a $3.75 million average annual value cap hit, it is possible the Flyers make a move for him. The Predators are heading towards a rebuild, and the Flyers have nearly all of their picks. If the Flyers make this deal, it could be a bottom-six forward plus a few mid-tier picks in exchange for Ekholm. If the Flyers don’t make a move at the deadline, they will be run out of town by the high-powered offences in the East Division.