PREVIEW: Jets vs Flyers, And We Examine The Direction of Both Franchises
The Flyers take on the Jets tonight. The two teams have a lot in common, more than you might expect. In fact, the situation they each found themselves in this summer was remarkably similar.
The Flyers–much like the Jets–were coming off massive underperformances. Expectations were not met, and the playoffs were missed for a second consecutive season.
The Jets’ locker room was being blamed for the underperformance of their core players. Blake Wheeler was stripped of the captaincy after a whirlwind of rumors.
A new coach, known for instilling defensive discipline, was brought into the Jets to make life easier for franchise goalie Connor Hellebeuyck and restore accountability to the locker room.
The Flyers’ locker room was being blamed for the underperformance of their core players. Longtime captain and franchise player Claude Giroux was traded away, and never brought back in the offseason. Despite his wife saying they were open to a return.
A new coach, known for instilling defensive discipline, was brought into the Flyers to make life easier for franchise goalie Carter Hart and restore accountability to the locker room.
The situation is remarkably similar. And yet, it’s how both teams dealt with this situation that has made them polar opposites.
Despite the melodrama, the Jets did not deal any of their perceived core pieces. They doubled down on their guys, and they believed they had everything in place to be a contending team. All they needed, in their opinion, was a new voice and a new coach. A new culture. A new “standard,” if you will.
The Flyers did deal away their perceived core pieces. And it’s a process they were multiple years into. First, they sent Voracek away. Then, they sent Giroux away, and never brought him back. They were given the opportunity to replace Giroux’s offense with elite offensive dynamo Johnny Gaudreau, and they never did it. They left pieces of their core empty.
If they believed that the pieces were in place, then why would they send crucial pieces away? And if they didn’t believe the pieces were in place, then why wouldn’t they go the distance and blow up the core completely?
The Jets chose a side. They made their assessments. They picked a lane. And they stuck to their guns.
The Flyers never chose a side. They might have made assessments, but they never picked a lane. They had one foot in the rebuilding pool, and the other in the competing pool.
This was exactly the kind of philosophy that failed the Giroux era. It had nothing to do with a letter on the wrong person’s chest, and everything to do with a front office that refused to pick a direction and double down.
Replacing Ron Hextall with Chuck Fletcher did not bring a solid vision to the front office. If anything, it simply made it even more schizophrenic.
And what are the results of each team’s choices?
The Jets are 6th in the league, and 2nd in their division. They’re 9 points ahead of the second wild card team in the Western Conference, and they’re virtually guaranteed a playoff spot.
Connor Hellebuyck has returned to his usual brand of stellar goaltending. He’s the 5th best goaltender in the league by Goals Saved Above Expected, and there’s some elite names who he’s outdoing right now.
Mark Scheifele has 28 goals in 47 games, and now that his teammates are actually finishing some of his setups, it’s only a matter of time before he’s well over a point a game.
Pierre-Luc Dubois has 20 goals and 49 points in 47 games.
Kyle Connor couldn’t score a goal to save his life to start the season, but it’s hard to argue with 56 points in 47 games.
Josh Morrissey will finish top-10, if not top-5 in Norris trophy voting with 51 points in 47 games while playing 23:27 a night. His play driving leaves something to be desired. A 48.8% xG share is mediocre.
But it would be unfair to say he’s merely surviving those minutes and not winning them. His actual goal share is at 57.89%. The Jets are finishing their chances, and stopping other teams from finishing theirs while he’s on the ice.
Sure, that does boil down at least partly to the otherworldly brilliance of Connor Hellebuyck. But this is the 2020 Vezina winner. Brilliance is his calling card.
Sure, they’re finishing an undue amount of chances. But when you have Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Pierre Luc-Dubois and Nic Ehlers–among other proven offensive forces–on the same team, that’s the sort of thing you can rely on.
The Jets doubled down. They believed that their talented forwards and fantastic goaltender would win the day if they just fixed the play driving enough to give them a chance to work.
They were right. The Jets are contenders.
The Flyers are 6 points back of the 2nd Wild Card spot, despite having played two more games than the team who currently holds that spot, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They’re 10 points back of 3rd place in the Metro division, despite having played one more game than the current holder of that spot, the New York Rangers.
The playoffs are out of the question, but so is tanking, really.
Befitting their mixed bag of summertime decisions, the Flyers have gotten a mixed bag of in-season results.
Carter Hart has been solid. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that–after his otherworldly start in October–it’s been a slow decline for him ever since.
Travis Konecny has scored 49 points in 41 games. His torrid goal pace has slowed, which was to be expected given his inflated shooting percentage. But he’s still produced points as a playmaker since he hit his goal drought. He will almost surely finish with over a point a game, and that’s a wonderful season.
Ivan Provorov has accomplished exactly nothing this hockey season, except kicking a hornet’s nest over that Pride Night incident. Honestly, good for him, if he doesn’t want to wear the damn shirt–he doesn’t have to wear the damn shirt. But what else has he accomplished this season, asides from standing against rainbow flag shirts?
Not a damn thing. He isn’t scoring, with 15 points in 47 games. He isn’t driving play with his 44.8% xG share that has been unduly juiced after being carried by Cam York for the last 3 weeks.
With York, Provorov has produced a 52.89% xG share. With DeAngelo or Ristolainnen, he had a 38.4 and 44% xG share respectively. He’s not driving pairs. He’s either sinking or floating based on the quality of his partner, just as he’s always done.
Though, to be fair to him, Travis Sanheim has done even worse with Tony DeAngelo. With DeAngelo, Sanheim has a 38.3% xG share. DeAngelo is simply unplayable at 5 on 5 above a third pair, unless you have a lot of team support around him, like the Hurricanes did.
DeAngelo, like Provorov, have been underwhelming to say the least. Travis Sanheim has regressed from his 21-22 season, though admittedly only marginally. The bright side of the defense in these last few weeks–arguably one of the primary reasons for this recent surge–is Cam York.
Despite playing on PP2, which means extremely limited time on the PP, York has 9 points in 20 games and he’s been a +8.
More impressively, he’s been driving play like no Flyers defenseman in years.
He has a 55% xG share at 5 on 5 over 328 minutes of action. If you combine his results last year with this year, he has a 52.4% xG share at 5 on 5 over 783 minutes.
And he’s played 366 of those minutes with Provorov, which means being among the team leaders at 5 on 5 minutes. These are stellar numbers for a defenseman of his age, and I’m comfortable calling him one of the best defensive prospects in the sport.
Give him some actual PP weapons on the top spot, and let him develop the right way. He could be a cornerstone for this team.
There have been other bright spots. But I feel like I’ve made my point. Because they didn’t commit to a decision, they didn’t get a consistent result.
Some things like Frost, York, Cates, Tippett, Konecny have turned out positive to varying degrees.
Some things like Provorov, DeAngelo, Sanheim, Farabee have turned out negative to varying degrees.
And perhaps that’s when you say something like: “Well, that’s why we’re evaluating to see what goes right and wrong. We’re going to get rid of the people going wrong.”
But are we? Or are we going to double down? We gave Travis Sanheim an 8×6 contract extension before he could even hit the ice for the beginning of the season. That seems like doubling down to me.
And that’s what makes this team so frustrating.
Sure, they could theoretically choose to do the right thing. Beyond that, they could theoretically choose to pick a direction and stick to it.
But they won’t do that. They haven’t done that so far.
They made excuse after excuse, and they’ll keep doing it. That’s the really maddening part. That’s why I’m not hopping on the bandwagon of a recent surge, and that’s why “the tank” actually matters.
Because the Flyers refuse to pick a direction. They have refused for years now, they and I don’t trust them to change. So a direction needs to be picked for them.
Mandatory credit: Johnny Ulecka