The Flyers were relatively quiet during one of the shortest off-seasons in NHL history. Even though the team was brought up multiple times as a potential fit for star winger Patrik Laine, Chuck Fletcher never pulled the trigger on a deal. In spite of this, the Flyers made several moves that will help the team in the short term, as well as making some key re-signings.
News began to spread on October 12, 2020 that the Philadelphia Flyers were able to sign a defenseman to replace Matt Niskanen. Not too long after, Erik Gustafsson inked a one year deal with the team worth $3 million.
This move is great for the Flyers. Gustafsson scored 60 points with the Blackhawks during the 2018-19 season, the highest point total he has scored at any professional level. His numbers dipped a bit last year, scoring 29 points between the Blackhawks and Flames, but he also played in 10 playoff games for Calgary, adding 4 assists. The former 4th round pick has scored 119 points in 221 games, and his 29 points last season would have been 3rd among all Flyers defensemen.
Gustafsson has also been putting in lots of work in the offseason to improve his game and get back to his numbers during his breakout campaign with the Blackhawks. He was seen training with current Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg in Sweden, getting to know the Flyers system. The best part about this contract is that it is a one-year deal, so if Gustafsson is not a great fit, the team can simply let him walk in free agency.
And speaking of Hagg, he re-upped with the Flyers as well, signing a two-year deal worth $3.2 million. Hagg is a completely different kind of defenseman than Gustafsson is. He will not put up tons of points over the course of the season, as his career high is a 20 point campaign back in 2018-19. He did improve last year, despite only scoring 13 points, he did so in only 49 games. However, Hagg is more a stay-at-home defenseman instead of an offensive one, and he led the team in hits last season with 136.
As previously mentioned, Hagg spent the offseason working with the newly-signed Erik Gustafsson. There is already speculation that those two may compose of the 3rd defensive pairing for the Flyers. If there is already chemistry between the two, that could mean bad news for the rest of the Eastern Division. Plus, with Hagg’s points per game increasing, he may only get better over the course of this contract.
As hard as it is to believe, Brian Elliott is set to enter his 4th season with the Philadelphia Flyers. With the goalie market as competitive as expected, the Flyers wanted to ensure they got their backup to Carter Hart re-signed. So, they brought back Elliott on a one year deal worth $1.5 million
The 35 year old played in 31 games with the Flyers last season, putting up an .899 save percentage with a 2.87 goals against average. This is consistent with his other two seasons in the Orange and Black, and his goals against actually decreased from the year prior. He also played in 3 playoff games with the team, and he thrived in the small sample size. A .911 save percentage with a 2.15 goals against average were some of the best numbers in his playoff career, with him only performing better in the 2012 playoffs with St. Louis.
Honestly, with the shortened season, I could see Elliott only playing in somewhere between 15-20 games with Philadelphia and a handful of playoff games. As Carter Hart continues to develop into one of the best young goalies in the league, Elliott will be there to mentor him. The Flyers are only paying $1.5 million for a solid backup, and are in a far better position than many other teams when it comes to their goaltending tandem.
The 13th Forward?
If you polled 5 different Flyers fans, there is a decent chance that you would get 5 different answers as to who the 13th forward is going to be on Opening Night. To go on top of that, a lot of players have a solid argument as to why it should be them.
Wade Allison thrived with Western Michigan over the past 4 seasons, after being selected by the Flyers 52nd overall in 2016. Allison had 23 points in 26 games in the 2019-20 season, and was the assistant captain for the past 2. Tanner Laczynski is finally coming over from Ohio State University. The 2016 6th round pick put up 34 points last season with the Buckeyes, and he had a career high of 47 points in 2017-18.
Connor Bunnaman made the Opening Night roster last season, but he struggled, only putting up 2 points in 21 games. His numbers did not fare much better in the AHL, with only 9 points in 29 games. On the plus side, he did score his first NHL goal during the 2019-20 season. Over the offseason, Samuel Morin converted from defenseman to left wing. He is coming off back to back torn ACLs, and it would be a nice feel good story if he made the roster. It is more likely, though, that he ends up on the taxi squad.
Perhaps the most likely to crack the Opening Night roster would be Morgan Frost. Frost had a taste of the NHL last season, playing in 20 games and scoring 7 points in an impressive first showing. In Lehigh Valley, he was tied for 2nd on the team with 29 points. Recently, Frost has been seen skating with the everyday forward group at practice, leading many to think that he might be the guy.
I’m going to go ahead and predict that Frost will be the guy on Opening Night. However, I believe that you will see many different Flyers get a crack at the main roster. Frost may be the first one on deck, but you may see a little bit of Allison and Laczynski over the course of the season.
So to answer the title question, I could take the easy route and say that Erik Gustafsson will provide the biggest impact, but I am actually going to say it’s between him and Brian Elliott. The one mistake that the Flyers cannot make is overworking Carter Hart and risking injury. With Elliott in net, Philadelphia can feel confident in knowing that they will be competitive in games with him in goal. As far as Gustafsson goes, if he provides that offensive firepower we saw with the Blackhawks, the Flyers got a steal with a one year, 3 million dollar contract.