Quick Hits: August 1, 2022
1)On PhiladelphiaFlyers.com today, I have an in-depth analysis
on Owen Tippett and the new two-year, $1.5 million AAV contract he signed last Friday. There are video breakdowns of plays from this past season as well as both underlying statistical and narrative looks at why the player's most bottom-line stats (four goals, three assists in 21 games) were deceptive.
For the most part, Tippett played quite well. He used his size and speed effectively and was in the thick of a host of scoring opportunities. This has often been the case at the NHL level to date in the 23-year-old's career, both in Florida and Philadelphia. However, he's scored with regularity at every previous level and there's nothing at all wrong with Tippett's shooting ability or willingness to shoot. Mentally, though, he seemed to have had the "five-run homerun" effect set in, where he's overthinking and trying to be too fine.
My gut feeling on Tippett -- and that's all it is -- is that he will have his first NHL hot streak this coming season, and that it might even come early in the season. However, I do think he might habitually streaky: four goals in five games here, one in 15 there, and then another hot streak or two later in the season. I do think 20-plus goals is reachable in 2022-23 and that he could become a 25-goal range player by his mid-20s. My hope is that, if they stay together as regular linemates, Tippett and Morgan Frost bring out the best in each other offensively.
2) If the Flyers can establish an effective line of players in the age 23 to 25 range, such as the late-season trio of Noah Cates, Frost, and Tippett, the lineup would immediately start to look deeper and more competitive. Right now, though, that's a leap of faith. Additionally, even if this scenario plays out successfully, the Flyers have a long road ahead if they are to go from being a 61-point club to even bubble team range.
On the Monday's with Meltzer edition of Flyers Daily, Jason Myrtetus and I discuss the Tippett contract and the chances for him to have a breakout NHL season in 2022-23. We also talk about the concept of NHL-level players, particularly defensemen, being "carried" to success by a good partner if the former truly adds little to nothing to the unit or the partner. Finally, we talk about the true effect an NHL coach can -- and must -- have in order to get a club to overachieve relative to its on-paper talent. To listen to the podcast, click here
3) Expanding on subjects one and two above, let's look at what it would take for the Flyers to make a 180-degree turn on last season's debacle. In addition to breakout seasons from several younger players, the Flyers would need better production out of the top-six forward group. They'd need much-improved power play results however the units are composed (there's nowhere to go but up from dead last in the NHL and the lowest efficiency percentage since the inaugural 1967-68 season).
Beyond that, the Flyers would need collective team buy-in to John Tortorella's system at 5-on-5. They'd need new PK coach Brad Shaw to spur the penalty kill to do over a full season what it did pre-Christmas last year before a crash-and-burn in the second half. They also desperately healthy, consistent workhorse season from Carter Hart.
Overall, the club would need for the seemingly endless wave of bad injury news to end. They'll need some currently injured or rehabbing players to not only come back to the lineup but to play up to their top capabilities upon returning.
In short, John Tortorella and his staff have their work cut out for them. There is every right for fans to be skeptical about the current team's ability to compete in the very tough Metro Division until the team proves otherwise.
That does not only mean something like last's season's fleeting 6-2-2 start. It certainly doesn't mean winning games early in the season because they temporarily outscore their many breakdowns (ala 2020-21). It means consistently giving themselves a chance to win. It means no more nightly rollercoasters with disastrous second periods. It means no more epidemic of giving up a far-too-easy goal right after scoring (or, worse, yielding) one.
This has gone on for far too long, and under too many coaches. The team bought in for one year under Alain Vigneault and got results. Then all of the old issues popped up again and actually worsened. As interim head coaches, Scott Gordon (in between Dave Hakstol and AV) and Mike Yeo (between Vigneault and Tortorella) had a thankless job. They could only focus on remedial teaching of basic process eras required of a competitive (left alone winning) hockey team. They made a dent but couldn't work miracles.
For whatever reason, after all the three-quarter season progress under Vigneault, it all vanished once the pandemic hit. The adherence to structure, the pride in shot suppression (fewest shots per game allowed in the NHL in 2019-20), the shorter shifts, the ability to also be a top-10 offensive team via depth while keeping the team GAA in the coveted best one-third quandrant disintegrated. It has never come back since to a sustained degree.
Tortorella's coaching track record suggests that he is capable of getting players to buy in (or else) and that he holds every player to very demanding expectations. As hard as he pushes, it can work for multiple seasons because, in return, he has his players' backs. But there's a lot of foundational work to be done to change this Flyers' team's self-identity. It's not enough just to work hard. A team has to really believe in what it's doing and WHY it is doing it, then execute it with a purpose. Not in some periods and a few games. Doing it consistently.
THAT is how teams overachieve. It starts with doing more than talking about identity and culture but truly establishing such things and believing in the message.
There's no reason to believe that Tortorella will be unable to get the Flyers to play a few notches better than they did in 2018-19, 2020-21 or 2021-22. There was a 39-point gap between last season's performance and the playoff cutoff, Even if the Flyers had been able to bring in an influx of high-end talent, producing another 40 or so points a year later would be a mighty tall order.
The state of the Flyers in the 2022 offseason is that they need to make an incremental but sustainable forward step. First, they must become MUCH harder to play against -- which doesn't mean fighting per se but in terms of not crumbling under adversity or being wildly inconsistent from period to period. It means that "it was a winnable game" is not a reflection of progress regardless of outcome but a missed opportunity if the result is less than two points.
John Tortorella is a very good coach. He is not, however, a miracle worker. This Flyers team lost its way long before he or his last few predecessors arrived. I'd gladly see the team improve more modestly from last year than the 2019-20 squad from 2018-19, provided the process improvement becomes something sustainable.
It's not that Tortorella will preach anything revolutionary. Use whatever buzz phrase you'd like. Peter Laviolette demanded guys "play with jam." Dave Hakstol called it "snot and balls" hockey. Vigneault exhorted his players to "be a (bleeping) Flyer." Yeo defined it simply as "playing the right way".
Whatever you want to call it, the Flyers need stability and structure. They don't need mere lip service. If Tortorella can't achieve at least that much with this group, it would be a very long total rebuild on the other side after what been the least successful decade in the franchise's mostly proud history.
4) Early this morning, I completed another article in the offseason prospect profile series for PhiladelphiaFlyers.com. My goal for the series was not only to look at the highest-profile young players in the system such as recent first-round picks Tyson Foerster and Cutter Gauthier. I also wanted to work in some hopefuls who fall more in the "project" category, as well as some older or under-the-radar players.
The article I finished today looks at incoming Lehigh Phantoms rookie Olle Lycksell. The winger, who will turn 23 later this month, was something of a late-bloomer even in the domestic leagues in Sweden. He's never been a high-profile prospect or a Tre Kronor fixture.
However, he's a skilled and clever little player who has improved almost annually since he was drafted in 2017. The main thing holding him back in his career was the struggle to add sufficient strength to a small frame. This past year, on loan from the Flyers (with whom he signed a two-year entry-level contract last May) to the Växjö Lakers, Lycksell had his most consistently solid campaign to date and was especially strong in the playoffs.
I will post a link to the article once it goes live.
5) I do not have anything to add, per se, to Eklund's rumor that the Flyers are one of the teams with interest in the still-unsigned Phil Kessel. Ek's rumor was the first I'd heard of it. I personally don't see it happening after what it was like last season with Keith Yandle's countdown to setting a new NHL Ironman streak.
To put in bluntly, I don't think Kessel has enough left in the tank for the arrangement to work. Even if the cap hit could be worked out in similar fashion to Yandle or Derick Brassard a year ago, I'd rather see younger players get the ice time. Beyond that, right wing is a position where the Flyers actually do have some depth.
Kessel may not be the type of player that comes to mind in terms of someone you'd expect to do well under Tortorella -- certainly not from a 200-foot game, adaptability to structure, or commitment to physical conditioning standpoint. However, I would not simply assume the two would constantly be at each other's throats. It Kessel were younger and the Flyers' roster mix and circumstances were different, it could work.
Some of Kessel's most productive seasons came in Pittsburgh under Tortorella protege, Mike Sullivan. "Torts" and "Sully" are not carbon copies but they see the game and handle player relationships in rather similar fashion.
I found this 2019 article, in which Sullivan Sullivan discussed his relationship with Kessel
, to be quite interesting. Sullivan didn't deny that there a frequent push-pull in their dealings with one another but it was also steeped in mutual respect.
"My relationship with Phil has been the same for four years. There were times when Phil and I had our disagreements over the course of our time together, but it wasn't any more than it was in Years 1, 2 or 3. Sometimes, the speculation gets blown out of proportion that we had this real adversarial relationship, where we were at odds, and there was confrontation all the time. Quite honestly, there wasn't," Sullivan said to Dave Molinari.
"Did we have some discussions over the course of the season that one would consider 'confrontational?' Sure. But that's part of the coach-player relationship. I've had that with many players, not just Phil. My relationship with Phil was the same as it was in Years 1, 2 and 3."
The bottom line was that Kessel and Sullivan figured out how to work together successfully. The results spoke for themselves including seasons of 92 and 82 points and the player being a key playoff contributor in two Stanley Cup championships. The Cup rings made any periodic in-season tensions and confrontations seem inconsequential in the end.
In a different time and place, a Tortorella-coached team could also have done just fine with Kessel aboard. The player would have found individual success. Neither he nor the coach would have taken it personally the next time they locked horns. However, the 2022-23 Philadelphia Flyers and the nearly 35-year-old version of Kessel are not the right fits for one another. Neither fits the big picture of what the other needs.
6) August 1 Alumni birthday: Wendell Young (1963).