Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Philadelphia Flyers
Last season: In retrospect, the Flyers were probably doomed from the beginning when veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen abruptly announced his retirement just three months before the season. That left a giant hole on the blueline, and a disappointing season from just about everyone on the team tanked their season. They finished 19th overall and sixth in their division amidst frustrations of another inconsistent season; for the past decade, the Flyers have only qualified for the playoffs every other season.
The goaltending – believed to be a relative strength with the promising Carter Hart – was particularly troublesome. Hart went from a potential franchise goalie into someone who was barely playable, ranking 65th out of 67 goalies in save percentage (min. 10 GP). He also struggled to stay on the ice, battling injury and ended up appearing in just 27 games. His backups weren’t any better, and the Flyers finished with a .880 Sv%, the lowest ever in the cap era. It prompted GM Chuck Fletcher, after three seasons on the job, to make some drastic changes this past summer, making splashy trades for Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Cam Atkinson.
Best option: Sean Couturier, C
One day when Claude Giroux moves on, Couturier will surely take the ‘C’. The Flyers wasted no time in extending their top center with an eight-year, $62-million contract in August, preventing him from going on the open market next summer as an unrestricted free agent. A disappointing season and a slew of injuries kept Couturier from the limelight, but he had another strong season nonetheless and finished 15th in Selke voting, the eight straight season he’s managed to earn a vote.
Couturier has a reputation for being a defense-first center and his offense has been appropriately underrated. Since his breakout 2017-18 season, Couturier ranks 30th with 252 points during that span, just one fewer than Ryan O’Reilly even though he’s played fewer games, and tied with Mathew Barzal and Nicklas Backstrom. THN’s Pool Guide is projecting Couturier to lead all Flyers with 76 points, making him a fantastic point-per-game player with additional upside in roto leagues with faceoff wins. On average, Couturier is the 40th center being drafted in Yahoo leagues with an ADP of 144, which is absurd because there are only maybe 15-20 centers better than him in the league.
Hidden gem: Joel Farabee, LW/RW
Farabee was one of the few bright spots for the Flyers, leading the team with 20 goals and may be their best winger this coming season. He isn’t known to have the best shot or the fastest wheels, but he’s always managed to score goals consistently at every level, from the United States League to the NCAA toe the pros. Along with Travis Konecny, who plays a grittier, less skill-oriented game, Farabee is one of the few young Flyers wingers who is capable of making significant contributions right now. Giroux will turn 34 in January and both James van Riemsdyk and Atkinson are 32 years old with offensive numbers that are starting to really decline. Farabee split the season with Couturier and Kevin Hayes, but will likely start this coming season on Couturier’s line with Hayes unlikely to be healthy to start the season after undergoing abdominal surgery. Farabee is projected to score 49 points, according to the Pool Guide, but there’s a good chance he will outpace Atkinson (51) and Konecny (54) and perhaps come closer to Giroux (63).
This will ultimately be the reason why the Flyers make (or won’t make) the playoffs. Fletcher made a curious decision to sign Martin Jones as his insurance policy because he was arguably the only goalie worse than Hart last season, and it simply doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. But perhaps a complete overhaul of the defense will change things, starting with the addition of the ultra-dependable Ellis. He could replace what they missed with Niskanen and more, and despite all his warts, Ristolainen is a talented player who works very hard and may fare better as the sidekick in Philadelphia than as top dog in Buffalo. It will also take a lot of pressure off Ivan Provorov, and with Travis Sanheim, Justin Braun and two exceptional puck movers in Keith Yandle and Cam York, the Flyers have a pretty solid group.
Hart is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, but if the Flyers are confident enough to give him a three-year extension worth close to $12 million, then fantasy managers might want to be just a little more patient, too. Hart’s fantasy value is difficult to evaluate because it could fluctuate anywhere from top 10 to outside the top 30, but nobody can deny he is potentially that good.
Fantasy managers who like Hart will probably have no problems picking him in the middle rounds, but even his fiercest critics should take a chance on him if he is available in the last few rounds. Jones is unlikely to steal the starting job, and the Flyers have a pretty easy start to the season with four straight home games, including two opponents – Vancouver and Seattle – who will require lots of travel. In the rare league that Hart is left undrafted, he will surely be one of the most popular pickups if he starts the season with flying colors.
It was a disastrous second season for Alain Vigneault, who often works wonders in his first year with a new team but strangely falls backwards before getting back on track. At all four stops, his teams have always posted a lower win total or been ousted from the playoffs in an earlier round in his second season. But that could also just mean Vigneault and the Flyers are making the playoffs this season, and he does have a history of being able to sustain success.
Couturier’s the gem in both real-life and fantasy, while Giroux will provide a steady diet of power-play points. Just don’t forget about the potential upside of both Farabee and Konecny, and an improved blueline that could see three defensemen score at least 40 points: Ellis, Ristolainen and Provorov. It’s not inconceivable the Flyers can regain their form quickly, having finished fourth in the Eastern Conference just two years ago, or at least finish ahead of the rival Penguins for the second time in three seasons.