After the 2020-21 season mercifully finished, the Flyers made it clear that their league-worst goal prevention was a team issue.
And that's true. When a team surrenders the most goals in hockey at 3.52 per game, it's not on one position. The Flyers had below-average goaltending, inconsistent play from their forwards and instability within their group of defensemen. It resulted in the Flyers stomaching a 74-goal swing in their goal differential as the club went from a plus-36 mark in 2019-20 to minus-38 this season.
While Matt Niskanen's retirement left a gaping hole on the back end, one the Flyers did not fill last offseason, the veteran defenseman's absence is not the lone reason why the team took a steep drop from tied for seventh to 31st in goals against.
"It’s not just defense," Claude Giroux said in May at his end-of-the-season press conference. "Your best defense sometimes is your offense. When you’re playing in the O-zone, sometimes you don’t have to defend. It’s not just one part of the ice, it’s the whole ice, the whole team. There are five guys out there on the ice, so we need to do a better job of supporting each other.
"Nisky played a lot of situations — power play, PK, played against the top lines on the other teams. He had a big role for us. I feel as a team, we didn’t react the right way, we didn’t answer the right way. It’s very frustrating being here right now and talking about this, but next year we need to figure it out sooner."
General manager Chuck Fletcher will try to spearhead the figuring it out this offseason as the Flyers look to upgrade everywhere, not just at the defenseman position. A top-pair blueliner to play alongside Ivan Provorov should be the No. 1 objective, but the Flyers can also get better defensively by adding the right kind of forward. They'll have opportunities via the trade and free-agent markets to make themselves stauncher at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill.
"Now it’s not just defense plays defense, forwards play forward," Provorov said in May. "It's a unit of five all over the ice — you're in your zone, neutral zone or offensive zone. And if you're not good in any one of those three areas or one of those three areas, you're going to have trouble. I think we have to figure out how to play better as a unit of five and when we do, the results are going to be a lot different. We're going to spend less time defending, we're going have the puck more, we're going to have more time in the O-zone overall, more chances off the rush and stuff like that. As a result of that, we're going to be able to win more games."
On July 21, the Flyers will find out if they need more help at a specific position group after the Dave Hakstol-led Kraken take one of their exposed players in the expansion draft. The Flyers will have to submit their protection list by July 17. The entry draft (July 23-24) and beginning of free agency (July 28) then follow.
The Flyers will have new faces. Many are hoping for a new top-pair defenseman, as they should be. But the Flyers must get better at both ends of the rink and that falls on every position.
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