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Thanksgiving isn’t merely a day to engorge on as much turkey and other tasty foodstuffs as possible. It’s also a day, per the name, to give thanks for all of the blessings in one’s life.
Over the past few years — arguably for the last decade — there hasn’t been much to inspire Philadelphia Flyers fans to feel especially grateful. But a unexpectedly solid start from the team — in addition to the organization’s pivot to a much-needed rebuild mentality — has changed the environment a bit. Suddenly, it’s at least possible to put together a legitimate Flyers Thanksgiving list.
But I’m not going to take the easy way out and pick the obvious choices, like Travis Konecny and his 42 goals since the start of 2022-23, or Travis Sanheim’s rebound season, or new GM Daniel Briere, or even John Tortorella. Instead, I’m going to highlight ten people who Flyers fans may not even realize they should view with gratitude on this Thanksgiving day.
Sure, be thankful for Sanheim’s re-emergence as a legitimate top-pair NHL defenseman. But don’t forget that if not for Krug exercising his no-trade clause back in June, Sanheim would be plying his trade in St. Louis now, sent to the Blues along with Kevin Hayes in a package that would have brought back a first-round pick.
Instead, Krug didn’t want to come to Philadelphia, and Sanheim stayed with the Flyers. After watching the 27-year old rack up 16 points over the first 18 games in nearly 26 minutes per night, fans should be raising a toast on Thanksgiving to Krug for blowing up the trade that would have made Sanheim’s big season in Orange & Black impossible.
Happy that Sean Couturier is back now, doing Sean Couturier things? Spare a moment to thank Dr. Andrew Dossett, who successfully performed the back revision surgery last October that saved Couturier’s career.
The initial surgery may not have taken, but Dossett has Couturier back looking like a quality top-six NHL center, even after missing a year and a half. Thanks, Doc.
Be thankful for Matvei Michkov on this day, and that the Flyers have a player with true superstar potential in their pipeline who is tearing up the KHL (24 points in 27 games) at age 18. But spare a moment to raise a glass for Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes as well, because without his decision on draft day, Michkov would not be a future Flyer.
The first three picks on draft day were basically locked in — Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson would be selected in some order. Will Smith’s dominant showing at the U18 World Championships locked him into the No. 4 slot behind the top trio, and it was an open secret in the hockey world that Michkov — right up there with the top three in terms of upside — had made it clear that he had little interest in coming overseas to play for the Arizona Coyotes, who were drafting at No. 6.
That left the Canadiens at No. 5, who certainly qualified as the kind of “big hockey market” that Michkov wanted to play in. He was right there for Hughes — who instead went with righthanded defenseman David Reinbacher. He very well may prove to be a great NHL player, but Reinbacher certainly doesn’t bring the kind of franchise-changing level potential as Michkov does. Thanks, Kent, for allowing Flyers fans that hope.
Why should Flyers fans thank Zach Werenski, you may ask? Well, it was his injury 13 games into the 2022-23 season that allowed Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen to delude himself into thinking that his Blue Jackets club wasn’t actually bad — they were merely ravaged by injury, and he could retool the team back to immediate contention with an especially aggressive offseason in 2023. Their 25-48-9 record was because players like Werenski got hurt, not because the team was fundamentally flawed, right?
The result was that the Flyers found a taker this past summer for Ivan Provorov, and one willing to relinquish a first round pick to do so. At least thus far, it’s been a classic addition-by-subtraction move, with the Philadelphia blueline corps actually improving in Provorov’s absence at the NHL level while bringing top blueline prospect Oliver Bonk into the organization as a bonus. Columbus, on the other hand? They’re dead last in the Metropolitan Division — again. Thanks Zach!
Matt Roy (and Jordan Spence, and Brandt Clarke)
Speaking of the Provorov trade, how did Briere manage to nab Sean Walker in that three-team deal as well as a first-round pick? It’s not because Kings general manager Rob Blake wasn’t high on Walker as a player. He remains a big fan. Instead, it was because Los Angeles simply ran out of spots for righthanded defensemen, with Drew Doughty at the top of their depth chart, Matt Roy having establishing himself on the second pair, and prospects Jordan Spence and Brandt Clarke on the way too.
So Blake dumped Walker to clear out lineup space and cap space, and now the Flyers have what appears to be a quality second-pair RHD to either sell for more assets at the trade deadline or re-up on a reasonable contract extension. Absent L.A.’s enviable blueline depth last summer, Walker never ends up in Philadelphia.
Zito is a very good general manager, constructing a Florida Panthers club that won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2021-22 and then the Eastern Conference in 2022-23. But in the midst of all that success, Zito somehow found a way to lose a trade to… Chuck Fletcher???
It’s not that Claude Giroux didn’t thrive in Florida — he racked up 23 points in 18 games in his brief stint with the Panthers. But Zito’s club won just one playoff round with Giroux, and to do that, Zito relinquished both a first round pick and Owen Tippett, who has broken out in Philadelphia after being lost in the shuffle with the Panthers. He’s very much looking like a core piece for the Flyers moving forward, and he’s only here because Zito gave up on him — without even getting a conference final berth for his trouble.
2021 second round pick Samu Tuomaala was quickly sliding into bust territory, as his preferred brand of perimeter, skate-around-and-shoot-from-everywhere hockey wasn’t translating past the junior level, and certainly didn’t look like it would work in the NHL. He was playing a top-six forward game without top-six forward skill or finishing ability, and it was taking him down the wrong developmental road.
After Flyers development coach Sami Kapanen took his countryman Tuomaala fully under his wing, however? Now, he’s embraced a game centered around energy, forechecking, speed, and grit, without losing the puck skills that made him an intriguing prospect in the first place. In other words, he’s playing like Kapanen did, and it’s a big reason why he’s put himself back on the prospect map with 13 points in 16 games with the Phantoms so far this year. Kapanen deserves credit for the assist on that one.
Happy with the progress that both Bonk (19 points in 21 games) and Denver Barkey (28 points in 21 games) are making in juniors after being selected by the Flyers this summer? Be sure to pour a glass in honor of Hunter, the co-owner, president and head coach of the London Knights, where both Bonk and Barkey play.
The two key pieces for the Flyers’ future are getting a quality education in what it will take to become a pro from Hunter, who has built London both into one of the CHL’s best clubs and a true NHL feeder squad, having helped to develop stars like Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner and Robert Thomas over the past decade. There are few better places for Bonk and Barkey to be spending the remainder of their teenage years before they head to Pennsylvania.
Why should Flyers fans thank Jack Eichel, you may ask? Well, without Eichel’s dogged determination to normalize the artificial disk replacement surgery that took him from Buffalo (they wouldn’t approve it) to Vegas (they did), who knows what would have come of Joel Farabee after his similar injury in the summer of 2022?
Eichel broke down the door and fought to set the precedent in the NHL that this particular surgery didn’t need to be feared by front offices. If Eichel doesn’t take that stand, maybe Farabee has to undergo a surgery that doesn’t bring him back to full strength. Instead, he’s fully healthy now and delivering his best work yet in a Flyers uniform.
Travis Konecny, before working with Flyers director of hockey analytics Anderson (and then-AGM Briere) on getting to better areas to take advantage of his shot: 27 goals in 129 games
Konecny, after working with Anderson: 42 goals in 78 games
Score another one for the nerds.