With the first official season of the Philadelphia Flyers’ rebuild approaching in just a few weeks, it is an era of change and uncertainty. The team could do better than expected and be competitive until the end of the season. On the other hand, things could go south, and they might be forced to dismantle much of their core.
Trades will never be something that general manager (GM) Danny Briere will shy away from, but there is also a benefit to keeping certain players, even if the team is trying to figure things out rather than win right away. Which players could stay the course of the Flyers’ rebuild and be on the club when they are definite playoff contenders once again?
At 25 years old, Carter Hart is still a very young asset for Philadelphia. With just one year left on his current deal before he becomes a restricted free agent (RFA), it is probable that he either signs a long-term extension or is dealt before the start of the 2024-25 season. The more likely option of the two seems to be the former at this time.
One of the big reasons why it has been speculated that Hart’s future in Philadelphia is limited is because of the abundance of goaltending prospects the team has. It is definitely true that the Flyers are strong in net for the future, but the prospects that they have are mostly nowhere near the NHL level as of now.
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The netminder who has arguably the most potential to make the NHL and has a higher ceiling than Hart is Alexei Kolosov. At 21 years of age, he is still far away from making the NHL, let alone being true starter material. The emergence of young goaltenders in the modern hockey world has started to delude the truth, which is that it takes time to develop a goaltender, and many usually do not hit their absolute peak until they are well into their 20s.
Two goaltenders that the Flyers selected in the second and third round of the 2023 NHL Draft in Carson Bjarnason and Yegor Zavragin are even further away from this. Even if the Flyers’ rebuild is a bit behind schedule, they likely are not worth being a full-time starter when the team is in the contender conversation.
A goaltender like Hart is an important transitional piece if it is thought that there is someone in the organization that could outplay and outlast him. While a rebuild can take a while to complete, he could still be sold as a trade piece to promote one of the netminders in the system to the starting job — all while each of them has yet to reach their late 20s. It could stunt the development of the team if they do not have a competent and reliable starter to help them win games, which is something that the 25-year-old has done at an exceptional level, especially during his most recent season. He could be a long-lasting piece for the Orange and Black.
It might have more to do with the seven years left on his $62 million extension, but Sean Couturier is probably staying put in Philadelphia. Though he has been playing with the team since the 2011-12 season, he is just 30 years old and has a lot of prime years ahead of him.
After losing the calendar year of 2022 and his 2022-23 season due to back injuries, many have forgotten what he is truly capable of. Elite two-way centers like Couturier can often last a while in the NHL, and have their game age surprisingly well. Even if a cap hit of $7.75 million seems like a lot now, it might not be too bad in a few years when the cap inevitably rises.
Veteran pieces – especially ones that know the organization well – are valuable and should not be sold for a sunk cost. He is an asset that could be extremely important to a playoff team, and that might be the Flyers if all goes well. It is impossible to determine when Philadelphia will be in the position to start buying older players instead of selling them, but they could make it significantly easier on themselves if they choose to keep the centerman. If teams are not willing to give up an arm and a leg, it might not be wise to even entertain an offer.
If all goes well, Noah Cates has the potential to be a mini-Couturier in the near future. After having one of the best two-way seasons for a player in 2022-23 and doing so as a rookie, he could have many great years ahead of him. Even for a team in a rebuild like Philadelphia, that is not the type of player they should be keen on selling.
Cates totaled just 38 points in his 82-game campaign last season, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. His offensive game as a whole could definitely be improved, and that is one of the biggest reasons for optimism for the 24-year-old. Rightfully, he was recognized as one of the best shutdown players in the sport by both analytical models and Selke Trophy voters alike.
His teammate, Couturier, was very much in the same situation when it came to offensive production. It became a talking point for a couple years about his scoring struggles. He was never seen as a potential perennial 30-goal scorer like he is now, given he is healthy. Cates may never be that, but it is not something that should be ruled out. There is a chance for him to have a comparable impact, so selling his potential would probably be a mistake. The Flyers should cherish him for as long as they can, even if there are minor setbacks in his development.
As a 26-year-old and an unrestricted free agent after the 2024-25 season, Travis Konecny could be part of a massive trade in a short while. As the team’s leading point scorer for three of the past four seasons, this is not as easy of a decision as it might sound for a rebuilding Flyers club.
Konecny has been on and off his game in recent memory, but if his 2022-23 season is something he could maintain or even build on, an extension for him might be reasonable. With 31 goals and 30 assists for 61 points in just 60 games, he was easily the most dynamic scorer on the team. For a roster that lacked goal scoring and overall offensive output, he was a breath of fresh air and made everyone around him better.
On top of being an offensive force, he was also good in his own end and has great intangibles like his speed and hands. Veteran players like him who still have potential for more are hard to get rid of, even when a team has a selling philosophy. Much like the rest, he may be more important to the team than any assets the Flyers would be obtaining for his services. If the Flyers’ rebuild is successful, the listed few could be responsible for it.