Flyers Will Have Balancing Act Throughout 2023-24 Season
As the NHL season began on Tuesday night, the Flyers were still 48 hours away from their season debut. Still, the opening night rosters have been revealed and the Flyers hardly have all the answers for what the lineup will look like on Thursday and beyond.
The roster included 13 forwards, including Tyson Foerster and Bobby Brink. There were eight defensemen in play as the week began. For now, Rasmus Ristolainen is on injured reserve, allowing room for both Egor Zamula and Emil Andrae to be on the roster. The team is also carrying three goalies to start the season.
The competition was expected to be there in training camp, and as such, several young players are knocking on the door for NHL playing time. That’s the key to the next step in this process. The Flyers have watched prospects make progress to be in this position. The challenge is finding playing time for all of them.
That is the balancing act that will happen for the duration of the 2023-24 season. In the immediate, GM Danny Briere noted that veterans may make up the bulk of the lineup for Thursday’s season opener. But from there, it will be a game-by-game process, as performance and injuries can dictate which spots are open.
Part of this dilemma is the play of the team’s fourth line in the preseason. New additions Ryan Poehling and Garnet Hathaway has solid camps. Nick Deslauriers rounded out the trio that immediately provided an identity to the team.
That leaves nine spots available for 10 players. In the opener, it appears Foerster could be sitting out and Brink will play, and that could be a rotation for the first few games. It will all depend on if the rest of the veterans maintain their performance or allow the door to be opened further.
The same goes on defense. While the team waits to see if Ristolainen is able to play in Thursday’s game after all, Andrae is currently the defenseman on the outside looking in when it comes to the lineup. That may be a footnote for one game in an 82-game season, but any regularity to this, and Andrae’s development can only benefit from going back to the minors.
It is still a youth movement for the Flyers. Seven of the 13 forwards on the final roster are under 25. Three of the eight defensemen are also in the 25 and under category, as well as the team’s top two goaltenders – Carter Hart turned 25 in August.
But while the roster has many young players, there are still roadblocks to simply playing the kids. The Flyers have to keep players like Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson in the lineup, simply to prove they can play. Atkinson, with two years left on his contract, could be a prime trade candidate as soon as this year’s trade deadline, but needs to play to prove he can stay in the lineup. The same balancing act will need to take place with veteran defensemen Marc Staal, Nick Seeler, and Sean Walker, each with one year remaining on their contracts. All three could generate trade talk later this season, so they will have to play with some regularity.
It’s not about who is in the lineup, but more about finding that balance that allows the kids to get the minutes needed to further development. If that’s with the Flyers, it’s a bonus, but for some, patience will be key, not only in how they progress, but when opportunity arises.
That’s the challenge for the Flyers in the 2023-24 season. It’s about finding balance that allows the process to move forward, to continue to put development at the forefront while also remaining focused on providing veterans with an opportunity to play to potentially increase value in the moves to come. All of it needs to be designed to further the rebuild.
In doing so, it will only build more trust within the fan base, that the team is truly backing up their words with action. It may not feel that way on opening night, but how they handle the balancing act for the remaining 81 games could change that.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on social media @Kevin_Durso.
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