Happy Hour Hockey Discusses Flyers and Blue Jackets, their Respective Hometown Teams, Ahead of Thursday Night’s Matchup
The NHL is finally back! After a long summer of player movement and a healthy dose of exhibition games, all 32 teams have submitted their final rosters and are eager to start playing meaningful hockey as the puck drops on the regular season this week. To kick off our coverage of the 2022-23 campaign, our Happy Hour Sports NHL contributors got together and asked some interesting questions about each other’s teams. The Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets will open their seasons against each other in Nationwide Arena Thursday at 7:00pm Eastern.
This is a collaboration and discussion with two Happy Hour Sports Contributors – Mogo, and Aaron Kinney.
Discussion on the Flyers ahead of their matchup with the Blue Jackets on 10-12-2023
Aaron: Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier both missed the entire season with injuries last year. What kind of impact do you expect them to make as they return?
Mogo: It seems like it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen Sean Couturier on the ice. He was always a favorite of mine. I’m excited to have him back healthy and ready to go. However, I think the days of him being one of the best two-way players in the league are gone. He’s just been too beat up. What I am looking for him to do is help the youth on this Flyers team grow and adjust to the NHL. Noah Cates is looking better and better every time we see him and has been likened to a young Coots. If Couturier can still produce and at the same time mentor players like Cates, then this fanbase will be very happy. As for Atkinson, I think this year may actually turn into a season where he may be trying out for another team. I’m not sure Cam fits the rebuild time-line and with guys like Foerster and Brink developing, there may not be enough space for so many rightwingers. If Cam plays well this season, why wouldn’t the flyers try to deal him for a decent draft pick or prospect?
Aaron: It seems clear that Philly finally has a GM committed to rebuilding this team the right way in Danny Briere after previous regimes tried to use bandaids to fix the broken bones of this franchise. Flyers fans seem to be excited about this, but do you think ownership is patient enough to see the process through?
Mogo: I for one am so excited about having Briere and Kieth Jones lead this franchise. One complaint that we in Philly have heard for years is that the team alway hires former flyers and doesn’t go outside the box. I totally understand that and have agreed numerous times that the Flyers need to break up this old guard mentality. Call me a hypocrite but I just think this is different. The Flyers have gone back to the former player well, but Jones has never been a president of hockey ops and Briere has never been a GM. In a way it’s a refreshing sight to have two front office rookies with hopefully new ideas leading the way instead of the same old recycled general managers. As far as the rebuild question goes, I think they are very serious and headstrong about rebuilding this club. Ivan Provorov being traded to Columbus kicked off our offseason. Kevin Hayes was dealt, Deangelo was bought out and you will see a ton of young players play for this Flyers team this season. The braintrust of Torts, Jones and Briere all seem to be on the same page of playing the kids this year and seeing who will be that impact player.
Aaron: Staying on the rebuild topic, what are your thoughts on John Tortorella as head coach? He’s built a reputation for pushing teams to be better than their personnel suggests, and that’s why we loved him so much in Columbus. If the Flyers are committed to stripping this team down and getting high draft picks, does he hurt them by squeezing a few extra wins out of this roster?
Mogo: I think Tortorella was a great hire for this team. At first I questioned whether the young players would respond to his coaching style. It seems they are responding quite well, as the players seem to love him. I think this is a different Torts than what we saw in Columbus or Tampa. Sure, he’s still his boisterous self and I love that, but I think you can see a newfound patience with Tortorella and a strong desire to rebuild this club the right way. Chuck Fletcher last year never conceded that the Flyers would rebuild but it came out that Tortorella’s mindset last season was already on a rebuild and he coached that way. I think the Flyers have more talent than what the media may say and the Flyers won’t be dead last this year but all in all the front office and John Tortorella are 100% focused on the future. This fanbase is used to watching a terrible team somehow go on a late winning streak and no longer have a shot at a top 3 pick. But I’d rather have a competitive and talented coach molding these young players into future NHL mainstays.
Aaron: I have to agree with you that they won’t be last, in my opinion it’s going to be pretty hard for any team to out-tank San Jose this year.
Carter Hart was one of the bright spots for Philly last season, posting better numbers than expected considering the play in front of him and keeping the team in games. Do you anticipate him sticking around through what looks to be a few rough years, or do they deal him for futures?
Mogo: This is the big question when you consider who the Flyer’s trade chips are. Without a doubt the player that should net you a haul is Carter Hart. Great goaltending is at a premium and Hart, being so young and already an established goaltender, would surely be sought after by numerous teams. Do the Flyers succumb to the draw of draft picks and prospects? They have a deep goaltending pipeline in their system. But clearly none are a sure thing and that’s the dilemma. Preferably the Flyers hit on their next draft picks and maybe make a few deals here and there, develop their young talent and compete in 3 years (remember Matvei Michkov is on the horizon) and still have Carter Hart to back-stop a competitive Flyers team. But I’m not so sure the Flyers will have the luxury of waiting and hoping when a team in need of goaltending comes knocking on their door.
Aaron: It will definitely be interesting to see if anyone comes knocking with a big package, especially with the question marks in net among contending teams this year. LA and Toronto come to mind, and depending on Vasilevskiy’s recovery from surgery I might even put Tampa on that list.
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Discussion about the Blue Jackets ahead of their matchup against the Philidelphia Flyers
Mogo: Adam Fantilli must be the talk of the town in Columbus. What are your expectations for him in his rookie season? Do you expect immediate impact or will it be a feeling out process this year?
Aaron: Fantilli has definitely taken this fan base by storm, and it still doesn’t feel real that Anaheim passed on him with the second pick in the draft. I’m expecting a serious impact, although I do think he’ll have to work through some growing pains. He’s already got an NHL frame and his competitive motor is off the charts, but he’ll have to adjust to the size and speed of the best league in the world after bullying his way through college kids to win the Hobey Baker last season. He’s looked great in preseason action, especially in Sunday’s finale against Washington in which he took a monster hit from TJ Oshie, bounced right up off the ice, and came back later in the third period to score the game winner with Oshie draped over his back. Right now he’s penciled in as the third line center between Jack Roslovic and Kent Johnson (another exciting young gun) but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him elevated into a top six role as the season progresses. The Blue Jackets took a similar approach with Pierre-Luc Dubois in his rookie year, starting him on the fourth line before moving him up to 1C between Josh Anderson and Artemi Panarin where he finished the season with 20 goals and 48 points. I think Fantilli’s skillset gives him a higher ceiling than that, and the fact that Columbus has multiple scoring lines should help shelter him from opponents’ top defenders. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him in the neighborhood of 25 goals and 65 points if he stays healthy.
Mogo: The Blue Jackets made some additions in the offseason, former Flyer Ivan Provorov being one of them. What were the fanbase’s thoughts on trading for Provy? Do you think he will eventually turn into the star defenseman we in Philly thought he would be? Or do you view him as simply a complementary piece to the defense?
Aaron: I think the majority of the fanbase was thrilled to bring in any sort of defensive help, and while Provorov’s last few seasons have been a far cry from his draft pedigree, he’s still a major upgrade from the rotating cast of AHL call-ups we had last season. Personally, I was uncertain about the move at first because I think he’s the kind of guy who needs a steady, veteran partner to be at his best. I remember him looking dominant alongside Matt Niskanen, but after Niskanen’s retirement it looked like he struggled to find chemistry with anyone else on the roster. My attitude toward the trade shifted from cautious optimism to legitimate excitement when the Jackets brought in Damon Severson. I think his mobility and anticipation make him the perfect partner to get the most out of Provorov, and if those two stay together they should give the Jackets a rock solid pairing that can eat big minutes and take pressure off Zach Werenski, who previously had to single-handedly carry the blue line. I don’t expect Provorov to become an offensive star, but I think he can be a real difference maker in a top four role.
Mogo: I definitely agree that Provy needs that stable partner on the ice with him in order to see his full potential. Regardless of whether or not that develops for the Blue Jackets, Provorov is still a good pick up and should immediately contribute.
Now, the media certainly doesn’t have much faith in the Blue Jackets making a run at the playoffs this year. However, the team clearly has talent in players like Gaudreau, Laine, Fantilli, Johnson, etc. Do you think they will surprise some people this year? Or is it another rebuilding season for the Jackets?
Aaron: This is the million dollar question, and I honestly think it boils down to two unknowns: health and coaching. The surprise signing of Johnny Gaudreau last summer sent the fanbase into a frenzy and expectations were through the roof, but we all saw how that turned out. The team didn’t even make it through the season opener with their full lineup, and went on to set a franchise record with 563 man-games lost to injury. The biggest loss was Werenski, who only played 13 games before a torn labrum ended his season and completely mangled the defensive depth chart. We had Erik Gudbranson playing 21:18 per game for god’s sake. While the injuries definitely were a factor, the biggest problem was the incomprehensible system (or lack thereof) that Brad Larsen implemented. I’ve never seen a more disorganized team, especially in their own zone. It was some sort of hybrid man-zone scheme that had players trading responsibilities in front of their own net, and it usually ended up with Sidney Crosby burying a backdoor tap-in with no defenseman in the same zip code. This really had a negative impact on the confidence of starting goalie Elvis Merzlikins, who is looking to have a bounce back year himself. Larsen is mercifully gone, and after the Babcock disaster we now have a young bench boss with real potential in Pascal Vincent. He was a hot name around the league a few years ago as an assistant for the Jets, and Patrik Laine has raved about how well he communicated with him there during his rookie season. He seems to have taken some of Babcock’s defensive schemes and tweaked them to better suit this personnel group, but his real strengths lie on the offensive side of the puck. I think he’ll get the most out of a deep, talented forward group and find creative ways to incorporate Werenski, Provorov, Boqvist, and Jiricek into the attack. Pair that with the additions on the blue line, the arrival of Fantilli, the return of Alexandre Texier, and continued development from Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, and Cole Sillinger, and it’s easy to see this team competing with Buffalo, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Florida for a wildcard spot. I think they’ll be right there at the end of the season, but there are too many unknowns for me to guarantee a playoff berth quite yet.
Mogo: Speaking of Kent Johnson, this should be a massive year for him if he can build off his 40 point season in 2022-23. The public’s eyes surely are being drawn away from him and towards Fantilli. Do you think Johnson is going to go off this year?
Aaron: I love watching this kid, and I think the sky’s the limit for him this year. Larsen refused to give him significant minutes until late in the season, which makes his rookie point total even more impressive. I expect a lot of shuffling among the top nine forwards this year, but with Fantilli’s arrival and Laine’s shift to center ice (I never thought in a million years that would work but the early returns are promising) he’ll be playing with talented linemates who can feed on his elite offensive creativity no matter where he lands in the lineup. Johnson is a scoring chance machine at even strength, and if Fantilli and new assistant coach Mark Recchi can help improve the Jacket’s abysmal powerplay, he should be able to feast on the man-advantage as well. I don’t think 75 points is out of the question. The only concern is his size, but he did a good job of avoiding contact with his shifty playmaking and anticipation last year, so I don’t think that will be as much of a problem as some people are making it out to be.
Mogo: Besides Fantilli I am pretty excited to see what Kent Johnson turns into. He has a chance to fly under the radar this season with all eyes on the top draft pick. Maybe that helps him build on his rookie season and all of a sudden we will be talking about how good this kid is. The Jackets definitely have a lot to look forward to.
The Flyers and Blue Jackets certainly won’t be two of the marquee teams this season but their storylines this year won’t disappoint.
The game: Flyers @ Blue Jackets, Oct. 12th 7pm
This is an article written by Dylan "Mogo" Montgomery
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