Philadelphia Flyers Sorting Through Mob of Bottom-6 Forwards

Feb 15, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Dale Weise (22) against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Dale Weise (22) against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Flyers have more candidates for their bottom-6 forward roles than they could possibly use. Sorting through the mob.

You have returning stalwarts like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde, and Matt Read. Then you have improving youngsters like Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton. Throw in newly signed NHL free agents like Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon, as well. Then KHL import Roman Lyubimov. Maybe even AHL hopefuls Taylor Leier and Radel Fazleev could make a push.

At this point the Philadelphia Flyers may as well re-sign Sam Gagner. Maybe bring back Simon Gagne too. It would be just as well because they all can’t be in the lineup anyway.

Joking aside, presumably many spots will be won and lost in training camp this fall. Even after being won, those players better not slack, because there will be plenty of guys just waiting for their opportunity.

It’s tough to sort out this mess, but one place to start is to presume everyone has a clean slate in terms of earning a spot. What do the stats say?

Let’s start with 5v5 numbers. Here’s a chart of aggregate numbers for the last 2 seasons for NHLers. FYI, this chart leaves out Roman Lyubimov who’s only played in the KHL, and Leier and Fazleev do not have the NHL experience to have useful stats. Furthermore, you may also mouse over the image for more details about the nitty-gritty of what those statistics actually are.

"Detailed Chart Explanations:In this chart, higher is better for all statsShot Creation equals on-ice teammate relative shot attempts for (Corsi) per 60 minutesShot Suppression equals on-ice teammate relative shot attempts against(Corsi Against) per 60 minutes, and flipped so that higher is better and lower is worse in chartProduction equals player primary points per 60 minutesExpected Goals % equals on-ice teammate relative expected goals percentage"

A few things immediately jump out. First, Cousin’s performance is significantly better than everybody else. His shot suppression is head and shoulders above the others, and he and Matt Read are the only players who have a positive overall effect on expected goal difference when on the ice. One catch here is that Cousins has only played 47 NHL games, so there is still a question of he sustains that level of play. Personally, I want to believe in Cousins.

Related Story: Nick Cousins Should Provide Good Value to Flyers at Low Cap Hit

Second, new signing Gordon is really a black hole for shot generation. He’s the 2nd best shot suppressor, but his shot generation is so low that he’s left with a fairly poor expected goals rating.

The last thing to point out that Read and Weise are getting paid much more than the other guys in the group. Certainly Read ($3.625 million) is seen as a disappointment for his poor production that last few years, scoring nowhere near the 20 goals the Philadelphia Flyers once expected. Weise isn’t getting paid as much ($2.350 million), and his shot effects are only marginally better than the pack. He has had pretty good production the last 2 years, however, and he can contribute a purely physical, goal scoring role the others cannot.

So that’s 5v5, but of course penalty killing ability is significant for bottom-6 forwards. Here’s a similar chart for players who have been regular penalty killers the last 2 seasons.

By this measure, VandeVelde has been a very good penalty killer, and Bellemare hasn’t been great. Read has particularly struggled, and Gordon, supposedly brought in as a faceoff and penalty killing specialist, has been very poor. Apparently after actually winning the faceoff (which Gordon tends to do), he’s not very good after that point. (Laughton and Weise have done some penalty killing but not all that much).

This stat is very concerning for Gordon, but I suspect the Flyers will look to new-signing Gordon to take a lot of faceoffs and lead the penalty killing unit anyway. I think it also demands VandeVelde maintain consideration for a role, even if his 5v5 performance looks about the worst. (Of course playing for Hakstol at UND helps VandeVelde, as well).

So considering these numbers, what does it mean for this scrum? It shows different things for different players, I think.

  • Regarding Weise, he’s not a hugely impactful player, but he does produce and bring physicality. His lineup spot is safe, and he may also see some time in the top-6.
  • For me, Cousins should be the clubhouse leader for third line center. The biggest knock is that he hasn’t killed penalties yet, but if he can add that skill to his book of tricks, he really stands out, IMO.
  • Gordon and VandeVelde are looking at pure 4th line roles–limited 5v5 minutes against bad competition, and earning their keep on the penalty kill.
  • Bellemare’s usual spot at 4th line center may be upset next season by Gordon’s arrival. Can he challenge Cousins for 3rd line duty?
  • Read and Laughton face the most uncertain futures. Read has disappointed the last 2 years, and his solid advanced stats of shots and possession will only buy him time, but do not replace production. Read and Laughton may be competing for the same 3rd line spot on the wing.
  • Lyubimov? I have no idea. I simply don’t know enough about him to judge with any specificity.

So yeah, it’s a bit of a mess. Hakstol has lots to sort out. Truthfully, fans don’t get really excited about battles for 3rd and 4th line duty.  For the most hardcore Flyers, however, this royal rumble  of a bunch of forwards will be of interest and provide plenty of fodder for debate.

Next: 'Team Barber' and Provorov Win Prospects 3v3 Tournament