• Andrew McGuinness

Breaking: Flyers Sign RFA Ivan Provorov to 6-Year Contract

And another one gone, and another one gone, and another one bites the dust!

After a long summer of holdouts, more and more of the RFA dominos are beginning to drop. However, nothing has meant more to the Orange and Black than TSN's Bob McKenzie's report that the Flyers have come to an agreement with defenseman Ivan Provorov, which carries a cap hit of $6.75 million, for a total value of $40.5 million.

Provorov was drafted 7th overall in 2015 by the Flyers, who were stuck in retooling mode and looking for a face of their defense. They found one in Provorov, who made his NHL debut in October 2016 after making the Flyers straight out of training camp. Before long, Provorov was playing over 20 minutes a night, and he has been a staple of the Flyers top pairing for the last two and a half years.

Analyzing Ivan Provorov's brief, promising, and sometimes frustrating NHL career requires taking the good with the bad. Through two seasons, it'd be hard to argue the Flyers weren't pleased with Provorov's production. As a rookie, Provorov led the Flyers in ice-time (he has done so every year in his career). He scored a solid 30 points and though his advanced metrics weren't amazing, that could be explained by the fact that he was stapled to Andrew MacDonald, who was in a role way over his head.

Sure enough, it appeared Provorov had turned a corner on December 23, 2017. That night, Dave Hakstol made three of his smartest coaching decisions in one fell swoop, including putting the dynamic Shayne Gostisbehere to the right of Provorov on the top pair. The results were impressive. Provorov's Corsi For% and Expected Goals% shot up, and he scored 17 goals (including the playoff clincher in game 82), tied for the most among defenseman.

Provorov played solidly but not spectacularly in the playoffs. Though it was his gaffe that led to a Jake Guentzel goal that gave the Penguins the lead for good in the clinching game, that could be excused by the fact he played Game 6 with a grade 3 shoulder sprain. Despite the down note to end the season, Provorov came into 2018-19 expected to dominate as a dark horse Norris contender.

Instead, that Game 6 blunder kept repeating itself all season long. His pairing with Ghost was unable to maintain their chemistry and their numbers plummeted. After brief stints with Hagg and Gudas, Provorov spent the second half of the year nearly exclusively alongside Travis Sanheim. The pairing played decently, but Provorov had clearly lost his swagger. He appeared to be fighting the puck more often than before, and his decision making developed more flaws. He was far from a scrub, but he failed to drive play, his 26 points were a career low, and the eye test wasn't pretty either.

It's a bit surprising that Provorov signed before Travis Konecny, who is the Flyers lone remaining RFA. Most of the reports this summer suggested that TK was the closer of the two to signing. Some reports suggested that Provorov was asking for as much as $10 million a season. But with fellow RFA blue liner Zach Werenski (taken one pick after Provorov and a very good comparable) signing a 3-year, $5 million (AAV) bridge deal, talks afterwards seemed to move along quickly with the Russian defenseman.

Provorov's deal remains another fair but not fleece of a contract signed by Chuck Fletcher. Initial reaction from social media seems fairly positive, with most Flyers fans thinking Provorov is closer to the 2016-18 version than the 2018-19 one (which I agree with). Provorov is already pretty close to being worth $6.75 million, and in six years from now, his growth combined with an increasing cap could make this a Sean Couturier like steal near the end of the deal. Or it might just be a fair contract. Regardless of your thoughts, it's certainly better than a holdout. It's a medium risk, high reward signing - a positive outcome for just about any decision.

Of course, the Flyers (and Provorov) are expecting a return to true number one defenseman form. Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen. The hard truth of the matter is that in his career, Provorov has only played like a top pairing defenseman by the eye test, traditional stats, AND advanced metrics for only about half a season. His Corsi For a year ago was a poor 47.6% (though the team as a whole struggled to drive play), and it wasn't much different as a rookie. The scoring has been there at times, but Provorov will likely never score enough to make up for any extended bouts of sloppy play in his own end like a Shayne Gostisbehere or Erik Karlsson style of player can.

There have been legitimate reasons for some of Provy's struggles - his constant partnership with MacDonald, perhaps a nagging shoulder injury (though Provorov insisted that his playoff injury was fully healed come last October), and perhaps a heavy workload under Hakstol and Scott Gordon was taking its toll on the 22-year old. Whether Alain Vigneault and the rest of the coaching staff can get Provorov back to elite form remains to be seen, and the answer to that question will go a long way towards determining Provorov's legacy.

Now that Provorov is locked up, the focus shifts to Konecny. The Flyers have $6.67 million dollars of salary cap space left, which should be enough to retain Konecny regardless of term. However, talks between the Flyers and TK appear to be stuck in quicksand, as Bob McKenzie explains below.

For those keeping score at home, TK has been what we call in the business #Hak'd. For those less familiar with Flyers Twitter, allow me to explain the newest word of the English language (I'm still waiting on a response from Webster's):

Hak'd (verb): The act of (former) Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol mismanaging his lineup, usually either by overusing a zero dimensional veteran, failing to trust a skilled youngster, or/and running a goalie into the ground.

Country of Origin: Canada

Sentence: Travis Konecny was one of the Flyers best 5-on-5 goal scorers during Dave Hakstol's tenure and played well enough to be a top-six staple from day one, but he was Hak'd often and therefore played less than 15 minutes a night, was constantly benched late in close games, and was healthy scratched on numerous occasions.

Regardless of what happens with Konency's negotiations, having Provorov back in the fold on a solid contract is a major win for the Flyers. The team's defense looks as stacked as ever, with Provorov, Sanheim, and Gostisbehere on the left side and Niskanen, Braun, and Myers on the right, probably in that order. It's a defensive core with an ideal mix of speed and skill, defensive and offensive talent, and left and right-handed shots (something most teams don't have).

The bottom line is this - if the Provorov of old returns for good (or at least the version from last year is banished to Camden), another major piece of the Flyers bid to turning the corner towards contention will finally be complete. But if his play-driving and advanced stats continue to be underwhelming, he may not take the big leap that was once predicted and instead be a slightly overpaid second-pair quality defenseman. Last year was disappointing and certainly a dose of the latter. But three years of watching Provy play have made it clear that he certainly has the tools and the work ethic to eventually turn the former into reality.