While there are a laundry list of reasons the 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers were a dumpster fire, perhaps one of the biggest was a revolving door of a fourth line that was consistently caved in by opposing teams.
Inked to a one-year, $800K deal to return to Philadelphia after a seven-game run in 2019-20, Nate Thompson was penciled into the fourth line to start the season for then-head coach Alain Vigneault. The 37-year-old came cheap for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher during the summer and the general feeling was that Thompson would play a specific role and potentially be a press box body depending on what other players had in the tank.
What happened was that Vigneault stapled Thompson to his lineup cards, and turned a blind eye night-in and night-out as the veteran became partly the poster child for the Flyers’ bottom six issues — even taking to Twitter to take out fan frustrations from time to time.
Thompson scored just once and added two helpers in 33 games anchoring the Flyers’ fourth line, though starting more than 70% of his shifts in the defensive zone at even strength. The journeyman also killed a ton of penalties though he was part of another bottom-five NHL penalty kill overall, so not exactly impacting positively in that regard.
In the end a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery shelved the veteran and stunted his second stint in town after just 40 total games with the Flyers over parts of two seasons.
Thompson, who’ll be 38 by the time 2022-23 gets going, currently remains a free agent with a return highly unlikely given the Flyers’ cap crunch and logjam of just a guys (JAGs) in the bottom six mix already with Nic Deslauriers inked in free agency and a slew of guys like Zack MacEwen, Tanner Laczynski, Patrick Brown, and Noah Cates among others back and hunting for NHL ice time.
And now his watch has ended.
By the Numbers
Armed with that gaudy defense zone start time, Thompson wasn’t going to be expected to push play much, but he also didn’t manage to flip the ice enough either.
His linemates weren’t exactly world beaters either, but Thompson wasn’t part of the solution on the fourth line in any event despite a 93% PDO (on-ice shooting percentage + on-ice save percentage) suggesting that luck wasn’t on his side either.
Not only was much not expected of Thompson, but not much was delivered and he wasn’t lucky either. That combination usually leads to an amount of frustration that coincides with a couple Twitter meltdowns in defense of his game and that of his underperforming mates like Keith Yandle for instance.
As for what went well, Thompson did win 55% of his draws — a staple in his career that is chalk full of campaigns winning draws above and well above league average. That trait was something the Flyers hoped would help them even out his other defensive deficiencies at this stage of his career, but in the end it didn’t always translate as issues with defenders moving the puck after said draw wins negated them in the first place.
That’s a whole other problem in itself with the Flyers’ team inability to clear their zone consistently without issue, but Thompson’s prowess in the face off dot at least on paper gave the club a steady stable with Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Claude Giroux, and Thompson all highly capable of wining the initial puck battle.
Like other Flyers, Thompson was particularly unlucky on the penalty kill as 85.9 PDO thanks to a lack of shorthanded goals and netminders’ inability to come up with key saves as the penalty kill again faltered over the course of the full season.
Nothing else numbers wise really sticks out in regards to Thompson’s 2021-22 season, especially since there’s just no way to measure the countless intangibles he brought to the NHL’s fifth-worst club.
Three Thoughts on Nate’s second stint in Philadelphia
To start it’s not that Thompson isn’t a good dude or anything but he’s just not a serviceable NHL hockey player anymore and likely took up valuable playing time from another player in the organization last season with more potential impact on the franchise going forward.
Secondly, Thompson had ever right to stick up for both himself and his teammates, but was it ever a bad look while the team was in the toilet for him to hit Twitter and start trying to clap back.
Can’t measure character, folks. Good riddance.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, and Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.