Flyers
In a season full of frowns, the Flyers put at least some hallow smiles on their faces with a 4-2 win over the Devils to finish their season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

…another one opens up. The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-2, over the New Jersey Devils in a happy ending to a disappointing season. Four unanswered Flyers goals certainly aren’t the worst way to end a season, even one that’s ending way sooner than any of us hoped or expected.

It didn’t always look like we were in for a happy ending tonight, though. The Devils came out of the gate absolutely flying, while the Flyers looked like veteran a team playing in a meaningless game at the end of a dreadful season. It showed in just about every stat, including on the scoreboard. The Devils top-line forced a turnover from the Travii (Konecny and Sanheim) along the wall, with Pavel Zacha and Jesper Brett wreaking havoc on the forecheck. Bratt found Nico Hischier in front, who found Zacha behind the player taken one pick after him, Ivan Provorov (who in fairness, was covering someone else) for a tap-in past Elliott. Just 1:52 later, a terrible turnover by 25th birthday boy Nicolas Aubé-Kubel turned into a second strike. Wil Butcher’s point shot was blocked, but Janne Kuokkanen’s rebound was not, and beat Elliott five-hole to double the lead.

After that, the Flyers started to wake up. A dominant shift by a hybrid of the fourth and first lines gave hope that the Flyers wouldn’t be totally stomped on. But it would take something more tangible than a good shift to get the crowd back into the game. Well, as into a basically meaningless game as they can be. But the Flyers obliged. Wade Allison made a beautiful chip pass around Ryan Murray to exit the defensive zone, springing his line-mates the other way. Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee executed a perfect give-and-go, with Farabee undressing Scott Wedgewood all alone in front for his team-leading 19th tally.

Philadelphia started the second period on a power-play, which didn’t do much. Then they earned another power-play. Cam York made a series of excellent keeps at the blue-line, but the Flyers weren’t able to do anything with 1:47 of consecutive zone-time. But the Devils’ early energy was long gone. And after Wedgewood robbed Claude Giroux on a one-timer off the rush, the Flyers captain came back with a vengeance. Giroux must’ve seen D.K. Metcalf and decided to become a borderline Olympian in another sport. For Metcalf, it’s track; G chose soccer. An insane backdoor kick-pass found Sean Couturier for a game-tying tap-in, his 18th of the year.

Another power-play before the end of the second featured another great keep by York and more not-great everything else. And so the score remained even heading into the final regulation period of the Flyers’ season. A predictable outcome (NAK taking a penalty, his team-leading 18th minor) led to a rare but positive outcome (the Flyers PK doing their job, and in convincing fashion at that). The special teams parade continued with ticky-tackish slashes called on both sides. New Jersey’s power-play failed to take advantage. For once this season, the Flyers’ did not. The Flyers season started with a power-play goal by James van Riemsdyk, so it’s only fitting it would end with one, too. A backdoor tap-in set up by Couturier gives the Flyers a late 3-2 lead.

Well, it almost ended that way. Sitting at 19 goals, I desperately wanted Joel Farabee to fire away every time coming down the left-wing, even if the angle wasn’t all that great. But with Wade Allison streaking down the middle uncovered, Farabee made the unselfish decision and hit his flying teammate in stride. Nice guys don’t always finish first, but sometimes they do score twenty goals! Wedgewood kicked the rebound right to the Beezer, who fired home the insurance marker to conclude an impressive sophomore season on a high note.

And… that’s the season, folks. What a whirlwind it’s been. It seems like yesterday we were wondering if there was even going to be a season, and only a few minutes ago we were going crazy at the thought of the Flyers building on last year’s success. This season was a battle for all of us. The team battled through a COVID bout (and resulting nightmare schedule), inconsistency, and a top-heavy East Division, among other things. We the fans battled insanity as we watched the team fail to win consecutive games over the last two months of the season, losing by five or more goals seven times, and some of the worst goaltending in decades. It wasn’t the season any of us expected or wanted. But it’s the one we got.

Believe it or not, there were some positive moments to come out of this season. Consecutive OT wins against the Islanders in late January provided a slight semblance of closure for last year’s playoff shortcomings. Joel Farabee took a massive step forward, looking like a legit top-six forward basically all season. There was a feel-good moment for Nate Prosser and an even bigger one for Samuel Morin. Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick certainly didn’t have the seasons we were hoping for, but the fact they both played almost every game this season after battling Ewing’s sarcoma and migraine disorder, respectively, is an amazing sign of progress. These moments are obviously overshadowed by the team’s failures (save for Lindblom’s heroic return). But they did still happen, and they are worth acknowledging, if only briefly.

There are almost too many reasons to count for why the Flyers failed to live up to their goals. The aforementioned fight with COVID and 17-game slate that basically eliminated “practice” from the Flyers’ March vocabulary certainly played a role. A lot of people will say that is an excuse. It’s not; it’s a reason, but if you think it’s the only reason, then it becomes an excuse. Even though the Flyers were 8-3-2 when their season was paused, any die-heart fan you spoke to was concerned. The team was being dramatically outplayed at 5-on-5. Through those first 13 games, the Flyers were dead last in shots for and 29th in shots against per game. Something had to give.

The good news is the Flyers finished 5th and 9th in those categories the rest of the way. The bad news? Basically everything else. Team goaltending fell apart to the tune of a .815 save percentage in March for Carter Hart; things got so bad he had to take a week to reset, which actually kind of worked (.910 save percentage in five April games) until suffering a season-ending injury. Brian Elliott wasn’t much better that month. Special teams were a major issue; the power-play started hot but fizzled out, and the PK was never able to regain the magic that defined it last season.

Even though the Flyers underlying numbers started improving down the stretch, anyone who watched the team consistently was far from impressed. They were bleeding quality chances night in and night out. With no one to replace Matt Niskanen, Ivan Provorov struggled, and the rest of the defense followed suit. It wasn’t all on them, though. Forward support on defense was often lacking. That was at least somewhat defensible when the team was scoring goals. At the end of February, the Flyers were sixth in the NHL at 3.39 goals per game. From March 1 on, they dropped to 2.57 goals, just 24th in that span.

Through all of this mess, the Flyers veteran players largely held their own. Claude Giroux put the team on his back multiple times this season. Sean Couturier won’t be repeating as the Selke Trophy winner, but he was his usual excellent two-way self and scored at a 73-point pace (over 82 games) despite likely playing hurt most of the year. Jake Voracek scored at basically the same rate as last year. Shayne Gostisbehere delivered a bounce-back year despite being waived. Even Justin Braun was the team’s most consistent defenseman post-COVID. With the possible exceptions of Elliott and Kevin Hayes, the Flyers’ oldest players were their best.

But none of that matters if a team with as many young players as the Flyers sees nearly all of them regress. Travis Konecny went through an early-season scoring drought, which combined with terrible defense play led to a stunning healthy scratch. Phil Myers rode the pine several times as he struggled with consistency and decision-making during his sophomore season. Travis Sanheim had his fair share of off-nights. Ivan Provorov all but confirmed he isn’t a true number-one defenseman; he needs a partner like Niskanen or 2017-18 Gostisbehere to be his best.

They weren’t the only ones. Nicolas Aubé-Kubel went from a forechecking machine to a penalty-taking one. The usually level-headed Hart defined his season with a rare act of frustration just six games into the year. Lindblom and Patrick understandably struggled with consistency. Other than Farabee (and late-season rookies like Allison, York, and Egor Zamula), it was a tough year to be an under-25 Flyer.

Those last seven paragraphs sum up why we’re here now, talking in terms of a post-mortem instead of a playoff preview. It’s not a fun place to be in. The good news is the Flyers have done a great job of not staying there for long over the last decade. In fact, the Flyers have only had one stretch in franchise history (1990-1994) of missing the playoffs in consecutive years. And no one in this organization or fanbase is ready to start a second one. Not with the talent on the roster and in the system. Not with the age of the veteran core. And not in a market like Philadelphia, which expects if not demands success from its sports teams.

The current group the Flyers have assembled feels like it’s dangling over the edge of a cliff as this season concludes. This playoff miss, the fourth since the Ron Hextall era began in 2014, has a greater sense of urgency than any of the first three. Even the last one in 2019, which was followed by a successful string of gutsy trades and a massive free-agent signing by Chuck Fletcher, didn’t feel as make or break as this one. As I discussed earlier, the Flyers are not exactly going the tried and true way towards building a Stanley Cup champion.

They aren’t completely starting over this offseason, but at the same time, there’s an acknowledgment that the Flyers’ current core is running out of time. Claude Giroux is 33; he and Sean Couturier (29) are unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. James van Riemsdyk is 32. Jake Voracek is 31. Those three players have been the face of the Flyers for a while. Yet only a second-year Giroux knows what’s it like to reach the third round of the playoffs. For a wide variety of reasons, the Flyers haven’t even sniffed the Stanley Cup since a Cinderella run in 2010 fell just two wins and one sealed five-hole short.

The Flyers certainly aren’t giving up on this group yet, at least the vast majority of it. There will be changes this offseason; even Shayne Gostisbehere said just as much. The Flyers need to seek an external option to fill Niskanen’s void. They need a better backup goaltender who can better whether a Hart injury or struggling storm. And that’s just the bare minimum. They’ll also lose someone to the Seattle Kraken in July’s expansion draft. It could be salary cap addition by subtraction if a veteran like Voracek, Gostisbehere, or van Riemsdyk is selected. But the Flyers would likely need to add picks or/and prospects to sweeten such a sour cap hit ($8.25 million, $7 million, and $4.5 million, respectively) enough to make it palatable.

It’s sure to be a lively offseason in Philly, regardless of how it shapes out. Scared? You should be. Excited? You better be. Chuck Fletcher and his staff find themselves at potentially the final crossroads of this core, at least in terms of the “make vs. miss the playoffs” variety, at least with this group. If the Flyers disappoint next season, it could be curtains for a lot of players. And yet they are still in a position to become a feared team once again if those aforementioned holes are patched and the youth returns to form (and maybe then some). But none of that is guaranteed.

I’ve said twice now that the hardest recap to write each year is the last one. It still holds true in year three. So I’m going to leave you with this. In my second real article (standard meek introduction not included) on my personal blog thirty-three months ago, I wrote this.

But at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, Claude Giroux will be 33. James van Riemsdyk and, if he’s still around, Wayne Simmonds will be 32. Jakub Voracek will be 31. With over $23 million dollars accounted for (not including a potential Simmonds extension) between Giroux, JVR, and Voracek, the Flyers will need them to be big contributors. Granted, it’s not like those guys are going to fall of a cliff by then, but if they’re not at the elite level they are today, can the Flyers win a Cup with those players on the books? They certaintly have core players developing now in the NHL and in the minors, but there may only be a 2-3 year window to win a Cup with this current core.

As you can tell, I didn’t have Grammarly downloaded when I first started writing about hockey.

I brushed over that concern at the time, but it’s become far too ingrained in my mind during this season. While I wasn’t necessarily saying the Flyers Cup window was opening then and there, I knew what the Flyers would have to do once it did: go for it. Nonstop. The Flyers left themselves with a very short window to truly contend after several years of going for it in the late 2000s/early 2010s depleted their farm system and draft capital. A disastrous 2012 offseason and some other ill-advised moves also moved the team into cap hell. Ron Hextall had little choice to enter re-tool mode when arriving, but a much shorter than optimal window for winning with Giroux and friends is a consequence of that choice.

That doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice, both at the moment and looking back. But the Flyers are running out of shots with some of their best players. Fletcher will almost certainly choose to take those last shots with these veterans, but if he’s going to do, he has to do it right. And that means doing it big. The time to be conservative has passed. It’s now or never for the Flyers’ Cup ambitions with their current veteran group. More importantly, it’s time for the Flyers to act like it.

This organization hasn’t pushed hard for a Stanley Cup in a while, probably dating back to the Chris Pronger trade. This group still has a ways to go, but they are closer to the Cup than they showed this season. The Flyers ultimately know and must act on the realization they need more help to close that gap. Can they do just that? Only time will tell. In the end, the same message I ended last season with rings truer than ever. All of the talks of improvement from the youth and filling their holes and returning to glory sounds wonderful. But, as Alain Vigneault once said, and will say again, “You can say you want to win. You can say a whole bunch of things. At the end of the day, you have to show it.”

Lindies

There were a couple of notable events that happened before puck-drop, as is customary before the last game of a season. First, Brian Elliott received a really touching tribute for reaching the 500 game milestone. His wife Amanda and two young sons were on hand to celebrate with him. Elliott received a beautiful watch from Claude Giroux and the team and a slick silver stick from Chuck Fletcher commemorating his accomplishment. If this is the end with the Flyers or/and in the NHL for the 36-year old, I can’t thank Ells enough for all he’s done in Philly. Even though I think it’s smart to move on considering Elliott’s age and Carter Hart’s struggles this year and his injury history, gonna miss you, Moose. Glad you (might) go out with a win.

At the end of every regular season, the Flyers hand out a few team-specific awards. Congratulations to this year’s winners:

Barry Ashbee Trophy (Most Outstanding Defenseman): Ivan Provorov

Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (Awarded By The Players To The Flyer Who Is Deemed Most Improved): Joel Farabee

Yanick Dupré Class Guy Award (Flyer With Character, Dignity, & Respect For The Sport On And Off The Ice): James van Riemsdyk

Toyota Cup Winner (The Flyer With The Most Points From Being Selected As A “Star of the Game”): Claude Giroux

Gene Hart Memorial Award (The Flyer Who Demonstrates The Most “Heart”): Sean Couturier

Bobby Clarke Trophy (Team Most Valuable Player): Sean Couturier

For the record, if I had a vote (I obviously don’t), here’s who I would’ve chosen for the awards:

Barry Ashbee Trophy – Justin Braun

Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy – Joel Farabee

Yanick Dupré Class Guy Award – Brian Elliott

Gene Hart Memorial Award – Oskar Lindblom

Bobby Clarke Trophy – Claude Giroux

Every chapter of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association (PHWA) unveiled their nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy today. Per the league’s website, the award is given “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” Unsurprisingly, the Philadelphia chapter nominated Oskar Lindblom. Lindblom certainly made an inspiring return this season following a courageous fight against cancer after being diagnosed in December 2019. He was also a finalist for the award last year.

Congratulations to Kevin Hayes recording his 300th NHL point by assisting on Farabee’s first goal.

Additional congratulations to former Flyer Brian Boucher, who will reportedly be joining ESPN’s NHL broadcast team in the fall.

And the ultimate congratulations goes out to Travis Konecny and his fiancée, Carly Girard on getting engaged!

Believe it or not, the town listed as TK’s location is actually my hometown.

At 21 years and 75 days old, Joel Farabee becomes the second-youngest Flyer to lead the team in goals. Only Eric Lindros (21 years, 45 days old) has led the Flyers in goals at a younger age.

Fun fact: one of tonight’s linesmen tonight was Corey Syvret, brother of former Flyer Danny Syvret. Another fun fact: Danny is one of the few players to score their first NHL goal in an outdoor game. He did so for the Flyers in the 2010 Winter Classic.

The Flyers will officially finish with the third-worst draft lottery odds “ahead” of only the Rangers and Stars. Or 15th best if you want to look at it that way. Either way, they have a 3.2 chance of winning one of the two lotteries (down from three, which it was from 2016-2020), and a 1.5% chance of picking first overall. For the record, it took me eight attempts on Tankathon’s NHL Draft Lottery simulator before getting a Flyers lottery win (and it was 1st overall at that). May the odds (and ping pong balls) be ever in our favor.

Even though he’s won six NHL games, the three-year anniversary of Alex Lyon’s signature moment as a professional came at about 1:30 in the morning on May 10. Three years ago yesterday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Charlotte Checkers started a playoff game that didn’t end for about six hours, going deep into fifth overtime. Despite being outshot 95-52, the Phantoms won 2-1. Alex Krushelnyski scored the winner and Lyon stopped an AHL-record 94 shots. The anniversary of the Flyers-Penguins 5OT game in the 2000 playoffs was actually last week, too (May 4).

The AHL actually uploaded the entire game a few months after it happened. Total time of this video – 6:18:05. Skip to 6:11:44 to see Krushelnyski’s winner.

Here’s the Flyers record by opponent this year, in case you’re sadistic curious:

TeamFlyers Record vs. Opponent
Pittsburgh Penguins5-3-0
Washington Capitals2-5-1
Boston Bruins2-4-2
New York Islanders3-1-4
New York Rangers4-3-1
New Jersey Devils4-4-0
Buffalo Sabres5-3-0
Flyers total record this season: 25-23-8, .518 points percentage; about an 85-point pace over a full 82-game season.

Finally, there are so many people I have to thank before I call it curtains on season three of FFR. To think I’ve recapped 223 consecutive Flyers games is wild, especially considering I originally was planning on giving this writing thing a 20-game trial at the start of the 2018-19 season. I’ll start by thanking YouTuber Steve Dangle, whose LFR (Leafs Fan Reaction) series is the only reason these articles exist as they do. I’ll be rooting for his Maple Leafs in the playoffs with the Flyers’ season over. Second, thanks to Trey Daubert for giving me the opportunity to take this series to a bigger platform here on Vendetta without skipping a beat. If this site goes as far as he thinks it will, it will be almost as amazing to see as a Flyers Cup run.

Next, I have to thank my family and friends, who are about the only people who read these articles consistently. In fact, thank you to anyone who read even one of these articles this season. Special thanks to the great people here at Vendetta who support these articles. Extra thanks to Adam Krieger and Bryan Tann for allowing me to write and talk about hockey this year by inviting me on their podcasts. Same to Emma Brown and Gavin Daly for collaborating with me on monthly power rankings. Every view, like, and retweet means a ton to me, and all I can ask is that you continue to share these articles with anyone you know who’s a hockey fan. One of the great things about Steve Dangle is his content is so great, it attracts non-Leafs fans like myself. One day, I hope I’ll reach that level.

More thank-yous must go to the people behind amazing hockey websites like CapFriendly, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference, Elite Prospects, Daily Faceoff, and more. I and so many better hockey writers could not do our work (more of a glorified hobby for me, but for some people, it really is work) without you. There are plenty of other great sites and resources like Evolving-Hockey, Corsica Hockey, and Corey Sznajder’s micro-stats that I want to delve into more in the future.

Additionally, thanks to everyone who made this NHL season possible. Not just the players and coaches, but all of the health experts, arena employees, TV producers, PR people, and more who worked their butts off this season with never enough recognition. I’d also like to thank the Flyers broadcast teams — on TV: Jim Jackson, Keith Jones, Scott Hartnell, and Taryn Hatcher, and on the radio: Tim Saunders and Steve Coates — for keeping up entertained during even the biggest blow-outs. Special thanks to Coatsey and JJ for coming on my show on Notre Dame’s student radio station WVFI (the last one is this Thursday at 3 PM if you’re interested). Extra thanks to JJ for giving my sister Mary, one of many hard-working PR people I alluded to, a shoutout in the 3rd period tonight.

Oh, and of course, thanks to Gritty for providing some semblance of entertainment and excitement into this otherwise mostly miserable season. Love you, pal.

Lastly, an update on what to expect from me moving forward. I had the final classes of my freshman year at the University of Notre Dame today, with a couple of finals on the docket at the start of next week. I’ll try to do playoff previews this week and throughout the playoffs (I’m already working on the Central), but naturally, I’m kind of busy right now. I come home a week from Wednesday, and when I do, I’m going to take a proper break for just a little bit. Anyone who covered the Flyers or any sports team, in general, is at least a little burnt out right now. I’m no exception, even though I could certainly find that second wind if the Flyers were gearing up for a playoff run now.

Once we get closer towards the expansion draft, regular entry draft, and free agency, my hockey content should pick up a little more. And if the Flyers make (a) big move(s), that’ll obviously be covered, too. There are already a couple of articles I have in mind for the offseason, and I can’t wait to have the time and energy to make them great. My weekly Phillies series will keep running mostly as scheduled, but I may miss a week here and there, especially over the next two as I prepare for finals and return home. Hopefully, they’re still playing when FFR4 starts in October. Maybe they’ll be another championship in Philly by then, too (#TTP). See you soon, Flyers fans.

3 Stars

3rd: James van Riemsdyk (PHI) – Goal (17), 5 Shots

2nd: Claude Giroux (PHI) – 2 Assists (26, 27), 4 Shots

1st: Joel Farabee (PHI) – 2 Goals (19, 20), 4 Shots

Next

Offseason: Now

2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs: May 15 (sadly, without the Flyers)

Draft Lottery: June 2 (per Elliotte Friedman)

Expansion Draft: July 21

NHL Draft: July 23-24

Free Agency Begins: July 28

Training Camp Opens: September 22

2020-21 NHL Regular Season Begins: October 12 (remember, we’re still in a pandemic: all dates subject to change)

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick (I’m aware I didn’t use any this game, but they deserve the shoutout)