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A late third-period collapse and dismal start overshadowed a legitimately good performance and Cam York’s first NHL goal as the Flyers dropped their seventh straight. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 37: NYR 3, PHI 2 – Hexed

A late third-period collapse and dismal start overshadowed a legitimately good performance and Cam York’s first NHL goal as the Flyers dropped their seventh straight. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 37: NYR 3, PHI 2 – Hexed

Welcome to seventh hell. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-2, for the second straight game, this time to the New York Rangers. The Flyers, less than ten minutes away from their first regulation win in over a month, not only lost but failed to even earn a point. The Flyers have now lost seven straight, five of their last six in regulation, and sit a whopping thirteen points out of a playoff spot.

There is no one reason why the Flyers find themselves already falling out of even the outskirts of the playoff race and in danger of being steered towards a rebuild less than seven months after a summer of win-now moves. But there is one reason that stuck out this week to anyone scrolling through Flyers Twitter this week. That of course would be the Ron Hextall era, or at least the work during the back-half of his tenure (particularly the first day of the 2017 NHL Draft), which Bobby Clarke rehashed on the Cam & Strick podcast.

When Hextall took over as GM of the Flyers in 2014, the organization was at a crossroads. The team had made the playoffs six of the last seven seasons but were two years removed from their last series victory and coming off a first-round loss to the same Rangers team they played Saturday night. Their roster construction was in an even weirder spot; the Flyers had several excellent players in their primes upfront (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds), a few more forwards entering their primes (Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn), and a solid netminder in Steve Mason (laugh all you want, but Mason was T-8th with a .921 save percentage in his first three years in Philly).

But they lacked depth and thanks to a series of bad contracts (Vincent Lecavalier, Niklas Grossmann, Andrew MacDonald) and a lack of picks and prospects spent maximizing the team’s chances of winning at the start of the decade meant they didn’t have the means to fill in the gaps. Hextall could’ve tried to jam the square peg into the round hole and keep the team in contention; maybe he could’ve made it work, but it would’ve taken nearly perfect work to do so. A hard rebuild was also an option; Voracek was set to be a UFA in 2016, and the Flyers undoubtedly could’ve received a significant haul of futures for him (and other players) had they sold hard.

Maybe it would’ve turned the Flyers into a modern powerhouse. Or maybe it would have blown up in their face and the Flyers would be in the same conversations as the Sabres and Coyotes over the last decade. Instead, Hextall chose the third option; a hybrid of those two extremes that saw the Flyers keep their best players and never truly bottom out, but also hold on to their draft picks and acquire many more by trading veterans like Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn whose ages and contracts didn’t fit their timeline.

The beginning stages of a retool on the fly strategy are generally the best. If the team isn’t winning, they can point to the prospects they’ve drafted as the true measure of success. Any success at the NHL level is house money. And for a team not focused first and foremost on NHL success, the Flyers were relatively successful at the start of Hextall’s tenure, making the playoffs in two of his first four years. In Hextall’s fourth season, not only did the Flyers earn 98 points and finish a respectable 12th and had the best prospect pool in the NHL, according to Corey Pronman (then of ESPN). A combination like that should be the makings of a future powerhouse; not a team with two losing streaks of over a half-dozen games in the first half of this season.

But while the early stages of a retool are the easiest to nail out of those three strategies, it’s also the hardest to stick the landing. Teams that employ this strategy rarely if ever are picking at the top of the draft, which is where it’s easier to find elite talent. When the Flyers jumped up 11 spots in the 2017 draft lottery to move up to second overall, they had that opportunity. Hextall thought he found one in Nolan Patrick. Apparently, most of the Flyers scouts thought they found a better or/and surer one in Cale Makar. There’s probably a bit of revisionist history on Clarke’s part; Patrick was the consensus #2 pick, after all. Passing up on him would have been a very risky move; it’s not surprising a consistently conservative GM in Hextall didn’t decide to go off the board.

And while the timing of the Schenn trade could be critiqued; the Flyers certainly would’ve had a better shot of contending from 2017-2020 if they kept Schenn, it’s hard to argue the Flyers didn’t do fairly well with that trade; the two picks they acquired for Schenn turned into Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee. Perhaps Hextall saw Ryan O’Reilly as redundant with Couturier’s skillset; and who knows what it would’ve taken to acquire him. Although considering the Blues practically stole him from Buffalo, it probably would’ve been a good deal for the Flyers to make.

In general, though Hextall’s passiveness to a fault led to his demise; he wasn’t able to steer the Flyers into the league’s upper-echelon fast enough. That’s the hardest part of a retool, the final test that even the most experienced GMs can fail. And for all the good he did early in his tenure, Hextall wasn’t able to make the adaptations necessary to avoid that fate.

We didn’t know it now, but the prospects the Flyers drafted mostly didn’t turn out quite as good as expected. It’s not that Hextall didn’t unearth some legitimately good players, but none of them reached their true ceiling. Ivan Provorov could’ve been a true number one defenseman; instead, he’s a solid number two. Travis Sanehim could’ve been capable of consistently playing on a top-pair; instead, he’s a good number three. Travis Konecny could’ve been a money-in-the-bank 30-goal scorer, but after three consecutive 24 goal seasons, he scored at an 18-goal pace last year and is on track for 12 this year.

That’s not to mention the prospects Hextall missed on; obviously, no GM is going to hit on every pick, but Clarke did mention the Flyers have a couple of first-round picks that won’t play for them, and that’s (probably) true; those likely being 2016 selection German Rubtsov and 2019 choice Jay O’Brien. The only prospects Hextall drafted that dramatically outplayed their expectations when being picked are Oskar Lindblom and Carter Hart. When you combine that with a lack of high draft picks, missing on the one premier pick the Flyers had and didn’t trade any of their prospects before their stock dropped (except for Cooper Marody, who went for a 3rd round pick), you start to see how a #1 ranked prospect pool didn’t translate into a #1 NHL team; or anything close to that, for that matter.

Of course, it’s not fair to blame all of the Flyers’ woes on one person, or even one regime. Hextall’s work would’ve been much easier had Paul Holmgren not loaded the team up with those bad contracts, or at the very least gotten the Flyers over the edge during that all-in window. Chuck Fletcher could’ve traded some of those prospects, too, or made different moves to both the roster and coaching staff to establish the consistent success that has eluded the Flyers over the last decade. But with both the individuals Hextall brought in and the team a top-to-bottom disappointment, one point that Clarke made is true: the Ron Hextall era, barring an improbable rejuvenation, is full of mistakes that the Flyers are paying for now — and likely will be for years to come.

But there’s one final element to the Flyers’ struggles. One that isn’t Hextall’s, Holmgren’s, Fletcher’s, Clarke’s, Dave Scott’s, or anybody’s fault: luck. Hextall’s shortcomings, both from a personality and transaction standpoint, have been well documented; and that’s been the case long before Clarke’s rant. Yes, he should have listened to his scouts more. But there’s an alternate world where Patrick stays healthy and turns out to be an impact player himself. An alternate world where Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier stay healthy and the Flyers returned to vintage 2019-20 form. One where Patrick Kane’s bad-angle shot hits Michael Leighton’s pad, and the ensuing butterfly effect leads to the end of the Flyers’ multi-decade Cup drought, not Chicago’s.

At the very least, there’s one where Cam York’s first NHL goal is remembered the same way as Samuel Morin’s. Both scored their first NHL tally on a blast from the left point in the back-half of the third period to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead over the Rangers. The Flyers held onto the lead Morin gave them. They couldn’t do the same Saturday. The Rangers’ defense broke apart an otherwise solid Flyers’ defense (T-season low 1.2 expected goals against at 5v5) 37 seconds later. Then Chris Kreider deflected a shot from Adam Fox past Carter Hart three minutes later, and that was that. The Flyers, outside of a truly terrible start (shot attempts were 15-1 Rangers out of the gates), played well; their 59.41% expected goals share was their third-highest mark of the season.

It’s not that the Flyers never get breaks. York’s goal itself should’ve been squeezed by Igor Shesterkin. Lindblom and Hart were shrewd picks by Hextall. In the one playoff series that the Flyers have won since 2012, six of their eleven goals (two fewer than they gave up, by the way) deflected in off an opposing player. There’s no way to definitively say whether luck has done more good than bad (or vice versa) for the Flyers. But in the short and long-term pictures, the bad bounces stand out more when you can’t overcome them. They don’t absolve the Flyers of the mistakes they did have control over, but they certainly magnify them. Tonight’s loss and the team’s latest spiral are just the latest examples.


The NHL presented Claude Giroux with a commemorative crystal for recording his 600th assist on Dec. 29, becoming the second Flyer to reach the milestone.

While one Flyers icon was honored on Saturday, another was missing in action. You might not have noticed unless you attended the game, but long-time Flyers PA announcer Lou Nolan wasn’t behind the mic; like so many around the NHL, Nolan and his wife Ellen tested positive for COVID. Other than a few games near the end of the 2019-20 regular season, it’s hard to remember what Flyers hockey sounds like without Nolan. Steve Kramarck of the University of Delaware filled in for Nolan.

Anyone hoping the Flyers will start to get lucky on the injury front is probably going to be disappointed. None of Derick Brassard, Sean Couturier, and Ryan Ellis are currently skating. Brassard is still day-to-day, per Mike Yeo, but there’s no timetable for Couturier and Ellis’ returns. With where the Flyers currently sit, there’s little incentive for them to return before they’re officially one-hundred percent healthy. And unfortunately, it sounds like that might be a while.

The two biggest factors behind the Flyers’ seven-game point streak were special teams and goaltending; the Flyers ranked 12th on the power-play (25%), 7th on the penalty kill (90.9%), and 7th in team save percentage (.934). The goaltending has been 23rd in the NHL during the Flyers’ losing streak, but it’s hard to blame them given the chances the Flyers have given up. The special teams? Oh, those are easy targets for blame. The Flyers’ power-play has dropped to 22nd (15.8%) and their penalty kill to 30th (65%) since Dec. 30.

It’s now been over a month since the Flyers’ last regulation win, which came on Dec. 14 against the Devils.

When the Flyers were bulldozed early on, practically the only line generating chances was the new-look second line of Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Konecny. Always good to see Lindblom getting on the board; he’s got 10 points in 15 games since Yeo took over. The Flyers have been changing their lines up quite a bit lately; that’s just what happens when you’re losing games. But maybe Yeo has found a combination he can keep for a little bit here. They posted a strong 64.21% expected goals rate, just a tick behind the first line (same as it was Thursday) and a bit back of the surprisingly effective James van Riemsdyk-Kevin Hayes-Gerry Mayhew trio.

If you’re disenchanted by actual hockey, maybe some virtual hockey can cheer you up?

Only one Flyer with at least two games played has an expected goals rate over 52%. That player, of course, is none other than the would-be hero of Saturday, Cam York. He delivered another strong performance Saturday even before accounting for his goal. Rasmus Ristolainen will likely be back from COVID protocol (he’s already off the list) by Monday. But York has done more than enough to justify keeping a spot in the lineup after that.

3 Stars

3rd: Adam Fox (NYR) – 2 Assists (33, 34),

2nd: Cam York (PHI) – Goal (1), 3 Blocks, 22:02 TOI

1st: Chris Kreider (NYR) – Goal (24), 20:17 TOI


NYR: 1/19, 7:30 PM vs. TOR (23-9-3, L1)

PHI: 1/17, 7:30 PM @ NYI (11-13-6, L1)

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All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick

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