Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 67: PHI 1, MIN 4 – Xpelled
Pain. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 4-1, to the Minnesota Wild, to end March and for all intents and purposes, their season. It’s long been all but inevitable, but after Tuesday night’s loss, the mathematical probability of the Flyers reaching the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs became the same as the fanbase’s hopes since mid-January at the latest: zero.
So, with the last fifteen games of the Flyers’ season essentially rendered meaningless, it seems like a good time for reflection. This obviously isn’t the first time the Flyers have missed the playoffs; it’s happened six of the last eleven years. Philadelphia missing the playoffs isn’t the same shock that seeing a team like Washington or Pittsburgh miss; the Flyers haven’t been a playoff institution since the early 2010s, when their 2013 playoff miss marked just their second failure to qualify since 1994. Seeing the Flyers eliminated this soon, however, is quite rare.
|Season||Date Eliminated||Date of Final Game||Games After Elimination|
|2012-13||April 19, 2013||April 27, 2013||4|
|2014-15||March 29, 2015||April 11, 2015||6|
|2016-17||April 2, 2017||April 9, 2017||3|
|2018-19||March 30, 2019||April 6, 2019||4|
|2020-21||April 29, 2021||May 10, 2021||6|
|2021-22||March 29, 2022||April 29, 2022||15|
Not since the 2006-07 season have the Flyers truly been this bad. None of this is breaking news. So how exactly did the Flyers get here?
A trip this far to the bottom this quickly isn’t the result of just one bad offseason. It’s not solely the fault of one regime. It can’t be explained by a handful of injuries, even significant ones to significant pieces. Just about everyone who’s been a decision-maker, behind the bench or on the ice, in the last decade bears some of the blame for where the Flyers are right now.
In truth, the Flyers haven’t consistently looked like the team that most of the fanbase remembers them as since 2012. The failure in the final years of the Paul Holmgren era to not only replace Chris Pronger but take big, ill-advised swings at filling out the Flyers’ blue-line left the team’s cap structure in dire straits when Ron Hextall took over in 2014. Upon arriving as GM, Hextall decided the best course of action was to do something the Flyers had rarely if ever done: take a calculated step back. The team wasn’t going to bottom out. Then core pieces such as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voráček, and Wayne Simmonds weren’t going anywhere in the short term. But Hextall saw two things: a team not good enough in terms of talent or cap flexibility to compete right away, and a team that could be fixed fairly quickly.
Whether you agree with Hetxall’s decision to do that, both now or when it happened, it is objectively true that it left the Flyers with a short window to compete with those aforementioned players still as key contributors. Not until Hextall’s fourth year as GM, the 2017-18 season, did a new wave of young talent truly start to take over the team. The only notable young player to truly be a difference-maker before that season was Shayne Gostisbehere in 2015-16. After a down 2016-17 season, Gostisbehere rebounded, while Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov took steps forward in their sophomore seasons. Nolan Patrick, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hägg, and Oskar Lindblom all established themselves as (at least close to) NHL regulars by season’s end. It seemed like the plan was going smoothly.
But a key crack began to show that season, and it showed in the play of Simmonds. The once unstoppable power-forward was slowly starting to be affected by the wear and tear of his physical play style. He scored at the worst pace of his then six-year Flyers career, then regressed further in 2018-19 and was moved at the deadline. Voráček was still a reliable 60-65 point playmaker, but his underlying numbers slowly started to decline shortly thereafter as well. Even Giroux became more of a low-end first-liner than the player who put up consecutive seasons over a point-a-game in 2017-18 and 2018-19. There was never really an overlap period where those three were still at peak powers and the young players had reached their ceiling.
That meant for the Flyers to succeed over the last few years, the Flyers either had to get significantly better or the young players had to carry the load. That’s exactly what happened in the 2019-20 season. Konecny and Provorov delivered the best seasons of their career. Phil Myers looked like a top-four defenseman. And Carter Hart solidified himself as the homegrown starting goaltender the franchise had been seeking for 20 years. Fletcher hit on offseason moves for Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun. As long as those two components went smoothly, the Flyers were in a great position to succeed, even with Voráček and Giroux playing at roughly 75% of their prime powers.
The regression of basically every young player except Joel Farabee (and this season, Hart) combined with Fletcher’s inability to add one significant contributor to the roster (without getting rid of one to do so) since the 2019 offseason obviously destroys that formula’s chance of success. Some of that is bad luck. Ryan Ellis likely would’ve been an impact player this season if he’d stayed healthy. And he still could be in the future. But the Hextall plan, which was necessitated by Holmgren’s mistakes over his final few years as GM, left the Flyers with a very short window for contention. That’s not hindsight; it’s something I wrote in my third article ever. A direct quote from that piece: “(The Flyers) certainly 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.”
That was a concern even when Patrick, Provorov, and more figured to become top-end talents, not either stagnate or outright flame out in development. It’s not even the big misses either. The Flyers may have been decimated by injuries this season. But given the number of high picks they had under Hextall, their options to call-up should’ve been much better than career journeymen like Gerry Mayhew and Patrick Brown or players who hadn’t proven themselves ready for the NHL like Isaac Ratcliffe. That probably wouldn’t have been enough to save the Flyers this season. But it would’ve at least delayed the finality of failure Tuesday’s loss brought about.
The prospects Hextall accumulated, combined with the holdovers of a once-great core that saw their supporting cast get worse by the year, were supposed to re-open the team’s window to contend. Tuesday’s loss signifies it has been slammed shut in a way that feels a lot harder to open than in years past. There isn’t as much young talent in the system as there was after all of the other playoff misses. Nor is there nearly as much cap space or draft capital. In fact, some of the latter will likely be eaten up to obtain more on the former.
And therein lies the biggest challenge of the aggressive retool the Flyers have committed to this offseason. There really isn’t much of a chance the Flyers are going to ice a dramatically better roster than they did at the start of this season. They’re only projected to have about $6 million in cap space this summer. And that’s with a roster that doesn’t include Giroux.
Yes, they’re expected to clear more via trades or/and buyouts, with at least one of Hextall’s former first-round picks expected to be shipped out (plus James van Riemsdyk’s days are almost certainly numbered). But trading roster players for roster players isn’t going to make your team more talented, because no team would agree to that type of trade. If you add a “top-end talent,” to quote Fletcher‘s biggest area the team needs to improve by trading away several solid talents (i.e. Konecny, Sanheim, Provorov), are you really a better hockey team? The answer is probably no.
Maybe fixing the mix is enough to at least get the team back into playoff contention. After all, the Calgary Flames were in a similar spot last summer. They found the right coach, made a couple of tweaks to their roster, and have defied expectations this season. But they weren’t trying to climb out of as deep of a hole as the Flyers are. And given how many times the organization has failed to find stable footing hiking far less daunting mountains, skepticism is warranted, if not expected.
Perhaps the lone exciting part of Tuesday’s game was the debut of Flyers prospect Noah Cates. Bonus points for it coming in Minnesota, as Noah and his brother Jackson both played college hockey for Minnesota Duluth. The Flyers’ 2017 5th round pick looked solid in his NHL debut, generating a few scoring chances, earning some PK time, and finishing with a 52% expected goals share at 5-on-5. He also had quite the supporting cast on hand to make the night extra special.
Noah Cates won’t be the only college prospect to make his Flyers debut before the season is up. The club signed defenseman Ronnie Attard to a two-year, entry-level deal on Thursday. Attard is a steady right-handed defenseman with a booming shot who tallied 36 points in 39 games for Western Michigan as a junior this year. He projects as a very good third-pair defenseman who has the chance to be a No. 4 if everything works out just right. Expect him to be in the lineup soon.
You should also expect Bobby Brink to sign soon. His Denver Pioneers are heading to the Frozen Four, so it won’t be for at least another week. Brink led the nation in scoring this year and is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for collegiate player of the year. He’s the type of talent that could actually inject some much-needed joy into the Flyers. Although he is just 5’8”, 159 lbs, so it may not click instantly.
The Flyers’ lone goal came from Morgan Frost, his first in 28 games. Good to see him rewarded after a couple of strong games.
While seeing the Flyers lose is far from a rarity, it isn’t common to see them so far out of games late. Tuesday’s game was just the fourth time in their last 32 Philadelphia wasn’t down just one, tied, or leading in the 3rd period.
This is game eight of a nine-game homestand for the Wild (6-1-0, W6). Needless to say, it seems to be going much better than the Flyers’ franchise-record eight-game homestand did for them (3-4-1, including a loss to the Wild).
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Flyers received some bad injury-related news.
Felix Sandström was recalled on an emergency basis as a result of Hart’s injury.
Kevin Fiala’s impossible angle one-timer tied his career-high with 23. It’s also Minnesota’s 18th 6-on-5 goal this season, nearly double the next best team (Tampa Bay, with 10). Fun fact: the Flyers are the only team this season to score a 6-on-3 goal.
Perhaps no one was more frustrated at seeing Kirill Kaprizov than Chuck Fletcher. After all, Fletcher unearthed Kaprizov as a gem in the 5th round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Now, he doesn’t only not get to enjoy the fruits of his labor, he’s running a team in desperate search of what Kaprizov is: a top-end talent. His crafty power-play goal in the 1st period extends his goal streak to four games. It puts him just one behind Marian Gaborik for most single-season points in Wild history. And that goal also put him in sole possession of the most goals in the league in March (13).
3rd: Kevin Fiala (MIN) – Goal (23), 3 Shots
2nd: Frederick Gaudreau (MIN) – 2 Assists (21, 22), 76.9% Faceoffs
1st: Marc-André Fleury (MIN) – .970 SV% (32 Saves/33 Shots), 1 GA on 3.11 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)
PHI: 4/2, 7 PM vs. TOR (42-19-5, W2)
MIN: 3/31, 8 PM vs. PIT (40-18-10, L1)
All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick
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