The Beginning

The Flyers struggled through the first two months of 2015-16 under new coach Dave Hakstol, but the addition of dynamic rookie Shayne Gostisbehere on the backend turned their season around. His clap bombs from the point and flair for the dramatic in overtime ignited frenzied, cultish excitement for a young player that the franchise hadn’t experienced since Claude Giroux burst onto the scene in 2009.

The team started to right itself in December with a 6-2-2 record through 10 games. Then came the end-of-year road trip out west and two losses in California to Anaheim and San Jose. The team woke up on January 1, 2016, with a 15-14-7 record and 37 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 12th overall in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers were as close to the last place Columbus Blue Jackets (31 points) as the final Wild Card playoff spot held by the Detroit Red Wings (43 points).

But a new beginning accompanied the new year. First came the sweet release from Vincent Lecavalier’s contract. Ron Hextall worked some voodoo magic on his old boss Dean Lombardi on January 6, somehow getting him to take Lecavalier, along with Luke Schenn, and give up minor leaguer Jordan Weal (currently leads the Phantoms in points) and a third-round pick in return. At the same time, the Flyers put things together under Hakstol. They held steady with their above-.500 play from December and had an almost identical 6-4-1 record in January, before taking flight in February, March and April, en route to a 20-9-6 record in the last 35 games.

Brayden Schenn, the Flyers’ version of Zach Ertz on the “next season he’ll break out” list, undoubtedly felt the need to protect the honor of his family’s surname following Luke’s departure. Luckily, he came into his own as a fixture on the first line with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. After registering just 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in his first 34 games, Schenn exploded in his last 46 games for 44 points on 19 goals and 25 assists — both team-highs — to achieve career bests in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59). Steve Mason, who also had an uneven first three months, was stellar in net from January on and seized the number one goalie role from Michal Neuvirth. He started 31 of the team’s final 46 games, going 16-9-5 (one no-decision due to being pulled) with a .923 SV% and 2.28 GAA.

The Flyers finished 41-27-14 and with 96 points, having edged out the Red Wings and Bruins for the second Wild Card spot in the East over the final weekend with wins against the Penguins and Islanders. Those inside the organization had known for months, but in late March word started to leak that the health of the Flyers’ founder, owner and only steward, Ed Snider, was failing precipitously. As it turned out, the win against the Islanders in the regular season finale would be the last game he ever watched. Two days later, on April 11, 2016, Ed Snider passed away after a two-year battle with bladder cancer.

With heavy hearts, the Flyers traveled to Washington, DC, three days later to take on the President’s Trophy-winning Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Outmatched in every way, the team dropped two hard-fought games to open the series. Mason was a rock in Game 1, but it didn’t matter since his teammates couldn’t score. Game 2 is when the wheels came off. Mason surrendered a back-breaking five-hole goal off a deflection by Jason Chimera from behind center ice, while his counterpart, Braden Holtby, stole the show at the other end.

The teams returned to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 3 on a very emotional night in South Philadelphia. Snider was celebrated pre-game with a moving video tribute, and the Flyers honored his memory with precisely one minute of inspired hockey that culminated in a goal from Michael Raffl. Undeterred, the Capitals tied the game on the power play less than four minutes later and Alexander Ovechkin scored the only goal of the second period.

The Flyers entered the third down 2-1, staring a 3-0 series hole in the face and needing to play their best period of the season. They promptly shit the bed and played one of their worst periods of the season, giving up a goal less than two minutes in, followed by another power play goal a little over five minutes later to make it 4-1. A dangerous hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with under eight minutes left drew a five-minute major for boarding and initiated a scrum near the Capitals bench. Some light-up bracelets once on the wrists of disgruntled fans were thrown onto the ice. The Caps scored during the penalty and another wave of bracelets came raining down. Lou Nolan’s pleas for civility were greeted with sneers and more bracelet chucking. The Flyers were assessed a bench minor for delay of game and the Caps scored again to make it 6-1. While the episode became another black eye on the mantle for Philadelphia sports, at least it produced the highly-amusing “Show some class here, this is Philly” soundbite from Nolan as well as perhaps my favorite tweet of the year:

Looking to provide a spark of any kind, Hakstol replaced Mason with Neuvirth for Game 4. He provided that spark, and the Flyers won 2-1 to stave off elimination in front of their home crowd. A herculean effort and 44-save shutout by Neuvirth in Game 5 in Washington was perhaps the most absurd hockey game I’ve ever watched, with the Flyers spending almost the entire 60 minutes hemmed in their own zone and managing just 11 shots on net. They escaped with a 2-0 win and returned home with the series at 3-2, thoughts of 2010’s comeback against the Bruins dancing in everyone’s heads. Unfortunately the dream was dashed in Game 6, as not even Neuvirth’s heroics could make up for the offense’s impotence. Nicklas Backstrom drew first blood in the second period and the Caps held on to eke out a 1-0 victory to win the series, 4-2. Giroux (one assist) and Jakub Voracek (one goal) combined for just two points in the six games, as the Flyers scored a pathetic four goals in six games. Their season ended on Sunday, April 24.

The End

The 2016-17 season started with more promise. Rookies Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, the organization’s two first-round picks in 2015 and top prospects overall, made the team out of training camp. Provorov was a virtual lock from the jump, but Konecny forced his way onto the roster by being arguably the best forward in each game he played. A 4-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles made for a fun opening night, but it soon became apparent that the Flyers had a serious issue. They were driving play, out-possessing their opponents and scoring at will, but they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own fucking net. Mason and Neuvirth took turns being disasters, and the Flyers allowed at least three goals in 13 of their first 15 games.

The rotten puck luck and sub QMJHL-level goaltending began to regress to the mean in November (just as Neuvirth got injured and Mason took over the number one job), but following a Black Friday loss to the Rangers, the Flyers stood at 9-10-3. Their 21 points placed them 13th out of 15 teams in the East. A 5-3 win against Calgary on November 27 (in Anthony Stolarz’s first career start) kicked off an amazing 10-game win streak, the franchise’s longest in 30 years, where the bounces they weren’t getting the first two months of the season started to go the Flyers’ way. They wouldn’t lose again for 21 days, vaulting into a tie for fourth place in the ridiculous Metropolitan and sixth place in the East. I had the distinct pleasure of attending the sneak-strapping game in Dallas, and I thank the Flyers for waiting to lose until I could see them do it in person.

After a strong bounce-back effort to defeat the Washington Capitals in a shootout (they’re somehow 4-3 in shootouts so far), the Flyers began their Christmas break early, as in before their final game, and got a customary, maddeningly frustrating, low-event whooping by the Devils. They still haven’t returned from vacation and just got their asses handed to them by the St. Louis Blues. As it stands, it increasingly looks like the Flyers’ ceiling is to have the same fate as last season. They still hold a five-point lead over the Lightning for the the final Wild Card playoff spot in the East, but that’s not exactly comforting since the Lightning are going to get hot again at some point (Stamkos is due back in March for the stretch run) and the gap between the Flyers and the top-three teams in the Metropolitan is widening.

Voracek, Giroux and Simmonds (on track to flirt with 40 goals for the first time in his career) rank among the top-20 in the NHL in points, the team leads the NHL by a wide margin in points from defensemen (91), Provorov and Konecny both clearly belong, Andrew MacDonald is still a black hole of suck (despite being maybe the nicest pro athlete in human history and intermittently stringing together a couple not-terrible games here and there) who inexplicably gets top-four ice time, and Chris Vandevelde and Bellemare log way too many minutes on the penalty kill and at even strength at the expense of better players because Hakstol is unable (or unwilling) to recognize how to fully optimize his lineup.

Notable Additions

  • Ivan Provorov
  • Travis Konecny
  • Roman Lyubimov
  • Anthony Stolarz
  • German Rubtsov (first round pick)
  • Carter Hart (second round pick)
  • Alex Lyon (current starting goalie for the Phantoms)
  • Jordan Weal (Phantoms’ leading scorer)
  • Boyd Gordon (lol)
  • Taylor Leier


  • Michael Raffl (three years)
  • Radko Gudas (four years)
  • Brayden Schenn (four years)


  • Ed Snider (sigh, RIP)
  • Vincent Lecavalier
  • Luke Schenn
  • R.J. Umberger (hallelujah)
  • Sam Gagner
  • Ryan White
  • Evgeny Medvedev
  • Me (from the press box)

Mr. Entertainment Award


Good Riddance Award

Shared by Vincent Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger, two of the Flyers’ three most crippling salary cap anchors. Here’s hoping the Las Vegas Golden Knights see the same thing in Andrew MacDonald that Paul Holmgren did and select him in the expansion draft, thus making ol’ A-Mac the runaway winner for this award in 2017. I’ll also accept MacDonald being banished back to the AHL once guys like Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Philippe Myers are ready to assume regular NHL roles.

What’s Next

The Flyers continue their rebuild on the fly and are still a year or two away from encroaching on that upper tier of teams both in their conference and in the NHL. In 2017, just as in 2016, they’ll be scratching and clawing for one of the two Wild Card spots down to the season’s final weeks and then hope to upset one of the East’s top teams in the first round of the playoffs.

I know patience isn’t a virtue around here, but the good news is that help is on the way. New coach Scott Gordon has the Phantoms on track for a playoff berth and enjoying their best season since 2009, while the Flyers have nine (9!) prospects represented at the Under-20 World Junior Championships going on right now (and a number of those kids filling significant roles for their teams). There are some big decisions to be made this offseason, especially whether to re-sign Steve Mason, but the cupboard is stocked with young talent for the future.

Growth Rating:

If the judgment is solely based on where this team is currently in comparison with how it ended last season, there’s not much in the way of tangible, on-ice growth. They’re a league-average team that will be on the fringe of the playoff hunt. Hard to put a number on it because this feels like a state of limbo, but let’s go 6 since Provorov and Konecny are in the fold. It’s a bummer to ultimately waste another year of Giroux and Voracek’s prime, but this isn’t a process that can be hurriedly accelerated.