The First of Many Postmortems: An Assessment of the Flyers in 29 Steps
My first thought was to be reactionary.
After the Flyers season came to a crashing end Sunday in a classic Flyers manner – blowing a two goal lead – it was easy to put the target on this team, who ended up playing 88 games this season, winning 44 of them and losing 44 of them, as still not being ready for prime time.
It would be easy to target the coach – as I have for much of the season. The goaltending – for the umpteenth time. The defense – for their inherent lack of ability in getting the puck out of their own zone. The star players – who couldn’t score.
It would be easy to target all the negatives – and some negatives deserve to be highlighted – but the biggest takeaway of all of this is that even though the Flyers took a small step forward – making the playoffs after a one season hiatus, and doing so with a lot of young players in the lineup, there is still a long way to go before they can compete with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And that’s the one thing that is going to make the upcoming offseason so crucial for the Flyers. They need to finally address holes in their roster via trades and free agency and need to stop trying to get by with band aids – marginal NHL veterans who provide no scoring punch.
It’s almost certain that a number of players who played in Sunday’s loss won’t be back. This Flyers team will have a much different look to it when training camp begins five months from now, but will it have a different feel? Or will we still look at how the roster has been put together and consider them a borderline playoff team, much as they have been the past six seasons, which includes three first round exits and three seasons where they missed the playoffs entirely?
So, I thought, let’s examine this roster, the impact each player had on this first round loss to Pittsburgh and what the future holds.
But, before we do, some telling statistics:
- The Flyers allowed eight goals in an elimination game for the fifth time in franchise history (1979, 1982 [nine goals], 1985, 2001, 2018). That’s a lot.
- The Penguins scored at least five goals in eight of the 10 games played against the Flyers this season, and all five of the games played in Philadelphia. That’s got to be considered completely unacceptable.
- The Flyers allowed 28 goals in the six games against the Penguins – tying a franchise record for most goals allowed in a playoff series and setting a franchise record for any series fewer than seven games.
- Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the series clincher against the Flyers, becoming the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1989 to score four goals in a playoff game against the Flyers (Lemieux had five).
- Guentzel and Sidney Crosby each finished the series with six goals and seven assists for 13 points – more than two points per game, as the Flyers had no answer for their line.
- Game 6 was the first time the Flyers lost a playoff game under Dave Hakstol where the team scored more than one goal. in his previous seven losses, the Flyers were shut out four times and scored one goal three times.
- Continuing on the last bullet, in Hakstol’s four career playoff wins, the Flyers have outscored their opponents 13-4. In Hakstol’s eight losses, the Flyers have been outscored 38-8.
1. Radko Gudas
The heavy-hitting Flyers defenseman had perhaps his worst game of the playoffs in Game 6. His two turnovers (one was technically a lazy clear and not credited as a giveaway, but, in essence, it was) led to the two goals the Penguins used to tie the score late in the second period.
Here’s his sloppiness on the tying goal:
And with that, the fans wanted blood:
For Sale: Like New Radko Gudas. Minor usage. Will occasionally hurt his own teammate. Cannot feed after midnight. Asking $700 obo.
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 22, 2018
And that’s the thing Gudas will be remembered for mostly this spring – costing his team the services of Sean Couturier for Game 4 and forcing him to play with a significant injury in Games 5 and 6.
But really, Gudas was never the same after his early-season suspension. He had a nice season in 2016-17, but really regressed.
He’s signed for two more years at $3.35 million, so unless a rebuilding team with cap space is willing to take on his contract, there’s a good bet he’s back.
2. Travis Sanheim
He was the poster child of fan angst with the coach this season, and again in the playoffs. Fans felt he should be playing more. His possession metrics said he should have been. But, he was mistake-prone when his team didn’t have the puck, and that’s why he was frequently pulled from the lineup and even sent down to the AHL for a spell. He had very little impact on the series with Pittsburgh, although he didn’t play all that well in the four games he did play – even with limited minutes. He’ll be fine. He’s a big part of this team’s future. He just wasn’t ready for this level of intensity just yet.
3. Robert Hagg
Hagg only got to play in the last two games of this series, and had one minor mental lapse in Game 5 that led to a Penguins goal, but otherwise, he was serviceable. He lost his gig to a surging Sanheim down the regular season stretch (he was coming off a heel injury too, and was a little slow recovering). But Hagg is an ideal No. 5 defenseman who can play on your second pair and not hurt you. Another young player, his physical style was something that was often lacking from this team as a whole. Like Sanheim, he will be a big part of this team moving forward.
4. Ivan Provorov
Provorov suffered a painful left shoulder injury after crashing into the boards on the Flyers’ game-winning goal in Game 5. He couldn’t lift his arm. He couldn’t shoot the puck. He played most of game sick with only his right hand. He was giving it his all for his team, so when this happened:
The Penguins capitalize on another turnover. 5-4 Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/wG9Ap4KqY7
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) April 22, 2018
…you couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid.
He also got caught pinching on the Penguins seventh goal, which resulted in a 2-on-1, and he felt so horrible about how his third period turned, he was emotional – both on the bench…
Ivan Provorov is all heart. pic.twitter.com/JLA24udp5Z
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) April 22, 2018
…and it spilled over into the locker room. He was emotional when we walked in. He took a few minutes to compose himself before speaking to the media, and then the emotions poured back out again as he wanted to fall on the sword for the third period gaffes. But the guy was playing with one arm. He was a warrior in this series. He played 30:07 in Game 5. He was arguably the Flyers’ best player in the series. He’s going to be a rock on the blue line for many years to come and a real leader in that locker room to boot.
5. Travis Konecny
TK had a beautiful goal in Game 2, but was otherwise stunted because Hakstol took him off of Giroux’s line for the series. It’s gotta be the coach’s biggest regret. Konecny was on fire down the stretch and then suddenly, he was playing third line minutes without any playmakers. Hakstol tried to jump start him again in Games 5 and 6 by putting him with Nolan Patrick and Micheal Raffl, but those guys aren’t Couturier and Claude Giroux. There is a difference. He still played with speed and grit and a little snarl, but he wasn’t nearly as effective. That said, he is a big part of this Flyers core moving forward.
6. Michael Raffl
Raffl is a bit of a Swiss army knife. He can play any position on any line and not be a liability. That said, he struggles to score goals, as evidenced by the myriad blown chances he had in this series. He’s strong possessing the puck, but doesn’t set up his teammates really well either. He’s a reliable depth forward, but the Flyers need more from him or need to find an upgrade. Raffl is signed for one more year at $2.35 million. I expect him to be back in his utility role – and if he’s on your fourth line and giving you 12 good minutes a night, he’s a good role player and is well-liked in the locker room.
7. Sean Couturier
It’s a shame the Flyers didn’t win Game 6 because Couturier would have become a legend with his performance. A five-point game including a hat trick against the hated Penguins playing with a torn MCL in his right knee.
Here’s one of them:
SEAN COUTURIER OH MY GOD pic.twitter.com/4NcjT761sY
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) April 22, 2018
Couturier said that it’s usually a four-week injury, and he came back in two days. He was obviously missing his burst, and had to manage pain, but he was able to play. It won’t need surgery, just time to heal. So, it’s not as serious as it could have been, but nevertheless… the performance was gutsy and incredible. Couturier has earned his stripes this year as a top-line center and a Selke Trophy Finalist as one of the three best two-way forwards in the game. Still just 25, there are a lot of years left ahead of him. I also think he’ll be an alternate captain in the future, maybe as soon as next year.
8. Jori Lehtera
I still don’t get it. Hakstol kept Lehtera in the lineup for veteran reliability. Reliable for what? Being slow and unproductive? Being dominated when he’s on the ice? Lehtera had a solid first season in the NHL in 2014-15 with St. Louis when he posted 44 points after playing four professional seasons in the KHL. But since then he’s been on a steady decline and had just eight points all year for the Flyers in 62 games. He’s an example of where the depth needs to vastly improve for the Flyers to take the next step… because you can’t rely on this guy – even if he gave you the odd decent shift. It was odd for a reason. He’s under contract next year at $4.7 million. Hextall tried to trade him early in the year and got no bites. He could be a potential buyout candidate.
9. Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds had his best game in a while in Game 6. He looked like his old self for the first time in quite awhile. That said, Simmonds has had a brutal year physically. He wouldn’t confirm his injuries but I’ve been told he’s been playing with serious shoulder and hip injuries for some time and that off-season surgery is likely in the cards. But as much as Simmonds has been the heart and soul of the Flyers, we may have seen his last shift. I think Simmonds could become trade bait this summer. He’s entering the final year of his contract, paying him a manageable $3.75 million (in cap dollars). But that new contract, or an extension, doesn’t seem likely unless he comes out strong to start next season. The Flyers may not wait to see that come to fruition and may try to move him elsewhere. He’s playing on your third line, and while that’s a good depth player, he’s been replaced by Nolan Patrick on the top power play, making him more expendable. If he’s back, he’s a strong part of the fabric of the team, but I think he gets moved.
10. Nolan Patrick
The kid just got better and better and better from the start of the second half of the season onward. He’s a lynchpin in that No. 2 center role now. He played with a lot of confidence and determination down the stretch. He’s getting more shots on goal than anyone most nights. He was also one of the Flyers’ best players in this series against the Pens. He’s got the potential to be a franchise player. I doubt he’s going anywhere anytime soon.
11. Taylor Leier
He didn’t play in the playoffs – or much down the stretch either. He somehow got into Hakstol’s doghouse and never really emerged. Leier will likely still be part of the organization next year, as he provides a lot of speed and determination, but the bloom is off that rose a little bit and Leier might ended up being no more than a ‘tweener for the Flyers.
12. Scott Laughton
Laughton had a decent series as well, and finally scored a goal for the first time in 26 games in Game 6. He’s becoming the epitome of a bottom six forward, and is likely still young enough to continue to show growth in that role. Whether as the fourth line center or a third line winger, Laughton will likely be back for another season with the Flyers.
13. Dale Weise
This has to go down as Hextall’s worst signing. Weise is under contract for two more seasons at $2.35 million. He’s not worth a roster spot though. He’s a replacement level player at this point – and his spot can be filled from within the organization at a cheaper cost. He’s unlikely to be traded, so either he gets bought out, or the Flyers do with him as they did with Matt Read most of the year – and make him earn his excessive paycheck as a member of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
14. Brandon Manning
He is the captain of the “I Don’t Get It” society. Seriously, Manning makes one brutal mistake after another. Whether it’s a turnover, a bad read, missed coverage, or taking a penalty, He’s simply not a top-6 defenseman on an NHL team. You want to carry Manning as your extra guy who can fill in? Fine. But to rely on him with regularity, and indeed boost his role, as Hakstol did in these playoffs, is a recipe for disaster. Manning is an unrestricted free agent, and I can’t believe he will be back, although I’ve seen crazier things…
15. Matt Read
Read was relegated to the AHL for most of the season, but was recalled in the final month and provided a stabilizing defensive force to the penalty kill as well as the fourth line, no matter who his linemates were. The problem with Read is he’s completely lost his scoring touch. Hockey players always say the hands go first – and maybe that’s the case with Read. He too is an unrestricted free agent, and I don’t see him coming back, but I do think he finds an NHL job somewhere.
16. Claude Giroux
Let me say this up front, to all the people screaming about how poor a series Giroux had and that he’s not a good captain –
First, the Flyers would never have been in the playoffs this season without Giroux. He deserves to be a Hart Trophy finalist for that alone. He had a career year coming off one of his worst seasons. He’s beloved in the locker room. He is viewed as the leader of this team by his teammates, and that’s all that really matters when it comes to wearing the “C.” Did he have a good series? No. But, he wasn’t alone. There were a lot of players who under-performed. Part of that credit has to go to the Penguins though for devising a good defense to take Giroux out of his happy zone. But, it’s not like Giroux wasn’t trying. He scored the big goal to set the tone in Game 5. He did things like this in Game 6:
Giroux brings the boom! pic.twitter.com/rytqYJmORW
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) April 22, 2018
… and Hagelin didn’t return to the game.
Giroux is the best player on this team, bar none. Arguments can be made about Provorov and Couturier being more important players, and I could buy that, but the best player, the reason we even had a series against Pittsburgh to talk about to begin with, is Claude Giroux, and there’s no denying that.
17. Johnny Oduya
He’ll be remembered fondly for that period-and-a-half he played in Boston that one time….
18. Michal Neuvirth
As I posted on twitter during Game 6:
I don't know if I've ever watched a hockey game where a goalie allowed seven goals on 25 shots and thought – not his fault.
Neuvirth has had zero chance on these goals. Zero.
— Anthony SanFilippo (@AntSanPhilly) April 22, 2018
It’s true. I can’t pin anything on Neuvirth after that game. He’s given up bad goals for sure, but The Penguins just were that lethal in Game 6. That said, Neuvirth is so unreliable. He gets injured too often. He’s incredibly streaky. He can be the best player on the ice some games and the worst in others. He’s not a long term answer as either a starter or a backup – yet he’s signed for next year at $2.5 million. I think he might have a little trade value, and the Flyers would be wise to try to move him for anything – just so they can see if there’s anyway to upgrade in goal prior to the arrival of Carter Hart in a couple seasons.
19. Petr Mrazek
We hardly knew you Petr. Have fun in the KHL next season. And the Red Wings are laughing all the way to the bank that they got a third round pick for this enigma.
20. Brian Elliott
Elliott gave the Flyers the best chance to win in goal on most nights during the year, but the core muscle injury (read: hernia) that required surgery in mid-February did him in. He never really bounced back from that and it showed in the playoffs as he was a shell of himself. Moose is signed here for one more year and he’s serviceable enough to get you through the season in a shared role or as a backup – and he won’t embarrass you, especially after a summer to really recover from that injury.
21. Jordan Weal
Weal was a disappointment for the Flyers this year. They thought he’d come in and provide good scoring depth in the lineup. He did no such thing. Eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points for a guy who started the season as a second line left wing just doesn’t cut it.
Weal is under contract for one more year at a cap hit of $1.75 million, but considering how little he was used down the stretch and in the playoffs, that doesn’t guarantee him a spot on the NHL roster. He could be moved in a small deal or forced to compete for a roster spot in camp and if he doesn’t impress, end up in the AHL.
22. Andrew MacDonald
What more can I say about the frequent target of the fans ire that I haven’t already said about him? Is he worth that $5 million cap hit? No. Is he a terrible defenseman who shouldn’t be on the team? No. MacDonald, much like Hagg, is a solid, reliable, third-pair guy who can jump up and play bigger minutes if you need him to. He’s incredibly well-respected. He is a leader in the locker room. And he will be back as he’s signed for two more seasons. Sorry fans. But, you should learn to appreciate him a little more, he’s not as bad a player as you all make him out to be.
23. Valtteri Filppula
He had his moment of glory in Game 5 when he scored a shorthanded goal and added two assists while being put on the top line. Everyone was stunned. the decision to make him a top-line guy was crazy. But it worked – for one game. Of course, Hakstol stuck with it too long, and Filppula wasn’t as good in Game 6, and, well, the Flyers are headed home. Filppula is an unrestricted free agent this summer. He won’t be brought back.
24. Shayne Gostisbehere
Quite simply, Shayne has got to be better defensively. The Penguins abused him. They took advantage of his propensity to make mistakes in his own end. As talented as he is offensively, he has his major shortcomings on defense. Maybe finding him a new D partner in the offseason should be a top priority that will allow him to flourish once again. But Ghost was arguably the biggest disappointment of the series against Pittsburgh.
25. Oskar Lindblom
You screamed for him all season and you finally got him. It took a while for him to actually score, but he did – a couple times. And as the season progressed, he looked even better as a reliable, two-way forward. But the playoff stage was too vast for him, and he looked lost. The speed of the game and its intensity messed up Lindblom’s confidence something fierce. He was not good in the playoffs and was ultimately yanked from the lineup. He’ll be a nice piece moving forward, but he does have flaws, and the Penguins exposed them until Hakstol had seen enough and benched him.
26. Jake Voracek
Jake was missing from this series. He was a guy who the Flyers really needed to have a good series if they were going to pull an upset, and he was mostly invisible. That said, he too had a career year and he’s here long-term. He is a bit frustrating at times with the mistakes he makes, but he makes so many good plays, hat you take a little bad with so much good. He’ll be here next season too.
27. Dave Hakstol
I’m not a fan of the coach when it comes to a lot of his decisions. I think he relies on the wrong guys too frequently. I think he’s especially hard on certain younger players. I think he burns out goalies. That said, he made a brilliant decision to move Giroux to the wing this year and turn Couturier into a top-line center. He pushed some right buttons prior to Games 2 and 5 that helped change the flow of the series. His game plan for Game 6 was pretty sound as well. He can’t control the mistakes that happen. Hakstol will be back for a fourth season as coach – but that’s got to be his make or break season – another year of mediocrity can not happen. the Flyers need to start progressing more rapidly. What Hakstol could use though, is a veteran assistant coach who has been around the league as a head coach to offer some consult at times when it seems like his decisions are at their poorest. That’s not his call, that’s this guy’s:
28. Ron Hextall
The GM needs to help his coach. Take the things Hakstol does well and supplement them with the mind of an experienced – and successful – NHL coach, as a bit of a steady hand and keen eye. That should be on a lengthy to-do list. As for the GM himself, he’s done a great job drafting – maybe the best in the NHL in the past four years – although some will suggest Vancouver’s Jim Benning might be ahead of him. Regardless, the Flyers system is well-stocked with talent that is coming. And Hextall did a fine job of shedding some bad contracts to get the Flyers out of cap hell. I even argue that trading Brayden Schenn for the return he got (top skating prospect Morgan Frost and another probable first round lottery pick this season) was a stroke of genius. But, his process has been so slow. He’s been in the job four years and the Flyers are still wallowing in mediocrity. He didn’t get bad to get good, as so many teams are wont to do in pro sports these days, and he didn’t spend money on free agents or trade for players who could benefit the team enough to make them more dangerous then they are. But that time is nigh. Hextall needs to start making that push. He needs to add talent to surround his core. He needs to make the big push this summer, because standing pat and remaining a medicore team won’t fly for another season. These aren’t your parent’s Flyers fans. Today’s generation is much more impatient. It’s gotta get done. And maybe it will if….
29. Flyers’ Executives
…these guys start putting more of an onus on winning. Dave Scott is not Ed Snider, but a little bit of Ed would do this team good right now. Paul Holmgren is not Peter Luukko, nor Bob Clarke, nor any of the presidents who served under Snider and were less patient. That’s not to say that Scott and Holmgren need to be reactionary – the last time Snider jumped that line too quickly, Sergei Bobrovsky was traded and Ilya Bryzgalov was signed. But, a little more pressure on the people beneath them – especially public pressure, which Snider was so adept at providing – would be a good thing.