Don’t Look Now, but the Flyers are Going to be in the Same Position they’ve Been for Much of the Past Decade

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers are doing it wrong.

It should be plain as day to see this by now. Whatever this current iteration is, whatever they are trying to accomplish this season, it’s not in the best interest of the organization.

Now, let me qualify a few things right off the bat, since the opening two sentences here can be considered incendiary:

  • John Tortorella is a hell of a coach. To get this team to play as competitively as it has and with a modicum of success is admirable. It’s not all that different a locker room than what was in place the last couple seasons, and it’s the closest they looked to the way they were playing pre-pandemic in the first year under Alain Vigneault.
  • Several players are thriving in this system. Three veterans are all having career years productivity-wise – Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, and Scott Laughton. Hayes and Torts may not always see eye-to-eye, especially when it comes to Hayes’ play without the puck, but Torts is getting more out of Hayes offensively than any other coach Hayes has had in the NHL.
  • A handful of young players are learning to play the right way and are looking like keepers in the organization, most notably Owen Tippett, Noah Cates, Wade Allison,and Cam York. Joel Farabee looks to be turning the corner as well after a slow start that was likely more related to his offseason disc replacement surgery than it was not assimilating to the system.
  • Both Carter Hart and Sam Ersson have looked good in goal on most nights. Hart has been doing it all season, and Ersson has a small, but noticeable, sample size but has not withered in his first taste of NHL action. The Flyers could well have two, young, front-line goalies to push one another, and that’s a good thing.

There’s nothing wrong with development of this manner. The Flyers are finally showing small signs that they could possibly be starting the climb from rock bottom. This is all good stuff..

But here’s what isn’t – once again, the Flyers are in no man’s land.

With 38 games remaining this season, the Flyers  are 18-19-7 with 43 points and sit seven points out of a playoff spot, behind five teams. On the flip side, they are tied, points-wise, with Detroit for the ninth-worst record in the league, meaning if the season were to end today, the odds of winning the draft lottery for Connor Bedard would be pretty remote. Also a long shot would be jumping up into the top four spots to draft one of the other three marquee talents.

Being tied with Detroit means they could “climb” to 10th worst as soon as tonight if they win and Detroit doesn’t – or even 11th if they win and Buffalo also loses. For those who want to root for a lottery win, this isn’t ideal.

You can never try to tell professional athletes not to try to win. It’s impossible. As competitors, they are going to try to win each game they participate in until they can no longer play. However, if you are trying to lose, letting a losing culture set in is an easy way to get closer to the bottom of the standings. This is what is meant by “tanking.” You aren’t losing on purpose, but you aren’t doing everything you can to prevent losing. You aren’t motivating at your highest level to win.

The Flyers, certainly, aren’t tanking. But, pushing for the playoffs, while exciting in the locker room and in the moment, are not the best outcome for the franchise going forward.

Consider that as well as the Flyers have played since Christmas (7-2-0) the two losses were to Toronto and Boston by a combined score of 12-2.

Losing 6-0 to the Bruins yesterday shows just how overmatched they are against quality opposition:

OK, that’s a power play goal. So, how about this one:

Just outworked. Plain and simple. Bring your A game, maybe you can stay within a goal or two. Don’t compete hard enough… you lose 6-0.

And while two games out of 82 don’t ever really serve a s a microcosm of an entire season. what these two games proved is the Flyers, as well as they’ve played, are still light years behind these two teams, and probably at least a couple others (Tampa Bay and Carolina) in the Eastern Conference.

That’s the real frustration here. Being just competitive enough to maybe, possibly, hopefully sneak into the playoffs is one thing, but if you are going to grab that last Wild Card spot, do you really want to play a playoff series against Boston? Because that’s who the second wild card team is going to play. The Flyers haven’t looked good in either game against the Bruins this season (outscored 10-1).

For those who want to cling to the fact that Torts was the coach of a Columbus Blue Jackets team who sneaked into the playoffs a few years ago and stunned a Tampa Bay team coming off a record-setting regular season in the opening round of the playoffs – that was a lightning-in-a-bottle situation, pun intended.

In most instances the notion of “just get into the dance and then anything can happen,” is a good thing to believe. Those of us who thoroughly enjoyed the Phillies run a few months ago can attest to it.

But this is a different animal. On the whole, the Flyers have lost 18 of 24 games this season against teams currently in a playoff spot (6-14-4) and are 12-5-3 against non-playoff teams. Consider Boston is the best of the best of those playoff teams this season (They are 34-5-4 with a goal differential of plus-72) and the notion of playing them in a playoff series isn’t one that looks all that palatable.

Just in case there is a thought of playing well-enough to catch the first wild card team, the Flyers are 11 points behind Washington, and that’s including picking up four points on them last week by beating them twice, so, that one’s a real long shot.

Stepping back and looking at this, where exactly are the Flyers right now?

According to MoneyPuckthe Flyers have a 5% chance of making the playoffs. They also have a 4.2% chance of winning the draft lottery. That means they have roughly a 90% chance of being in the same place come April that they were at the end of the last two seasons – and with the lone exception of the bubble during the pandemic, where they actually won one playoff round, it’s basically the same place they’ve been each Spring for the last decade.

What’s that definition of insanity? Oh… doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

It’s where the Flyers are, yet again. Stuck in the middle of being not good enough to make the playoffs or even be competitive if they sneak in and not being bad enough to get the opportunity to draft a franchise-changing player.

They had this chance once before in the past decade, and flubbed it with Ron Hextall eschewing the advice of his scouts and drafting Nolan Patrick.

The Flyers do have some intriguing prospects – Forwards Cutter Gauthier, Bobby Brink, and Tyson Foerster are all considered top-100 prospects in the NHL and Defenseman Emil Andrae looked really good for Sweden at World Juniors . Then there’s Yegor Zamula and Ronnie Attard, who profile as NHL-caliber defensemen and Elliot Desnoyers, who has shown a scorer’s touch with the Phantoms and profiles as a secondary scorer in the NHL.

But, aside from Gauthier, none really seem like they are potential top-line or top pair guys – and that’s what the Flyers are so bereft of at the moment.

Then you watch the Bruins absolutely pummel them, as they did yesterday, or the Maple Leafs do the same, as they did last week. Or Carolina as they did for 50 minutes in the last game before Christmas and before the Flyers unsuccessfully attempted a last-minute furious comeback, it makes you wonder what the organizational strategy is here.

Because the Flyers play the minor-league equivalent Anaheim Ducks tonight. Then there’s an even worse tank-a-thon team coming in Thursday in Chicago, and then the Flyers have a quick flight to Detroit to face a beatable Red Wings team.

In other words, it’s only likely to get more cloudy because the Flyers should win at least two, if not all three games.

But ultimately, what does doggie paddling on the outskirts of a playoff spot really do for your team? Nothing.

Again, there are individuals who are benefitting from this. They are becoming good pros and players you want to root for night in and night out. And yes, the Flyers aren’t painful to watch most nights anymore – yesterday aside. But where is the difference-making talent coming from?

Torts is brilliant when it comes to doing more with less. But, without the star-caliber players at the top of the lineup, the Flyers won’t grow to be much more than this.

Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson are both big ifs, so you can’t count on them. The defense, while all good/serviceable NHL players, are very overpaid and not fitting their roles. Ivan Provorov can come out publicly and say how much he loves it here, but he doesn’t. And he’s not a No. 1.. He’s a No. 2 at best. Travis Sanheim has the most tools on the blue line, but something is off just enough in his game that he makes an OK second pair guy, but is locked up for a ridiculous length of time. Rasmus Ristolainen has had a pretty solid season, considering how much he was despised by the fanbase, and it’s likely he has settled into the role he belongs in – which is at second pair/third pair tweener. Tony DeAngelo is incredibly gifted offensively and incredibly frustrating defensively.

He’s only signed for another year though, so that’s not as much of a salary cap burden.

The Flyers would be smart to move on from Provorov and DeAngelo as well as James van Riemsdyk, Justin Braun, if they can get anything for him, and if they’re willing to eat some money, Hayes.

That needs to be their goal in the next six weeks before the trade deadline. The Flyers need future assets out the wazoo. These are the players who would bring that first batch of assets. They have to do this in the next six weeks or run the risk that they will be going into next season looking exactly the same as this season.

The fact that Dave Scott has left Chuck Fletcher in charge of this up to this point is mind-boggling. There is no evidence to indicate he’s going to be able to fix this. But, if he is the guy who’s task is to do it, pushing for this team to make the playoffs only to face certain annihilation by Boston if they get there or getting egg on his face… again… if they don’t is not what’s best for this team long-term.

He had a chance to try to put that kind of team together last offseason, and balked. So, why do it now? No, now it’s time to think about the future and not try to sell a fan base that sees through this transparency of a sham that would be a playoff berth.

Instead, sell high, accrue futures, put together a plan that gets the organization where it needs to be down the line. Because doing it this way, while it could have been a plan seven months ago, isn’t going to work now. This fan base isn’t buying it. Nor should they.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie with Anthony SanFilippo, Russ Joy, and Chris Therien on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



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