It’s easy to look at the Flyers losing eight straight games at the end of the season and falling out of a playoff spot as an epic collapse – especially when the latest loss was an outright embarrassment, falling 9-3 in Montreal on Tuesday in what was widely considered a must-win game.

There’s no question the team wilted. It shrunk in the spotlight of meaningful games in April (yes, the shrinking started in March). And yes, Flyers fans have every right to be disappointed. Your team has let you down – again.

But I tried to recommend that you not to let it get to this point. I told you to not raise the low bar you had set for this team and just enjoy them for who they were. 

I also repeatedly suggested that the style of play they were employing in November and December wasn’t sustainable over the course of a full season and that they would lose their juice by the end of the season if they tried to do just that.

If you didn’t believe me those first two times… well…  maybe the third time will be a charm.

The message is, as much as you don’t want to hear it, as much as you are flitting between your stages of grief following the most goals allowed in a game in the John Tortorella era – a result that likely knocked you out of the playoff race, even though mathematically there’s still a chance at survival from this late-season meltdown – there is a lot of growth happening within your organization right now that will make it better in the long run.

You don’t want to hear about silver linings and moral victories at a time like this. And maybe this is me playing the role of the bargaining stage of grief – make a deal with yourself in an effort to numb the pain – and if that’s the case, fine, I’m guilty as charged. But the reason you go through this stage is because it has its place – all of your feelings do.

Yes, you should be angry at what is happening to the team right now. A faceplant against a bunch of teams at the bottom of the standings is not acceptable. Had this losing streak encompassed the entirety of the seven-game gauntlet last month against the best teams in the Eastern Conference, it would have been disappointing, sure, but at least understandable. But losing twice to Montreal, once to Chicago, once to Columbus and once to Buffalo?

Those four teams have combined to lose 81 more games than they’ve won this season. Those four teams have a combined goal differential of minus-209. Yet, the Flyers were outscored by those four teams in five games by a score of 27-9. That’s almost unfathomable for a team who was in a playoff spot before those games ever happened.

Depression may have taken hold because you wanted your team to do well. You’ve been waiting so long. Perhaps you saw a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel with the hiring of Keith Jones and Danny Briere as the executives running this team. And the fact that the team get off to such a surprising start through the first 65 games of the season made you think you were going to emerge from that darkness faster than you ever expected. It’s also understandable. The success was fleeting, and it was a cruel temptress as well. It allowed you to believe again, only to bring back these nasty old feelings.

Maybe some of you are in the denial stage, not willing to recognize that it’s over until it’s “officially” over – and yeah, the Flyers are just two points out of a playoff spot with three games to play, so it’s not impossible to overcome – but let’s be honest, they have to leapfrog three teams, all three of which have an extra game left to play. It’s very unlikely to happen at this point.

But let’s shift to the final stage – acceptance.

You need to accept the Flyers for what they are at this point in their redevelopment. They are still very flawed. They still have a lot of holes to fill. They aren’t as close as maybe you were seduced into believing because they played with such determination and resilience all season. Maybe Tortorella pushed them beyond their limit. Maybe he burned out certain players. Maybe scratching the captain for two games impacted the locker room. Theories are sure to abound and be discussed ad nauseam in what will be a lengthy post mortem.

But there is a lot to be gleaned from the rubble of this implosion. There was a lot of good that happened this year. There was a lot of character built and some lessons are hard for a reason. Consider this one from Tuesday night:

Where the directive came from to sit at your stall and make yourself available to all the questions from all the media in a hockey-mad city like Montreal, with a cross-section of Philadelphia-based reporters as well, is unclear. Was it from Torts? Was it from management? Was it something the leadership group said to their teammates? We may never know for sure, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson in accountability. It’s a lesson in how to eat your humble pie.

More importantly, it’s a lesson that no matter how hard you are playing or how much you think you have reached your limit as an athlete, that if you want to achieve more and be the best in the world at what you do, you have to learn how to dig even deeper within and find more that you never thought was there.

It’s easily overlooked, especially in a results-oriented society, but winning is hard, man. And learning how to win is integral to your identity and you need an identity if you want to win at the highest level. That’s the baseline. That’s got to exist first and foremost. Without it, none of the other ingredients will taste as delicious together.

If nothing else, this group of Flyers knows how to own their responsibilities, both in good times and in bad. That’s incredibly commendable. It’s a strong, foundational structure.

If you look at it, there are players who have absolutely blossomed this season and others that showed positive signs for the future.

Cam York had a really nice season developing as top pair blue liner. He’s probably never going to be a No. 1, but he’s certainly got the ceiling of becoming a very good No. 2.

Tyson Foerster grew into more than a guy who had a nice shot. His ability to play to a two-way game opened the eyes of even internal evaluators.

Owen Tippett can skate and score. He’s becoming a real threat on the wing. There’s still some work to be done there, but in his first really full season as a player being relied on to produce at the NHL level, he’s made strides.

Travis Konecny has developed leadership qualities to go along with his pesky play and his scorer’s touch. I’m quite confident that we’ll hear about him gutting it out through a tough injury to try and help the team down the stretch, and I’m sure the Flyers would like him to be part of the long-term answer here.

Sean Couturier looked like himself for the first four months of the season, but the rigors of a full-NHL campaign caught up with him after missing nearly two years recovering from a back injury. He, too, played through a slew of injures, none of which were related to his back. He’s got the Flyers logo tattooed on his heart and he is incredibly well-respected in the locker room. It’s his team and he embraces being the captain.

Goaltending may have been the biggest reason for the end-of-season collapse, but the Flyers aren’t eliciting these feelings out of you in April if Sam Ersson didn’t play lights out in goal through February. And considering he was never supposed to play as much as he has in his rookie season, it was one hell of a burden he had put on his young shoulders.

Bobby Brink had some growth this season. Getting guys like Yegor Zamula, Ronnie Attard, Adam Ginning, and Olle Lycksell legitimate experience at the NHL level in games that mattered was also a bonus for the Flyers:

Yes, there remain plenty of uncertainties and red flags for sure. What do you do with guys like Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost, who continue to be inconsistent and mildly disappointing? Does Noah Cates bounce back, or is he just another guy? Do you finally trade Scott Laughton in the offseason, considering you have other players with similar skillsets? Can Jamie Drysdale stay healthy and develop as you think he can into another top-tier, offensive defenseman? Was re-signing Nick Seeler the right move? Can they get out of bad contracts like Cam Atkinson’s and Rasmus Ristolainen’s? What’s the goalie situation next season? Hell, what’s the coaching situation next season? I’m not saying Torts did anything deserving of being fired, but there’s enough speculation out there that he may want to shift from coaching to management, and if that ends up being true, who takes over? The power play needs to be completely overhauled.

Many of those questions may have been answered in this end of season collapse – which is certainly not an expected part of a rebuild, but it’s a rebuild just the same. The powers that be will piece through it and make decisions using some of what you are witnessing as validating information for those decisions.

Now, if you think this post is too much optimism at a time when the feelings are raw, again, I understand. But let me ask you a question before I get out of here.

If I could take you back in time, if we can climb into the DeLorean and generate 1.21 jiggowats of energy and go back to October, 2023 and we were sitting down, talking about the prospects of the Flyers season and I told you that they were about to embark on a journey where they would lose their No. 1 goalie midway through the year, that one of their top two prospects would be traded because he decided he didn’t want to play for the Flyers, that you would trade the player who was arguably your best defenseman all season at the deadline, and that you would have three other defensemen in your top six all go down with lengthy injuries, how would you predict that season to go?

Would it have been with any semblance of sniffing the playoffs?

It likely wouldn’t, right?

And yet, there they were. For whatever reasons, the Flyers were right there, even still are as we enter the final week of the regular season. While in the moment it’s as bad as it looks, and there will be ramifications for this, on the whole, this season has been exactly what they have said it would be all along – part of a rebuild.

It just had some extra twists and turns that played with your emotions more than expected. And you know what? That’s O.K.