Despite a gutsy 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday, there’s no denying that the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2021 season has been a disappointment in most areas. Following a promising year in which the Flyers were a top-four team in the Eastern Conference in both the regular and postseason, the team has taken a significant step backward and would need a substantial turnaround to qualify for this playoffs.
How much of a disappointment is it?
If you’re going by sheer points, and barring a complete meltdown of historic proportions, the Flyers will still likely finish as a middle-of-the pack team when it comes to the overall standings once this shortened season wraps up.
As far as expectations go, it was a disaster. This was supposed to be a season in which the Flyers were a Stanley Cup contender by the strength of their young players taking another step.
It didn’t happen.
And the Flyers are probably best served spending the remainder of the season getting their franchise goaltender Carter Hart back on solid footing, no matter what it takes to get there. Sit him down for large stretches, let him play through his funk, practice with his eyes closed, switch from Pat’s to Geno’s — whatever it takes.
Flyers fans will just have to suffer through another lost season as they have for the last four or five decades. Which brings up the important question: Just how tortured are Flyers fans compared to other NHL franchises at this point?
The Buffalo Sabres would like you to kindly step in line. Through the weekend, the Sabres had lost 17 straight games with rumors swirling that their (now injured) franchise player Jack Eichel might be on his way out of Upstate New York in the near future. The Sabres have been in the league for 51 years and have exactly zero Stanley Cup championships and are nowhere near winning one, so they arguably hold the title of most tortured fan base for the time being.
So where do the Flyers rank based on past performance combined with recent struggles? Let’s take a look.
The good life: Nothing says success more than winning a Stanley Cup so recently that you can still run those vivid memories through your mind. As much as we hate them, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings fit this category. Some are still contenders, but even teams like the Kings can still enjoy the bliss of hoisting the Cup over the last 10 years.
Used to rule the world: Dynasties are fun, aren’t they? The Montreal Canadiens have won the top prize 24 times, although the drought is getting rather large (28 years). But multiple Cups in short spans over the last 40 years fuel fans for life. Aside from the Habs, the Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche all check this box. Even a team as bad as the current Red Wings can still enjoy life more than Flyers fans at the moment. So that’s 13 teams down already. On to the next tier.
Seen a parade in the last 40 years: We’re entering frustration territory, but the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes Dallas Stars and New York Rangers can all at least hang their hats on throwing a parade sometime after 1988. 18 down, 13 to go.
Newbies without a title: The Vegas Golden Knights get an obvious omission from any type of frustration list since they are in just their fourth year and already made a Stanley Cup Final appearance. There are seven others that have been in the league less than 30 years. It’s likely fans of those teams aren’t even aware the Flyers won a Cup in 1975 because their love of the game doesn’t go back that far. They’re getting there, but the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets are safe — for now.
Lowest of the low: That leaves us with five current franchises remaining on this list, including the Flyers. The others are the Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.
You might ask Toronto? But they won 13 Stanley Cups, right? Yes. The Maple Leafs were a great franchise but compiled all their success prior to 1967, when there were just six teams in the league. Toronto hasn’t returned to the Stanley Cup Final since then and won just ONE division title in 57 years. For reference, the Flyers have won 16 division titles since 1967 and have appeared in the Stanley Cup Final eight times, winning twice. At least the Leafs seemed destined for the postseason this year and might even win the North Division.
Heading west, the Arizona Coyotes have stunk under three different official names since they entered the league as the Winnipeg Jets in 1972. Closing in on 50 years of futility, the Jets won just three division titles in the Bobby Hull era before becoming the Phoenix Coyotes 25 years ago. They have added just one division title (2012) after officially changing to the Arizona Coyotes. The franchise has never played in the Stanley Cup Finals. As a franchise, this might be the worst. But the fact that old Jets fans probably don’t root for the Coyotes when they have the new Jets in town makes it a split fanbase. The Coyotes have really suffered for only a quarter of a century.
That brings us to the Vancouver Canucks, who entered the league as an expansion team the same year (1970) as the aforementioned Sabres. The Canucks have made three Stanley Cup Final appearances and the Sabres have two, with neither team winning a championship. The Canucks have won 10 division titles and two Presidents Trophies as the league’s best regular season team but two crushing Game 7 final losses in 1994 and 2011 is a specially painful experience.
The Sabres’ most recent struggles have their fans feeling a different apathy. About to tie a league record for consecutive seasons missing the postseason, the Sabres have only one Presidents Trophy, two conference championships and six division titles in their trophy case over 50 years.
But they play the Flyers twice this week, so maybe things will turn around. ••