A couple of wins on a road trip can go a long way to restore good feelings for a team that has largely struggled to meet expectations.
But those who oversee the Philadelphia Flyers shouldn’t lose focus on what this team really is, or what this franchise should do moving forward.
Let’s say the Flyers go on a heater and win their next three games, which are all against teams currently not in the playoff picture in New Jersey, Montreal and Ottawa. Sounds reasonable, right?
And let’s even go as far as to say they find even more success and win three of the next four games that follow against Pittsburgh, Washington, Seattle and San Jose to enter 2022 on a hot streak. The Flyers would then be 16-13-4 to ring in the new year. That’s great. But it’s still technically a losing record. And still a lost season.
Even after all that — winning six of their next seven — to go 8-1 in a nine-game stretch, the Flyers would still be on a 90-point pace for the season, which unfortunately isn’t good enough.
Somewhere toward the tail end of the Flyers’ season-crippling 10-game winless streak, the strategy of the organization that was originally hellbent on making the postseason should have shifted. Sometime around the moment Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher decided to fire head coach Alain Vigneault, the Flyers should have been willing to accept reality and start looking beyond the 2021-22 season.
There should be no Hail Mary to make the playoffs. There should be no doubling down on the many offseason moves that failed to jumpstart a stagnant decade of hockey in Philadelphia, no matter what those moves originally cost.
The sad state of things is that the Flyers aren’t going anywhere this season. Even worse, their minor league affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, had the worst points percentage of the 31-team league entering the weekend. It’s unlikely that there is a blue-chip prospect in the farm system and there appears to be no superstar on the current roster to build a team around.
Aside from maybe Carter Hart.
But building a championship team solely around a goaltender doesn’t happen often. The New Jersey Devils did it with Martin Brodeur, but it’s tough to find another example. And the Devils’ last Cup was 19 years ago.
The last elite player the Flyers failed to build around, Claude Giroux, will turn 34 in less than a month and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Giroux’s contract situation and his no-movement clause are well-documented and seemingly split the fanbase each time it’s discussed. If he’s willing to waive his trade protection, it should be a no-brainer to try to recoup a few assets for one of the most under-appreciated hockey players to play in Philadelphia. If the Flyers are willing to retain half his salary cap (and why wouldn’t they?), a return should be somewhat significant.
But it shouldn’t end there.
Fletcher paid a heavy price including a first-round pick for Rasmus Ristolainen in the offseason, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying to flip him at the deadline to bring something back. If he can’t, then let him walk. The Flyers simply can’t afford to extend Ristolainen and hamper themselves with another hard-to-move contract.
At the moment, they’re chock full of them. It’s been a scary trend of overvaluing their own players and signing them to long-term deals above their market value. Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton, Ivan Provorov and James van Riemsdyk are all good players. But their cap hits — and in Couturier’s case, future cap hits — punch above their production, which has created a virtual black hole of cap space.
Throughout its history, this franchise has been more willing to open its checkbook to solve its problems rather than find success through drafting and development. They tried half-heartedly following Ron Hextall’s rebuild plan before losing patience and going back to old habits.
There will need to be a better effort this time around. It will take time. There will be pain. But it’s the only path this organization can take to build a Stanley Cup team. This core of players has proven year after year that there is something missing — maybe a lot of things.
The goal of the Flyers has always been to win at any cost. But they really need to rethink how they do business moving forward.
A few wins in the desert were good for morale. But it didn’t solve anything. ••