As the winds of change seem unavoidable after the collapse of the 2021-22 hockey season in Philadelphia, it left some pondering whether Flyers fans could truly stomach a complete teardown and proper rebuild.
They’d be basement dwellers for the foreseeable future in order to pick near the top of the NHL Entry Draft for multiple seasons as it seemed the only way to acquire the elite talent this franchise has been so sorely missing for the last decade.
The phrase “Trust the Process” was a big one among fans of the Wells Fargo Center’s other main occupant, the 76ers, and Philly basketball fans remember those lean years that finally shook their franchise out of mediocrity. They needed to sink before they swam. And although the Sixers haven’t won a championship, there’s at least been some excitement around the team and meaningful playoff runs over the last five or so years.
You can at least envision Joel Embiid bringing a championship to Broad Street. Right now, it’s tough to envision the Flyers beating anyone on a normal Tuesday night.
Do Flyers fans think they could handle four or five more years of this? Long losing streaks? Half-empty buildings? More aggressive Gritty marketing?
We found out quickly, as The Rock once said in the wrestling ring, “It doesn’t matter what you think!”
The decision, apparently, has been made for them.
Flyers General Manager and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott spoke at a news conference last week and fans were bluntly reminded that it’s not up to season ticket holders on how this franchise proceeds. It turns out that owners are the ones who simply can’t bear a multi-year rebuild. They said so by vowing to offer “blank checks” in the offseason to fix the current situation. Quickly. They have a plan.
The Flyers front office isn’t allowed to say much beyond that when it comes to pending unrestricted free agents, as they would need to be careful of tampering. But reading between the lines, it would appear the Flyers would be willing to pay free agents handsomely in an attempt to avoid missing the playoffs for what would be a third straight year in 2022-23.
Does that mean they make a pitch to Johnny Gaudreau?
Gaudreau, a pending UFA, has been linked to the Flyers because he grew up in South Jersey and was a product of Gloucester Catholic High School. But Gaudreau likely wouldn’t fix the Flyers problems and he would eat up the majority of the roughly $12 million in cap space the Flyers have this offseason. And that’s if they don’t bring back Claude Giroux.
You’d be replacing one big contract for another and you’re back to square one, only with more money tied up over a longer period of time. It seems to be the way the Flyers want to do things. It’s pretty much why we are in this sticky situation to begin with.
In 2018, the Flyers gave a 29-year-old James van Riemsdyk a five year, $35 million contract to come play in Philly. In 2019, they handed a 27-year-old Kevin Hayes a seven-year, $50 million contract to come here. In 2021, they traded for a 30-year-old Ryan Ellis with six years left on his $50 million deal and extended a now-29-year-old Sean Couturier to an eight-year, $62 million contract that hasn’t even started yet.
The Flyers have historically attempted to plug holes in their lineup with wads of cash. And very seldom has throwing money at a problem worked for this championship-starved team. Remember Ilya Bryzgalov?
Flyers management believes the core of this team is good and this thing can be fixed quickly. They are either lying to their fans’ faces or are just plain clueless. Or maybe they have zero confidence that they can actually develop the talent that they would acquire in a rebuild.
The answers aren’t quite clear, but the Flyers would certainly be better off avoiding an offseason spending spree. ••