One thing I’ve been pretty surprised by since the Flyers changed their coach and GM recently is how static everything else has been.
It’s easy to see why Chuck Fletcher, who never built anything even resembling a winner in Minnesota, would want to slow-roll into the new job. He climbed aboard a sinking ship midseason and maybe didn’t have the best understanding of why it was sinking. He eventually fired the captain of that ship, Dave Hakstol, for problems that weren’t really under the captain’s purview, but that’s understandable too.
No one was ever under the impression that Scott Gordon or Carter Hart were going to be the reasons for the team to turn around, even if the team started Gordon’s tenure at 3-1-0 and Hart has been perfectly fine, at .909 in his seven appearances. The problems with this particular vessel go a lot deeper than just coaching and goaltending, although they were obviously issues.
This is a club with a great central offensive talent (Claude Giroux) with some high-quality supporters (Couturier, Voracek, perhaps Konecny, maybe even Simmonds and van Riemsdyk if you wanna stretch the definition), but little to no depth and, sad to say, not much high-end help on the way. On the blue line, the situation is similar with some headlining players, some absolute albatrosses, and a few prospects who err on the good side but no one who’s going to wow you.
It’s been said that the Flyers will never tank because they will always try to be competitive. That’s admirable in its way, but hey gang the losing streak just hit eight — and and almost every meaningful player on the team is on the wrong side of the aging curve.
And yet, from everything I can gather here, the only guy they’re gonna try to sell who is of any real note is Wayne Simmonds. And that’s fair because Simmonds’ name has a lot of cachet among teams looking for “jam” (Boston? Toronto? Nashville?) even if the results this season (just 12-6-18 in 42 games with meh-at-best underlyings) aren’t there.
Simmonds is likely to walk this summer, so Fletcher has to recoup some kind of return, but you have to wonder whether other GMs are gonna look at those totals and say, “This isn’t worth what Tomas Tatar or Evander Kane fetched last year.” Which is to say a first-round pick plus some other assets. Plus, oops, Simmonds has a 12-team no-trade list that limits the market sharply.
And if you don’t have that reason for future optimism, let’s dampen the mood further by pointing out that the Flyers’ cap commitments are such that they really can’t do too much tinkering with the roster as-is (Simmonds was a bargain for most of his contract so his $3.975 million doesn’t give you much wiggle room). Jori Lehtera is the only other big-ticket item coming off the books, but they have to re-sign Laughton, Konecny, Provorov, and Sanheim to what will probably be good-sized raises next year as well.
So without a radical change — i.e. not just hitting the free agent market and trying to plug-and-play like they did with James van Riemsdyk — what change apart from making a big splash in signing a coach could you possibly make, and have that meaningfully affect the upcoming season?
Admittedly, room for transformational change is limited because of long-term cap obligations. Giroux, while great right now, is turning 31 this week, and signed at an $8.275-million AAV through 2022. Voracek, who’s turning 30 in August, pulls just $25,000 a year less through 2024. And van Riemsdyk, 30 in June, carries a $7-million cap hit through 2023.
So on some level there’s a necessity in staying the course, but Fletcher really needs to figure something out with this group (even Joel Quenneville won’t save them by himself). That means a big trade of meaningful roster players, including Giroux or Voracek with money retained, if you can find a partner and someone willing to give you a lot.
Or they can do a really radical thing and just accept that trying to make the playoffs every year isn’t serving them well. Since the salary cap era began, the Flyers have only been a 100-point team three times, and none since 2012. And hell, since 2012, they’ve missed the playoffs more than they’ve made them. Maybe, just maybe, the old formula of throwing money at the problem and lucking into a few Giroux-type players while also having terrible goaltending just doesn’t work in the modern NHL. And maybe, just maybe, that means the Flyers will have to try to go into the tank if they ever want to get better.
Flyers fans, media, and front-office types might not want to do that, as they’ve spent years glibly making fun of the Penguins for tanking in the early 2000s. But when you’ve picked in the top-8 four times in the last 12 years BY ACCIDENT — with another surely on the way in June — while the Penguins won three Stanley Cups, I think the joke is probably on you.
Simply put: As a going operation for the last 12 seasons, the Flyers average 91.9 points a season over 1,000-plus games. Know who’s on pace for about 92 points this year? The Minnesota Wild, the team Chuck Fletcher built that no one ever thinks about at all. And the Wild have 33 percent more 100-point seasons than the Flyers do in the cap era (averaging 93.2 per 82 games).
If the Flyers weren’t on NBC every week because of who owns the network and where they’re located — that is, if they were the Kansas City Flyers or whatever — they would suffer the exact same fate, relegated to historical non-factor. And rightly so, because they’re not even as good as the Wild over a dozen years.
So the choice is theirs: They can actually try to be a legitimate contender, or they can continue to be Wild East, a perennial not-a-real-threat-to-anyone.
But if I had to guess on where they land here, well, look who their GM is.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.
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