The Flyers are already a better team two days into free agency. Kevin Hayes has filled the hole at 2nd line center. Andrew MacDonald, Dale Weise, Jori Lehterä, and Phil Varone are gone, resulting in addition by subtraction. Radko Gudas was traded for Matt Niskanen. Justin Braun was acquired for draft picks. The Flyers defense no longer has to depend on players with less than 3 full years of NHL experience.
Yet this free agency period has failed to truly excite many Flyers fans. Fans had their sights dialed in on players like Jacob Trouba, Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, and Artemi Panarin. After their signings with/trades to their respective not-Philadelphia teams, a common excuse getting thrown around is that “Well, they didn’t want to come to Philadelphia anyway.”
So, why? Why are we making this dumb excuse in the first place?
Setting potential personal reasons for signings aside, the Flyers have a couple things to iron out in order to make Philly a place that NHL players want play for. We can’t take Tampa’s or San Jose’s weather and move it to Philadelphia (Trust me, I’m a meteorologist). We can’t abolish state income taxes, because that’s apparently a factor in NHL contracts but not the NBA and however the hell they manage their massive contracts. Can we pay everyone an obscene amount of money to come here? The salary cap says ‘no’ despite my heart saying “it’s not my money, pay them!” Can we hand out Dalessandro’s cheesesteaks on the way into town? Maybe…
The fact of the matter is that the Flyers need to become a pure contender before we can consider Philadelphia a destination city again.
This tall order for the Flyers will start this year as they try to contend with the rest of the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions aggressively building themselves up, creating an ensuing battle similar to the tale of David and Goliath. Except here with the Flyers, it’s probably more like David vs. 4 Goliaths, along with a handful of slightly smaller Goliaths… we’re gonna need a bigger slingshot.
With Washington, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto retaining much of their rosters, these teams look to control the face of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Pittsburgh, Carolina, and the Islanders will also remain competitive with many of their core players staying around. This offseason, teams like the Rangers and Panthers have taken large steps forward, and will present a challenge to the Flyers as well. As if these weren’t enough, the Canadiens, Sabres, and Devils still possess *just enough* skill to be a pain in the neck for the Flyers. The lack of bigger-name additions by the Flyers only complicates matters, both in terms of the team being competitive and making the team really “pop out” on a map.
There was a point in time where the Flyers were a destination city, a team that people wanted to play for. The Flyers were consistent playoff contenders from the mid-1990s to early 2000s, and also from the late 2000s to early 2010s.
These eras saw the team build from within and also add many skilled players from outside the organization via trades and free agency. They were active in improving the team, and it showed on the ice. Then things began to tumble, and a cycle of blame ensued. Fans blamed the systems of Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube for being ineffective, and they were removed. Fans blamed the contracts given out by Paul Holmgren, and he was removed. Fans blamed Ron Hextall for not improving the NHL roster, and he was removed. Fans blamed Dave Hakstol for his lineup preferences, and he was removed.
The common denominator through all of this, however, is the Flyers team itself.
It ultimately will fall to the Flyers to put up or shut up. They will not just need, but require better seasons from Provorov and Gostisbehere. They will require the same consistent point production from Couturier and Giroux. They will require dependable goaltending from Carter Hart. They will require actual point production from Hayes on the second line, and also from Patrick as he tries to develop into the eventual second line center this team will need for years to come.
And perhaps the most glaring of all, they will require bounceback seasons from Niskanen, Braun, and Brian Elliott. If not, the defense and goaltending are still an Achilles’ heel, the acquisitions that wiped out a large portion of cap space will be for nothing, and we’re stuck with mediocrity again.
It will also fall on coaching and ownership to keep the team competitive. Vigneault, Therrien, and Yeo, will need to whip this team into shape. Chuck Fletcher and company will have to honestly identify which pieces of this team really are core players and which need to be moved, both at the NHL level and under. They will need to find serviceable and skilled players from outside of the organization when needed. They will either need their gambles to pay off, or perhaps to find players that simply won’t be a gamble. Paul Holmgren and Dave Scott proved last year that they will hold team management accountable, and they will have to continue that mindset.
Making Philadelphia an NHL destination city again will require success from all levels of the Flyers organization. Once this organization can prove it is successful again, is when we’ll see real talent show interest in this team.
Until then, buckle up.
By Brian Adams (@Wx_Adams)
Photo Creds: NBC Sports, NESN, New York Post