Ah, the Philadelphia Flyers. A frustratingly middle-of-the-road hockey team that has changed directions so many times over the last twelve months it’s impressive the entirety of the franchise isn’t suffering from a severe case of whiplash. After a season of well-coached losses, the wins have started to add up as the calendar switched to 2023 as the midway point of the 2022-23 season is upon us. With the team predictably too good to see through their tank but no where near good enough to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, many now turn their attention to the offseason to see exactly what it is the Flyers are going to change to bring this team back into the limelight of the postseason.
The main message that was parroted by the organization last offseason was that fact that 2022-23 was going to be a “stabilization” season- without much detail as to what exactly that meant. It was interpreted by many to mean essentially taking a year off for the organization to catch its breath and assess the roster construction moving forward. To figure out who is and isn’t part of the future and whether or not that few younger players that haven’t made their NHL impact yet ever could.
In a sense, half way into the campaign, that goal has seemingly been achieved. They’re a well coached squad under John Tortorella with a roster that just isn’t very good. But there are a few players that may be worth keeping and building around, and the prospect pool is still fairly shallow, with only a few more-than-likely middle six forwards, but still missing a couple high end, game-changing players.
With the goal of stabilization theoretically met, what happens next?
The scale’s flatlined and the next step should be building back up- flushing out all the players that don’t belong and searching high and wide for formidable replacements that will give the Flyers a fighting chance in 2023-34. But that doesn’t exactly feel like the likely outcome. With the cap for all intents and purposes remaining flat and the salary dumping scene still overpriced and basically non-existent, it will limit what an already timid front office can do to enact change to undo their own previous mistakes.
Though sticking to their word isn’t exactly a trait the Flyers value much. They tend to lie to the faces of the fans and media at every available opportunity these days, so backing out of a “stabilization” season shouldn’t be a surprise. If you remember, there was supposed to be an “aggressive retool” happening last summer before the Flyers withdrew their battle plans and used the term stabilization to mask for their own fumbled approach.
With the benefit of hindsight, if the Flyers made a serious run at Johnny Gaudreau or Alex DeBrincat via free agency or trade respectively in 2022, they could very well be a playoff team today. The biggest missing link for the Flyers is high-end talent. Theoretically, that should be enough of an incentive to take a risk or two during the 2023 offseason in the name of adding some star power, but given the near identical financial state and overall roster construction as they faced last summer doesn’t exactly paint a picture of confidence that this is the year the front office doesn’t balk at an opportunity to improve.
There’s absolutely no real reason to run this team back once again. There’s nothing more to learn about this team that won’t be learned in the remaining few months of the season. Running it back with an almost identical roster once again because Fletcher will cower at the slightest bit of pressure in a rise-and-repeat from the 2022 offseason would be a not great move from the team, but maybe that’s just what the Flyers top out at these days- painfully mediocre.
The path of least resistance is the status quo. The Flyers don’t have to assemble a Cup contender in 2023-24, but selling the minor victories of the 2022-23 season as major wins and the roster stay relatively unchanged for the purposes of securing more moral victories rather than real life wins is about the worst thing they can do, though it may also be the most likely scenario.
One way or another, things are going to come to a head in 2023. What strategy they choose to enter the offseason with could define the next generation for the Flyers. Another offseason of second guessing and refusing to make exterior additions to the club could be a massive blow to the already low morale of the fanbase, especially if the free agent pool ends up being as juicy as it looks like it could. Yet there’s seemingly no real reason for the team to remain stagnant during the offseason either. There’s nothing to gain from it. They aren’t going to bottom out or tank with the roster currently assembled, so they’re going to need to build up, but how can they properly build up with very little financial breathing room or assets to part with?
They’ve worked themselves into a real humdinger here, and considering there’s still no official word on the fate of Chuck Fletcher, it’s hard to even formulate a battle plan. His offseasons have been so wildly all over the map since he showed up in 2019 that it’s hard to predict what approach he and the rest of the dead-alive corpses in the front office might take.
Is 2023 the year the Flyers actually take a step forward, or is it just more of the same? There always seem to be two different paths: the right, obvious way towards building a competitive hockey team, and the Flyers’ way, which makes no sense and everything’s ten times more painful than it has to be. A key addition or two in the right spots and the Flyers could very well end up in the playoffs. Another season of avoiding confrontation and pretending everything is good enough means a fourth consecutive season of sitting on the sidelines during the postseason. Seems like an easy decision. But for the Flyers, there’s no such thing as an easy decison.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)