The Philadelphia Flyers are at a very important crossroads in their history. Despite a rebuild emerging as the best option for the team to take to re-find success in the long term, there is a palpable feeling of hesitation from the front office to give the green light on what will be a years-long process. So I, being the gracious man that I am, decided to give the team a few pointers. Deciphering what went wrong during Ron Hextall’s attempt at a rebuild and taking a look around the league at how successful teams built, I deduced the most important steps for the Flyers to take to successfully return the Flyers to the former glory they once knew.
Keep the Fans Interested
- There’s a very clear disconnect happening between the Flyers’ faithful and the front office. The organization has to do whatever it takes to start thawing that relationship as fast as possible. Getting fans to put down the pitchforks and torches aimed at ownership will make the entire process a much easier pill to swallow. It seems like a bad business approach to piss off the collective fanbase, especially when the on-ice product is so damn bad.
- Immersive theme nights, giveaways, public appearances by the players, more ticket holder benefits, while simultaneously focusing less on Gritty. Make the Wells Fargo Center a place you want to be rather than a real life Battlebot cage where it’s us versus them. It really is possible to have a fun environment without taking it to a painfully stupid level and insulting the hardcore fans.
- Losing sucks. Getting ready to sit through years of more atrocious hockey is no fun, but if the team is open and honest about their approach, the fans will, at least for a short time, be on board. Hextall had the fans in the palm of his hands for years, hell, some still are years after his firing. Getting everyone on board will be a much harder task this time around, but some transparency from the franchise will go a long way.
- Firing Fletcher temporarily eased some tensions around the team, but the good grace isn’t going to last long if palpable progress isn’t made towards whatever the stated goal from the organization ends up being. The new-look front office simply can’t be complacent just because they’re selling a rebuild, they need to be actively on top of the direction they claim to be taking.
Tear Down Properly
- The biggest mistake from the Hextall-era rebuild happened right out of the gate when he decided to enter a rebuild without actually tearing anything down first. He kept Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, who were all in their primes, around. Not only did that prevent the Flyers from ever securing a worthwhile pick, regularly picking tenth or later, but those are huge assets worth a king’s ransom to the right team that could’ve jumpstarted a rebuild with picks and prospects.
- It’s important to maintain a balance by trading the core players for value, but retain the services of a key veteran leaders to help usher in a new generation. Don’t be the Arizona Coyotes or Edmonton Oilers who didn’t keep any NHL-caliber players around during their rebuilds. It took them years to get anything accomplished because they ignored their NHL roster too severely .
- May I suggest Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier as the veteran leaders to keep around (and definitely not because their contracts are completely and totally unmovable.) Anybody who has been a Flyer for more than three years should be fair game and sold off.
Set a Reasonable Timeline
- Spoiler alert- rebuilds don’t have to take 10 years. With the proper plan in place and a little bit of luck, you can get through one in three to five years. Given how behind the eight ball the Flyers are, it may take the latter of the two before results are seen, but it’s better than an indefinite struggle with no defined plan.
- Eight of the Flyers’ 13 forwards they’ve been icing recently are 25 years old or younger, and there’s another half dozen or so in the AHL that could reasonably make the jump to the NHL next season. The high-end talent may be lacking, but they’re definitely in the middle of a pretty substantial youth injection, so it’s not like they need to wait a handful of years before they start seeing the fruits of their labor, the next few drafts are going to be insulating the youth that’s already here.
- Even though this is the first year they’ve actually admitted they’ve been rebuilding, you can consider last season when they drafted Cutter Gauthier fifth overall as the first real piece of the next generation.
Trust Your Scouts
- Here’s a hot topic in Flyerland. If the Flyers are put in a situation at the draft table again, put value on what the scouts suggest rather than what your heart wants. Even if it seems like the unpopular opinion, finding a hidden gem, even in the early first round, is possible. Hopefully this changes now that Fletcher’s Minnesota nepotism and Hextall’s big braining are no longer with the organization.
- Player’s stock rises and falls all the time. Don’t be steadfast to Nolan Patrick if serious questions about his play arise when scouts are begging for talent right behind him. Steve Yzerman and Jarmo Kekalainen are famous for taking calculated risks (with calculated really being the key work) based on their scouting and more often than not it seems to pay off.
Draft for Stars
- Biggest failure number two of the Hextall era was his piss poor drafting. Trying to be the smartest guy in the room with his off-the-wall first round picks like German Rubtsov and Jay O’Brien set the franchise back tremendously when you’re essentially waste a first round pick.
- His later rounds were used to select good character, 200-foot players with very low NHL ceilings. Just further wasting picks on players that are, on a good day, fourth line forwards.
- Use the first round to draft for your star power, then spend your later rounds looking for diamonds in the rough. You won’t hit every time, but it’s better to be risky and find a Kirill Kaprizov or Brayden Point than use the picks on Connor Bunnaman and Carsen Twarynski. If later round picks are essentially crapshoots anyway, may as well give yourselves the best chance to succeed by selecting a player that fell through the cracks. There are a handful of players every year that fit the bill.
- Problem number three for ol’ Hexy was the fact that his development plan was practically nonexistent. You either throw guys into the NHL right away with little time to develop like Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, who only went back to juniors for a year before being thrown into heavy NHL minutes, and Nolan Patrick, who just showed up ready or not, or they sit in the AHL for literal ever waiting for the player to put the pieces together like Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Scott Laughton.
- Development isn’t linear and there should be some kind of plan in place to cater to the needs of every specific player. Some players don’t need to be trapped in the AHL for years on end with no NHL opportunities to prove they belong. Others shouldn’t be rushed to the show and if it takes an extra year or two in the AHL, as long as they show progress, it’s worth the long game.
- If a player seems like a lost cause, they probably are. No need to give a German Rubtsov yet another season to try and will something out of him in his draft +6 season. Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, as Kenny Rodgers once said.
Pick Players to Build Around
- One of the weird things fans got stuck in their heads during the Hextall era was that every player on the ice had to be a homegrown draft pick in order for success to be had. That couldn’t be any further from the truth.
- Look no further than the New York Rangers who have perfectly sprinkled in world-class talent with their solid drafting and they look like a powerhouse for years to come.
- The Red Wings are also a perfect example of a team that is rebuilding and deep on prospects, but aren’t committing to building around everyone. They’re highlighting Mo Seider and Lucas Raymond as the new corner stones of the franchise.
- It seems to be a common theme amongst the successful teams. Crosby and Malkin, Stamkos and Hedman, Kane and Toews, Kopitar and Doughty. The supporting cast is important, but you need to establish who you are building around first, then form the team to their image.
- It’s probably why an unsuccessful transition of power happened in Philadelphia during the Hextall rebuild, it’s hard for Konecny and Provorov to take the reins when the old core featuring the likes of Giroux and Couturier were still very much in place.
Recognize “Go Time”
- Once the rebuild is in full swing and the future team is starting to take shape, don’t be afraid to add. Finding the sweet spot and capitalizing on a team on the up-and-up is much easier than trying to make desperation moves because you waited too long to pull the trigger.
- You can look back into Flyers history for this one. When the summer of 2007 happened and the Flyers were on the rise, Holmgren brought in Chris Pronger in 2009 to try and solidify a Cup-worthy roster. While it ultimately fell short, it was done with the proper intentions.
- When the Flyers made it to game seven of the second round in 2020, the furthest they’ve been since 2012, they proceeded to sit on their hands all summer and not capitalize in the momentum they had just build. Make additions in the summer to build off the season before. They’re at rock bottom right now, every season from here on out should be a little better than the one before it.
If this list is followed and success is ultimately bred, I’ll settle for a simple thank you.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
Photo credit: linkedin.com