Twelve games in, the Flyers currently sit with 10 points at 4-6-2. That’s good for the 7th worst record in the league, exactly where they finished last year. The team started the season with a lot of promise, going 4-2-1 in their first 7, but have since dropped 5 straight, managing only 1 point in that span. Those 5 losses didn’t come against the league’s elite either. Two losses to Buffalo, a loss to New Jersey, falling to Vancouver, and last night’s defeat at Edmonton are all extremely alarming.
The Flyers’ current pace puts them poised to finish with 68 points this season, which was bad enough for 4th worst last season. 68 points would represent a catastrophic drop off from last year. Surely a team that finished with 84 points, and managed to avoid any major roster upheaval wouldn’t just magically drop 16 points in a year. It certainly is not as bad as those numbers would point to though. It is still early enough that those point paces can drastically change with a few wins. Every team hits their hot and cold patches whether it’s the Chicago or Carolina. The Flyers could just as easily win 5 of their next 7 and be well on their way to getting back on track.
There are still 140 points left for the Flyers to play for, that is 70 games remaining. Most years, the magic number for the playoffs tends to hover right around 95 points, give or take a few. The Flyers currently have 10 points. That means to hit that 95 point threshold, They’ll have to win roughly 38-40 of those next 70 games (factoring in some OT losses) to hit that. Let’s say they have to win 38 more games, for sake of argument. That would mean, for the Flyers to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, they would need to go 38-23-9 to grab 85 points from their remaining 70 games. 85 points in 70 games is roughly 1.2 PPG. Pro-rated over an 82 game season, that means the PPG pace would be that of a 100 point season.
While it may seem like getting 85 points over the rest of the season is far from insurmountable, the Flyers are currently 32 points off the 82 game 100 point pace. To pull this off, the Flyers would need to find a level of consistency in their play that has not been seen since they overachieved in the final half of the 2013-14 season and stormed into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. That season though, was an aberration. They Flyers overcame monumental odds (somewhere in the ball park of a 0.2% chance) to make the playoffs. For the Flyers to pull off the impossible again, it would require not only consistency, but career years from pretty much every offensive player. in 2013-14, the Flyers were a team that boasted SEVEN 20 goal scorers. That is a double-edged sword, in that it means the team that season, boasted tremendous scoring depth and had reliable secondary support. But it also showed a glaring weakness that has been all but overlooked for 5 years now, since the poor defense has gotten all the attention. That weakness being, the team lacks any reliable top line goal scoring threat.
No cup contending caliber team has a top 9 that can be freely rotated between the lines. There is a reason 1st line players don’t play on the 3rd line and vice versa. Players suited to the top line are typically the skilled, offensively threatening players. The second line is meant to be a strong secondary threat that also can offer a full 200 foot game. The role of the 3rd line is to play as the shut down defensive line. They are expected to forecheck hard, be reliable defensively, and get the puck down the ice to create offensive zone face-offs for the top 6. In the case of the Flyers, however, they have a distinct lack of viable 2nd line caliber players, which leads to the team essentially icing two 3rd lines every night. On pretty much every playoff/cup contending team in the league, the likes of Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Scott Laughton, Matt Read, and Michael Raffl would be relegated to the 3rd line. RJ Umberger would be a fringe 4th liner and a regular healthy scratch. The only real 2nd line caliber players on the squad are Sam Gagner and Wayne Simmonds, in the same way Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux are the only legitimate first line threats on the team.
This is the problem, the Flyers simply do not have the talent on the squad to be a dangerous team. They are good enough to catch better teams off guard, they are good enough to string together a few hot streaks throughout the season. At the end of the day though, they simply lack the raw talent to be a consistently threatening team. Raffl, Schenn, Read, Couturier, and Laughton are all nice players in their own right. They would all make fantastic character guys who work hard on a good team’s 3rd line. The problem happens when they make up half of your forward group. It isn’t their fault that the team is underachieving and the offense is struggling. Those players are set up to fail. They have been forced into roles that they quite simply are not suited for. It is not realistic to expect Matt Read Michael Raffl to be consistent scoring threats. It is not realistic to expect Laughton, Couturier, or Brayden Schenn to shoulder the load when Giroux or Voracek hit a cold streak. Those players just do not possess the tools in their skillset to pick up that kind of slack.
Looking at the gulf in talent between the Flyers and a team like the Capitals or Blackhawks, no amount of character or heart in the world is enough to close that gap. Talent always wins out. Character only gives the edge between teams that are fairly evenly matched. The Flyers are icing Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and Sam Gagner when the Blackhawks are sending out Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane. The Capitals are trotting out Nick Backstrom, Justin Williams, and Andre Burakovsky. Is RJ Umberger supposed to match Marcus Johansson? That is the difference between teams that contend, and teams like the Flyers. We can love the hard work guys like Read and Raffl put in, but the sentimentality has to go. They simply are not good enough to support stars like Giroux and Voracek. The Flyers lose because their offense is easy to stop. Stopping Giroux means you stop Voracek, which means you stop the Flyers.
I hate to write a team off just 12 games into the season, but does anyone honestly believe that the team has the talent to find the consistency required to pick up 85 points in their next 70 games, especially in this division? Unless some serious changes are made to the personnel that finished 7th worst in the league last season, this team is going nowhere this year. It has been more and more of the same for years now. The best I personally am hoping for, is that they stay relatively healthy, and some players play well enough to convince teams to trade for them at the deadline. There is a lot of dead wood on this team that must be shed. Until that happens, don’t expect much from this team.
feature image credit: Perry Nelson- USA Today