The Philadelphia Flyers are a perplexing team to watch right now. For the second game in a row, they attempted a late surge to save an embarrassing defeat, only to fall just shy of the mark. That 5-4 loss to the Capitals acted as a microcosm for the season so far. A game filled with all the right things offensively, but struggles on the back-end and bleeding at the crease. The problem facing the team now is one of confidence from the front office. Just how much does Chuck Fletcher believe that AV can get his guys right?
On one hand, we know just how good this Flyers team can be. Alain Vigneault’s first season in Philadelphia saw the franchise take a complete U-turn and head into the disrupted NHL playoffs as the league’s hottest team before eventually cooling off. We’ve seen just how great younger players like Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Konecny can all be. We’ve all seen the potential inside the locker room and a glimpse into just how high this ceiling is under AV. But then there’s the other side.
The Flyers have now dropped 9 of their last 15 games, giving up 3+ goals in 12. Granted, some of these games were lost at a time when the depth was so minimal due to a COVID scare that I’m pretty sure I saw Gritty lining up on the second defensive pairing, but it’s way too sustained to not be concerning. It feels like every goal scored comes with an immediate answer from their opponents, and just as one facet of the team rights its wrongs, another wrongs its rights.
You don’t need advanced analytics or a deep dive into film to work out where the problems are coming from. The defense is clearly a very different unit this year without Matt Niskanen, whose void has proven to be tricky to fill, while Carter Hart has been caught off guard by an unstable NHL landscape, regression, and a ton of pressure. What Alain Vigneault has to battle now is the belief in his own ability and that of his players.
The good news is that the players have far from given up. They’re not questioning AV, themselves, or the patterns emerging. Their heads are down, eyes are focused, and the aim is clear – continue to move in the right direction.
“I think the last few games we have been answering because we are trailing early in the games.” Claude Giroux said after yesterday’s loss. “I do believe our game is trending the right way. It’s hard to evaluate that when you are losing games. We’re doing a lot of good things out there. A few mistakes that cost us. Overall, if we keep playing like this, keep trending the right way, keep doing the right things, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
“I think there’s definitely things we can build on. Obviously, some things we for sure can clean up.” James Van Riemsdyk explained. “The beauty of the schedule as it is, is you get another chance to play a game in a couple nights. You are playing against teams that you are competing with right around you in the standings. You are able to make up some ground pretty quick.”
It’s not like the locker room is in disarray. The Flyers are not wavering. The heart is still there as evidenced by late surge after late surge. If AV starts to tinker frequently, moving pairings around, benching players, and trialing different things like positional changes as he has, then it can only further the disconnect if they fail to work.
With each failed move comes a necessary counter move. If Carter Hart gets pulled from a game, how will his confidence be when he’s thrown into a matchup in relief of Brian Elliott just a few games later? If the team decides to try moving Ivan Provorov from the top line, how will that impact the team moving forward? It’s a volatile situation and one that doesn’t really call for drastic measures…yet.
For Chuck Fletcher, that conversation is a different one. What does he see in the team? Is he still fully sold on the idea that once again, this ship will be turned around on its own without the need for external interference? A move for Mattias Ekholm is a salivating prospect on the surface, but moves out of desperation can often yield disappointing results. A trade for the Preds defenseman or any other viable candidate may look pretty upon completion, but it could also signify a lack of trust in the players and staff to correct issues that are completely fixable over time.
The real question here is a simple one. ‘Should the Flyers be panicking?’ If the answer from Chuck Fletcher is a resounding ‘No’, then don’t expect much action on the trade front outside of lending his ears to teams who come knocking. If the answer is anything else, then it’s going to be the first time in this new era that the bond between Fletcher and Vigneault will be tested. Are they on the same page? Will Vigneault be happy to watch the team send away a player he still believes he can get the best out of? Only time will tell.
For now, all signs are pointing towards Vigneault finding internal fixes while his team remains fully confident in turning their fortunes around. But if those emotions change after the deadline, the Flyers are stuck. This is where Fletcher’s intuition and gut feeling will come into play. It may seem like making a trade is an easy decision, but it’s not really that easy for a team that have only just now found some actual stability after years of disappointment and waiting on prospect promises to turn into big-league players. The Flyers have made their investments, but will they double down when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, or instead seek to bolster them up with additional help?
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire