There is a difference between competition and professionalism. The Philadelphia Flyers must find a way to compete professionally.
In dissecting championship teams, the ones who achieve the most postseason success are often full of bonafide leaders. Annual success starts with intelligent front office decision-making and finishes with player execution.
Before the 2019-2020 season, the Philadelphia Flyers prepared themselves correctly. Adding Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Tyler Pitlick, and Justin Braun to a talented roster helped propel the Flyers into the league elite. Ahead of the 2019-2020 season, the team didn’t suffer from an abbreviated training camp, helping the young nucleus. Strip all of that away from Philadelphia, including losing their best defensemen, and this season’s outcome seems about right.
Following the trade deadline, when Fletcher moved Gustafsson for a seventh-round draft pick in 2022, he admitted the signing didn’t work. There is growth from the front office in the admission of such a failure. What about the rest of this disastrous 2020-2021?
Being unprepared defensively set Philadelphia up for failure, but it doesn’t explain their offensive woes lately. The strength of the Mass Mutual Eastern Division was never a secret. Good teams adapted to the Flyers, making a playoff push nearly impossible. Against the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia was on the receiving end of physicality throughout regulation. Shooting from high percentage areas and scoring cannot happen when sacrificing a two-hundred-foot game.
The Importance of “Professional” Hockey
To quote Scott Hartnell, the brand of Flyers hockey this season is “shinny.” A season ago, Philadelphia looked professional. It’s why this season is frustrating.
Off a quick turnaround from the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, the league felt rushed to begin this season. Some franchises answered that call better than others. The Flyers are among the most disappointing franchises because they went from an elite team to nearly the bottom-third. Many clubs are battling the same inconveniences, so there aren’t many excuses to call on.
Philadelphia has allowed frustration to rule their mental state at times. Players are human, but in competition, you never let the opponent see you sweat.
Jakub Voracek, on a few occasions, calmed down Joel Farabee. His leadership allowed Farabee to find his confidence, even in defeat. Shayne Gostisbehere rebounded swiftly after clearing waivers. Up for grabs for the entire league, and Gostisbehere passed by unanimously. Even Brian Elliott, who signed a one-year extension as a backup, took over while Carter Hart searched for his mojo.
Many of the players who are playing their role this season are keeping Philadelphia from regressing further.
Flyers Need to Get a Head Start
Though the Flyers have moved on from Michael Raffl and Gustafsson for future draft picks, they need to compete. Competing doesn’t have to mean a playoff spot. It’s growing more likely that they’ll miss the postseason as the schedule progresses. Competition means finding the right combinations while developing younger players. Ahead of next season, Alain Vigneault and Fletcher need to know what changes to make.
Rediscovering Samuel Morin and promoting Tanner Laczynski make sense this season. Looking at the current playoff picture, Philadelphia needs to add players to compete. A sizable forward or two-way defensive defenseman helps. Against teams like the Capitals, the Flyers need to combat their size with physical hockey.
Look for Fletcher to recall more players to the taxi squad before the end of this season. Vigneault would be wise to allow some players from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to debut at the NHL level. With fourteen games left, that decision could take place soon.
Accumulating draft picks is a logical way to rebuild for the future, but Philadelphia can bounce back if Fletcher is savvy through the NHL Expansion Draft and 2021 free agency. Another miscalculated signing would set the Flyers back another season.
It’ll be a crucial offseason for Fletcher and company, who will be under high judgment throughout.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre