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Panic in Philadelphia? Three big questions facing the Flyers



Flyers Coaching Staff

The Philadelphia Flyers had one of their worst losses in franchise history, let alone the season, on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

A 9-0 loss to the Rangers set a few infamous franchise records. It was the most decisive shutout loss on the road –– the previous two 8-0 losses coming on November 1st, 1969 in St. Louis and January 6th, 1994 in Dallas. The second period was particularly bad with a 7-0 Rangers advantage. It’s the most goals allowed in a single period in franchise history –– the previous record was six, done four times, most recently in the second period on October 17th, 2006 in Buffalo.

It was that bad.

Flyers’ blowout loss a sign of deeper issues; something needs to change

The troublesome thing for the Flyers is that this game was the microcosm of the entire season. It displayed underlying problems within the team and organization. Usually, the Flyers are at least able to get a good performance in terms of finishing their chances, limiting chances against, or a strong performance in the crease. On Wednesday night, none of those things happened in an embarrassing loss for the Flyers.

The Flyers need something to change. This has been said over and over again. But what could change? Well, there are three big questions facing the Flyers right now as the trade deadline nears.

It remains to be seen if this team can climb all the way back into the playoff race. Wednesday night’s performance was the worst of the season, but it was also just one game. They have a chance to get back on track against the Islanders before their schedule eases up at the end of March. However, should the Flyers be buyers?

Can one trade fix the Flyers?

There have been talks regarding the Flyers’ potential trade deadline plans. They need a defenseman, and Mattias Ekholm is the main option in the market right now. But at some point, you have to wonder if one trade can change anything.

While replacing one of the Flyers defensemen with Ekholm in the lineup wouldn’t have solved anything in a 9-0 loss, it could change things. Depending on who is traded away, and if they get anyone else (Viktor Arvidsson) with Ekholm, it could shake up the locker room and light a fire under some guys. If the Flyers trade for Ekholm (or Ekholm-plus), it affects their expansion draft plans, and a player that thought he was safe could be up for grabs.

NHL Trade Talk: Friedman ‘not convinced’ Flyers will land Mattias Ekholm

Giving Ivan Provorov a partner like Ekholm could have a trickle-down effect on the blue line. If the Flyers have a rock-solid top pair, perhaps it takes the pressure off the bottom two pairs. That could possibly allow the youngsters –– Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim –– to figure things out.

Even if the Flyers bow out of the bidding war for Ekholm, they could still be buyers. David Savard is a rental option and there are several names floating around as depth options. A veteran presence could bring experience and stability to a defensive corps that is in shambles.

One trade won’t fix the Flyers immediately, but it could do something. The Flyers are a better team than they’ve shown recently and if it takes a trade to get them back on track it may be worth pulling the trigger.

Should Alain Vigneault and Co. be on the hot seat?

This is a tricky situation. The shortened season and even more compressed 56-game schedule after the Flyers’ COVID pause complicates things.

Alain Vigneault made four lineup changes after Monday night’s win, only one of which you could view as an upgrade.

Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel are better hockey players than Connor Bunnaman and Andy Andreoff. However, given the Flyers’ schedule crunch, it makes sense to give those guys a breather. Doing it to have them fresh for the second half of a back-to-back isn’t a bad idea. What is a bad idea is scratching both guys in the same game.

Moving onto the defense, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nate Prosser had a bad game on Monday night. Gostisbehere was playing well offensively, but Vigneault shackled him to Prosser and things went downhill. There is definitely room for improvement in Gostisbehere’s defensive game, but he can’t make up for the below-replacement-level play of Prosser. Getting Robert Hagg back in the lineup for Prosser would’ve been fine, but benching Gostisbehere for Erik Gustafsson is where the decision gets questionable.

As far as the goalies are concerned, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott were going to split these two starts. I don’t have a big issue with starting one over the other in either game.

Vigneault showed last season that he can have a winning system with these players. Hell, there have been glimpses of it this season. But he isn’t putting his best players in their most optimal spots in the lineup. It must be tough with the condensed schedule, but the Flyers need some sort of consistency.

I don’t think that Vigneault will be on the hot seat, but Chuck Fletcher and Co. could shake things up by firing an assistant coach. The Flyers have three assistant coaches: Michel Therrien, Mike Yeo, and Ian Laperriere.

Both Therrien and Yeo have experience as head coaches. For the Flyers, Therrien has received criticism for his work with the power play. Yeo helped improve the Flyers defense and penalty kill last season, but that hasn’t shown up this year.

If things go from bad to worse (or to even worse), firing an assistant coach could be in the cards.

Should the Flyers sell at the deadline?

If one trade can’t fix the Flyers and they continue their poor play, a playoff spot could soon be out of reach. The Flyers could become sellers at the deadline if that transpires.

Unfortunately, the Flyers don’t have a lot of pieces that they could sell off. Their main pending UFAs are Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Erik Gustafsson, and Brian Elliott.

Laughton is the one guy that could fetch a good return. He went from being banished to the AHL, to carving out a fourth-line role, to moving up into the middle-six as an offensive contributor. Laughton does the little things right and is hard to play against. If the Flyers are sellers, teams might come calling on Laughton.

The rest of the list probably wouldn’t bring back more than a mid-to-late round pick. Raffl is another good depth guy, Gustafsson is no more than a power-play specialist, and Elliott is showing his age recently.

If things continue to trend in the wrong direction, the Flyers may be able to sell off a few of their pieces. However, that is still a long way away and the Flyers owe it to their fanbase to do everything they can to win this season. The Flyers took a big step last season and this was supposed to be that next step. Selling and loading up for the offseason wouldn’t be a good look.

Photo: Heather Barry Images

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