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Gilbert: Flyers in much different position just one year after Game 7 loss

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Chuck Fletcher, Philadelphia Flyers offseason

One year ago today, Flyers fans woke up disappointed and frustrated. The Philadelphia Flyers’ last playoff game was one year ago yesterday: September 5th, 2020. A Game 7 loss at the hands of the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals ended the Flyers’ run.

But along with the disappointment and frustration –– or, rather, when that wore off –– there was some hope.

After a months-long pause due to COVID-19, the Flyers picked up where they left off by earning the No. 1 seed in a Round Robin Tournament. They then won their first playoff series since 2012, taking down the Montreal Canadiens in six games.

It wasn’t the cleanest playoff series win, but it was a playoff series win nonetheless. However, after taking care of business against Montreal, a familiar foe wore down the Flyers.

The Islanders won Game 1 4-0 and took a 3-1 series lead through four games. The Flyers won Game 5 in overtime and Game 6 in double overtime to force Game 7, but they ran out of gas. The Islanders ended the series the same way they started it, with a 4-0 shutout victory.

That game was just one year ago, but it feels like so much longer.

After the pain wore off, the Flyers had plenty of hope heading into the offseason. They had almost all of the important parts of their roster slated to return for the 2020-21 NHL season. The Flyers were rather comfortable with their roster and that’s when teams can be vulnerable.

One month after Game 7, Matt Niskanen announced his retirement. Justin Braun, who was a pending free agent, was re-signed on the same day.

The loss of Niskanen was a bit worrisome. Rather than go out and sign a replacement for Niskanen, Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers had Braun and internal options to cover the top two defensive pairs.

Or at least they thought.

Braun ended up playing the most with Ivan Provorov on the top pair last year, but that was only because of Philippe Myers’ struggles. Myers was being counted on to take that next step forward as a top-four defenseman and that didn’t come to fruition. He showed flashes of that potential, but those were rare occurrences.

The Flyers ended the 2019-20 season with a bitter taste in their mouths, but still with some hope for another playoff run in 2021. That wasn’t the case.

Myers didn’t take advantage of his opportunity on the top pair and he was just one of many players who took a step back last season. The 2021 season was a disaster for the Flyers. They got out to a good record, but it wasn’t sustainable. Then, most of the roster got hit with COVID and an already compressed schedule became even more condensed in March and April.

The Flyers were a snowball rolling downhill. Fast. Carter Hart wasn’t himself in net, the defense in front of him was lackluster at best, and the forwards didn’t help much either. It was clear from the beginning of March that something needed to change. And it did this offseason.

It’s unfortunate because the playoff series win over Montreal looked like it was going to be the start of something. Not just another one-and-done.

But, it may have been the start of something after all: the beginning of the end.

The playoff loss to the Islanders started a horrendous eight months for the Flyers. A stagnant offseason gave way to a shortened training camp and season. The Flyers didn’t respond well to the schedule changes and the team’s identity was in question. It wasn’t just a bad loss here or there. It was bad loss after bad loss. Looking back on it, given the expectations, the 2021 season was one of the worst Flyers seasons in recent memory.

It was clear that changes had to be made. Chuck Fletcher had his hands tied a bit during the season with the flat cap, but he was wheeling and dealing over the summer.

Fletcher struck early and often this offseason. In just a week, Fletcher made various moves. The Flyers traded Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere, Philippe Myers, Nolan Patrick, Jakub Voracek and multiple draft picks (including the 2021 first-rounder) for Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, and Rasmus Ristolainen. It was a major shakeup to give the Flyers some new energy both on and off the ice.

After that, Fletcher added a few depth pieces in free agency in Martin Jones, Nate Thompson, and Keith Yandle. The Flyers are now a much more experienced team with multiple veteran leaders after those signings. But he wasn’t done there. He also signed veteran forward Derick Brassard to a one-year contract to give the Flyers a safety net in the bottom six.

Oh yeah, Fletcher also signed restricted free agents Carter Hart and Travis Sanheim. He locked up Sean Couturier (eight years) and Joel Farabee (six years) to long-term contract extensions as well.

The Flyers are a very different team than they were just two months ago. In early July, there were still questions about the Flyers’ top offseason targets (Dougie Hamilton, Seth Jones, etc.) and just how much Fletcher would do. Two months later, we have the answers and a lot more activity than expected.

Those two months changed a lot, and the last 12 months have been a rollercoaster for the Flyers. One year ago, there was hope for that group of players to make another run in 2021. Now, after the hellscape that was the 2021 season, there’s renewed hope and energy around a much different Flyers team.

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