It’s easy to say the Philadelphia Flyers’ disaster of a season — they were eliminated from the playoff race Tuesday with 15 games remaining — was caused by injuries.
But the fact is, this was a flawed team even before top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis and first-line center Sean Couturier went down with season-ending injuries, and second-line center Kevin Hayes missed most of the year with a groin issue.
There were plenty of other injuries along the way, but other teams had them, too, and they survived, and some even thrived. (See Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston, et cetera.)
The Flyers (21-35-11) are on pace for 26 wins. Since the franchise started in 1967-68, there have only been three other full seasons in which the Flyers had a lower victory total.
The fact is, this team, even when healthy, had too many flaws to be a Cup contender.
Little speed. No depth. No difference makers. Awful special teams.
That’s on general manager Chuck Fletcher for the way he constructed the team.
Fletcher overvalued this team. Two months ago, a day after the Flyers suffered a franchise-record 13th straight loss, he said he’s never felt such a disconnect between where the team was in the standings and where he thought they should be.
Maybe this team would have been a playoff contender if it had better health. Maybe it would have barely qualified for the postseason. Nothing more.
But let’s be clear, the Flyers were never going to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
There’s a big difference between battling for the last playoff spot and being a legitimate Cup challenger.
Fact is, it’s almost impossible not to be a playoff contender — though the Flyers managed to do it — but this team had far too many weaknesses to end a 47-year Cup drought, even before the wave of injuries,.
At least Fletcher acknowledged the Flyers are starved for elite players. That’s a start.
“We’re missing top-end talent,” he said in late January. “I do believe there’s a group of players that can be a part of a winning core, but we need to add pieces.”
Their cap space won’t allow them to add much. As of now, Cap Friendly lists the Flyers with $74.3 million earmarked for next season, when the cap will rise to $82.5 million, up from $81.5 million this year. And they still have several positions to fill.
They need to free up cap space. Perhaps they buy out James van Riemsdyk, but the Philadelphia Flyers mostly need to have players live up to the big contracts that were handed out.
As of now, the players who have the biggest cap hits next season are Sean Couturier ($7.75 million), Kevin Hayes ($7.1 million), van Riemsdyk ($7 million), Ivan Provorov ($6.75 million), and Ellis ($6.25 million).
From here, the best thing to do is to tear it down, though management seems against that. Fletcher said an “aggressive retool” is needed. Dave Scott, the club”s head honcho, said if the Flyers get healthy and make two or three moves, they will be winners next season.
“We should get this thing right, and we should be in it next year,” Scott said in January.
But sneaking into the playoffs next season is being short-sighted.
Build for the long haul. Build a team that will consistently challenge for a Cup down the road. Build from the ground up.
Yes, it will take a few years, but the most important position — goaltending — is in good hands with Carter Hart. That makes the rebuild much easier, provided the right pieces are added. (Fletcher did a mediocre job in Minnesota, so the jury is out on whether he can incorporate the right pieces.)
Draft wisely. Do a better job developing players. Trade some high-priced veterans for younger talent. Fans are ready and patient for a massive rebuild.
Here’s hoping the front office is, too.