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Carchidi: Flyers’ President Opens Up About Tortorella, Collapse

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Keith Jones. Philadelphia Flyers (AP Photo)
Keith Jones, the Flyers' president, said the late-season eight-game collapse doesn't ruin what the team accomplished this year. Photo: AP.

Keith Jones’ first year as the Philadelphia Flyers’ president of hockey operations was sailing along until a late-season collapse ruined most of the good things the team had done in the first five months.

Wait. Not so fast, Jones said. Though disappointed by an eight-game losing streak that will likely cost the team a playoff berth, Jones said the Great Skid — with many of the losses against lightweights — “doesn’t take away ” from what the Flyers accomplished. “It’s been frustrating, no doubt about that,” he said. “But there’s been a lot of good things that have been gained throughout the season.”

Jones made his comments before the Flyers ended their losing streak with a 4-1 win Thursday over the powerful New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive with two games remaining. (Yep, after losing to lowly Montreal, 9-3, the Flyers beat the team that leads the NHL with 110 points. Go figure.)

“We stepped up. There’s still hope, there’s still a chance, and we believe in that,” forward Noah Cates said after the stunning win over the Rangers.

Still, the Flyers, a team that looked like a playoff lock a few weeks ago, need lots of help if they are going to reach the post-season for the first time in four years.

“We’re back to being the underdogs,” Cates said, adding the team plays looser in those situations.

The ‘right decision’

To some, the fact they are now underdogs to reach the playoffs is maddening when you realize how they had been playing before their skid, outworking teams on most nights.

But injuries didn’t help. Neither did the players folding under the pressure.

“I think going into the trade deadline, we recognized we were going to weaken our roster by moving  (Sean) Walker,” Jones said, “and recognizing that (Nick) Seeler, (Rasmus) Ristolainen and (Jamie) Drysdale were out. This is a defense-driven league. So for the future, we made, in our estimation, the right decision.”

Walker, a prospective free agent, was traded to Colorado for a conditional first-round pick in 2025 and Ryan Johansen. Getting that pick was the right move. That said, all kinds of red flags sprouted when the defense disintegrated during the losing streak.

It should be pointed out that Drysdale was back and played in four of the games during the collapse, while Seeler returned and played in five of those eight games.  Philly went a respectable 2-3-2 against the Eastern Conference’s best teams, then lost to bottom-feeders Montreal (twice), Columbus, Buffalo and Chicago during their skid.

“Our guys, with a depleted defense, gave everything they had during that seven-game stretch against teams that have a chance to win the Stanley Cup this year,” Jones said. “We used up our players to try to get through that. And then, I don’t know if the players mentally took a breather and  said, ‘Here’s what’s coming next’ ” — the so-called easy teams. “And all of a sudden, those games turned the wrong way.

“I do think we used a lot of energy and a lot of our top players trying to get through that gauntlet of teams.”

Praise for youngsters

Jones recognizes the Flyers “aren’t there yet,” but is pleased with the advancement of the young players like Tyson Foerster, Bobby Brink, Morgan Frost, Cam York and even out-of-gas goalie Sam Ersson, despite his massive late-season struggles.

The Flyers have gotten 33 goals from rookies, tops in the NHL.

“The younger players have taken on bigger roles, and that’s what is eventually going to get us over the top,” he said. “And Sam Ersson’s play in goal has been very solid until the last few weeks. For him, I’m disappointed we haven’t played as well in front of him, and I’m sure he feels he hasn’t played as well as he’s capable of. But he has made some major adjustments and advancements this year.

“I think once he resets, it’ll be dividends in his future as well.”

If not, the Flyers’ goalie situation — which was the team’s strength before the Carter Hart developments — will be in flux. Yes, the defense was shaky, but Flyers goalies had an unfathomable .794 save percentage during their eight-game slide.

Torts’ situation

Another club source said John Tortorella will be back behind the bench next season.

Tortorella was a Coach of the Year candidate in the first 71 games, getting the most out of a roster that is without any superstars and has the league’s worst power play.

But some of his decisions down the stretch — the benching of captain Sean Couturier, the calling out of his players after they dominated the third period and salvaged a point against the Islanders — seemed to alienate his team.

Though you could argue otherwise, Jones said the players didn’t quit on their coach. He is strongly in the coach’s corner.

“I don’t believe they quit for a second,” said Jones, whose team finishes the season with home games against New Jersey on Saturday and Washington on Tuesday. “The makeup of our players is not that type of character.”

Draft a key

Wherever the Philadelphia Flyers finish, they need to take advantage of their plethora of high draft picks. They have two selections in each of the first two rounds this June. And they desperately need a future sniper to replace the traded Cutter Gauthier.

“We were not fooling ourselves that we were Stanley Cup contenders this year. That’s never been lost on us,” Jones said. “If we felt we were, then we wouldn’t have moved Walker. Our team played extremely well for 55, 60 games, and then kind of dipped at the wrong time. … But it’s also a positive lesson for the future; the younger players will never forget this.  I think we have to continue to build, keep our eyes on the prize and (become) a perennial playoff team that eventually turns into a team that can win the Stanley Cup. We’re not there yet.”

If the Flyers miss the playoffs, Jones hopes the the eight-game collapse will serve as a learning tool for the future.

“You hate to have a streak like this at the end of the season; it’s very irritating,” Jones said. “Our job is to look at it from above, and be better for it afterwards. And there’s still some games left and hopefully the guys can find something at the end.”

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called “Bullies.” Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

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