As the first-round of the playoffs are in full swing, the Flyers are at home watching like the rest of us for the third time in five years. That wasn’t lost on Jake Voracek.
“We’ve got to make sure that we step up our game and get this team to the playoffs and start winning some series because if we don’t it’s going to get broken up and we got to win,” the veteran forward said at the team’s breakup day last Tuesday.
Voracek put to words what seems to be logic at this point. Another year under the belts of rookies and young prospects can only help the Flyers get better. But if their current core doesn’t start to make something happen when it matters most, they won’t be the ones helping the Flyers return to contention.
That said, the Flyers can’t have Voracek or Claude Giroux or Wayne Simmonds or Brayden Schenn disappearing from the scoresheet completely in crucial games or during key stretches of the season.
For as critical a year as it is for Hextall to start implementing some of the prospects onto the Flyers roster and for Dave Hakstol to show his value as head coach by maximizing the lineup with the best players, it is on the Flyers core to prove that they belong in the Flyers future as well.
Hextall and the Flyers have put faith in this core. Giroux signed an eight-year extension in Paul Holmgren’s second-to-last offseason as GM in 2013, but the move was ultimately expected.
Simmonds was also extended by Holmgren in 2012, but has seen his play elevate over the years, posting back-to-back 30-goal seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Voracek and Schenn were both extended under Hextall. Voracek signed an eight-year extension in 2015 and Schenn re-signed for four years last offseason. At the time Schenn was signed, all four players had at least three years left on their contracts, keeping them united through the 2018-19 season at least.
Those extensions defined the Flyers core. But there’s one problem. Overall team success hasn’t been a result of these decisions. The Flyers have made the playoffs in three of the six seasons that the core four have been together. Even for as patient as Hextall and the Flyers are willing to be, at some point, your patience runs out.
Hextall admitted last Thursday in his season-ending remarks that the Flyers did take a step back in the 2016-17 season, and that’s true. There was nothing different about the core of the team, the leadership group or the veteran players, but that doesn’t guarantee playoff spots in this league. The Flyers were positioned for a playoff appearance when the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017. They never recovered from a dismal finish to 2016 and poor start to 2017.
It was a very different tone in late April of 2016, when the Flyers had admirably battled the best team in the NHL during the regular season to a six-game series in the playoffs, when not many even gave them much of a chance to be playing beyond the 82-game schedule. That was a step in the right direction in first year with a new head coach, second year of a GM and the pieces in place for a bright future.
There are no moral victories for making strides in development when the players that don’t need to develop their game anymore don’t help the team meet expectations.
The 2017-18 season will be Hextall’s fourth as GM, and while he needs to do what he can to move the Flyers in the right direction, it will likely be internal, evaluating the prospects that are ready to make the jump to the NHL and prove they belong like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal did this season.
Hakstol finds himself on the hot seat in his third season, because it’s either get this team to buy in and be prepared on every night or suffer the consequences. It puts the core group on the same hot seat. If Hakstol enters the season on a short leash, so do Giroux, Voracek and the rest. No one, except for a game-changing prospect like Provorov, is untouchable anymore.
And if they don’t start succeeding next season, Voracek’s words will become actions.