The NHL has reached the All-Star break and the Flyers are off for the league’s mandatory bye week. This offers an opportunity to look at the state of the franchise and what the takeaways from the season are so far.
From the front office and ownership to coaches to the players, there are plenty of areas of focus regarding the Orange and Black. Let’s dive into a few things that have stood out so far.
At the moment, Chuck Fletcher’s status is status quo. It’s rare at this point in a season that an organization decides to make wholesale changes at any level. There is one month until the trade deadline. There will be just 31 games remaining on the Flyers schedule when they return from the All-Star break. At this point, it’s going to remain Fletcher’s job through the remainder of the season.
Whether it should be his job is an entirely different discussion. It’s no secret that Fletcher’s standing with the fan base is unharmonious. It’s also no secret that the group that helps call the shots – from governor Dave Scott to senior advisors Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Dean Lombardi, and Bill Barber – heavily influence the decision that would involve dismissing Fletcher.
That’s the real story here. It’s not about Fletcher alone, but the group that continues to stand by him as general manager and President of Hockey Operations for the franchise. Rather than focus on the makeup of the roster that can’t compete with the elite teams in the NHL, rather than focus on the shortcomings of Fletcher’s work over the last several years, they are more content to focus on a six-point deficit from a playoff spot at the All-Star break. It’s complacency with mediocrity. It’s being stuck in the NHL’s mushy middle. It is a franchise that continues to spin its wheels until it makes a clear-cut decision about the direction it wants to go.
About that six-point deficit from a playoff spot…you can thank John Tortorella for that.
The new head coach had his team get off to a strong start with a 7-3-2 record through 12 games. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Tortorella’s camps tend to drive home the intensity level needed to catch the attention of the coach in a positive light.
But a 10-game losing streak and struggles that prolonged beyond it suddenly had the Flyers at an 11-17-7 record. From Nov. 8 to the holiday break on Dec. 23, the team had a 4-14-5 record in a span of 23 games.
Since the holiday break, however, the Flyers have returned to hockey .500 with an impressive 10-4-2 record. There are players starting to emerge. They are starting to find ways to win games instead of lose them. They are remaining competitive in a vast majority of the games they do play.
John Tortorella tends to do this in his first year at the helm of a new team. He’s definitely getting the most out of this Flyers team in the last few weeks.
A common theme to this season’s victories for the Flyers have centered on goaltending. At the beginning of the season, it was all Carter Hart, who opened with a 6-0-2 record and a .946 save percentage.
Hart’s had some stellar performances since, most recently a 40-save shutout win over Winnipeg to enter the break, but he’s not the only one turning heads.
Samuel Ersson made his NHL debut in the final game before the holiday break. Upon returning from the break, he won his next five starts, including posting his first career shutout on Jan. 9.
If a common theme is that you build from the net out, the Flyers have found two strong candidates.
If there are two strong goaltending options that could be part of the future, how about the rest of the roster? There are certainly a few emerging players that are catching the eye of the coaching staff.
Travis Konecny has surged throughout January and that has moved him into some good company on the league’s leaderboards. Throughout the course of the season, Scott Laughton has been the consummate leader. Don’t be surprised if he’s the next captain by next season.
Noah Cates and Owen Tippett have also taken steps and continue to earn compliments from Tortorella throughout the season.
Additionally, there are players that have shown flashes, but need to have show more consistency. Morgan Frost and Wade Allison are two great examples that could certainly still have a future here, but are not nearly the locks that some of the others are. Joel Farabee is still working back from offseason neck surgery and has shown improvement, but has a long way to go to return to that level consistently.
Tortorella set the tone this season by discussing the need to find out who would stick with the process in the years ahead. In the short-term, there are some players that could be moved in the coming weeks at this year’s deadline. Outside of that, there are others who have big question marks for their future.
James van Riemsdyk and Justin Braun are the two most obvious moves, with both on expiring contracts this season.
Outside of that, there have been rumors about the potential of moving Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Each of these players certainly has term that can be a sticking point in a deal, but there are suitors for teams who may want to have clarity on a deal rather than entering a sweepstakes in the offseason.
There is also the possibility that the Flyers could move on from someone who has impressed this season and appears to be part of the future. What if someone made an offer for Travis Konecny or Carter Hart that you simply couldn’t refuse? It goes back to the initial question about needing to decide what direction the team wants to go. It may be hard to part ways with Konecny or Hart. But if their value is never higher, it may be in the franchise’s best interest to pull the trigger.