The Philadelphia Flyers are not having a good year, to put it mildly. They are currently in last place in the Atlantic Division, in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, and have compiled 28 points in 32 games, or .875 points per game. This is not good. And indeed, with only 16 games left, time appears to be running out on this season.
But it is not necessarily this simple because indeed, it never is. There are four points I would like to address here in hopes of providing a better understanding of how the Flyers true talent really rates and what we as fans should hope the Flyers do from here.
1). Are the 2012-13 Flyers really this bad of a hockey team?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: The standings can lie. Despite what many people may try to tell you, wins and losses are not the be all and end all of determining the true talent level of a team. Thanks to random variance, current wins are not necessarily predictive of future wins so we have to look elsewhere to determine if .875 points per game is a sustainable pace going forward for the Flyers.
To answer this question, we take a look at score-adjusted Fenwick (explained here). For the Philadelphia Flyers, they currently have a score-adjusted Fenwick of 48.76%. Seeing as I don't have the patience to manually perform this calculation for 29 other teams, I will use last season's score-adjusted Fenwick for context. Last season, a score adjusted Fenwick of 48.76% over the whole season would put them in 19th place in the NHL. Interestingly enough, the Flyers' score adjusted Fenwick after the trade deadline last season was 49.6%, also 19th place in the NHL for that shorter, more playoff predictable, time span.
While a score adjusted Fenwick of 48.76% does not necessarily indicate a good team, it also does not indicate a bad one. For comparison, 50% is average, and the Buffalo Sabres carry a score adjusted Fenwick this season of 43.43%. The Flyers are not a good team, but there is a sense that people think this team is bottom-of-the-league-Sabres-bad, and that is just not true.
2). Will the 2012-13 Flyers make the playoffs?
According to Sports Clubs Stats, the Philadelphia Flyers have a 2.7% chance of making the playoffs.
Nope. I am telling you the opposite. I am telling you there is not a chance. The 2012-13 season is over for the Flyers.
There is a fundamental difference between understanding that a 2.7% chance is not a 0% chance and the fact that a 2.7% chance is in all likelihood not going to happen. If a weatherman tells you, "there is a 2.7% chance the storm of the century misses us," are you going to carry on like the storm is going to miss you? Of course not.
But instead of simulated percentages and analogies, let's break it down by standings data.
As mentioned above, the Philadelphia Flyers have amassed a meager .875 points per game. Now it's already been established that the Flyers are a somewhat better team than this indicates, but with only 16 games left, the Flyers are in trouble. The 8th place New York Rangers currently hold a pace of 1.09 points per game. Over the course of a 48-games, this translates to 52.32 points, or 52 points for the sake of rounding, over the course of a full season. In order to reach that 52-point plateau over the following 16-game span, the Flyers would need to earn points at a pace of 1.5 points per game in order to achieve this [ADDENDUM: Justin Bourne translated this to win-loss record at The Score and it turns out the Flyers need to go 12-4-0 in their final sixteen games to make the playoffs]. For a slightly below average Fenwick team, this type of hot streak is almost impossible, for indeed, a 2.7% chance of making the playoffs is almost impossible.
3). What is the best thing to happen to the Flyers over the last 16-games?
It is not practical to bank on this 2.7% chance. Such a pace is 2013 Blackhawks-ian by nature and probably unsustainable even for them, as evidenced by their sudden accumulation of four losses. And the Blackhawks are a very good team. The Flyers are not a very good team.
So if the Flyers are not making the playoffs this year, what is the best thing that can happen to the Flyers for the remainder of this season?
Losses. An more losses.
It is reasonable to believe we as fans should want as positive an outcome as possible for the Flyers this season. In most seasons, this is a playoff spot and a shot at a championship. Indeed, the true goal of a general manager running a sports team should be to win a championship. In hockey, this championship is the coveted Stanley Cup.
But with the Flyers ostensibly eliminated from playoff contention, the best thing that can happen to the Flyers this season is for them to lose as many games as possible.
When rooting for something in sports, it should be to achieve a tangible goal. In most cases, this is the aforementioned championship. But here, winning games no longer helps the Flyers reach any tangible goals. The only reason fans might want to win games from here on out, other than a deluded sense of playoff odds, is "pride," "karma," and "to beat an opponent we do not like," all of which are unfortunately irrational reasons. The only thing gained from winning games from here on out are momentary feelings of pride and laughter at an opponent who may have just been screwed out of a playoff spot, and unfortunately, while it might feel good in the short term, this will do absolutely nothing to help the Flyers in the long-term. Such wins are not going to salvage a season, but rather, further hinder a season whose only salvation lies in the possibility of a top 5 draft pick.
Is the draft foolproof? No. But it must be understood that nothing is foolproof. In a lost season, if you can come away with a possible future star at a cost-controlled price throughout his RFA years, then there arises a light at the end of a dark and gloomy tunnel.
The Flyers are not bad enough to be this bad over the course of 82-games. Professional athletes will not willingly lose games. But while not encouraging the team to willingly lose, there are steps Peter Laviolette can take to not try as hard. Laviolette could play Boucher/Leighton more (actually he should be doing this anyway to give Bryz rest), be extra cautious with injured players, and give younger players increased ice time to give them some NHL playing time, like Tye McGinn and Eric Wellwood. Then again, one can argue that limiting Couturier's ice time Peter Laviolette is finding his own unique way to tank. Point taken.
Regardless of what Laviolette does, losses are the things more beneficial to the Flyers' future than wins, therefore, we should be rooting for losses.
4). But what about the trade deadline?
A topic of conversation that has frequently come up at Broad Street Hockey is what the Flyers should or should not do at the trade deadline. I have previously argued that the Flyers should sell high on Matt Read, and while I still believe that they should do that at some point, any trade at this trade deadline should be done with the focus of bettering the Flyers in future seasons. No one is untouchable, but no one should be sold for less than their worth. Sean Couturier should not be untouchable in the literal sense of the word, but the reason so many Couturier trade proposals are going to get mocked is because most of them net something of much lower value than Couturier. To trade a 20-year old who is already an elite defensive forward currently mired in an unsustainable scoring slump, the Flyers would need to get some pretty great value in return, and unfortunately, most realistic trade targets are going to fall well short of equaling the value Couturier can give the Flyers in the future.
Assuming there is no trade deadline or free agency catastrophe upcoming, the Flyers' position is both not as bad and worse than it appears. On one hand, the Flyers are clearly underperforming their true talent level this season. Even if this true talent level is nothing great, it is still enough to contend for the playoffs in an 82-game schedule. But the Flyers are a team with some bad contracts (Briere, Hartnell, Bryzgalov, etc.) and low cap room. Acquiring free agents and contracts through trades will not be easy for them.
In a season where the playoffs are virtually impossible, acquiring a potentially valuable commodity on an ELC is more important than ever, and the best way to increase the chances of landing a real difference maker in the draft is to lose games now. The more games the team loses now the worse their overall position in the league standings is. And the worse their overall position in the league standings is, the better chance the Flyers have of getting a Seth Jones type prospect, or if they are lucky enough, maybe even Seth himself.
As mentioned before losing games is not going to guarantee us Seth Jones, but it is the route with the best overall chance for a brighter Flyers future. And that is why it is time to root for Flyers losses this season.