And so ends the Flyers’ 2016-17 season. A season that was ... a lot of things, you could say. Inconsistent, in how much this team’s overall talent level seemed like it would change weekto-week. Frustrating, with the seemingly countless number of games this team easily could have (should have?) won but didn’t due to bad luck, momentary collapses, and bad goaltending. Promising, with the emergence of a few exciting young players who could be a part of many successful Flyers teams for years to come. Worrisome, with the number of existing players at all levels of the team that weren’t quite playing at the high level we know that they can. Maddening, by way of some of the decisions made by the guys behind the bench and even in some cases in the front office. And record-setting, because no other team in NHL history has ever managed to miss the playoffs in a season where they won 10 games in a row.
Most of those adjectives weren’t positive ones. So if the completion of today’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes comes as nothing more than a relief to some, we’d understand, even though frustrating hockey is still better than no hockey in my opinion. And though nothing encapsulates this season quite like a high-action game that culminated in a close loss despite domination on the shot counter, these two teams did manage to pull together an entertaining ending to this hockey season.
With that said, through the first 80 percent or so of regulation time, this was a pretty uninteresting game, the kind that you’d expect two teams with literally nothing to play for to have. The Flyers seemed pretty out of sync with one another for most of the game, even in a contest that they largely got the better of. Carolina had a jump on them for much of the first period and opened up the scoring on a Brock McGinn tally about six minutes in, and it wasn’t until nearly the halfway mark of the game that Dale Weise — continuing what’s been a nice final month or so of the season for him — was able to tie things up on a nice shot from the slot.
Then, with 12 minutes left, things picked up quite a bit. McGinn would score his second of the contest to put the visitors briefly ahead. But not even four minutes later, the Flyers would not only have erased that deficit, they’d have the lead back. It was once again Dale Weise who was the first to light the lamp, on a shot that Eddie Lack probably should have more often than not. Then, barely a minute later, a mesmerizing spin move by Shayne Gostisbehere freed up Wayne Simmonds down low, where he’d slam the puck in to give the Flyers a lead ... one which they would then lose not even three minutes later after an Ivan Provorov tripping penalty gave Carolina a power play that would see Sebastian Aho bomb a one-timer past Anthony Stolarz.
3-on-3 overtime would then come and go, and after a couple of nice saves by Lack, a breakaway stop by Stolarz on Jordan Staal, and a couple of sequences by the Flyers that could charitably be described as “over-passing”, the teams would head to a shootout. And while the real winner of the shootout was undeniably Bryan Bickell, who scored a goal on Stolarz in what is his final game in the NHL after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this year, the ‘Canes would pick up the last goal of the season as McGinn would beat Stolarz one last time in the third round to close things down for the season.
As there often are, there were some individual standouts. Weise’s multi-goal effort in the game’s final season was a pleasant surprise. Nick Cousins, in his first game in a month, looked like he had some extra jump in his step.
But it was Robert Hagg, making his NHL debut, who may have been the most impressive skater on the ice tonight despite not ending up on the scoreboard. Not only was he extremely engaged physically (in a smart way!), but he was very active offensively and wasn’t afraid to jump up in the rush to try and create chances. He’d end the night with five shots on goal, and while you can obviously not draw that much from one game, this certainly lends credence to the Flyers’ claims that he’s just about NHL-ready, and it serves as a notice to fans that he will be making a serious bid to make this roster next year.
And with that, we now head to the offseason, where there are a whole lot of questions that have to be answered. Why did this roster, which seemed to be better on paper than the one that made the playoffs a year ago, fail to end up back there again? How do the Flyers prepare for expansion — and who do they lose? How do they handle their suddenly-unstable goalie situation? It seems inevitable that two or three of the team’s prospects will be with the Flyers to start the season, but which ones? Dave Hakstol is probably safe, but could any other changes be coming behind the bench? And is a big, potentially franchise-altering move coming, or is this core going to remain intact going into next year?
Those, plus so many others, are the questions we’ll be attempting to answer over the next five months. This is a crucial offseason if this team, this franchise, wants to show its fans that this process it began the day Ron Hextall took over as general manager hasn’t stalled. And we’ll be here, from the beginning of the offseason tomorrow to the day the 2017-18 regular season starts, to talk about it. We won’t see guys in orange and white jerseys on the ice again until some time in September, but there’s so much to talk about and figure out between now and then and we’re excited to see how it unfolds.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and being with us here at Broad Street Hockey this season. And, as always: