Hockey is a funny, random sport. In fact, it’s so funny and random that a team can go on a 10-game winning streak in the middle of the season and miss the playoffs. What’s even funnier and more random than that is that a team can go on a 10-game losing streak in the middle of the season and make the playoffs! Wow! Unfortunately, the 2018-19 Philadelphia Flyers have one eight-game win streak to their name, as well as one eight-game losing streak, so who actually knows what this team is? That question may have been answered over the last eight games, and it may just be the perfect sobering reality for Chuck Fletcher & Co. to wake up to on the eve of the 2019 Stadium Series.
Following their eight-game winning streak, the Flyers lost at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 3-2 in a shootout. They then traveled to Anaheim and walloped the Ducks by a score of 6-2. Two days later, your Philadelphia Flyers lost a tough game to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 4-1, but probably should have won that game. The following evening saw the Flyers down the Minnesota Wild by a score of 5-4, but this was probably a game they should have lost. After three days off, the Flyers had a home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings, coming out victorious in both affairs (one game ending in overtime 6-5, the other a close one-goal game until Oskar Lindblom potted an empty netter late in the third). Then, the Flyers went full Panarin, losing in very bad fashion to the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-2) and Montreal Canadiens (5-1), both of which saw Carter Hart leave the contest early in the first period.
So, over the last eight games the Flyers have a record of four wins and four losses. During those eights games, they lost to a very bad team (Kings), beat another very bad team (Ducks), lost to a decent team (Penguins), beat a team one point behind them in the standings (Wild), beat a really, really bad team twice by very close margins (Red Wings), got absolutely rocked by the best team in the league (Lightning), and were trounced by a slightly above-average team (Canadiens). If this stretch of games isn’t the epitome of what the Flyers actually are then I don’t what is. The real icing on the cake here is getting utterly destroyed by two teams who are clearly better than them the week before the 2019 NHL trade deadline. Here’s why:
Interest has intensified on Wayne Simmonds last few days. But Flyers for now focused on trying to stay in the race. Couple of big games including tonight which will sway final decision before Monday.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 21, 2019
“But Flyers for now focused on trying to stay in the race.”
The reality of the situation is that the Flyers are not a good team right now. Has Carter Hart managed to pick up the corpse of the first half of the season, revive it back to life, and inject some good feelings into what was a lost season? Absolutely, and I would hedge my bets on his development as this team’s franchise goaltender being more important than the slim possibility of landing a top draft pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. However, what Chuck Fletcher needs to realize — and I believe he does — is that this team is not capable of making the playoffs, barring Hart winning the Vezina, Hart, and Calder trophies in one fell swoop. Should an actual miracle happen and the Flyers do make the playoffs, there is not a single solitary piece of evidence to point to that says they can hang in a seven-game series with any team in the Eastern Conference, especially the Tampa Bay Lightning who they would almost certainly face in the first round.
Having, for lack of a better term here, $h!t their pants the last two games, Chuck Fletcher needs to have woken up today to the realization that the Flyers should not be trying to “stay in the race” by way of hanging onto movable assets in Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, and Radko Gudas, among others. It would be quite foolish of him to actually believe that this team, as it currently stands, is good enough moving forward to actually make noise down the stretch here. In fact, there may be nothing more beneficial for this organization moving forward than to come out tomorrow night against the Penguins and remain defeated in outdoor games. That is, of course, if Chuck Fletcher and his brain trust actually believe that the Flyers are capable of staying in the race.
That tweet may not actually be the full truth. On the latest edition of the Bobcast, a question was posed to the panel — Bob McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun, and Darren Dreger — asking if information was fed to insiders in order to drive negotiations and heat up talks about certain players:
Q: “Do you think that NHL general managers or player agents use you knowingly, or otherwise, in pursuit of their goals? Using you by feeding you information, true or not, that they think would be beneficial to their own agendas.”
Dreger: “Ah, well, yea. He’s right. It absolutely happens...we talk to general managers and team types all the time and things change literally day-to-day when you get closer to the trade deadline.”
LeBrun: “Sometimes you’ll hear a new team suddenly attached to a player and you try and figure out why. And sometimes, frankly, it’s because a team is trying, the team who’s doing the selling, is trying to expand his market.”
Personally, I believe LeBrun’s tweet was fueled by this exact type of propaganda. While one big piece has been moved so far (Matt Duchene), the waters surrounding the trade market for Wayne Simmonds may remain tepid until larger fish are moved. As we await the fate of players like Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin, and Kevin Hayes to be determined, Fletcher may ultimately be looking to drum up some noise around Simmonds to get general managers calling about his price. If other GMs are looking to add a piece like Simmonds — and let’s be real, who isn’t? — then leaking out some speculation that Fletcher might be willing to hang onto him and risk losing him for nothing helps gain some leverage in the trade negotiations. This helps Chuck speak to the “I’m willing to lose him for nothing if I don’t get my asking price” stance.
However, Fletcher may actually believe this team is still in the race. If that’s the case, oh boy do we have a problem! Again, it would simply be foolish to hang onto valuable assets because he believes this team, that isn’t really all that good, and also plays in the incredibly tough Eastern Conference, who also has a very difficult remaining schedule, can ride on the back of a 20-year-old goalie into the sunset of a first round sweep at the hands of the most dominant team we’ve seen in the NHL since the Red Wings of the early ‘90s.
Here’s the thing, I know what you’re saying. “Paul, why do assets matter? We have a ton! The cupboard is full! Do we really need more future lottery tickets and B-level prospects?” The answer is both yes, and no. Draft picks and prospects are nice to have in abundance because it both increases your chances of finding actually good players who can be impact players in the NHL and it allows you to shuffle those useful, impact players into the lineup on cheaper contracts while you move out aging, expensive contracts to avoid salary cap problems. However, there’s the chance that these lottery tickets turn into nothing, which would not be very cool at all.
So, because the Flyers already have a multitude of draft picks and prospects to work with for the foreseeable future, does it really make sense to move a guy like Wayne Simmonds for more futures? Absolutely, but not for the sake of just having more lottery tickets. Chuck Fletcher would then have the ability, likely over the summer during the off-season, to flip those assets into NHL-ready impact players while maintaining the organization’s current crop of assets. So, in effect, Fletcher can give this core the necessary shakeup it needs while simultaneously not losing his current asset base. Sounds like a win-win to me! Either way, this upcoming weekend is incredibly important for the future of this franchise and Chuck Fletcher will have his first real crack at making his imprint on the Orange & Black. Good luck, Chuck!