Here we are again: another ten-game losing streak. Another season all but down the drain, after an off-season full of changes that were supposed to re-shape the identity of this team. As if the Flyers were a written drama, the character that you thought had been killed off at the end of last season has reappeared, and old storylines begin again.
In many ways, this team feels directionless. On the ice, an abundance of unforced errors with the puck and an over-reliance on a failing forecheck has kept the offense at bay, all while at the other end of the ice it takes a small miracle for the puck to be cleared. Their play in all three zones reflects that of a team that quite literally has little to no direction. Meanwhile, management spent to the cap ceiling turning one of the youngest rosters in the league into one of the oldest, just for the team to take yet another step back.
Hell, the coaching staff itself even appears to have been seen as directionless from the inside. Frank Seravalli said the following about the Flyers’ coaches on a recent episode of the DFO Rundown:
“...I can tell you from talking to Flyers players, and this is also going back to last year; some of whom are no longer there, they feel like Alain Vigneault is arrogant, doesn’t communicate well, and is someone that you know, for whatever reason, doesn’t spend a lot of time communicating with his players.”
“Now, the other part of it is that the Flyers have two really experienced assistant coaches in Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien, and I think the players look around and they say, ‘these are two guys that have previously been head coaches in the league, who exactly is doing the work here?’ So I think there’s a lot of finger-pointing in terms of, you know, is everyone on the same page, is anyone actually putting in the work…”
If it wasn’t already clear, the situation was as poor as it appeared from the outside; a toxic environment for all parties. Once the trust breaks down both ways, there’s little chance of repairing the relationship. Still, that isn’t to say that the firings are going to turn this season around. The coaches certainly don’t shoulder all of the blame, and the team has a lot of convincing to do before one can even start thinking that this is fixable.
However, that also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have been let go. It wasn’t working, and as Vigneault put it, that’s when stuff happens. As far as actually turning this around goes, while it’s true that it’s been done before, it just doesn’t feel like this roster is capable of taking somewhere close to 65 percent of the remaining standings points available to them the rest of the way. That’s about what they would need to do in order to make the playoffs. Possible? Sure. Likely? In no way.
Which then raises the question, where do the Flyers even go from here? Ahead of the season, the Flyers and Sean Couturier agreed on an eight-year extension that kicks in at the start of next year; a contract that doesn’t exactly suggest that it’s time to enter a rebuild. Assuming that they still aren’t in the playoff hunt once the trade deadline approaches, do they look to trade him before the no-movement clause begins, or is he here for the long haul? Then there’s Claude Giroux, who is in the final year of his contract. Is this it? Is this the end of Giroux’s time as a Flyer? At this point, it’s starting to feel like a very real possibility. This was supposed to be the team’s win-now window, but instead they’re facing a looming decision regarding their captain’s future and whether or not it’s here.
The path is treacherous either way. Can the team really afford to move forward with what they’ve been doing, attempting to remain competitive when they haven’t shown anything that has resembled even close to high-level play since March of 2020? We know the result of that all too well. On the other hand, for a team that has just about been the definition of mediocrity over the last decade, how hard of a sell would it be to get fans, or maybe more importantly, upper management, on board with a full rebuild? That’s a big commitment to, well, losing, and there has been a lot of that already. Depending on how the next few months play out, they might not have a choice. The team that had been built to win might make that decision for them.
And maybe that’s what they need to have happen, because any direction is better than no direction. Maybe a new coach comes in and makes impactful changes, or maybe they make an addition up front in an attempt to salvage the year. And hey, maybe they do go on to stun us all and make their way out of the woods and into a wildcard spot ... yeah, OK, I’m not buying it either. Maybe this is too harsh of a stance to take, but even then, a total rebuild just feels inevitable at this point. Delaying it further would only extend stagnation.
But, anyway, to break formality for a second here, I just find this whole situation sad. The fact that we’re even talking about rebuilding, 20 or so months removed from the Flyers being the hottest team in the league, and even being called Stanley Cup favorites by some. The speed at which this has all fallen apart is almost unbelievable. The sickest part of it all? There’s still a part of me that thinks they can fix it. Maybe not mid-season, but with a well-thought-out summer. Probably not. With that being said, I do hope that, if they go the rebuilding route, they commit to an actual rebuild and not another half-in, half-out retool. That shouldn’t be on the table again.