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Flyers at pivotal crossroads with aging core, underperforming youngsters

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This is a pivotal offseason for Chuck Fletcher with the Flyers’ veteran core and underperforming youngsters at a crossroads.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

When you look at the Philadelphia Flyers roster, it’s split into a few different groups.

There is the veteran core made up of a few guys that have been here for years (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier) plus the recent additions (Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk). All five of those players are 28 years old (or older) with varying contract statuses. The two most valuable Flyers forwards in that group — Giroux and Couturier —have their contracts expire after next season, while the other three are under contract through 2023 (JVR), 2024 (Voracek), and 2026 (Hayes).

This is the veteran core that could be seeing their Stanley Cup window closing as quickly as it opened. The Flyers, as we all know, have been consistently inconsistent over the past decade in terms of the playoffs. They make the playoffs one year (and would, prior to last summer, exit in the first round) and miss it the next.

To help support the veteran core, there are the up-and-coming prospects that the Flyers drafted and developed during their rebuild/transition years. They’re no longer prospects, though, and are more of a young core. Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Joel Farabee, Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, and Carter Hart are all 25 years or younger and should soon be entering their primes; that is if they’re not already at that age.

Instead of that group of players giving the veteran core the extra boost they need, they’ve been largely disappointing. Farabee had a great season, but he was one of very few Flyers players that took a step forward in 2021. The rest of them either plateaued or took a step back, which Chuck Fletcher acknowledged during his end-of-season press conference.

Couturier, Giroux, and Voracek suffered through the transition years in the 2010s and carried the Flyers — and some deadweight teammates — to the playoffs a few times Seriously, take a look at those rosters for yourself. Michael Del Zotto led the Flyers in ice time per game (23:25) in the 2015-16 season with Mark Streit (21:52) and Andrew MacDonald (20:07) right behind him. In the 2017-18 season, MacDonald once again played nearly 20 minutes a night with Brandon Manning a tick below 18 minutes a night. Looking back on it, it was a miracle that the Flyers even made the playoffs, let alone pushed the Capitals and Penguins to six games.

That group finally got some help over the past few years and found some playoff success last summer. However, after a lackluster offseason and disappointing season, the Flyers are at a pivotal crossroads with their two groups of players.

Giroux is now 33. Voracek is 31 — and could be moved this offseason. Couturier is only 28 but has a lot of miles on his skates. Adding JVR and Hayes helped, but it wasn’t enough. The disappointing young players haven’t helped enough either, even if they did show some flashes in the 2019-20 season. Those flashes went away in 2021.

It may have been due to a lack of practice time and just the COVID season wearing them down. It may have been a reflection of what they truly are.

What we do know is that they need to be better and Chuck Fletcher needs to fill the massive gaps in the Flyers defense this summer.

This summer will be the most important offseason for the Flyers in quite some time. The veterans have a few final good years in them. The promising prospects are now full-fledged NHLers with a few years of experience under their belts. They have to get the right piece (or pieces) this summer to put it all together. If they don’t, Chuck Fletcher will certainly be on the hot seat and it could go from bad to worse in Philadelphia.

I get it, it feels like we’ve been saying this for years, but this year is shaping up to be the offseason. If they don’t get the job done, Giroux and/or Couturier could test free agency. The young core — if they still have value — won’t be safe either. Adding a top-four defenseman is crucial, but the players on the roster need to put the work in this summer to be better for next season as well.