There was plenty to take away from Philadelphia Flyers’ “midseason” press conference on Wednesday afternoon, but one key element seemed to rule above all else — the core.
Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher sputtered around where the club is and how they got there while projecting a “run it back” attitude that was echoed by Governor and CEO of Comcast Spectacor Dave Scott, who cited Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Joel Farabee, and Ryan Ellis as a “core group” to build on.
That’d be a core group that has seen more games on the injured list (82 games combined) than on the ice this season, and one whose average age will collectively be near 30 by the time the 2022-23 season rolls around — even when including the soon-to-be 22-year-old Farabee.
No Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, or Travis Konecny — Fletcher didn’t bother to add any of those names to the mix.
And maybe that’s a part of the problem that Fletcher — who didn’t draft any of those key Flyers youngsters — doesn’t see them as part of the core. But a bigger problem is that the Flyers’ brass certainly seems to believe that a guy who has endured three surgeries since training camp (Hayes), a guy who has played four games all season after missing a large chucks of past seasons (Ellis), can be counted on as key building blocks for the present and future.
Heck, that doesn’t even address Couturier, who has been out for weeks and has logged a ton of hard minutes and miles on his 29-year-old body already since entering the league a decade ago. Farabee has dealt with multiple shoulder issues already this season, a nagging area that has robbed plenty of players valuable time over the years — and even derailed careers totally.
Given that the Flyers are almost totally and certainly out of contention this season, something that Fletcher acknowledged from a math perspective — it’s not as though he wasn’t put in a tough position during what ended up being a rather terrible afternoon in front of the media.
Only Fletcher and Scott truly know if they were putting on a show to keep their cards close to the vest with the trade deadline still very much weeks away, but their messaging sure seemed to point to them believing in those players returning healthy and being part of a “retooling” as soon as next season.
The problem lies in whether or not they truly do believe that, because that “core” is rotten and will be a bigger prevention to the Flyers’ rebounding than driving the solution.
Given Ellis’ already established injury history and approaching his age-32 season, there’s no way to count on him as a top pair defender as advertised while Hayes will be entering his age-30 season while coming off a slew of surgeries in a truncated timeframe.
Couturier could help ease the pain though, and his absence over the last few weeks has only amplified just how valuable the former Selke Trophy winner is — and how much bad he really covers up for. But at what point do the years of tough matchups and ice time start to catch up, not to mention his shiny next extension through 2030 that carries a $7.75 million cap hit.
There’s also no reason to forget about Farabee, who was well on his way to back-to-back 20-goal seasons if it wasn’t for hard injury luck this season. He’s a top-six forward no matter how you slice up the Flyers’ core, but he too has more left to prove — and starts on his own long-term extension carrying a $5 million cap hit starting next season.
While Couturier and Farabee’s stocks can still be viewed as up, Ellis and Hayes’ stocks are way, way down. That’s the Flyers’ core, according to Scott and Fletcher — and it’s not particularly riveting sitting here on January 27, 2022 as the team is in the midst of a franchise-record losing streak.
Fletcher already retooled once last offseason in adding Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Cam Atkinson in place of underachieving youngsters like Nolan Patrick, Robert Hagg, and Philippe Myers. Doing so figured to support Couturier, Hayes, Claude Giroux, and James van Riemsdyk, among others.
But the new mix didn’t take, and now he’s looking to retool again — but with a couple of key pieces, including one who helped necessitate the first retool — who cannot be counted on to be at the core of yet another retool.