With the mid-season trade of captain Claude Giroux last year, the group that defined the last decade-plus of hockey in Philadelphia has died at the approximate age of 11. It was predeceased by the Mike Richards Flyers and the Legion of Doom; it is survived by Sean Couturier.
The 2011-12 Flyers roster was one that was rebuilt on the fly, and many of its components would come to define this era. It was Giroux’s breakout season as a point-per-game first line center; it saw the Flyers debut of Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn; and it also featured Kimmo Timonen, Matt Read, Steve Mason, and Scott Hartnell. The next season saw Giroux ascend to the captaincy and the debut of Scott Laughton. The next few seasons saw the Flyers add players around the edges like Michael Raffl, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Radko Gudas, and Shayne Gostisbehere, among others.
The core of this group was the collection of players that would play in that wild and contentious playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins that truly stoked the inner-state rivalry in 2012. Their early successes gave the front office and many fans the confidence that the team was headed somewhere. From Paul Holmgren to Ron Hextall, this core was built around rather than tinkered with.
For the latter half of the decade, there were always fans—in the 200 sections, in East Passyunk bars, on Twitter—questioning whether the core should be blown up. Why are we continuing to roll back the same collection of players that only makes the playoffs half the time and when they do get bounced in the first round? Giroux and Voracek were kept around long enough to put themselves in the top two and top ten, respectively, in both games played and points for the Flyers all-time. Couturier is right behind. It’s essentially the first core of my Flyers memory to not be blown up before their time was up. At best, you could argue that the Derian Hatcher/Eric Desjardins/Keith Primeau mid-aughts team aged out, but they were all guys acquired later in their careers and Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were already in the wings on those rosters anyway.
Schenn was traded in 2017, Simmonds in 2019, Raffl and Voracek in 2021. Oskar Lindblom was bought out this summer. If the ship of Theseus were kept in a harbor and every part replaced one by one, would it then be a new ship? If every part of the Philadelphia Flyers’ roster is replaced one by one, would it then be a new team? Coming into the 2022-23 season, it’s the first time in a long time that this Flyers roster feels like a new team. With a forward corps filled out by guys like Owen Tippett, Joel Farabee, Kevin Hayes, and Cam Atkinson and a back-end consisting of names like Rasmus Ristolainen, Tony DeAngelo, Justin Braun, and Cam York. This roster is basically unrecognizable to a Flyers fan of even just five seasons ago.
Of the remaining players, only Couturier has played more than 500 games as a Flyer. James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, and Travis Sanheim are all in the 400 range—and there’s been pretty significant trade chatter surrounding each one of them.
It’s going to take some time before we know what will define this era of Flyerdom, but as of right now, this feels like Kevin Hayes’ Flyers. Not necessarily because he’s the best player on the team, and not because he’s the captain—at least not yet—but because of the sneaky feeling that he’s been shadow-GMing this team. It sometimes seems like every Chuck Fletcher acquisition is one of three categories: a former Minnesota Wild player or draft pick, a USA Hockey guy, or a Kevin Hayes Guy. And what defines a Kevin Hayes Guy has its own subsets, too: there’s Boston College guys and Boston-area guys, there’s Barstool guys and ex-Rangers, and there’s guys who are literally just related to Kevin Hayes. Keith Yandle, Tony DeAngelo, Cam Atkinson, Johnny Gaudreau, Ryan Fitzgerald, Joel Farabee*, Derick Brassard, and Patrick Brown, amongst others, are all Kevin Hayes Guys.
Now, whether or not this is a good thing is still unknown at this point. It certainly doesn’t look great—this roster isn’t that different than it was last year besides the major subtraction of its best player. And there’s not a lot for the future, because most of the young roster players are still old enough that their games are not going to develop much past where they are now. Maybe the Flyers really did need to move past the Giroux-Voracek era, as more than a decade with them didn’t bring much tangible success. Is the way Fletcher and Co. went about it the ideal way to go about it? Probably not.
Maybe I’m wrong about this next era. Maybe Sean Couturier will be named the Flyers 19th captain, will play out all or most of the remaining 8 years on his contract, will become the Flyers all-time leader in games played, and will come to define this next era, and the Flyers will be successful.
But we’re not here to talk about the future; this is an obituary, after all. The death of the 2010s Flyers came peacefully, in its sleep. As opposed to the two well-defined eras before it, it faded away much more than it burnt out. The 2010s Flyers enjoyed losing shootouts, sticking it to the Penguins, barely missing the playoffs, grilled cheese, barely making the playoffs, mainstay fourth-liners, the occasional highlight-reel goal, blocking people on Twitter, pretty poor goaltending, and frustrating the hell out of all of us.
It ultimately made the playoffs five times, winning a total of two series’: the aforementioned six-game defeat of the Penguins in 2012 and a hard-fought six-gamer over the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020 Toronto bubble. It cycled through six different head coaches and three different general managers. It lived through three shortened seasons—the 2012 lockout and the two pandemic-affected campaigns.
It will be missed, or, at the very least, remembered. In lieu of flowers, please crack a Kenzinger and pour one out. Viewings for relatives and friends will be open at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, November 12 at 1 p.m.
*I’m aware that Joel Farabee was drafted before Hayes was with the team. He’s still a Kevin Hayes Guy, though.