The Philadelphia Flyers have been around for a long time—54 years, 9 months, and 8 days to be exact. Not as long as some teams like those pesky “original” six, but a pretty long time. For a large chunk of those 54 years, they’ve been pretty successful, at least in terms of icing pretty strong teams. When they won their first Stanley Cup in their seventh season, they were the fastest expansion team in any sport to do so at the time. They then won another the following year.
The Flyers then followed that up with 14 consecutive playoff appearances before finally hitting a franchise low point with the beginning of the ‘90s. After missing the playoffs three years in a row—the first and, until this season, only such streak in franchise history—the Flyers swung a huge trade that landed them a generational talent in Eric Lindros. During Lindros’ teenage years, they still struggled a bit, but after two more seasons they returned to postseason play, kicking off a run of 17 years where they only missed once that included six appearances in the conference finals and two in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Since 2012, things have been pretty hit-and-miss (not hit-or-miss, because they literally alternated hitting and missing for a decade) until the past two seasons. After coming just an overtime period short of the conference finals in the COVID-19 bubble cup, the Flyers franchise position has only gotten worse with every move they’ve made.
Now, the brand the Flyers have built since 1967 has largely been built on a combination of things. On the ice, it was the rough-and-tumble, no one likes use/we don’t care attitude of the Broad Street Bullies that largely reflects the city’s own national image. The off-ice image isn’t that different—a reckless gunslinging approach that satiates the locals’ need for blood. Basically, the Flyers are Tasmanian Devils both between the boards and in the board room. They bring absolute chaos with them wherever they go. So, there have, of course, been many dramatic moments for the franchise. You might call the very public feud between the team’s star player and general manager that culminated in the latter stripping the former of the team’s captaincy, questioning his toughness, and then trading him to a division rival a low point, but it fits in perfectly with the Flyers’ brand. In-fighting and rash decisions? That’s the chaotic Philadelphia Flyers that we know and love.
There’s more of those—times where the franchise was in the national spotlight for ridiculous reasons or times where their front office seemed to be wheeling and dealing like a child playing a video game. Ron Hextall is by far the most penalized goalie in NHL history; the only coach they’ve ever had for more than four seasons is the one who won two cups and even he only got three more after that; captain Bobby Clarke laid one of the most vicious slashes ever on Russian forward Valeri Kharlamov in the 1972 Summit Series; and no Flyer has ever won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship.
But the last two years represent something a little bit different. They’re not just bad on the ice—2021-22 was the second-worst year record-wise they’ve ever had—they’ve done nothing off the ice to inspire any confidence that things will turn around. Incompetency, inaction, and mismanagement of assets have led the Flyers to the basement of the NHL without so much as a flashlight to help them find the stairs.
Here are the things that have happened since Chuck Fletcher took over the Philadelphia Flyers in the middle of the 2018-2019 season:
- The Flyers miss the playoffs in 2018-2019.
- Fletcher hires Alain Vigneault as head coach.
- Fletcher trades a 5th round pick for the rights to Kevin Hayes and signs him to a seven-year contract.
- Fletcher also trades away Radko Gudas and a draft pick for Matt Niskanen and picks for Justin Braun.
- The 2019-2020 season is cut short due to the novel coronavirus. The Flyers finish second in the division and win one playoff round. Matt Niskanen retires.
- Fletcher basically rolls it back for 2021 and they miss the playoffs in a shortened, 56-game season.
- Fletcher trades away long-time star winger Jakub Voráček for a similar calibre player with a different style of play in Cam Atkinson; gives away Shayne Gostisbehere and a second round draft pick for nothing, then trades the 13th overall pick, a 2023 second round pick, and Robert Hagg for Rasmus Ristolainen; and flips the underperforming former second overall Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers for Ryan Ellis. Despite his many deficiencies, Ristolainen earns a five-year extension from Fletcher, and Ryan Ellis plays only four games all season long.
- Alain Vigneault is fired midseason.
- Fletcher trades away one of the best players in franchise history in Claude Giroux immediately following his 1,000th career game.
- The Flyers miss the 2021-22 playoffs, making it a streak. As previously mentioned, this is only the second time in franchise history that they’ve even had a missed-playoff streak.
- Fletcher hires John Tortarella as head coach.
- Fletcher trades for the rights to Tony DeAngelo, a South Jersey boy whose career has mostly been defined by an inability to get along with others—suspensions, a buyout for behavioral reasons, and copious allegations of racism.
- He buys out Oskar Lindblom, a fan and locker room favorite for his grinder mentality on the ice, his amiable, hard-working personality, and his inspirational journey in surviving cancer. The $3.3 million dollars saved go towards bringing back Justin Braun and signing Nic Deslauriers, a 31-year-old bruiser who has played for four different NHL teams and never scored more than 15 points in a single campaign.
- Johnny Gaudreau signs with the Columbus Blue Jackets at an annual average value that appears to be a discount compared to what some other teams offered him.
If you’re reading this, these are probably all things that you already know, I just like to see them laid out in order with the crescendo of that last one, because it’s the one that, to me, really seals the deal here.
When, in all of NHL history, has there been a superstar NHL player who grew up a Flyers fan? When has a guy From Here actually made it to the NHL and had as much on-ice success as Gaudreau? There have been 38 NHL players born in Pennsylvania and of the 12ish born in the Philadelphia area, I’ve only ever heard of Mike Richter, who grew up a Flyers fan and played for junior Flyers teams but pretty quickly became a mainstay for the New York Rangers. There’s been 26 New Jerseyans, the most notable of whom either weren’t Flyers fans growing up (James van Riemsdyk, Jim Dowd) or haven’t reached the levels of Gaudreau (Bobby Ryan, Tony DeAngelo). Mark Eaton is the only NHLer ever from Delaware.
The point is, having a guy out there wracking up point-per-game seasons, winning the Lady Byng at 23, and generally lighting the league on fire whose family seemed to support the rumor that he grew up such a big Flyers fan that he would want to play for them, has basically never happened and might never happen again. I have no doubt in my mind that if Gaudreau had signed with the Flyers this past week, we would have been inundated with our own version of the John Tavares in Leafs pajamas picture. His dream, and ours, was to see him in orange and black. Combine that with his skills and you’d think Flyers management would want to move heaven and earth just to get him.
Now, they’ve had roughly six years to prepare for the possibility of his free agency. That’s an exaggeration, but that’s how long his last contract was. To be more generous, it’s been like 18 months of speculation that he’d be walking away from Calgary and testing the market. All the Flyers had to do was clear enough cap space and hand him the papers. There’s no reason out there to think he wouldn’t have done it. Maybe he didn’t want to go to a non-playoff team? Um, he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Maybe he wanted an exorbitant amount of money? The $9.75 million per year that he signed for was reportedly less than what other teams offered him. Maybe he wanted his wife—a pediatric nurse—to be able to work at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus? The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is one of the most acclaimed and famous children’s hospitals in the world. There were reports late in the day on Wednesday that he was waiting for the Flyers to clear cap space.
The fact that the Flyers weren’t even prepared to make an offer to a massive free agent who seemingly wanted to come here is embarrassing. Chuck Fletcher took over a team with some cap flexibility, a pipeline of high-rated prospects, and a very young roster coming off finishing in third place in the division and within three years they are now significantly older, have zero cap space or flexibility, and are one of the worst teams in the NHL. They can’t even pull off any moral or morale victories.
Now, is this the lowest point in Flyers history? It’d be easy to point to that five-season stretch from 1989 to 1994 when they missed the playoffs every year. And it wasn’t until after that third year that they drafted Eric Lindros, so maybe things can still turn out just like that. But during those three seasons, the Flyers acquired Rod Brind’Amour and Mark Recchi and they didn’t earn that first overall pick, they moved the world around to acquire it. We have the benefit of some hindsight here, but something tells me that Tony DeAngelo and Nic Deslauriers aren’t going to finish their Flyers careers with the same résumés as Brind’Amour and Recchi.
Maybe after a third consecutive non-playoff season, the Flyers will somehow draft a franchise-altering player who will lead them back to the promised land. But nothing about Chuck Fletcher’s moves so far signal that they’ll be able to do that. If anything, he’s positioned this team perfectly for another draft pick in the back half of the top 10. And he’s certainly done nothing that would inspire anyone to think he’d be able to move up nor would he be able to build a team around that pick anyway.
The Philadelphia Flyers, coming off possibly the worst season in their franchise’s history, couldn’t clear enough cap space to bring the hometown hero into the fold, instead spending that money on two mediocre bottom four defenseman, a 35-year-old that they’ve already traded away once, and a 31-year-old enforcer with possibly the worst offensive skills in the league. We’re still in it right now, so it’s hard to say, but I think this has to be the worst position this franchise has ever been.