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The Flyers are winning and it’s bringing mixed feelings

New year, new Flyers, etc etc.

Philadelphia Flyers v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Nicole Vasquez/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s a brand new vibe for the Flyers as they swung into 2023, and we’re able to say something that it feels like we haven’t been able to in a long time: the Disney On Ice trip was a huge success for the Flyers.

As we know, based on recent history, if there was a point in the season when things were going to go sideways in a big way for the Flyers, it would be on the Disney On Ice trip, but somehow, they’ve shaken off the curse that comes with that trip, and put together quite a positive result. After heading into the holiday break with back-to-back losses to the Leafs and Hurricanes, the Flyers headed out West and swept (yes, swept!) their three games against the Sharks, Kings, and Ducks.

And there was a lot that the Flyers gave us to like over this three game stretch. The star, of course, was Samuel Ersson, who came into the game in San Jose with just one NHL game (that, uh, did not go particularly well) under his belt, but really settled in nicely for that next stretch of games. He put up a respectable enough .899 save percentage against the Sharks, and continued to pick up steam with a .933 save percentage to help carry the team to a frankly a bit shocking win over the Kings. He didn’t seem to be struggling much with the pace of play or the difficulty of shots, and was able to manage a few really stellar saves to bail out his teammates. And indeed, while Carter Hart was cleared to play last night, Ersson’s play in those first two games likely made them feel more comfortable in their decision to exercise caution and hold Hart out for one more game.

And with the skaters, too, it was the young players that were overwhelmingly leading the charge in these three wins. Travis Konecny picked up at least one goal in each of those three games, Owen Tippett had two, and Noah Cates, Morgan Frost, and Joel Farabee (finally), all chipped in one goal each. Add to that two assists from Cam York and one from Ivan Provorov, and that’s just about all of the youngsters (relatively speaking) getting involved in the offensive mix, and that’s really exactly what this Flyers team, building for the future, wants to see.

These weren’t perfect showings from the Flyers, to be sure—the defensive issues still cropped up, and it’s not even the most dynamic offensively that we’ve seen them look this season—but what they did was enough, and that does count for something.

Now, some of us might have also been watching what Connor Bedard’s been doing at the World Juniors while the Flyers are finding a way to win again and thinking “that sucks,” and that’s valid. If there was ever a year to really commit to rebuilding, to tanking, in hopes of getting a star with the first overall pick, this would be it.

But they didn’t, the coaching choice and the construction of this team was always going to prevent them from being a complete standings bottom feeder in the way that an Anaheim or a Chicago are, but that doesn’t mean folks couldn’t hope that they would pile up enough losses to at least get close, enough to be more comfortably in the mix to win the lottery. With all of the injuries up and down the lineup this season, an accidental tank still felt in play, but that hope seems to be waning, as the team continues to actually figure things out and get trending in the right direction.

And this begs the question: what’s more valuable for the team in the medium to long term, the value they would get from a top-2 pick, or these lessons learning in how to gut out wins like this?

For some, the answer might just be “yeah, I’ll take a Bedard or an Adam Fantilli, thanks,” and it’s hard to argue with that, but perhaps there’s more to this, more value to be found than from treating this season like it’s a lottery win or bust. We know about the problems that this team was grappling with when this season was starting, and they simply needed to be fixed (because truly, how much value is there in bringing a top prospect into a team that is fractured, full of bad habits).

We’re not here to tell you that you shouldn’t be hopeful that the team can finish badly enough to get themselves a very good player at the top of the draft, but it’s worth remembering that there’s more at stake than whatever happens in the lottery at the end of the season.

The foundation for success is larger than the addition of just one player, as talented as they might be. And while, to be clear, adding a potentially elite prospect to your system will certainly move the needle and it’s hard not to want that, they aren’t a cure-all for a team with much deeper issues, like the Flyers have here. The lottery luck is largely out of their hands, so we can still appreciate the work that’s being done to get players going and correct some bad habits. If they’re able to sustain that over the rest of the season is another question entirely, but if it is a strong foundation that we’re seeing set here, that’s something to appreciate as well.