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Want a Flyers rebuild? Can’t blame you

It’s hard to find paths out of the corner the team backed itself into.

United States of America v Canada: 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

I have to confess, I’m getting a little tired of the tanking talk. Every win is considered a disaster, a referendum on a franchise that has no idea what it’s doing. It’s viewed as evidence why this team hasn’t been relevant and won’t be, at least any time soon. Who has the energy to get so apoplectic about a midweek game in January?

The problem is that these people are right.

The Flyers are built to win now.

Go ahead, clean your spit take off your phone or computer. There’s some truth to it. The team is actively capped out. Only three teams have more money committed to their 2023-24 rosters. It improves to seven and eight the following two seasons, respectively. They really do need a hockey messiah on an entry-level contract for any of this – *gestures at CapFriendly* – to make sense. Oh, and it looks like a hockey messiah might be available after this season in Connor Bedard.

But back to what we have and not what we want. Even if we assume Ryan Ellis is never playing again and the salary cap incrementally increases, there’s just not much flexibility here. It’s going to take a lot of time to significantly change this roster. We can entertain that there are downsides to large-scale rebuilds and maybe there could be alternatives to build a contender (I mean, those alternatives probably got us here, but I digress), but this team does not have the resources to accomplish any short-term turnaround. There are simply too many bad contracts on the books.

Let’s look at some of them. Here’s a list of players Chuck Fletcher signed or acquired with deals that run past this season. I’m excluding contracts that only cover RFA years. If the league provided an unlimited amount of amnesty buyouts, how many contracts would you want to keep?

Cam Atkinson – Two years remaining, $5.875M AAV – Gone

This one is hard. I don’t think he’d fetch this deal on the open market. He’s 33 and is out for the season with a neck injury. That said, he was productive last year and could be a leader on a rebuilding team.

Sean Couturier – Seven years remaining, $7.75M AAV – Gone

It’s sad to say, but the Sean Couturier deal already looks like a disaster. Since signing this deal, Couturier has had two back surgeries, turned 30, and played 29 games. In fairness, this is the worst-case scenario since the contract was signed. That said, what was the rush? Is this a bargain? This deal was signed prior to the 2021-22 campaign. The team was awful the prior season. If it didn’t rebound, do you really want to commit big money to a player’s post-prime years if this team didn’t look close? Compare this to how Steve Yzerman is handling Dylan Larkin right now. Or how Vancouver feels about the J.T. Miller deal. This is the first year of Couturier’s deal and it looks like it’ll be a long time until this team will be good. The Flyers’ only recourse is to hope he recovers well and remains effective longer than most players.

Anthony DeAngelo – One year remaining, $5M AAV – Gone

Past the fact DeAngelo’s presence is uncomfortable for a portion of the fan base, he was brought in to revive Ivan Provorov and a moribund power play. Provorov is now playing with Ristolainen and the team had the 30th-best power play heading into last night.

Nic Deslauriers – Three years remaining, $1.75M AAV – Gone

The no-trade clause kills me. Fletcher refuses to find Plan B. Even if you want toughness, there’s no reason to commit so many years to a replaceable skillset.

Ryan Ellis – Four years remaining, $6.25M AAV – Gone

At this point the Flyers may be better off knowing Ellis will just be on LTIR rather than clearing cap space to accommodate him.

Joel Farabee – Five years remaining, $5M AAV – Keep

I want to have patience following the disc replacement surgery Farabee had over the summer. After all, Jack Eichel wasn’t even JACK EICHEL last season. That said, it feels like the 22-year-old has plateaued. After scoring 20 goals in 55 games during the pandemic year, he only has eight through 39 this season. He did shoot 16.4 percent in that breakout year. Were the Flyers duped? Regardless, he’s young and there’s upside. They’d have to bet on the former first-round pick to develop.

Kevin Hayes – Three years remaining, $7.14M AAV – Gone

The Flyers’ all star. While he’s scoring at a career-best rate, he’s been in John Tortorella’s doghouse and there are whispers of an actual buyout this summer.

Travis Konecny – Two years, $5.5M AAV – Keep

Finally, a good deal. He turns 26 in March and is having a career year with 40 points in 33 games. There could be a real conversation about what happens after this contract expires, but that’s for another day.

Scott Laughton – Three years remaining, $3M AAV – Keep

The only player wearing a letter on his jersey. Laughton has been a consistent performer over the past few seasons and this deal hardly holds the team back.

Ivan Provorov – Two years remaining, $6.75M AAV – Keep

He never developed into the No. 1 defenseman the Flyers expected or paid for, but he’s a solid role player without a ton of term.

Rasmus Ristolainen – Four years remaining, $5.1M AAV – Gone

Looks pretty safe to say that after this season Ristolainen will never have played on a team that finished better than sixth in its division in his 10-year career. I won’t even get into the fancy stats.

Travis Sanheim – Eight years remaining, $6.25M AAV – Gone

An offensive defenseman seldom used on the power play, Sanheim has been a good five-on-five play driver on some pedestrian teams. With that said, Sanheim received the contract of a top-pair defenseman before getting the responsibilities. He could have been a crown jewel at the deadline this year had the Flyers truly committed to a long-term plan.

Nick Seeler – One year remaining, $775K AAV – Keep

I mean, sure, but did the team need two Justin Brauns this year? The Flyers really had no confidence they could find another Nick Seeler-level defenseman after Braun leaves following this year? Hell, Seeler would probably be available.

I think I’m in a Friday mood with grades because I only feel good about Konecny’s deal. What a nightmare. I can’t imagine teams would be willing to throw the Flyers a life raft on many of these deals without serious salary retained. Even so, the Flyers can only retain salary on three contracts per season.

Sure, this is hindsight and maybe somewhat unfair, but how many of these deals were signed or acquired after the nightmare 2021 season? All but Hayes, Konecny, and Provorov. There was an argument this team could recover the promise of the 2019-20 season, though it was just as likely the coin would land on the other side and, well, it did. Here we are, capped out with a bad roster. Oh, and Carter Hart is due for an extension in 2024.

Of course I’m excited about Cutter Gauthier. But while he’s provided some validation to an easily debatable fifth pick, he’s still not billed as a franchise savior. The Flyers didn’t even have a first-round pick in 2021. Tyson Foerster, the top pick in 2020, is hardly banging down the door in Lehigh Valley with 19 points through 30 games. There is more to the prospect pool, but depth helps good teams remain good. The Flyers need the kind of talent that changes the direction of the franchise. That doesn’t exist here, or at least that’s how it seems right now.

The Flyers don’t have an especially exciting core of young players coming or the flexibility to add top-end guys from other teams. So, what’s the path out of this?

Game after game, summer after summer, it is exhausting to hear about tanking. But I’m not holding that talk against anyone but Chuck Fletcher. With this situation, how can anyone find another source of hope?