What can the Flyers learn from this year's playoff teams?
We look around at this year's playoff pools for lessons the Flyers can learn
I’m exhausted. I’ve been procrastinating writing this because I can barely keep my eyes open. In a past life, this would be a college paper I turned in late knowing there’ll be a penalty.
While I’m opening with this as a message to my editor to review extra carefully, this is about how good playoff hockey is and how it’s derailed my sleep schedule.
I’m pretty similar to most hockey fans in the area. I primarily watch the Flyers and catch out-of-market games around them. By April, it’s almost a relief when the season comes to an end.
Then the playoffs start, and I remember how much fun this sport is.
But I can’t help but keep the Flyers in mind. What’s a lesson the Flyers can learn from each playoff team?
Draft for tools. When the Bruins took David Pastrnak, he was a high-upside pick who realized his potential and became one of the league’s best scorers. Teams can add two-way players and role players through free agency or the trade market. Stars are hard to come by, so it’s worth taking aggressive swings.
Remember aging curves when handing out long-term deals. It might be too late for the Flyers, as Sean Couturier will be collecting social security when his contract expires, but Florida dodged a bullet by swapping Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar for Matthew Tkachuk. While the Cats miss Weegar, the Flames were left disappointed by their long-term investments while the Panthers are locked into Tkachuk, who emerged as one of the league’s best skaters, for the peak of his powers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Why even bother? It’s April. The weather is beautiful. It’s 72 and sunny. Go outside. See your friends and loved ones. Define yourself by more than a team that only causes pain and misery and sadness once the regular season ends.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Once you’re good, "fuck them picks" is a reasonable strategy. The Lightning have a core that is in its prime. They probably have a couple more years of contention. Any draft pick they make is unlikely to make a significant difference for three or four years. Borrow against the future to bolster the bottom of the roster with solid, cost-controlled pieces, and trust your stars to carry you.
Listen to the nerds. It feels like the Hurricanes ownership is basically running a credit scam whenever a contract dispute surfaces, but the team continues to unearth gems by empowering its analytics department as much as anyone in the league.
New York Islanders
Sometimes this sport comes down to goaltending. The Islanders play hard and have a couple of guys that can score, but the only reason they’re here is because of Ilya Sorokin, one of the league’s best netminders.
New Jersey Devils
Identify your core quickly and start building. Sure, the Devils are led by Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, but they’re one of the league’s best teams because they wasted no time locking those guys up and building around them with Dougie Hamilton, Ondrej Palat, and Timo Meier. New Jersey didn’t wait to see if it’s pair of top picks would deliver on their promise – it trusted they would and started to build around them so when they started to blossom, the team would be ready to compete.
New York Rangers
Don’t get too attached to your own players. Derrick Brassard was a fan favorite who had a lot of big moments and success in New York. But he hit 30 and, through clear eyes, was looking at the back half of his career. The Rangers flipped him for Mika Zibanejad, five years his junior, and he quickly emerged as an ideal sniper that eventually paired with Artemi Panarin.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas reminds me of the '90s and '00s Flyers I grew up with. Every time a big name was available, they’d be involved. This isn’t going after Kevin Hayes because he’s the best center available and that’s a hole; it’s seeing that an elite defenseman like Alex Pietrangelo can be had and moving heaven and earth to make it happen. Star players are worth big swings. Again, elite talent is hard to find. The Knights won the division this year and part of that is because they made aggressive plays for Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel, and Mark Stone. Those moves could realistically win them the conference.
Sometimes this sport comes down to goaltending. The Jets play hard and have a couple of guys that can score, but the only reason they’re here is because of Connor Hellebuyck, one of the league’s best netminders.
Try to get two of the best players in the world. Even Ken Holland can fuck it up for only so long.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were seventh from the bottom in 2020-21 while the Montreal Canadiens lost in the Cup final that year. The ensuing offseason, Philip Danault, an elite defensive center, left Montreal and signed in Los Angeles, which is now making its second straight playoff appearance. The Habs finished in the bottom five in the past two seasons. Scoring is way more fun, but elite play comes in different forms.
The best player in a draft doesn’t always go first. The biggest misconception is that rebuilding is simply about getting the top pick. Sure, it’d be nice to have it in a year when Connor Bedard seems like a slam dunk, but accumulating those high draft picks allows for the opportunity to snag this generation’s best defenseman, Cale Makar, fourth overall in 2017.
Depth matters. Seattle might not have any stars, but the top of its lineup competes hard and the bottom is probably among the best in the league. The Kraken find their mismatches when opponents’ stars are off the ice and it’s a reminder that the game continues when the biggest names aren’t playing.
The Stars are an anomaly. They got their best young forwards on Day 2 of the draft, invested in a bunch of old guys who continue to produce, and made Jake Oettinger the second goalie taken in the first round over the five prior drafts. Sometimes defying conventional wisdom works.
I’m sure Minnesota was frustrated waiting for Kirill Kaprizov to come over, but I doubt they have any complaints now. With another Russian with superstar talent and a KHL deal projected to go at the top of this year’s draft, any rebuilding team should have the foresight to realize that Matvei Michkov will be worth the wait once he arrives.