There was hope. It disappeared in 54 seconds.
The Flyers on Tuesday held a 4-2 lead in Pittsburgh when, with 8 minutes to play, Isaac Ratcliffe — playing in his fifth NHL game on his 23rd birthday — was called for tripping. The Penguins scored 36 seconds into the power play. Then again, 18 seconds later. They won it 31 seconds into overtime. Boom. Boom. ... Boom.
It was the worst moment of the worst loss of the season, by the worst Flyers team in franchise history. The club, which hasn’t won a title in 47 years, has never been worse.
Outmanned, outgunned, outplayed, and outworked, this edition of the Orange and Black would’ve made late owner Ed Snider turn green. They are more than hapless. They are more than helpless.
They are hopeless.
They cannot depend on developing youth, and they cannot count on returning veterans.
This isn’t meant to assign blame, or to offer a solution. It’s merely meant to mark the moment when the franchise hit rock-bottom, and to acknowledge that this is where it will stay for the foreseeable future.
Their captain, Claude Giroux, will almost certainly be traded in the next few weeks; he’s been scouted more lately than Gen. George Custer. This will end a leadership run that included nine calendar years ... and one playoff series win. He’s in the final year of his contract, and he loves Philly and his home in South Jersey, but, for the first time, he’s considering waiving his no-trade clause. Little wonder.
On Tuesday, Giroux, fresh off a joyous All-Star appearance that saw him named MVP, had led his team to a two-goal lead against their archrival. They were poised to ruin a special night for Sidney Crosby, Giroux’s personal arch foil, who’d scored his 500th goal. And then, boom, boom ... boom.
There has never been a more resilient Flyer, but Captain Claude left Pittsburgh stunned and deflated.
“We’re playing a good game. We were controlling the game. Then one bad thing happened, and then the second,” he said. Then, a long, short plane ride home. “It wasn’t too fun. It hasn’t been too fun for a good amount of time, here.”
It’s not going to be any fun anytime soon.
Long row to hoe
Thirty-four games remain. It will feel like 104.
The current coach, interim Mike Yeo, who replaced Alain Vigneault in December, probably won’t be their coach next season; what power does he possess, to inspire?
Eleven players are out hurt, and only one — Joel Farabee — will return to any real effect.
You say injuries? I say, depth. Good general managers prepare for such eventualities, and besides, James van Riemsdyk didn’t score just two goals in his first 24 games because Kevin Hayes’ abdominal wall collapsed.
The best player, Sean Couturier, might never be the same after season-ending back surgery.
The franchise goalie, Carter Hart, is good, but he’s not great.
The Flyers’ stated plan: Pray the injured vets return to form when they return next season, add a few pieces, close your eyes, grab your butt, and hope.
They’ve employed this strategy before. Of course, the last time the Flyers were this bad, it made sense to grab your butt and hope.
The Flyers spent most of the 2006-07 season trying to figure out why superstar forward Peter Forsberg’s feet wouldn’t heal properly. By the time they traded him (and his huge contract) to Nashville, the team was fated to a 22-win season and a .341 points percentage, the worst in club history.
They now stand at .406, but don’t worry: .341 is squarely in their sites.
Eight of their next nine games are against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. That includes games against the Capitals on Thursday and next Saturday, too. The Flyers have lost 12 of their last 14 games.
Unlike the 2022 Flyers, the team 15 years ago had hope.
Jeff Carter was 22. Mike Richards and Braydon Coburn were 21. Simon Gagne, 26, delivered his second consecutive 40-goal season. That core helped the Flyers make the next three playoffs and reach the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
This core? Winger Travis Konecny, 24, is having a second straight subpar season after a breakout 2019-20. So is defenseman Ivan Provorov, 25. JVR, a 32-year-old, $7 million expense, has been virtually invisible, and he’s owed another $5 million next season.
Which, frankly, could be a worse season than this one has been.
If the Flyers finish 2022 at .406, it would be their fourth-worst finish ever, behind not just the 2007 club but also the 1969-70 and 1968-69 teams. But those were the second and third editions of an expansion franchise, and expansion franchises have hope baked right in.
This is no expansion franchise. It’s just playing like one.