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As of Friday, May 27, it will have been 47 years since the Flyers last won the Stanley Cup. If you have a fondness for the sadomasochistic, you can continue parsing that number to illustrate just how long that drought has been: 17,168 days, 411,744 hours, and on and on, until you risk crashing the calculator app on your smartphone or, worse, having the device, like an overworked engine, begin emitting clouds of smoke.

Now, given that the Flyers finished in last place this season and have inspired indifference in what was once a devoted fan base, lamenting that they haven’t won a championship in nearly half a century is akin to running your car off the road, slamming head-on into an oak, and cursing the forest. In the here and now, the damage is bad and needs to be repaired, and later on, you can contemplate why the trees are there, how long it took them to grow so strong, and why you’re such a lousy driver.

But in analyzing and accounting for how the Flyers sank so low, one can’t disconnect their present condition from their history. This downturn – the worst season of a decade in which the team has been at best a dull mediocrity – isn’t a blip. It isn’t the exception. It’s the natural byproduct of years of questionable decisions, failures in talent acquisition and development, and reactive or retrograde thinking. They had time to figure out how to avoid the tree, and they couldn’t.

Rather than asking current and former Flyers executives and coaches to explain this decline – if they had the right answers, the franchise wouldn’t be in this position in the first place – soliciting insights and opinions from voices outside the organization promised to be a more productive enterprise. Those perspectives have more distance, sure, but more objectivity, as well, and they confirmed the factors that have led the Flyers to where they are now: staring up at most of the National Hockey League.

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Spared no expense

The NHL’s installation of a salary cap in 2005, following a full season lost to a lockout, offers a stark line of demarcation that separates the Flyers’ drought into two eras. For roughly three decades, between 1975 and 2004, the Flyers could justifiably blame bad fortune for forcing them to watch another team celebrate every June.

By all rights and odds, even with their infamous goaltending problems, the Flyers should have won a Stanley Cup over that period. They reached the Cup Final five times. They had an owner, Ed Snider, who considered no price too high to pay in pursuit of a third championship. They traded for Eric Lindros. In 2000 and 2004, they had talented, veteran-laden clubs that lost in seven games in the conference finals and that, had they been a tad healthier or received a more fortuitous bounce of the puck here or there, might have reached the Final and won once they got there.

Because Snider and the Flyers went all-in every year, interest and attendance remained high, and because interest and attendance remained high, Snider and the Flyers could go all-in every year … until the cap came along.

“It certainly leveled the playing field for everybody in terms of what teams were spending on players,” said American Hockey League president Scott Howson, who was the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2007 to 2013. “Before the cap, you had certain teams that spent well in excess, almost double, of what other teams were spending. I’m thinking of Detroit and Colorado and Dallas. They had the resources to do it.”

So did the Flyers.

» READ MORE: It’s time for Dave Scott, Chuck Fletcher, and the Flyers to acknowledge their ‘process’ is underway

But once the NHL implemented the cap, Snider’s deep pockets and the presumption that he could solve the team’s problems simply by signing more checks weren’t the benefits they once had been. If anything, they proved to be detrimental, because they had allowed the muscles that any successful organization needs to flex in a salary-cap league to atrophy. The long term, the patient, and the subtle – essential measures when there’s a hard limit on an owner’s spending power – still took a backseat to the short term, the immediate, and the splashy.

To the Flyers, for instance, it wasn’t enough in 2011 to trade two draft picks and a minor-league forward to the Phoenix Coyotes for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. They also signed Bryzgalov, who was 30 at the time, to a nine-year, $51 million contract. Then they tried to fortify their goaltending situation by drafting Anthony Stolarz in the second round of the 2012 draft.

“We’ve got a good goalie who we’re confident can get us where we want to go, and we’ve got a big young goalie coming,” Chris Pryor, then the Flyers’ director of hockey operations, said after they drafted Stolarz. “We’re happy with the situation right now.”

They didn’t stay happy very long. One year later, in June 2013, after two seasons in which Bryzgalov earned as much attention for his spacey personality as he did his inconsistent play, the Flyers bought out the remaining seven years of his contract for the sake of clearing cap space. The buyout made Bryzgalov the Bobby Bonilla of the NHL; the Flyers have to pay him $1.643 million annually through the 2026-27 season.

“It’s the perfect storm of blunder,” Greg Wyshynski wrote for Yahoo! Sports at the time, “a complete misjudging of character and another tombstone in the goaltending graveyard that’s haunted this team.”

Bryzgalov was merely the most egregious example of the Flyers’ tendency to give, or appear to give, little consideration to the potential lasting ramifications of a player-personnel decision. And that tendency changed only so much once Dave Scott succeeded Snider as the team’s chairman.

“The sharper teams now maneuver salaries...Those, to me, are the teams that stay in the hunt and stay in the running.”

Stanley Cup winning coach Terry Crisp

As great as Chris Pronger was, was it wise to surrender two young players and three draft picks – including two first-rounders – for him when he was 35? What were the compelling reasons to sign Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit, and Andrew MacDonald to lengthy contracts? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to trade Wayne Simmonds in 2017, before his decline had begun, when his cap hit was reasonable and his value at its apex, when the return for him would have been better than it was (Ryan Hartman and a fourth-round pick) when Chuck Fletcher finally dealt him to Nashville in 2019?

Over their 29 seasons before the cap was introduced, the Flyers finished first or second in their division 20 times. Over their 17 seasons since the cap was introduced, they have finished first or second three times.

» READ MORE: 2022 NHL draft: Scouting the top European forwards the Flyers could target at pick No. 5

“The sharper teams now maneuver salaries,” said former Flyers player Terry Crisp, who coached the Calgary Flames to the 1989 Stanley Cup and recently retired, after 23 years, as the color and studio analyst for the Nashville Predators. “The ones that are looking two years ahead seem to realize who you have to spend on and where you’re going to spend your money. Those, to me, are the teams that stay in the hunt and stay in the running.”

Former NHL general manager Dale Tallon, credited with assembling the Chicago Blackhawks team that beat the Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, said in a phone interview that “there are three ways to build a team: You draft players; you trade for players; you sign players. The last one is the last option. You sign a player to put you over the top. The rest of the stuff takes time and commitment, a minimum of three-and-a-half years, sometimes five or six.”

The Flyers have been reluctant – and, by their own doing, often unable – to wait so long.

No one feels the draft

It can be a fun or maddening game, depending on your point of view, to review the Flyers’ draft history and wonder what might have been. What if, in 1990, they had selected Jaromir Jagr with the No. 4 overall pick instead of Mike Ricci? What if they had held on to Peter Forsberg and the players who ended up accompanying him to the Quebec Nordiques for Lindros? What if they had realized that a fourth or fifth defenseman, such as Luke Schenn, wasn’t worth giving up a player who had been the No. 2 overall pick? What if James van Riemsdyk had enjoyed his six prime-power-forward seasons in Philadelphia with the Flyers and not in Toronto with the Maple Leafs?

That the Flyers have failed, for a generation or more, either to mine hockey’s amateur ranks for talent or to develop that talent once they acquired it is well-documented.

Scan the rosters of the eight teams left in this NHL postseason tournament, and, as you’d expect, you’ll find dynamic forwards and elite defensemen who were blue-chip prospects and high first-round picks. The Flyers’ drafts haven’t netted those kinds of players, in part because the franchise’s leaders weren’t willing to embark on a full-fledged rebuilding. They endeavored instead to tread a middle ground, yoking themselves to Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek with contracts that were each eight years and more than $66 million and trying to construct a competitive team around them.

After they signed their extensions, Giroux and Voracek spent six seasons together, during which the Flyers made the playoffs three times, won one series, and made one top-10 draft pick.

“They’ve consistently been just good enough that they weren’t getting the absolute cream of the crop,” said former NHL scout Kyle Woodlief, who runs the independent scouting service Red Line Report. “The way to build sustainable, consistently competitive teams is, you have to be bad for a year or two and get one or two really top talents.”

» READ MORE: A step-by-step guide to how the Flyers can quickly turn it around

Look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, who, though eliminated in the first round this year, have won three Stanley Cups and qualified for the playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons since drafting Marc-Andre Fleury with the No. 1 pick in 2003, Evgeni Malkin with the No. 2 pick in 2004, and Sidney Crosby with the No. 1 pick in 2005.

“They’re still living off that almost 20 years later,” Woodlief said.

But among this postseason’s eight remaining teams, you’ll also find stars who weren’t first-round picks. The Calgary Flames drafted Johnny Gaudreau in the fourth round. The Tampa Bay Lightning took Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point in the second and third rounds, respectively. The Rangers have one of the league’s best goaltenders, Igor Shesterkin, who was a fourth-round pick.

The Flyers lack those hard-to-dig-up diamonds. Even Ron Hextall’s attempts, over his four-and-a-half years as GM, to hoard picks and young players and give them time to marinate and mature in the farm system haven’t delivered the hoped-for results.

“The draft has let them down,” said one person who is close to the organization and who described the Flyers as having “multiple players who come up and just do nothing, who don’t separate themselves from anybody on the playing surface.”

“None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick.”

Bobby Clarke, on the "Cam and Strick" podcast

The emblem of that trend is Nolan Patrick, whom the Flyers selected second overall in 2017. Five years since, a player such as Patrick should be, ideally, a franchise centerpiece. Yet Patrick is a ghost still haunting the Flyers. Hampered by injuries, unproductive and projecting a hangdog demeanor when he was healthy, Patrick scored 30 goals in 197 games before Fletcher traded him and Phil Myers to the Predators for Ryan Ellis. The three players drafted immediately after Patrick – Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, and Vancouver Canucks center Elias Petterson – have been All-Stars, and in January, former Flyers GM Bob Clarke used the decision to select Patrick as the pretext for some biting criticism of Hextall.

“None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick,” Clarke said on the Cam and Strick podcast. “Hextall made that choice himself, and there are other choices that were made in our draft that we’re paying for. We’ve got two or three first-round picks [who] are never going to play. That’s why we’re struggling. Hexy made some huge mistakes. He alienated everybody right away. He shut his door. He locked the doors. He was the boss, and nobody else was a part of it.”

Clarke, of course, was the captain of the 1974-75 Flyers, the franchise’s last team to win the Stanley Cup. He then spent an aggregate 22 years as the club’s GM. He won as many championships in that role as Hextall did. That’s 8,034 days, by the way, if you still care to keep counting.

» READ MORE: The Flyers are in a bad way. They and their fans need to understand how bad. | Mike Sielski

Staff contributors
Reporting: Mike Sielski
Editing: Gary Potosky
Digital: Matt Mullin