Sporting “something to prove” shirts at the start of the season, the Flyers vowed to turn things around and show that the 2020 season was a fluke.
Instead, they had an even worse season, making history with their losing streaks and almost reaching their all-time number of regulation losses.
How did the team’s expectations differ so greatly from the results? Bad luck, bad habits, bad health, and bad depth all played into the long list of things that went wrong this season.
Injuries to key players
The injury bug instantly bit the Flyers in training camp and then in the preseason. Second-line center Kevin Hayes needed abdominal surgery on Sep. 21 and another surgery on Jan. 18 to treat a groin infection. He missed 34 regular-season games total. Top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis sustained a pelvic injury during preseason that forced him to sit out for 78 games. Top-line center Sean Couturier played through a back injury and ultimately missed 53 games starting on Dec. 29. He had surgery on Feb. 11. These injuries to top players completely altered the construction of the lineup, forcing less-qualified players to step up into bigger roles.
10-game losing streak from Nov. 18 to Dec. 8
Although things went well through the first month of the season, the Flyers were winning games they just as easily could have lost based on their level of play. That caught up to them after their shootout loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 14. From there, things spiraled with the Flyers losing by large margins over the next 10 games, outside a 2-1 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. The lowest point was a 7-1 loss to Tampa on Dec. 5. The skid set the groundwork for mental and emotional exhaustion as well as confidence issues.
Alain Vigneault fired on Dec. 5
The morning after the Flyers dropped their eighth straight game out of an eventual 10 against the Lightning on Dec. 5, general manager Chuck Fletcher fired coach Alain Vigneault. He also axed assistant Michel Therrien, who was responsible for running the NHL’s then-30th-ranked power play (13.4%). In his first two seasons with the team, Vigneault went 66-44-15, but an 8-10-4 start to the 2021-22 season sent him packing. Fletcher retained assistant Mike Yeo and made him the interim coach, calling on him to help the team “learn to play the game the right way.”
Injuries to depth players
As the Flyers looked for a spark, they were hard to find with key players out, but the problem went deeper. The Flyers already didn’t have much organizational depth, so even just a few injuries were difficult. But they had more than a few. On the NHL roster alone, there were 21 injured players. Replacements needed replacements who then needed replacing, too, as injuries stacked up. Night to night, there were multiple lesser-NHL players in the lineup. The Flyers had to draw from an AHL team that was dealing with injuries itself, hurting both teams’ seasons.
COVID-19 hits from mid-December to early January
The bulk of the Flyers’ COVID-19-related woes struck in mid-December, which started when center Morgan Frost was pulled mid-game against the Devils on Dec. 14 and placed in COVID protocols. From then until Jan. 15, 16 different players entered COVID protocols. That list included key players such as former captain Claude Giroux (Jan. 4-11, missed three games), defenseman Ivan Provorov (Jan. 4-12, three games), and goalie Carter Hart (Dec. 27-Jan. 1, three games). Most of those missed games came in the midst of a 13-game losing streak.
13-game losing streak from Dec. 30 to Jan. 25
The Flyers thought their previous 10-game losing streak was bad, but they learned it could get worse. After their seven-game point streak got interrupted by an extended holiday break, they couldn’t maintain the momentum and dived right back into another losing streak. On the road and struggling with depth, the skid was hard to break early on. Even once they returned home, the deeper they got into it, the less likely it seemed they would break out of it. While fingers weren’t pointing, it was a miserable locker room. The team forgot how to win. Even when the game was in their hands, they found a way to lose.
Special teams a liability
While it’s unrealistic to expect any power-play unit to score every time it’s on the ice, a good power play should be able to build momentum that can carry over into five-on-five play. Alas, the Flyers’ power play was mediocre at its highest point and flat-out miserable at its lowest. For the first 13 games of the season, the Flyers ranked 16th (17.1%) on the power play and only got worse as the season progressed, dropping to last by Februaryi. The Flyers finished tied for third in the league in shorthanded goals against (11). The penalty kill had a decent start to the season during the Vigneault era, ranking 15th (82.6%). However, the penalty kill dropped to 31st (72.9%) under Yeo.
Six-game losing streak from Feb. 9 to Feb. 22
A six-game losing streak is bad but not the end of the world — unless a team’s already gone through both a 10-game and a 13-gamer. This one also came after the Flyers had built some momentum but had to step away from the rink for the All Star break. The team came close to snapping it many times. They were much more competitive than in past skids. But they somehow found a way to lose each time, even when up by two goals in the third period, and the lack of reward for doing the right things made it harder to continue to focus on the game’s small details.
Key players traded as a result of poor season
With the Flyers all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by mid-March, Fletcher was poised to be a seller at the March 21 trade deadline. In three separate deals, he traded Giroux to the Florida Panthers, forward Derick Brassard to the Edmonton Oilers, and defenseman Justin Braun to the New York Rangers in exchange for a total of four draft picks and winger Owen Tippett, from Florida. Giroux, Brassard, and Braun were in the final year of their contracts. The trades provided opportunities to less-experienced players and increased draft capital, but the absences of three veterans hurt the Flyers’ ability to string together wins to close out the season on a positive note.
Key players underperformed, bad habits couldn’t be broken
While young players stepped up at different times, the players the Flyers lean on most underperformed. Joel Farabee struggled in the latter part of the season after coming back from injury. Travis Konecny, known as a goal-scorer, racked up points but few goals. Provorov, the top defenseman, was inconsistent for most of the season. James van Riemsdyk was streaky, with his strongest performances coming after the Flyers were knocked out of even a thought of a playoff spot, and no one’s scoring streak ever seemed to overlap another. None of the Flyers seemed to have the finishing touch, and the team’s shooting percentage dropped to second lowest in the league at 8.3%. With confidence issues and frustration plaguing them, bad habits crept in. With the little practice time he had, Yeo tried to preach doing the right things, but ingrained bad habits revealed themselves in the heat of the moment.
Goaltending tails off at the end
Hart started off the season strong, posting a .931 save percentage in his first nine games (sixth in the NHL among goalies with nine or more games). He was in the conversation to represent Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics before the NHL pulled out due to the need to make up games missed because of positive COVID tests in February. However, as the Flyers’ play tailed off as the season progressed, so did Hart’s. From the beginning of March until his last game on April 12, Hart posted an .889 save percentage in 12 games. In total, Hart posted a .905 save percentage and a 3.16 goals against average in 45 games, a clear rebound from his 2020-21 season (.877 save percentage, 3.67 goals against average) despite a similarly poor team playing in front of him.
Athletic trainers sue ownership
On April 12, long-time Flyers employees Jim McCrossin and Sal Raffa sued the team’s ownership. However, the team had to deal with knowledge of the lawsuit as well as of McCrossin’s and Raffa’s diagnoses before that. Their two athletic trainers, who help them through their injuries, found out they would be fighting incurable diseases for the rest of their lives. The impact is not fully known nor measurable, but without a doubt, the diagnoses affected the team emotionally. The lawsuit, meanwhile, will be just one more thing that tarnished the franchise’s image this season.