Flyers’ season of high hopes turned into series of unimaginable lows
The Flyers finished a disastrous season Monday against visiting New Jersey. Lots of changes are expected in the offseason.
The Flyers’ excruciating season mercifully ended Monday night as Joel Farabee’s two goals triggered a 4-2 win over New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
Good riddance to a season in which they missed the playoffs for the fifth time in nine years.
Good riddance to a season in which the Flyers won just 14 of 38 games from the start of March until Monday’s finale.
Good riddance to a season in which the defense and goaltending were atrocious, allowing the most goals per game (3.52) in the NHL.
So where do the Flyers go from here?
General manager Chuck Fletcher, who was surprisingly passive over the last year, needs to be much more aggressive or he will lose a fading fan base that is angry — and vocal on social media — about the team’s makeup.
For starters, Fletcher needs to add a top-pairing defenseman, a sniper, and a backup goalie who can play a lot of games next season if Carter Hart (3.67 goals-against average, .877 save percentage) falters again.
If Seattle doesn’t take one of the Flyers’ high-priced veterans in the expansion draft, such as James van Riemsdyk, Jake Voracek, or Shayne Gostisbehere, Fletcher needs to get creative and free some cap space for a major acquisition.
The penalty kill, which was much more aggressive, and successful, in the 2019-20 season, needs to use a new system or change its personnel. The PK went into Monday 30th out of 31 teams, and Fletcher has said assistant Mike Yeo, and all the coaches, are safe. Yeo coaches the PK and the defense.
The season started with high expectations. After all, the Flyers won nine of their last 10 regular-season games a year ago and won their first playoff series since 2012. Yes, it was a struggle to beat the Canadiens in that six-game playoff series, but the Habs had knocked out the Penguins in the previous round.
And with Hart in the nets and coming off a very good first full season and a better playoff performance, the Flyers figured to be competitive in every game this year.
But Hart crumbled. So did the defense. And the offense dried up in the second half of the season.
Hello, mediocrity. Or worse.
The Flyers had the East Division’s best points percentage on March 1. After that, they went 14-19-5 the rest of the way.
It was a pathetic display of mostly lethargic hockey for two-plus months.
The Flyers finished in sixth place in the East Division with a 25-23-8 record.
“I don’t think anyone saw us being in this position,” captain Claude Giroux said before Monday’s opening faceoff. “It’s very frustrating and confusing. We took some steps forward [last season], and this year that wasn’t the case.”
“I feel for our fans. I mean, it’s a sad situation,” Dave Scott, the Flyers’ chairman, said in an exclusive interview with The Inquirer and Daily News last week. “I’m angry. I’m frustrated. Everyone keeps saying they’re disappointed, and it’s beyond disappointment where we’re sitting today.”
Coach Alain Vigneault was asked before Monday’s game what he thought about his team’s effort this season.
He refused to answer until the season was over.
Your season ended a long time ago, Coach.
Giroux said if he could change one thing about the season it would be how the team played at home. They were just 12-12-4 at the Wells Center. A year ago, they had the NHL’s best home record (25-6-4).
“If we would have had a better home record, win a few more games and get momentum, I think we obviously could have had a chance to make the playoffs,” he said.
Giroux said there would be “a lot of question marks” in the offseason, but he didn’t want to answer when asked if he thought several changes had to be made.
“We need to evaluate what happened this year,” he said. “Evaluate what we can do to be a better team. Obviously, that question is for Chuck [Fletcher]. Right now, I haven’t really thought about it. I’m just focused on this last game.”
The Flyers’ season spiraled out of control after six regulars returned from the COVID-19 protocol list. Perhaps contracting the virus sapped some players of energy.
Vigneault has said he knows the reason behind the team’s collapse but wouldn’t reveal it until later this week.
Giroux was asked if getting back to normalcy next season -- starting the schedule in October instead of January and playing 82 games instead of 56 -- would help the team get back to where it wants to be.
“We didn’t have a lot of chance to practice, and I think last year one of the reasons we were successful was the way we played was automatic,” he said. “We had a lot of chances to work on the system and be on the same page. Having a normal season and not playing nine games in 15 days, or whatever it is, I think it will be a little better for us.”
All teams had problematic schedules this season, of course. The Flyers didn’t handle the increased workload. Other teams did.
Farabee, 21, scored his 19th and 20th goals; he became the second-youngest player to ever lead the Flyers in goals. Eric Lindros was a month younger than Farabee’s current age when he led the Flyers with 44 goals in 1993-94. ... Giroux, Voracek, and van Riemsdyk finished with a team-high 43 points. ... Kevin Hayes collected his 300th and 301st career points. ... Brian Elliott, a pending unrestricted free agent who may have played his last game with the Flyers, made 23 saves and notched the win. He said he would “love to stay here, but that’s out of my control.” ... Ivan Provorov has played in every game in his five-year career. ... Justin Braun broke his foot blocking a shot in the first period and didn’t return.