Now that their miserable season is over, the Flyers’ brass looked at the future – and also took a glance back Tuesday at a year that went bad.
In a Zoom conference call with the media, their answers gave little insight into the team’s future direction.
As for this season, one in which the Flyers (25-23-8) finished sixth in the East Division, missed the playoffs, and allowed more goals per game (3.52) than any team in the NHL, a lack of available offseason training sites and skating facilities for the players who went back to Canada was cited by coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher as a contributing factor. COVID-19 caused many facilities to be closed.
Vigneault said there was a “difference between Joel Farabee, an American who stayed in the States and was able to train, and our Canadian players, all the ones that went back to Canada.”
Canadians Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier had good years, and their experience benefited them, Vigneault said. But in the coach’s estimation, Couturier “didn’t have a Coots-type season like he had with me last year. If I look at all the other players that went to Canada, they struggled. Whether it’s because of lack of training possibilities, lack of skating possibilities, [he wasn’t sure]. One of my questions when meeting with the players this afternoon is, ‘What are you doing this summer?’ If things stay the way they are right now in Canada, they’re going to have to make some adjustments to their summer plans.”
Added Vigneault: “This is just our team. I can’t reflect throughout the rest of the NHL, but on our team, the Canadian players that went back to Canada had a challenging time.”
“Every team went through it,” right winger Travis Konecny said.
Konecny said he worked out in his garage. Couturier said he rented ice in the offseason to stay sharp.
A few months before the season started, Fletcher said, he talked to some of his players who went back to Canada. “I remember speaking to them in October and November, they were having a hard time getting ice time,” he said. “Gyms were shut down. Some of them had some adjustments to make and were having a tough time doing the training they normally do. Our expectation is that they will be able to find a better path to train this offseason.”
Vigneault said last week he believed he knew the root of this year’s problems but that he wouldn’t reveal it until after the season ended.
On Tuesday, Vigneault said he had “a couple of theories” on the team’s slide. He mentioned the shaky goaltending, “and COVID hit us, and after COVID, all we basically did was play games and not practice.”
He said a lot of players, especially the younger ones, needed practice time.
“I’m not saying that’s the reason,” he said of the team’s tumble. “But I do think that played a part in our game slipping the way it did.”
Giroux estimated the Flyers had one full practice in the last two months.
“It’s easier to tune up your game when you have practices,” Kevin Hayes said. “But the whole league went through it, and we can’t use that as an excuse.”
Fletcher said there were “quite a few priorities” in this offseason. He talked about the Flyers allowing more goals than any NHL team and how major improvement was needed.
“We’ll have to look at a few different areas to improve, but I anticipate there being some players available,” he said. “We’ll have to go out and see if we can add the right player. Certainly last offseason, we looked at a lot of different options. Some cases didn’t break the way we’d hoped, and in some cases it wasn’t the perfect fit for the type of player we were looking for. We’re going to have to be creative and find a way to improve where we can.”
Fletcher said the Flyers “also need a lot of our young players to be better. With the exception of Joel Farabee, I would say the majority of our young players either plateaued or took a step back this year. That’s the big concern for me. Since 2014 [the year of former GM Ron Hextall’s first draft], this franchise has put a lot of time and effort into drafting and developing young players. Frankly, for us to take a step forward, we’re going to need that group of players to take on a bigger role and play better.”
He said he would “look outside the organization, but certainly it’s difficult to replace a whole team. You’re going to need your young players to take a step and be better. And they have a big summer ahead of them. As things normalize this offseason, hopefully it’s easier for many of these young players to skate and to train and to prepare more normally than maybe they were able to do last offseason.”
Fletcher was asked about the team’s leadership group and if he was disappointed it wasn’t able to stop the team’s skid.
“If you look at the last couple months, nobody played harder than Claude Giroux,” he said. “Sean Couturier played really hard on his line, carried our team early in the season. Jake Voracek led our team in scoring again, or tied for the lead. A lot of these players that have been here a while I thought did their part. Hockey’s a team sport. Twenty players on the ice. I don’t know that one guy giving a speech in a dressing room or doing something can turn a season around.”
Vigneault said he could have had a better coaching season.
‘Let everyone down’
“I came to Philly to win a Stanley Cup,” he said. “I told Chuck last week or the week before when we were officially eliminated that I sort of felt like I’ve let everyone down here, from him to ownership to our fans to our players. Just after the start that we had, got the team playing better, and then like I mentioned, goaltending, COVID, and no practice time. I wasn’t able to put the ship back on track.
“Like the rest of society, it’s our first pandemic that we went through. There’s obviously some things reflecting on that we might want to change how I handled and how I did things. On a personal level, I’m going to need some time to get the emotion out of the way and analyze this properly.”
Dave Scott, the team’s chairman, said the Flyers should have the finances to make moves this summer. He is taking a glass-is-half-full approach.
“I still believe that we’re a much better team than our record shows, and I think we’ve got some great talent to build around,” he said. “We’ve got the veterans, and we’ve got these young prospects coming up.”
The Zoom calls were cut short by the Flyers, even though reporters had their hands raised and more questions, such as: Will the Flyers try to upgrade their backup goalie situation in case Carter Hart falters again? Does Fletcher believe center Morgan Frost is ready for a bottom-six role next season? How could the defense collapse so dramatically after losing just one player, the retired Matt Niskanen?