Despite using eight goalies, having an upheaval in their front office and the coaching staff, and missing the playoffs, the Flyers’ players stuck together and seemed to have a close-knit group last season.
This year’s team seems even closer. More relaxed. More than ready to poke fun at one another.
Maybe it’s the addition of Kevin Hayes, who is giving Travis Konecny and Michael Raffl a run for their money as the team’s unofficial class clown.
Maybe it’s, quite simply, the winning, which has caused lots of singing, clapping, and even some occasional dancing as “Two Times” by Ann Lee is played in the locker room after victories.
Or maybe the relaxed environment comes from having a new coach, Alain Vigneault, with such an impressive resume.
Whatever the reason, the Flyers are thoroughly enjoying themselves as they have emerged as one of the league’s surprise teams in the season’s first two-plus months.
“There’s a lot of characters in this room, guys who like to have fun,” Konecny said before being injured Saturday in a 4-3 victory over Ottawa.
There’s also a fair share of quiet players who are deep thinkers.
“There’s just a good balance in here,” Konecny said, noting many of the players hang out when not around the rink, “and it kind of brings everyone together.”
“Everyone has a lot of faith in each other. It’s probably the tightest team I’ve ever played with,” said Hayes, 27, now in his seventh NHL season and his first year with the Flyers after stops with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.
“Our leaders lead from the front, and it’s easy to follow. It’s a lot of fun to be on the ice, a lot of fun to go to battle every night. Even if the other team scores, we’re not really panicked, and it shows.”
Scott Laughton agreed.
“The biggest thing is we’re having fun coming to the rink,” said Laughton, who traveled to Austria with his girlfriend to spend time with Raffl in his hometown this summer. “Everyone is pretty close off the ice, and I think that’s a big factor and it translates onto the ice. But we’re only  games in, we’re not done yet and we still have a long ways to go, but it’s a good spot to be in and we have to keep rolling.”
Vigneault, whose team is on a 6-1-1 run entering Saturday’s game against Ottawa, says he sees “trust between teammates building. That’s real important. You have to have that trust to have success. The other thing, I feel, is accountability. Guys are understanding the accountability factor that you need to have in the locker room to have success. That has to continue to grow. I think we’re just in the starting points of that.”
There will be bumpy roads along the way, Vigneault knows, and that’s when the team will be tested.
“Obviously, when you’re winning and having success the way we are, everything is rosy and hunky-dory,” he said. “We will be challenged as a group, but I think we’re building a foundation to be able to respond to the different challenges that we’re going to have.”
Does winning create a cohesive group of players, or does a tight-knit team help create winning?
“Probably a little of both,” Laughton said. “I think winning definitely helps out, but I think we’ve had a pretty close group ever since I’ve been here. I think G [captain Claude Giroux] does a really good job and so do the other guys of welcoming in the younger guys, and the guys we’ve brought in here have fit in really well and so have the young guys.
"It’s a really, really close group we have, and I think that translates a little to the ice and confidence and trust into each other.”
The Flyers have four rookies on the team: Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, Phil Myers, and the recently promoted Misha Vorobyev, and they have added veterans Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, Tyler Pitlick, and Chris Stewart.
Being on the road for most of the season’s first month — the team traveled to Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and all over Western Canada — “definitely helped” bring everyone together, Laughton said. “You go to team dinners and you do all this stuff together and it bonds you in a certain way. You get a fresh start, and everyone gets to know each other.”
Having that bond "helps you manage the highs and lows,” veteran left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “When things aren’t going as well and you’re a tight-knit group, it’s easier to manage those lows. Any winning team is going to go through some tough spots in a season that you have to fight through … and be honest with one another.”