Inside the Flyers: Will Hextall press on or start over?
EDMONTON, Alberta - The countdown is underway to the end of another Flyers season without a Stanley Cup. The Flyers, Cup-less since 1975, have eight games left after Saturday's matchup in Edmonton, and they will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
EDMONTON, Alberta - The countdown is underway to the end of another Flyers season without a Stanley Cup.
The Flyers, Cup-less since 1975, have eight games left after Saturday's matchup in Edmonton, and they will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
A year removed from an impressive 42-27-10 record under first-year coach Craig Berube - and a seven-game playoff loss to a New York Rangers team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals - the Flyers have regressed.
They took a 29-29-15 record into Saturday and had lost eight straight road games.
So did the Orange and Black underachieve, or did general manager Ron Hextall - who in the preseason said the Flyers had the talent to be just below an elite team - overvalue this group?
"I still believe we're better than our record shows, but it is what it is," said Paul Holmgren, the club's president. ". . . Some of the one-goal games we lost this year, I think we won last year, and that put us in a better position. That's the way the league is; it's a tough league."
The Flyers missed defenseman Kimmo Timonen's on-ice presence and the way he calmed things down at critical times, along with his off-ice leadership. Timonen missed most of the season because of blood clots and then was dealt to Chicago.
But other than Timonen and the traded Scott Hartnell, the Flyers had pretty much the same team as last year.
Truth be told, the Flyers got more than they could have expected from players who filled in for Timonen - Nick Schultz and Carlo Colaiacovo. Those two veteran defensemen, along with right winger Jake Voracek and goalie Steve Mason, exceeded expectations. So, to a certain extent, did left winger Michael Raffl, defenseman Michael Del Zotto, and role players Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White.
Wayne Simmonds, Mark Streit, and Nick Grossmann were dependable, and Claude Giroux was terrific until the all-star break, and then disappeared at the most crucial part of the season.
Just about everyone else was either average or below.
Too many players had off seasons at the same time. Too many players didn't answer the bell as the Flyers lost their first four games. Too many players didn't play with the same urgency on the road as they did at home.
"It's been three straight years where we haven't had a good start," Sean Couturier said. "And once you're behind in this league, it's hard to get back. Last year we did it, but I think in the long run, it kind of caught up to us."
Couturier said the Flyers need to "get the intensity level higher" at the outset of next season. "Game 1 is as important as Game 82," he said.
The Flyers have been awful in one-goal games (14 wins in 39 games entering Saturday), awful in shootouts (3-9), awful on the road (9-20-9).
"We underachieved," coach Craig Berube said. "We've played better hockey than our record, but we obviously haven't won the games we needed, too - mostly on the road. If our record's .500 on the road, we're probably in a playoff spot."
Berube said there were "too many times where the game was there to be won, and we didn't get it done."
Will Berube take the fall for the failures? Hextall said he will evaluate things after the season. Twice in the last two weeks Hextall had a chance to give Berube a vote a confidence . . . and didn't do so.
Holmgren was asked whether he saw the Flyers making significant player moves in the offseason.
"That's Ron's responsibility," he said. "I think we have a good group of players we can move forward with."
Streit, among the NHL leaders in points for defensemen, believes the Flyers were talented enough to be a playoff team.
"There were so many close games, or games that we had a lead going into the third" and lost, he said. "There were a lot of points we didn't take, and it makes a huge difference. This is a playoff team, and that's why it's very frustrating."
The Flyers, a fairly veteran team, are a tight-knit group. They do things together, on and off the ice. That, Streit said, makes their poor season even more baffling. Ditto the fact they have played some of their best hockey against NHL powerhouses, but have struggled mightily against league lightweights.
"The biggest problem has been our inconsistency," Mason said. "We haven't put together a string of games for a long period of time that was good enough to win hockey games. Moving forward in the future, that's something we definitely need to address."
Mason said you can't win without a consistent 60-minute effort because the "league is too good" and there are "no easy games anymore."
And no easy answers for Hextall, who, in addition to determining Berube's fate, will have to decide whether this team should be given another chance together, or whether to make some bombshell moves - perhaps signing a much-needed winger (Matt Beleskey? Chris Stewart? Michael Frolik?) in the free-agent market, or dealing some core players.
Nobody should be untouchable.