Flyers fans feel frustrated, feel empty, as they watch the New York Rangers - the beatable team that eliminated the Orange and Black - face the beatable Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flyers, without a Stanley Cup since 1975, feel the same way after losing to the Rangers in seven opening-round games.
"I still don't think they were the better team," winger Wayne Simmonds said.
The Flyers, of course, have no one to blame but themselves. Their even-strength play was spotty during the series, and New York had a lot to do with it. But the Flyers self-destructed - poor offensive-zone coverage, ill-advised passes, two power plays in which the shorthanded Rangers had the better scoring chances - during an atrocious second period that cost them in a 2-1 Game 7 loss.
A loss in the first round - and an average of just two goals a game in the process - implies the team is heading in the wrong direction.
That's not the case here.
Led by MVP finalist Claude Giroux, there is a good nucleus intact, and the emergence of goalie Steve Mason has the team in a much better position than at this time last year.
Still, the Flyers have shortcomings: They could use a sniper winger, a top defenseman, and more overall speed - not easy to find with their salary-cap problems.
General manager Paul Holmgren overpaid for veterans Scott Hartnell and Vinny Lecavalier - two contracts he figures to be stuck with - and doesn't have much cap flexibility. Hartnell has five years remaining with an annual cap hit of $4.75 million, while Lecavalier has four years left, with a yearly $4.5 million cap hit.
The cap is expected to climb from $64.3 million to around $69 million next season, which means the Flyers will be right around the limit if they re-sign free agents Brayden Schenn for about $1.75 million, Ray Emery for $1.5 million, Kimmo Timonen for $4.75 million, and Erik Gustafsson for $1 million. And that $69 million includes the $4.9 million in cap relief the Flyers get when Chris Pronger is placed on the long-term injured reserve list.
In other words, someone will have to be traded to open cap room if Holmgren wants to sign a speedy free-agent left winger like Matt Moulson, Mason Raymond, or Benoit Pouliot.
If the Flyers can land one of those wingers, their top three lines next year might look like this: Moulson, Raymond, or Pouliot with Giroux and Jake Voracek; Hartnell, Schenn, and Simmonds; and Lecavalier, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read.
If they traded one of the above to upgrade the defense, versatile Michael Raffl could comfortably slide into a top-nine slot.
As for the team's mediocre defense, the Flyers want Timonen back, and the 39-year-old Finn seems to be leaning toward returning for one last chance at a Cup. That would buy the Flyers another year, at which point Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg will probably be NHL-ready, with Sam Morin, another hot defensive prospect, also knocking on the NHL door.
The influx of promising young defensemen is one of the reasons the Flyers are moving in the right direction.
For those who like to dream, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban is a restricted free agent, but the Flyers would be hard-pressed to free enough cap space to pursue an offer sheet. And for those who want the Flyers to make one last push for Nashville star Shea Weber, time is running out. Weber will be paid a $13 million bonus July 1, which means if the Predators are going to move him, it would be soon. On the record, Nashville says Weber is staying put. But, remember, the Preds missed the playoffs with Weber, so you wonder whether they would pull the trigger on a deal for, say, Brayden and Luke Schenn, Morin, and a draft pick.
Ed Snider, chairman of the Flyers parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, said he doesn't expect Nashville to make Weber available. If it did, would the Flyers be a player?
"Of course!" he said.
Again, that's a long shot, so the Flyers are going to have to get better through free agency, and perhaps by getting Lecavalier to relinquish his no-trade clause. That would create some much-needed cap space and free a spot for promising Scott Laughton.
One of the frequently overlooked Flyers weaknesses this season was their inability to win shootouts. They had the league's fourth-worst shootout record (3-8). If they had managed to go 6-5 in shootouts, they would have finished ahead of the New York Rangers in the regular season and had the home-ice advantage in Game 7 of their playoff matchup.
How the Flyers fared in numerous categories this season:
Category Statistic NHL rank
Points percentage .573 13th
Goals per game 2.84 8th
Goal against per game 2.77 20th
Power-play percentage 19.7 8th
Penalty-kill percentage 84.8 7th
5-on-5 ratio 0.96 17th
Faceoff percentage 50 16th
Shots per game 30.4 14th
Shots against per game 30.6 19th
Penalty minutes per game 14.4 30th
5 on 4 power plays per game 3.3 1st
Shootout record 3-8 27th
Hits per game 26.5 6th
Blocked shots per game 14.6 15th
Giveaways per game 7.2 21st
Takeaways per game 5.1 28th
- Sam Carchidi