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Five days that sank the Flyers

The chain of events that doomed the season began last June, when Scott Hartnell was traded for R.J. Umberger.

Craig Berube waves goalie Steve Mason to the bench. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Craig Berube waves goalie Steve Mason to the bench. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

THE BODIES are still warm.

There are 2 more weeks, eight more games, and a summerlong autopsy to be performed on the rotting Flyers.

How did we get here? How did this happen?

Just 16 days ago, the Flyers were 15 seconds away from clawing within two points of Boston, making this last month of the season not only relevant but maybe even magical.

Let's take a look back at 5 days that sunk the Flyers' season, in chronological order:

1. June 23, 2014: Scott Hartnell traded to Columbus in exchange for R.J. Umberger. Exactly 9 months later, it's as hard today as it was then to connect the dots on general manager Ron Hextall's thinking on his first trade. Even rumblings that coach Craig Berube was not fond of Hartnell fail to make the deal logical.

Hextall was able to justify the trade by the fact that Umberger, who is the same age and has virtually the same salary-cap hit as Hartnell, only had three more seasons left on his deal while Hartnell had five. There was just no way to argue that the Flyers were a better team for these three seasons with Umberger.

Would Hartnell have gotten the Flyers to the playoffs alone? Maybe not, considering their inefficiencies. However, they certainly would not have been as thin as they were. Hartnell still has managed 50 points in 67 games so far, the second-best offensive production of his career.

Umberger dragged down Sean Couturier and maybe even Matt Read this season, collecting just 15 points in 67 games. Michael Raffl, instead of Umberger, would have vastly changed the complexion of the third line if Hartnell was on the top unit.

2. Oct. 11, 2014: Flyers blow 3-0, third-period lead to Montreal. It was the third game of the season, but sphincters were already tightening in the Flyers' locker room after stumbling out of the game with two losses. Visions of last year's 1-7 start danced in their heads.

The Flyers built a three-goal edge over the visiting Canadiens in the first 21 minutes, but failed to close out a commanding lead and lost in a shootout. That it dropped the Flyers to 0-2-1 wasn't nearly as consequential as the tone that it set for gut-wrenching third periods for the remainder of the season.

"It's bothersome," Hextall said on March 11. "It's not only the hole that you put yourself into, it's the energy that you get among the team, in the locker room, the good feeling that you have going forward right from the start. It's tough to get out of holes the way the league is now."

3. Dec. 2, 2014: Michael Del Zotto and Vinny Lecavalier scratched at San Jose. If the Flyers weren't already mentally fragile enough, this is about the time of year Berube seemingly began throwing darts around the locker room. Just 2 weeks earlier, he praised Del Zotto as the Flyers' most consistent defenseman of the first 6 weeks.

The Flyers were in the middle of a 1-8-1 slide. Lecavalier, 34, surely wasn't producing up to his standards, but making him a healthy scratch for the first time of his borderline Hall of Fame career on the same night as Del Zotto sent a rippling message through the locker room. Every player was now one mistake away from the press box - no one would be immune. Andrew MacDonald, in the first year of a $30 million deal, was scratched two games earlier.

The moves also didn't make sense from a personnel standpoint. The Flyers needed offense and they opted to sit Lecavalier, a 20-goal scorer from 2013-14 with 405 career goals, for both Zac Rinaldo and Umberger. It appeared then that Umberger was the clear choice to sit out first over Lecavalier, just based on play alone, and not resume. Umberger didn't sit until Game 68, finally, and then underwent hip surgery last Wednesday.

4. Feb. 26: Wheels fall off in Toronto. The previous week, the Flyers lost to 30th-place Buffalo in a shootout and 26th-place Columbus in regulation, yet they managed to sweep a weekend set with No. 1 overall Nashville and Washington to get back in the mix. What followed was a dismal road trip, regulation losses in Carolina and Toronto, against two hapless teams more interested in lottery odds than wins.

Berube also suddenly yanked Rob Zepp on this night, inserting Steve Mason on a freshly repaired knee after the goalie was told he'd only be used in an emergency situation, adding friction to an already-questionable usage situation.

5. March 7: Breakdown in Beantown. Through all the melodrama, the Flyers managed to climb from 14 points out in January to just four heading into their four-point game against the Bruins. With the Flyers ahead, 2-1, Wayne Simmonds took a penalty with 2:03 to play. Claude Giroux lost a defensive-zone faceoff with 15 seconds to go, Brad Marchand snuck behind Luke Schenn, and, well, you know what happened after that.


"It's like being back with your family again."

- Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Times, on being recalled to the Kings yesterday, following a 16-game stint in the AHL. Richards is still eligible for the NHL playoffs, should the defending champion Kings qualify.