Having fallen to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and forgotten how to win close games, the Flyers are coming to a critical juncture in their season.
The next six weeks or so may determine whether coach Dave Hakstol stays employed and how long star right winger Wayne Simmonds remains with the team.
Should the Flyers continue to stumble — they have lost seven straight and have blown leads in the last five games — and should young forwards such as Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal continue to struggle, it's fair to wonder if general manager Ron Hextall will consider a coaching change. Phantoms coach Scott Gordon, the former Islanders head coach who has had great success with several players now with the Flyers, would be a logical replacement.
Since going on a 10-game winning streak last season, the Flyers have won just 28 of their last 73 games (28-32-13). That doesn't have Hakstol on the hot seat (yet), but it should have him on notice, especially since several young teams (see Columbus, Winnipeg, and New Jersey, among others) are badly outperforming the Flyers.
And if this team is still buried in the standings in mid-January, Hextall might try to deal the highly popular Simmonds — whose team-friendly contract expires after next season — because he is a player who could bring lots of building blocks for the future.
Simmonds is a great competitor and leader who has averaged about 30 goals in each of the last four seasons. But he will be 30 at the start of next season and figures to be on the downside of his career, so Hextall might cut ties before the right winger gets an expected (and well-deserved) raise from a contract that has a $3.98 million cap hit.
Simmonds has a modified no-trade clause; he can reject a trade to 12 teams on his list, according to capfriendly.com.
Hextall has done well in the draft, but his trading record gets an "incomplete" grade because some of his deals cannot be judged at this time.
The Brayden Schenn trade, for instance, looks like a disaster but can't be fairly evaluated until, say, around 2023, because by then the Flyers should know the value of the two No. 1 picks they received from St. Louis: Morgan Frost and a still-to-be determined 2018 first-round selection.
Those two picks need to develop into quality players because Schenn, who was shifted back to his natural position, center, is on a 107-point pace with the Blues.
In other words, the trade has the potential to be one Hextall wants back, though it will be hard-pressed to match the franchise-altering deal in which then-GM Paul Holmgren sent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for draft picks that turned out to be goalie Anthony Stolarz and left winger Taylor Leier.
To be fair, Holmgren deserves credit for the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades, deals that netted Schenn, Simmonds, Jake Voracek and a draft pick that turned out to be Sean Couturier.
But the Bobrovsky trade, which was made a year after then-chairman Ed Snider caused Holmgren to sign free agent Ilya Bryzgalov, and the James van Reimsdyk deal (to acquire Luke Schenn) have undone a lot of the gains from the Richards and Carter transactions.
No team is going to hit a home run on every trade, of course. You can look at every NHL team and find trades that didn't work out.
That said, the Bobrovsky trade was so disastrous that Hextall is still digging out from it five years later.
Bobrovsky, one of the main reasons Columbus is a Stanley Cup contender, could be headed toward his third Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie.
The Flyers, who have had six rookies in the lineup in each of their last two games, have received mostly good goaltending this season, but "Bob" is at another level.
If he was still with the Flyers, the Weal and Konecny droughts — each has one goal in his last 19 games — would not be nearly as noticeable because the team would be winning lots of low-scoring games.
Which brings us back to our premise: The next six weeks or so are extremely critical to determine if this team should keep its three key veterans — Claude Giroux, who would have to waive his no-movement clause, Simmonds, and Voracek — or deal at least one of them because they will be well past their prime when the youngsters develop into quality players and the Flyers are Stanley Cup contenders.
Simmonds is the most tradable of the trio because of his contract. He is one of the league's elite power forwards and a player who could bring several pieces for a Flyers team that is in a rebuilding season, even if Hextall doesn't want to use the dreaded R-word.