Cam Atkinson, voted the Flyers’ 2021-2022 most valuable player, is embarrassed.
In what he described as “almost a waste of a year,” Atkinson felt no one deserved to be named MVP, although he was honored to be chosen. But he, along with everyone else, has a lot of work to do to keep the atrocious season from repeating itself a third time.
It was a message that was repeated through most of the 23 player interviews. The young players, like Noah Cates and Ronnie Attard, were disappointed with how the season went but were shielded from most of it and were able to focus on the positive of having a great opportunity to play in the NHL. However, the guys who were there early on understand exactly how frustrated fans must be feeling.
“We were in it with you,” Scott Laughton said. “It was painful what happened.”
“It’s a tough season for fans, for you guys [the media], for us, for management,” Kevin Hayes said.
The team managed to remain close and avoid pointing fingers through all 82 games, the veteran players said. But at some point, that has to translate onto the ice, Laughton pointed out. The Flyers trumpeted in the offseason by bringing in lots of veteran leadership, and everyone spoke highly of it at the end of the season, as well. But for some reason, it wasn’t enough to help break the downward spiral the Flyers experienced.
When asked why, Nate Thompson wasn’t sure. He cited injuries, but eventually came around to the conclusion that “We just weren’t good enough.”
Sean Couturier added that they couldn’t just blame injuries, but needed to take responsibility for their failures.
The players have vowed to turn it around by working hard in the offseason. They still have faith in the team, and they asked fans to stay patient.
“Obviously, it’s not what we all hoped for,” Travis Konecny said. “But there’s been plenty of teams that have dipped for a few years, and then they’re contenders and great playoff teams for years to come. So be patient. We’re coming.”
A season like no other
Multiple players with more than a decade of NHL experience said they’ve never been a part of a season where injuries piled on like they did this season. There were numerous others, but the major three were their top-two centers and top defenseman were injured for most of the year.
Hayes, one of the centers, returned. He guessed that he’s still probably at 90% and thinks that if he hadn’t had the surgeries, he would feel about the same by the end of the season if he had been healthy.
Couturier remains in rehab after going out with a back injury in mid-December. He said he started feeling poorly at the beginning of December but hoped some rest would get him through. Once the pain in his back got so bad he couldn’t sleep, it was realized how much he needed surgery. Couturier is feeling much better now and thinks he will be cleared to return to his full training regimen soon.
Ryan Ellis, expected to be the Flyers’ top defenseman after being acquired from Nashville during the summer, said the team finally identified his injury, calling it “multilayered” and having to do with the “pelvic region,” and they now have a plan in place. He expects to be back by training camp.
In addition to the long-term injuries, Atkinson, Cam York, Carter Hart, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nick Seeler were all injured at the end of the year.
Atkinson said he’d been feeling poorly for a while, but it reached a point during a game against the Capitals on April 12 where he realized he was holding the team back. York also was injured in that game when he took an Alex Ovechkin shot to the foot and suffered a hairline fracture. Hart said he sustained a lower body injury and that if the team had made playoffs, he would be playing. Ristolainen said he had an upper body injury and is almost 100%. Seeler also said he would have returned soon.
Just injured or just not good enough?
Everyone agreed that injuries played a huge part in a 57-loss season and that returning to health would make a big difference for the Flyers. Many players simply said they believe the core group is good enough for a quick turnaround, and the players in the pipeline should provide hope.
“We have a great leadership group here with guys in the room and I think coming into camp next year, if we have everyone healthy, we could be a really dangerous team in this league,” Joel Farabee said.
However, several players mentioned the need for offseason acquisitions to get the team to where it needs to be. They acknowledged that they have no control over management’s decisions in the offseason, but shared that they think action needs to be taken.
“I hope Chuck is going to do some things over the summer to help this team,” Atkinson said.
Laughton added they need a couple of pieces and said how much they miss having a power-play threat in Claude Giroux.
Extra time to work
Optimally, the team would be just starting the most important part of its season. Instead, the players are cleaning out their lockers.
If nothing else, it means extra time to rehab and get in some work. Hart has said last year’s offseason led to his improvement. Others will be looking for something different to try to spark their game.
Konecny said he never really paid attention to analytics, but as he continued to struggle, he decided to take a look. He’s been working with Danny Briere and will continue to try new things in the coming months.
Farabee, like Konecny, had trouble scoring goals toward the end of the season. He said his one-timer isn’t where it should be, so he’s been trying new sticks and different techniques.
The newest members of the team obviously have a whole new to-do list since it’s their first time with an NHL team. Both Cates and Attard said the Number One thing is to get bigger, faster, and stronger. They’ll both go into workouts with a renewed confidence that they can play at this level.