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If the Flyers Fail to Make the Playoffs, How Would You Rank the Season in Totality?

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We were all made aware that the 2023-24 season was going to be a rebuilding campaign for the Philadelphia Flyers.

We were all made painfully aware by the national media and it’s pundits that the Flyers would be sitting at the lunch table with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks instead of the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings.

We were also reminded countless times that this season was going to be an extension of 2022-23 after learning John Tortorella’s system. Even with the returns of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson, there was very little excitement, positivity, and optimism.

Chuck Fletcher did a number before he was let go as both the President of Hockey Operations and as General Manager, but during his brief tenure he stole hope, belief, and expectations from the entire fanbase. Somehow and someway, it got progressively worse when it almost felt like that was an impossible task. So when Daniel Brière was named General Manager and Keith Jones was appointed as President, it didn’t really kick it up a notch.

However, the Flyers surprised everybody with how they started out the season and how they continued to play a very aggressive style of hockey to a tee. They ended October going 4-4-1, went 7-6-1 in November, before a very encouraging 8-2-3 record in December. As they entered the new year, the Flyers were 19-12-5 with an elite penalty kill, well-above average analytical numbers, and solid goaltending.

They ended January on a five-game slide to end the month at 6-7-1 before righting the ship with a 6-3-1 record in February. As we entered the gruelling month of March where they were set to embark on 15 games in 30 days, including a sinister gauntlet against the best the NHL had to offer. They were sporting a 31-22-7 record and prime to break their second-longest playoff drought in franchise history.

They alternated between wins and losses in the first seven games before losing seven of the next nine – which included three in overtime. During the 10-game gauntlet – with one game against the Sharks sprinkled in the middle – the Flyers went 4-4-2 and held their own in all but two of them. Unfortunately, they squandered two glorious opportunities to stake their claim for a playoff spot by bottoming out against the fifth-to-last Montréal Canadiens and second-to-last Chicago Blackhawks.

As we stand today, the Washington Capitals are one point behind the Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division but they still have two games in hand. The Flyers have to worry about the Detroit Red Wings should they fall into a Wild Card position but they have the leg up with a one-point edge, however they own a game in hand as well and don’t play until Friday night against the New York Rangers. The New York Islanders beat the Blackhawks on Tuesday and trail the Flyers by two points with one game in hand. We also have to keep an eye on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are four points back with one game in hand as well.

Considering the Flyers were 25-14-6 by mid-January after a convincing 5-1 victory against the Dallas Stars on home ice or that they were 31-22-7 heading into the final stretch of the season, would you consider the season a failure if they were to fail to qualify for the postseason?

Failure, not in the sense that just because they failed to make the playoffs it should be rued for decades, but in the sense that they had everything almost all locked up, not to mention the fact that all the teams behind them were struggling and losing games by the handful.

Philadelphia had ample opportunities to trudge forward and create more breathing room. The Islanders lost six straight between the 11th of March and the 21st of March, but the Flyers went 2-2-1. The Capitals went 1-6-2 between the 20th of January and the 13th of February but the Flyers only went 4-5-0, and the Red Wings lost seven straight and 12 of 15 games between the 29th of February and the 30th of March but the Flyers lost 10 of 15 games.

I think John Tortorella’s recent press conference also shines a light to that same thought process. The season as a whole, from start to finish, has been a success. Multiple players have stepped up in a big way, many players have developed from last year, and the goaltending landscape which looked murky after Carter Hart left, looks a little better too.

However just because they weren’t supposed to be good and because we had zero expectations this season doesn’t excuse their lack of gumption with the post-season right around the corner. Tortorella echoes those very same sentiments.

“It comes down to, oh, they’re going to quit on him. It follows me around, and so be it. If a player is going to quit on me, or players are going to quit on me because I’m trying to make them better people or better athletes, you’ve got the wrong damn coach here, and you got the wrong damn people here.

“My job is, I’m going to push athletes. I try to stay away from…I have other things on my mind that I don’t give you. I was in control the other night. What I said, I meant. And quite honestly when I watch the tape now I’m more concerned than just the second period. Because I’m so proud of the team getting here. I guess now the narrative out there is I’ve heard from other people is: they’re young. They’re not supposed to be here. Bullshit. We’re here. We’re here. Face it.

“And let’s be better. And I don’t think we’re ready to be better, and that’s my problem with us right now. And it is my job – I have not done a good enough job to get them over the hump. I haven’t done a good enough job to make them understand we have to be different now. We have to be at a different level. That’s my frustration with me, and that’s my frustration with the team. And if people can’t handle it, so be it.”

Even through all the struggles from the beginning of March, the Flyers still control their own destiny. It’s not an excuse to say that they look weary and tired but on most nights, they essentially run with 10 forwards and four defensemen. Cam York and Travis Sanheim are out there every other shift, Travis Konecny, Tyson Foerster, Owen Tippett, and Morgan Frost generally play a third of the game, and Samuel Ersson played 11 of the 15 games in March and 20 of the 26 games since February.

The losses to Montréal and Chicago were absolutely disheartening, there’s no denying that. When you can stick around with teams like Toronto, Boston, and Florida but come out completely flat from the moment the puck drops in a game where you know you need to have, the frustration boils over. Now with three straight games against teams well outside the playoff picture, which Flyers team is going to show up? The one from December to February? Or the one from March?

The positives in 2023-24 are overwhelming. York has taken the necessary strides in becoming the anchor on the back-end, Konecny has reestablished himself as the alpha on offense, Tippett is on his way to a 30-goal season, Foerster has scored 20 goals in his rookie year and counting, and Frost has shown flashes of his capabilities in becoming a top-line center in short order.

Those feats are coupled with a strong bounce back from Sanheim, a solid full season from Egor Zamula, the acquisition of Jamie Drysdale, a fantastic trio in the making with Noah Cates, Ryan Poehling, and Garnet Hathaway, and they had a penalty kill that was sitting atop the NHL in the month of March. Ersson’s play for the most part brought about a lot of confidence and optimism and if Ivan Fedotov re-signs with the club, there’s a good chance we see a Boston-Bruins-esque tandem next year where they split starts on a regular basis.

The rebuild is in good hands with Brière, Jones, and Tortorella steering the ship. A full offseason and training camp will do wonders for the group of players that will be returning and knowing that you have two young goaltenders helps as well. I’m sure the Flyers will be also adding a few more players through the draft and free agency that should help with 2024-25 and beyond.

They are truly a few pieces away from winning a playoff round, so it makes you wonder how good they will be coming out of the rebuild in 2026, 2027, and beyond.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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