Out of all of the players that spoke during the Flyers clean-out day, a majority of them used the words “frustrating”, “tough” and “odd” to describe the 2021-22 season. That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how this year went. Coming in with more than fair high expectations, it is also more than fair to then say that this was a disappointment of a season.
With the moves that were made in the offseason, this team was expected to be able to contend for a playoff spot in a tough Metropolitan Division. The key pieces of all that were the trades to bring in Cam Atkinson and Ryan Ellis. Adding in Rasmus Ristolainen and bringing in-depth such as Derick Brassard and Keith Yandle, the Flyers looked like they had the pieces to have a much better season than last year.
Fast forward to April and it is another season without playoffs in the city of Philadelphia. It’s the first time since the 90’s that the Flyers have missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. As Atkinson said during his final meeting with the media, it was embarrassing and almost felt like a waste of a year.
That same sentiment was expressed throughout the early morning and afternoon. Why was a team that had brought in so much veteran leadership unable to stop things from getting out of control? Why wasn’t the talent that the players believe this team has not enough? Can this team turn things around or do major changes need to happen?
That and many other questions could be asked in regards to expectations and accountability. There was some positivity among the bunch, though, that they will be ready to compete again next season. While quite a few didn’t want to lay out any excuses, injuries to some of their top players didn’t help them when things were snowballing.
Sean Couturier, who was out in December and eventually shut down, was dealing with a back injury that surfaced weeks before he was out. About three to four weeks prior, Couturier began feeling pain in his back. He associated it with the normal wear and tear that players feel during the season. But the pain was getting worse and it began to affect his sleep as well.
After being shut down originally, there was some hope that rest and recovery would be able to solve the issue. But when the pain didn’t stop, that’s when Couturier and the Flyers decided that surgery was the best course of action. And there isn’t any concern that this injury will linger.
Kevin Hayes ended up being sidelined multiple times throughout the season. In speaking to other players who have had the same core muscle surgery, Hayes was told it could be about a year before he starts to feel completely normal. He’s not quite there yet, but with a long offseason, there isn’t a doubt in his mind that he will be healthy.
While there were other injuries that plagued them, none of them felt bigger than the mystery injury to Ryan Ellis. Four games to show out of one of your biggest acquisitions in the offseason. And when Ellis spoke for the first time since November, there was finally some clarity on what has been going on.
"“It took a long time. One, to figure out what was going on and two, how to embark on that plan. And we have a plan. I’m very happy and comfortable. Me and the management, everyone’s on the same page. And the aim is to be healthy for training camp.”"
In discussing what the overall problem was, Ellis described it as a multi-layered issue. Not being able to nail down exactly what was going on was tough but he has plenty of excitement in finally knowing what was going on. Ellis did eventually reveal that it has something to do with the pelvic region, but he wasn’t sure how to describe the exact injury. Surgery, at the moment, is not something that will be explored.
He had a lot of excitement coming to Philadelphia and was probably the most excited he’s ever been about hockey. There was a lot of strain mentally, for both Ellis and his family, when he wasn’t able to play. It was draining to not be able to do something that he’s spent his whole life doing. But he has the same excitement level that he first did when the trade happened. Maybe even more now as he finally has the answers he’s been searching for.
So maybe having a healthy roster will help this team next season. But there is still something missing as Atkinson was one to say that the Flyers need to have more grit and bite to their game. James van Riemsdyk spoke on how that’s more than just fighting or being physical. It is all about being hard to play against in general. Some of the better teams in the league are that way because they’re able to control the pace and hold on to the puck longer.
"“The teams that have the puck and make smart plays with the puck and kind of play in a way where they’re keeping the puck, that’s really hard to play against too. If you look at the way different teams are built, especially some of the teams having success this year, it’s not necessarily like their running you out of the building. But again, they’re hard to play against because they always have the puck.”"
In the end, many players took accountability for their performances this season. Travis Konecny felt his year was unacceptable. Oskar Lindblom felt like he still had some more to give. And Carter Hart said that despite feeling better mentally, he needs to be a lot better.
So the players know they have to be better. The real question will be if this team, as currently constructed, can get it done. If not, big changes could be on the way.