Over a quarter of the way through the season and the Flyers are where most people expected them to be. They are a team that can be hard to play against and doesn’t give up like they have in the past. But they lack high-end talent to make up for the lengthy list of injuries that have once again hit them. A season that was expected to feature an “aggressive re-tool” may turn into a rebuild sooner rather than later. But Chuck Fletcher wasn’t willing to put that label on it right now.
"“The hope is to build that foundation of how we want to play and reestablish that identity. And then obviously we have to find a way to add more talent. As we get a couple players back from injury here, I think that will improve our talent level. But clearly, we have work to do.”"
For a team that is as cap-strapped as the Flyers, finding a way to add more talent is not going to be an easy thing to figure out. As it stands, the Flyers have a little over 1.3M in space. It’s clear the team has the mindset that getting their players back from injury can go a long way. And in a way, they have a point. Sean Couturier is easily the team’s best player when healthy but won’t be back until after the calendar year.
Cam Atkinson, who played well in his first season last year, hasn’t played a game this season due to a mysterious lower-body injury. He has been making progress and recently joined the team for practice. The team isn’t necessarily ready to call it a “day-to-day” injury, but it is easy to see how close he is to officially re-joining the team.
One player that will not be making a return will be Ryan Ellis. Before the season began, Fletcher said it was be a bonus if they got Ellis back on the ice this season. He officially confirmed on Thursday morning that Ellis would be out for the entire season. He wasn’t able to speak to after that, but as time goes on with no updates, it seems more and more likely that he won’t play for the Flyers again.
With all of these injuries, the Flyers were going to have to rely on their younger players and see which of them could help now and into the future. John Tortorella spoke before on how if this team had been healthy, a lot of the younger players would be in the AHL. And with certain players, they have to determine what is best for their overall development. Like in the case of Egor Zamula. The Flyers have a clear vision for what they want to do with Zamula and right now, that’s playing in the NHL.
There’s also the players that the Flyers currently have in the minor leagues, juniors, or at the collegiate level that could make an impact in the future. Fletcher threw out names such as Cutter Gauthier and Emil Andrae as players who are having strong starts to their seasons.
"“There are some players in the pipeline that are coming. We do have three first round picks the next two years so we have certainly tried to be aggressive in adding some young talent. We’ve tried to find a way to add some pieces here to keep us competitive. I’m not sure what the label is for that but as we go through the rest of the year, we’ll see who fits with what we’re trying to do and if there’s some players that don’t fit, then we can look at doing whatever we need to do at that point in time.”"
On the flip side, this is also an opportunity to see which veteran players, that aren’t injuried, can help rebuild the identity that the Flyers have lost in recent years. Players like Kevin Hayes and Rasmus Ristolainen have long-term deals that essentially make them a part of the future. They are also two players who have seemingly drew the ire of their head coach from time to time.
"“When he makes a criticism of a player, it’s not that he doesn’t like him. He just maybe doesn’t like what he did that particular game or that shift or certain aspect of it and he’s demanding more of these guys…It’d be exciting to see, you know, the next stretch of games here to see if we can keep building and some of these guys can get their game back and even take us up.”"
This is a results-oriented league where the end all, be all is how many wins do you have and how many losses do you have. It doesn’t matter how the team feels it is doing or what some of the numbers otherwise may say. At the end of the day, the Flyers are towards the bottom off the standings. And things have been that way for the last few years. There comes a time where someone has to be held accountable for that.
A team can only go through so many head coaches before it has to look higher and figure out where the problem lies. And if you ask the majority of the fanbase, it starts with Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott. The two appear to be on the same page with where the team currently stands and what could happen moving forward. There doesn’t seem to be any feelings of major changes coming within the front office.
"“I talk to Dave Scott all the time. We had a couple hour meeting yesterday and talked about everything and the different possibilities that can happen as the season goes forward. And we’re all on the same page. But I understand the business. So you know, my focus is on doing what’s right for the team going forward. And that’s all I do.”"
Fletcher spoke on a coversation he recently held with Scott Laughton about the differences between last season and this season. And it seems even the players feel that this is different. They feel they can compete each and every night, which is not a wrong statement. But there’s a difference between being able to compete and having the talent to execute when needed.
23 games into the season and the Flyers are, again, where most expected them to be. There is a lot of time left, that is true. A lot is going to have to change, though, for those outside of the organization to believe that this team can make something of this season. But those on the inside still feel they can be a competitive team the rest of the way.
"`”I think there’s a path forward here to be more competitive and I expect to be more competitive the rest of the way. We’re five points out of a wild card spot right now. We’ll see if we have the capability of staying in that race and competing.”"
We’ll see how long Chuck Fletcher can hang onto that feeling. It’s not a popular one, that’s for sure.