The Flyers Will Not Make the Playoffs for Years to Come

Mar 1, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim (6) and teammates head off the ice after overtime loss to the New York Rangers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim (6) and teammates head off the ice after overtime loss to the New York Rangers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Flyers coach John Tortorella has done an amazing job this year. Fielding a team that is pretty much the same as last year’s squad (minus Claude Giroux, but with Tony DeAngelo), the team has improved. And even with a 10 game losing streak, the team was hovering around .500 hockey from January until recently and at one point, he seemed as if the playoffs could possibly happen based on a post-Christmas/pre-All Star break surge. If anyone worried if Torts could turn this team around, he has done a great job of quieting his detractors.

However, it’s not enough to have a good coach. You need good players, a competent general manager, and some help from the other teams around you. The Flyers have some good players, they have a…well…they have a general manager, but they are in the hardest division in the NHL in the most competitive conference. It’s because of this, Flyers fans need to be aware that we are going to be on the outside looking in for a long, long time. Let’s break this down.

The Metro is Super Tough…and so is the Eastern Conference

The Carolina Hurricanes are young and very talented. They have a farm system that is one of the best. They have also made many moves over the last few years that keeps draft picks in their pockets and doesn’t keep them strapped financially.

The New Jersey Devils are a young hungry team that have become stronger with the acquisition of Timo Meier. They turned their fortunes around pretty quickly.

Likewise, the New York Rangers are very formidable with one of the best young goalies in the league and a strong corps of young forwards. The New York Islanders have added to a group that includes Matt Barzal with Bo Horvat. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are fading as contending teams, but still pack enough firepower to be dangerous. And with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Laine together, the Columbus Blue Jackets won’t be bad forever.

Likewise, Boston and Tampa have been the class of the Atlantic Division for the last 10 years. Toronto is doing everything possible to unseat them after years of first-round exits in the playoffs. Ottawa and Buffalo seem to be teams that are on the rise. Florida is a mess, but has a lot of talent and are not playing as well as they should be. Montreal is a mess and probably will be bad for a while longer as is Detroit.

It’s not that the Flyers are a bad team. In fact, they probably played a lot better than anyone expected them to this year. They probably played above their talents and abilities, and Tortorella has a lot to do with that. But these other teams are that much better. If the Flyers were in the Western Conference, they might have had a shot at making a last minute run for the postseason. But in the East, it’s a war zone and the Flyers don’t have the ammunition to keep up. And each year moving forward means that the players are just getting older and older.

Bad Salary Cap Decisions

Starting with Ron Hextall, and continuing with Chuck Fletcher, the Flyers have invested millions and millions of dollars into bad salaries that have crippled this team. They have greatly overpaid for players like: Kevin HayesTravis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ivan Provorov, and James van Riemsdyk.

And it’s not that these players are bad. They are good players…but not great. They are getting paid like elite players but are far from being elite. They are good pieces to have on your team, like Scott Laughton, but are being paid far, far more than what they bring to the table.

The problem with this is that it leaves the team no room to maneuver. They can’t trade anyone away as nobody wants the contracts. If you do trade them, the trade ends up being a crappy salary dump like the Shayne Gostisbehere trade was. They can’t restock with top tier free agents because they have no money to spend. So, they have to spend money on bench players/depth pieces and hope for the best.

And this is a cycle that keeps on repeating itself with this team.

Unlucky Draft Picks

Recently, the Flyers have struggled with draft picks. Let’s look at the top three picks in each draft for the last 10 years

  • 2013: Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, Tyrell Goulbourne (Morin has retired, Hagg is gone, and Goulbourne played 11 games as a Flyer)
  • 2014: Travis Sanheim, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Mark Friedman (Sanheim is still here, NAK has bounced around the league the last year, Friedman prefers Pittsburgh to Philly. Also, Oskar Lindblom was the team’s fourth pick that year.)
  • 2015: Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Felix Sandstrom (all three still here, but Sandstrom isn’t showing much promise)
  • 2016: German Rubtsov, Pascal Laberge, Carter Hart (Rubstov played four NHL games and decided he liked the KHL more, Laberge never developed well, Hart is still here…also Wade Allison was the fourth pick)
  • 2017: Nolan Patrick, Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe (Patrick was always hurt, Frost is ok at best, and Ratcliffe was just traded…the real star of this draft was fifth rounder Noah Cates)
  • 2018: Joel Farabee, Jay O’Brien, Adam Ginning (Farabee is still here, O’Brien is looking like a bust and can’t stay healthy, Ginning is in his first year in the AHL)
  • 2019: Cam York, Bobby Brink, Ronnie Attard (York is a star in the making, Brink and Attard are in the system and have played a few NHL games)
  • 2020: Tyson Foerster, Emil Andrae, Zayde Wisdom (None have made it to the NHL, but the future looks bright for Foerster)
  • 2021 and 2022: None have made it to the NHL yet, but it is possible that last year’s top pick, Cutter Gauthier, makes it to training camp.

So, in ten years, you have ten total first round picks. Of those ten, four are busts (Morin, Rubtsov, Patrick, and O’Brien). The jury is still out on Frost. Sanheim and Provy have shown flashes of brilliance, but nothing that suggests they are elite. Only Konency has been a legit star with Farabee showing he could be; if he can come back from this season.

Overall, however, many of the top picks haven’t been panning out. Granted, you can’t plan for injuries. But many of these guys are, at best, just solid role players. That’s not what you build a team around. We don’t have the Connor McDavids, David Pastrnaks, or Auston Matthews of the hockey world.

The poor picks leave us looking for more. The poor picks make us overpay for homegrown talent that is playing “well enough” (see Provorov) because we can’t admit the mistakes. The rise in salaries further hampers what this team can do.

The Current Flyers Roster

The current crop of orange and black are filled with players who are ok to good at best. Konency and Hart are the closest players the Flyers have to being called “elite”.  Owen Tippett, Farabee, and Cates show signs of becoming really good players. However, we’ve seen this before with players like Matt Read and Nick Cousins where the flashes of being good are about the closest we get.

This team has a lot of players that are good role players and depth pieces. But teams like that don’t usually make the playoffs, let alone win the Stanley Cup. You need those sort of guys to go deep, but when the roster is mostly those guys, you are in trouble.

Case in point, the Flyers have a fairly adequate defensive team. The blueliners are mostly steady and the forwards are, in several cases, good two-way forwards. But if you can’t score, you can’t win. This team lacks a lot of offensive fire power. So, they can hold opponents to 2-3 goals a night; and for most teams that’s awesome. But when you are only scoring 1-2 goals a game, it poses bit of a problem.

The Flyers simply do not have a scorer with a killer instinct. They don’t have a team mentality of going for the jugular. They are playing basic fundamental hockey, and doing it well enough to hang in most games, but they can’t win.  And until they can amass a stable of really awesome talent, they will not be able to compete.

How can a team like Boston or Tampa go deep in the playoffs every single year, be contenders every single year, and yet always restock their team with very good young talent? They don’t miss a step. Every year they are playoff favorites. And every year, they jettison veterans, make good draft picks, and are right back where they were.

And yet, here the Flyere are. They seem to be running faster and faster, and yet are not going anywhere. They aren’t improving but they are not backsliding either. And with how strong the rest of the division and conference are, they are not going to let us catch up to them.

Buckle in Flyers fans. Despite all of the best efforts of Tortorella, this team isn’t going anywhere for a while. It will be years before we can expect to contend. And even then, we may have to consider which talent we’ll have to trade off for smaller pieces so we can be “competitive in the future.”