While the Philadelphia Flyers usher in their self-proclaimed “New Era of Orange” and we all start to turn our eyes to the NHL draft next month and the rest of the offseason beyond it, let us not forget that there is still meaningful hockey being played by four other clubs. The kind of hockey that’s the whole reason behind all this team-building and hand-wringing.
Boy, it sure would be nice if the Flyers could get back there someday, eh?
There is no “right” way to get a team into this kind of position, and luck for sure plays a part in getting a team to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But if we look at each of the four remaining contenders individually, we can glean a few ideas that the Flyers can point to as possible elements of their rebuild. Here we go.
Florida Panthers: You can’t be afraid to swing for the fences sometimes.
To be clear, the Flyers are in no way positioned currently to make a blockbuster trade like the one that Florida did last year when they brought in Matthew Tkachuk. But teams arrive at a tipping point eventually, and Florida made the bold choice last offseason to trade away two core pieces of a Presidents’ Trophy-winning team in order to land a superstar. Suffice to say, it’s looking pretty good right about now.
It was a unique situation for sure, as players of Tkachuk’s caliber aren’t always available, but credit to the Panthers for pulling the trigger. At some point down the road, Daniel Briere and this front office will have something similar in front of them. And while you can make a million excuses about why you shouldn’t do something, it would be nice to see a big move from this regime after the previous one was so risk-averse except when it came to adding players with grit.
Vegas Golden Knights: Goaltending doesn’t have to be a fatal flaw.
We should all be grateful that the Flyers have Carter Hart. And I’m also hopeful that Sam Ersson can create an effective tandem with him going forward, reaching at least the level of “solid NHL backup” and hopefully even pushing for #1 status. It would be a great problem to have. That being said, if your goaltending isn’t top tier, it doesn’t have to mean that your season is dead on arrival.
For proof of concept, look at Vegas. Presumptive starter Robin Lehner was declared out for the season before it even started, and the club has had to mix-and-match all season while also dealing with injuries to Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit. They’re currently riding journeyman Adin Hill in their attempt to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Not every team needs Patrick Roy, folks. Vegas was put together the right way when they came into existence, and their success continues several years later.
They bring in established, talented players and do a good enough job of developing young ones that they don’t have to rely on smoke and mirrors while they hope their goalies stand on their heads. Hill and others like him are actually capable of winning a Stanley Cup if they aren’t tasked beyond their abilities. If it happens this year for Vegas, might the Flyers think about dealing Hart to strengthen other areas? Food for thought, at least.
Carolina Hurricanes: A rock solid blueline covers all blemishes.
Keith Jones said it, so it must be true. You’ve got to build up that backend, and then everything else around it will click. Seriously, though, Carolina’s defense is great. Tony DeAngelo shined there, and Shayne Gostisbehere is doing well now. Take away their buffers, like both of them have experienced in Philadelphia, and things aren’t nearly as pretty.
The Flyers won’t just have a Jaccob Slavin or two fall into their laps, unfortunately, but the focus should never waver from making the blueline as good and as deep as possible. That way, you can even have a Rasmus Ristolainen-type look good if he’s playing in the right spot.
Dallas Stars: Aging, expensive stars can still help.
It would have been nice if the Flyers could have retroactively applied this lesson to Claude Giroux and some of the other veterans who have departed in recent years. Just take a look at Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin’s resurgences with Dallas. No longer top tier players, they’ve avoided becoming boat anchors because the Stars have properly populated their lineup with talented, younger, CHEAPER players who can now carry the load, allowing Benn and Seguin to be effective in support roles.
This is what should have happened with Giroux, Jakub Voracek, etc. in Philly if the Flyers had drafted and developed properly. At any rate, moving forward, the takeaway here is that the Flyers can theoretically overpay for a “win now” veteran whose value will decline in subsequent years (a la Johnny Gaudreau last year) but still be fine if they can properly slot him as he ages. That’s a big “if”, largely contingent on shrewd drafting and development. Fingers crossed on this one.
It remains to be seen how quick and/or complete of a turnaround the Flyers can make from their current status as a “bottom third” NHL club. Jones, Briere, and company just need to make sure not to let outmoded methods of thinking cloud the ultimate goal, and pulling lessons from successful clubs has to be taken into account. Let’s make sure this ‘new era’ is actually different from the old one, because we’re all tired of it.