Did Flyers Learn From Their "Breaking Bad" Moment?

Did the Flyers' Front Office Do Enough at the Trade Deadline
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The Flyers 2023-24 season can be characterized in conflicting and still completely accurate ways. It was a failure, as the team did not make the playoffs. It was also a step forward, as the team competed in meaningful hockey until the last three minutes of the season. It is also a disaster, as rumors circulate about the futures of Sean Couturier, Morgan Frost and Cam Atkinson with the team.

But most importantly, it was a victory, as the team seems to have won back the fan base, at least for the moment. All of these things are true in some measure, and it really comes down to perspective, but in the harsh light shed by the ultimate objective, winning the Stanley Cup, this season’s team fell short. Indeed, Rome was not built in a day, but the Flyers have opened themselves to criticism regarding how far they have come compared to how far they should or could have moved on their rebuilding timeline.

The Flyers “Breaking Bad” moment happened immediately after they decided to trade Sean Walker on March 6. Like Walter White, the anti-hero in the  Breaking Bad series, the Flyers found themselves at a crossroads. The question for White was how far to take his partner Jesse’s squabble with his drug lord employer. The Flyers had to decide if it was worth it to flirt with a playoff spot or if losing Walker meant it was time to trade the season’s playoff hopes for draft picks and a brighter future. In both cases, the advice given by Breaking Bad character Mike Ehrmantraut, fittingly an ex-cop from Philly, works for White and the Flyers. No more half-measures.

Walker was the Flyers' best defenseman most nights until he was traded. As evidence, the Flyers only won six out of 19 games after his departure. Despite the hate mail from the Sanheim and York fan clubs, the right-handed shot Walker gave the team a nice blend of Sanheim’s rush joining support and York’s puck moving without their defensive bugaboos. To me, the calculus was pretty simple. The Flyers were a severely diminished team without Walker and a playoff berth was going to be difficult to secure. The Flyers' front office got too cute, lost sight of the ultimate goal, and only went halfway. The full measure would have been to dump anyone who had value, to grab picks and cap space to retrench for next season and beyond.  

What would the full measure have looked like? I still hear rumors (I don’t believe them) that Scott Laughton could fetch two first-round picks. Get the picks and the three million in cap space for next year. Teams were sniffing around Cam Atkinson. Maybe the Rangers go all in and are willing to trade Braden Schneider, or K’ Andre Miller for the forward, who would be an upgrade. If not, maybe they part with their president trophy slotted first-round pick.  Nick Seeler's value would never be higher and could have fetched at least a second-round pick in 2025. Marc Staal should have fletched at least a fourth rounder. If anyone had mentioned Sanheim, Couturier, or Ristolainen, the Flyers should have taken at least a fourth-rounder to get these contracts off the books.

To go all the way, what about trading Travis Konecny? Carolina unloaded four prospects and potentially two draft picks for Jake Guentzel, who put up good numbers, on a team with Letang, Malkin, and Crosby. Konecny is the more versatile player and is putting up scoring numbers with laughably little help, and no powerplay to speak of.  Tell me how it would be possible for Rod Brind’Amour not to fall in love with Konecny?

Was trading Walker the right move?  Even though it hamstrung the Flyers’ playoff chances, it was the right move. But Briere and the Flyers’ error was stopping with Walker. The team was playing well above expectations, and, at the time, there was conjecture that there could have been more than just Sean Walker in the secret sauce. Briere should have let the other GMs tell him who they thought was stirring the drink, and then pulled every ounce of value he could from them. 

There is still a lot to like about what Briere and the Flyers have done. They navigated the Cutter Gauthier minefield as best they could. Michkov looks like he will be a force once he is in the league.  The team looks like it is on the upswing as Briere keeps grabbing picks in the top 100 for upcoming drafts. But if Briere is self-critical, he will see there was a lot of low-hanging fruit that could have been picked. Did he not see losing Walker would hurt so badly? Or did he think he could split the baby and build up draft capital while getting in the playoffs? Only Briere truly knows. Hopefully, he knows to expedite the rebuild, no more half-measures.