The Three Reasons The Flyers Failed to Make the Playoffs

Can the Flyers fix these issues before next season? Would fixing just one of them be enough?
Mar 28, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jordan Harris (54) plays the puck against Philadelphia Flyers right wing Cam Atkinson (89) during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jordan Harris (54) plays the puck against Philadelphia Flyers right wing Cam Atkinson (89) during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports / David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers took a step forward last season.  As the season started the team had lost a substantial amount of talent with the departure of Kevin Hayes, Tony DeAngelo, and Ivan Provorov. The team received a single player of consequence in return, Sean Walker. 

The Flyers finished with 87 points, a .482 winning percentage, but won only four times in their last 15 games. This season was a coaching clinic on team buy-in, meticulous attention to detail, and effort overcoming talent. In the end, the line between victory and defeat was too thin for the Flyers. The team needed a nearly perfect effort each night to win, and in an 82-game season, that is just too much to ask. The Flyers left three bits of low-hanging fruit that could have resulted in a playoff appearance.

The Flyers failures hinged on three important shortcomings

Abysmal Powerplay

While the 5-on-5 play was truly fun to watch, the Flyers power play was a miasma of vile failure. In 2022-2023, the Flyers finished at 15.66 %, placing them last in the league. As predicted, the Curse of Joe Mullen continued and the Flyers were even worse this year, finishing at 12.20% and netting only 31 powerplay goals. 

What is even more vexing is the team finished ninth in powerplay opportunities with 254 of them. If the team’s powerplay had merely been average, they would have finished with 20 more goals. That would have moved the team from 27th overall in goals scored to 20th. Surely 20 more goals would have equated to three more wins, or six more points, which would have put the team in the playoffs.

My hope this season is that we see York and Drysdale together on the powerplay. These two defensemen have a complementary skill set that will improve puck movement on the powerplay.  While it is true I once compared York’s role on the US Juniors powerplay to “tree number 2” in a grammar school play, giving York the puck and allowing him to skate goalward may be the best way to create opportunities on the powerplay.

Lack of Defensive Depth

Once the Flyers traded Sean Walker, the cracks began to show in the team’s defense. It did not help that Nick Seeler and Rasmus Ristolainen were injured and out of the lineup, but losing Walker was the nail in the coffin. The team went into a free fall without Walker, as York and Sanheim were asked to carry too much, almost all, of the burden. The team had little contribution from other defenders.

To make matters worse, with the Flyers contending for a playoff spot to the last moments of the season, the team failed, again, to sort out what defensive prospects truly have a chance at an NHL career. All of the prospects’ immediate futures look cloudy at best. Maybe Ginning and perhaps Andrae looked the part of NHL players and could be ready. Hunter McDonald’s size and grit are promising. But all three of them would be rookies and none of them have been tested by the rigors of a full NHL season.  At this point, the prospect pool presents possibilities, not solutions.

If the Flyers fail to find help inside the organization, the free-agent market has some interesting options. John Klingberg is coming off a hip injury, and the veteran may be willing to come in for a one-year “prove it” and “trade me” deal. The Flyers would be a place where he could gain ice time, put up numbers, and play himself into one last big contract.

Buffalo defender Henri Jokiharju is a player who is a little under the radar. Jokiharju made Brandon Montour duplicative in Buffalo, allowing Montour to sign with Florida. Jokiharju is a very good puck mover who is solid in his end. He is playing third-pair minutes in Buffalo and may be out of favor as the Sabres struggle to get enough ice time for Dahlin, Power, and Bowen. 

As a right-handed shot, he could slide into the space on the Flyers that Walker successfully occupied.  While it is unlikely he would sign a one-year deal, I think that he is undervalued since he was playing bottom pair minutes in Buffalo. A three-year deal at 3 million a season would be a decent gamble on a player who could be a solid second-pair player.

Other possibilities include former Flyers Phil Myers and Sean Walker. Both of those players could probably find themselves playing second-pair minutes, but it is unlikely either of them will find their way back to Philly

Secondary Scoring

The Flyers knew they would struggle to score.  The roster construction had a lot of question marks and “maybes”, so many that it was hard to envision them not struggling. At the top end, two reliable scorers, Atkinson and Couturier, failed to combine for 30 goals. Noah Cates, who scored 13 goals in 2023 and looked ready to leap forward, netted only eight goals in 59 games as he struggled with injuries. Morgan Frost and Scott Laughton did not improve their production. Laughton drew high praise all season and scored 13 goals, five less than his previous season. Frost, who also scored 13 goals, six less than his previous season, drew lukewarm reviews from his coach.

On the plus side of the ledger were Konecny and Tippett, with 33 and 28 goals respectively. The two led the team in goals and performed above expectations.  Ryan Poehling and Bobby Brink both scored 11 goals, career highs and may shoulder more of the load this season. Eleven goals, while a nice production, is not a breakout season. Farabee seemed like he was ready to go off each of the last two seasons, but only put up decent, not outstanding, offensive production. Tyson Foerster hit the 20-goal marker as a rookie and looks like he has more to give.

York and Sanheim both scored 10 goals, respectable numbers, especially in light of the team’s woes on the powerplay.  One has to wonder just how much more scoring could be squeezed from them and the rest of the back end. 

In the end, it was a failing of the depth forwards and the regression on offense of Atkinson and Couturier that froze up the team’s scoring. The Flyers will face the same uncertainty this season. Will Atkinson and Couturier, who both returned from prolonged absences due to injury, be a year more recovered, or a year older?  Will young players break out or struggle? It is hard to say. If things break in the best possible way, the Flyers’ offensive woes may be behind them, but the chances of that seem very much a coin flip.

The Flyers played very well for stretches last season, taking the team to the brink of the playoffs. If any of their three major shortcomings are addressed, it may finally be time for playoff hockey in Philly.