Flyers at Halfway: 3 Questions for the Remainder of the Season
Well, the Flyers season has officially reached the halfway point. I know, I know, it feels like it’s been more than just 41 games – a lot more.
That’s because the Flyers started off with an 8-4-2 record through the first 14 games and had 18 points in the standings. In the 27 games since, they have endured winless streaks of 10 and 11 games and posted a 5-16-6 record, adding 16 points for a total of 34.
Where does that put the Flyers? They are ranked last in points percentage in the Metropolitan Division, only ahead by a point on New Jersey for the bottom of the Metro in points total. They also trail the Boston Bruins for the final wildcard spot in the playoffs by 16 points. So you can nix that word from your vocabulary. This team will not be going to the playoffs, barring an absolute miracle run.
If the playoffs aren’t happening and things appear to be in shambles on and off the ice, what happens in the final 41 games? What makes them noteworthy? Here are three questions that are facing the Flyers going forward for the remainder of the season.
Question 1: How Low Do the Flyers Finish in the Standings/How High Do They Pick?
These two questions go hand in hand, so we’ll lump them into one. How low do the Flyers finish in the standings? Well, they essentially already can’t fall any lower in the division. In the conference, there are actually a sizable number of teams below them, four to be exact. But in the league, just six teams trail the Flyers at the moment.
That would put the Flyers sixth from the bottom and give them the sixth-best odds to win the draft lottery. How high do they pick? There’s no real definitive answer to that. There may be defined odds in the lottery – the league’s last-place team has 25 percent odds to win the lottery – but there is no exact science to who wins or loses.
The Flyers have seen both ends of this in franchise history. In the 2006-07 season, they finished with the league’s lowest points total, but lost the lottery and had the second overall pick. In the 2017 NHL Draft, they were slated to have the 13th overall pick and vaulted 11 spots to the second overall pick.
But how low will they finish? That’s a more interesting question at this point.
At the moment, they are sitting in 27th place in the NHL standings and have plenty of company behind them. The Buffalo Sabres, who handily defeated the Flyers on Saturday, are in 28th are one point behind with the same number of games played.
Then you get into the true bottom-feeders. In 29th is the expansion Seattle Kraken. They are six points back of the Flyers with one game in hand. The Ottawa Senators are 30th and nine points behind the Flyers, but they also have seven games in hand.
Even the Arizona Coyotes are starting to approach the Flyers. They sit in 31st place, 10 points back and have one game in hand. It may be a stretch for the Coyotes or the last-place Montreal Canadiens – 11 points back of the Flyers with one game in hand – to catch the Flyers, but it’s certainly not a stretch for the other four teams starting to get hot on their heels.
It doesn’t help that the Flyers have continued to drop in the standings in a virtual free-fall since mid-November. The 8-4-2 record was following a 2-1 overtime win over Calgary on Nov. 16. If the Flyers don’t win on Monday to snap the current 11-game winless streak, it would both match a franchise record at 12 games of winless hockey, but also mean that they would have failed to match their point total in the first 14 games in the next 28.
It’s also no guarantee that whenever this winless streak ends for the Flyers that they don’t have another one in them. It’s a team that lacks any form of speed and conviction in their game. Their confidence is shattered. They are as fragile as it gets. Get ahead, and you probably will win the game, even if the Flyers have a bit of a rally in them.
The Flyers may not get the best odds to win the draft lottery by being the NHL’s last-place team, but they could approach that territory with much more of the same in the second half of the season.
Question 2: Who Makes It Through the Trade Deadline?
With that in mind, it’s time to shift to the second question. The NHL trade deadline is on March 21, still nearly two months away. For a good chunk of that time, not much will change. The players that are here will continue to be the players that are here. In fact, don’t be surprised if there are several players who are currently injured that just get shut down if they don’t get back on the ice at practice. That would be names like Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes, and Sean Couturier specifically.
So at the trade deadline, those three names are safe. Other NHL teams aren’t going to take on players who cannot help them this season and the Flyers will be asking for too much for players with the amount remaining on their contract.
But mostly everybody else will be in discussion in some way. Carter Hart will be untouchable. Joel Farabee will likely also be off the table.
When discussing the deadline, you have to start with Claude Giroux. The captain is approaching 1,000 games with the Flyers. As of Saturday’s game, he is 19 away from that milestone. The Flyers have 21 games until the trade deadline.
While there are reports that Giroux and the Flyers have not had any conversations about his future and the trade deadline, they are coming soon. They have to be.
Giroux can clearly still play. His two goals in Saturday’s game give him 14 goals and 19 assists on the season for a total of 33 points in 38 games played. Any playoff contender would gladly take a player that can deliver point production like that for a run at the Stanley Cup. They would also pay a pretty penny to do so.
It’s where the Flyers need to begin with any moves. As much as Giroux’s time in Philadelphia, and specifically his captaincy, will be defined by this era of mediocrity, the player himself gave everything he had through those years. There were playoff appearances where he carried them into the postseason. There were years where he was deservedly in the Hart Trophy conversation. And he deserves the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup somewhere. It’s just not going to be in Philadelphia.
And in Giroux’s case, the timing doesn’t matter. You can allow him to get right up to the deadline, allowing him to become only the second Flyer to reach 1,000 games played, give him the traditional ceremony for reaching the milestone and let him have a proper send-off from the fanbase.
Every expiring contract should be on the table at the deadline. The next most intriguing name is Rasmus Ristolainen. While the Flyers will likely have to retain some of his $5.4 million salary cap hit, there will be a market for a defenseman like that, and getting whatever you can in a trade involving Ristolainen is certainly better than the alternative for him not being on the Flyers beyond this season, walking via free agency for nothing in the offseason.
Then you have names like Justin Braun, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, and Derick Brassard. Before you look at these names and wonder how the Flyers could trade any of them, remember that the Flyers got a seventh-round pick in return for Erik Gustafsson last season around the deadline. Even if that’s all you get, it’s still something, especially for low-risk signings that didn’t cost much toward your cap.
There can certainly be a market for a veteran defenseman like Braun, and perhaps even Yandle, simply for his experience. The same goes for Jones. Despite not helping his value any by allowing four goals on eight shots on Saturday, he can be an option for a team that needs a veteran in goal for a playoff run, especially as a backup option.
Brassard is intriguing. First and foremost, he has to get back into games and provide a sample size of where his play is at after returning from injury. But his play prior to the injury was actually better than anticipated. The low-risk bet on Brassard was paying off much more than others made this offseason, and that could allow the Flyers to potentially nab a mid-round pick for him.
Things start to get especially interesting following those names. No doubt the Flyers will have to consider the future of many players who have become established parts of the team. James van Riemsdyk and Travis Sanheim each have one year left on their contracts after this season. It’s a realistic possibility that van Riemsdyk is simply bought out after the season ends. Sanheim could be dangled as a trade chip in the offseason.
Then you get to the pair of 2015 first-round picks. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are sure to drum up a lot of offseason discussion. They will almost definitely make it through the deadline, but beyond that, their future in Philadelphia is cloudy.
It figures to be a busy trade deadline and then a busy offseason, but that brings us to our third question.
Question 3: What is Chuck Fletcher’s Future?
If this free-fall continues further, especially to the point where the team is challenging for the lowest point total in the league, how short is the leash for Chuck Fletcher? Some probably believe his time should already be up.
Regardless, his future is an obvious question for the remainder of the season. But timing is everything.
The Flyers need to pick a direction and stick with it. It’s very apparent that they aren’t a quick fix away from returning to prominence and contention. It’s not like there’s a foundation built that someone else can finish. The ground hasn’t even been broken and the blueprints need to be drawn.
Whatever direction the Flyers take, whether they choose to blow it up and build it from the ground up again or attempt to retool, it becomes a question if Fletcher is the right person to handle that. And if he’s not, when do you make that decision and act upon it by making a change? If you are going to sell at the deadline and have a fire sale, wouldn’t you want the next GM to handle that?
This question will have an answer soon enough, potentially as soon as the next few weeks, but definitely by the end of the season. If Fletcher is given the reins and handles the offseason, it’s still his operation moving forward. He’ll be the guy, no change will be coming.
But it’s starting to feel like a change at the top is going to be inevitable. The team is a dumpster fire in every aspect. And if Fletcher isn’t able to at least make some changes and attempt to fix it soon, then somebody else will at least be tasked with the challenge.
One name to watch with a close eye moving forward: Danny Briere. Briere was a finalist for the Montreal Canadiens’ GM job, but lost to Kent Hughes. From the end of his playing career, Briere has been learning every aspect of the business side of the game. He’s made an impact with the Maine Mariners in the ECHL. He’s a constant presence at Flyers home games with the management group and he’s even been spotted on the bench for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as a fill-in replacement with multiple coaching staff members in COVID protocol for a couple of games.
Briere is valued by the Flyers organization and the belief is that there is a promotion coming soon. Could it be the GM job?
Either way, the sooner the Flyers provide an answer to this question, the better. It’s one of the first steps to at least providing some sense of direction moving forward in an effort to bring the franchise back from the depths to which it has plummeted.
Until these questions get answers, there are only 41 more games to go on a season that is rapidly trending toward one of, if not arguably the worst single season in Flyers history.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.