It has been nothing short of a disastrous NHL season in Philadelphia as the Flyers seem on track to miss the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1993 and 1994.
Without a win in 2022, facing a mountain of injuries, already dismissing a head coach and all after an off-season when change for the better was attempted, it didn't take long for the organization's frustration to show itself when GM Chuck Fletcher and Comcast Spectacor Chairman & CEO Dave Scott met the media Wednesday.
"We're in a terrible spot right now. I’m angry, I know our fans are more than angry. The whole organization is angry. We're sick of losing," Scott started. "I'm sorry. You deserve so much better. This isn’t what anybody signed up for. We're determined to right the ship here."
So where do the Flyers go from here?
To start, they figure to be sellers at the March 21 deadline, though there are still eight weeks to strike those deals. The biggest question in terms of who they could trade away revolves around Claude Giroux, their best and longest-tenured player who wears the 'C' on his jersey. Giroux is in the final year of his contract and as the Flyers explore all options on how to get back on track, the possible return in a Giroux trade is tantalizing.
Fletcher expressed how difficult it would be to move on from such an important player to the city and organization, then pointed out that because of the no-move clause in Giroux's contract, whether or not the team does trade him will ultimately be up to the player.
Other rentals such as Martin Jones or Keith Yandle could be on the table for the Flyers to trade, and they would be easier to part with. Rasmus Ristolainen, who the Flyers paid a hefty price to acquire last summer, is also on an expiring deal. When he traded for the defenceman, Fletcher said the intention was to keep Ristolainen and that the team needs the sort of muscle he brings, but that his status as a pending UFA means the player will ultimately weigh into any decision there as well.
And then the really difficult questions need to be faced. Does team leadership think the Flyers are so broken and busted that a full rebuild is upcoming and the future of the team will come through the draft?
"There’s no question we need more top-end talent," Fletcher said. "The easier way to get top-end talent is through the draft. ... Bottoming out, I don't think that’s what we feel we need to do. I do believe we have good pieces and realistically players like (Sean) Couturier and (Ryan) Ellis will come back eventually.
"We're not going to trade all 20 players on our team and try to get 15 picks every year."
The Flyers do have some good young players who could be factors in turning it around quickly. It's believed Travis Konecny could have been traded away last off-season, but that the organization decided to hang on to the 24-year-old speedster. Joel Farabee, 21, is fourth in team scoring and a first-round pick just four years ago.
Other youngsters, such as Morgan Frost (21) and Ivan Provorov (25), have had more interrupted developments and it's a wonder if Philadelphia could explore moving those types of players to bring about even more significant change, with an eye on on-ice improvement. A few young players are getting NHL opportunities given the lineup shortages, and they could either play their way into the organization's plans, or possibly into trade talk.
"We have some good young players and some of those players their career arc is still going to play out, but we do need more top-end talent, there’s no question," Fletcher said. "I can’t state enough how important the next few months are for some of our young players. It's just not realistic to go out and reinvent a team ... maybe some of the answers to what we're looking for are here in-house."
The future of interim head coach Mike Yeo, who replaced Alain Vigneault on Dec. 6, will also be determined in the off-season. Earlier this week, the Flyers hired John Torchetti as an assistant coach, which may indicate further staff changes in the future. Interestingly, when Fletcher was GM of the Minnesota Wild, he promoted Torchetti to interim head coach in 2016, replacing Yeo.
Scott and Fletcher noted that the Flyers had expanded their development staff and analytics department as a means to improve player and prospect support. Scott added that he doesn't foresee a "three-, four-, five-year rebuild at all" and instead envisioned being in the race again next season.
And just in case there was any doubt, the Flyers organization still sees Fletcher as the GM to get them there, as the team struggles through its third full season under his watch.
"Right now, Chuck's my guy and we're trying to build around that," Scott said. "I like the way he’s built this organization. I like his style, I like his leadership, he’s smart and collaborative. I’ve never seen the front office work this well together. This is my ninth season. I like what we did going into this season, on paper it looked solid and good.
"I think he deserves a shot to really right this thing. I'm going to give him a blank cheque to get this right."