PHILADELPHIA – Considering what the Flyers achieved after bottoming out in early December (following a 10-game winless streak), the season as a whole must be viewed as a positive one.
Whether that translates into greater success in the near future remains to be seen.
General manager Ron Hextall said the other day that just making the playoffs was “no big deal.’’
By his definition then, a 98-point season and a first-round loss to the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins might not be viewed as encouraging developments.
But in the Flyers’ locker room, the reaction to questions about the team’s future was mostly upbeat.
No doubt, there is a good core of young players, featuring Sean Couturier, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick.
They are backed up by veterans such as Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds.
The Flyers’ development system was recently ranked No. 2 in the National Hockey League by The Hockey News, so the future would appear bright.
Still, there’s a lot of work to be done.
No doubt, the goaltending merry-go-round has to end. Both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth each have one year left on their contracts, so that’s probably the tandem you will see next year, buying time until No. 1 prospect Carter Hart is ready.
The Flyers also should be encouraged by their up-and-coming defense corps.
Rookies Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim made strides this season and there are Sam Morin and Phil Myers on the horizon.
“You look at the young guys and the way they played and I thought ‘Patty’ (Nolan Patrick) was one of our best players in the playoffs and he developed into a really good centerman,’’ Scott Laughton said.
“He was skating really well and Konecny and guys like that. Provy (Provorov) played 30 minutes the other night and there are all these guys that are coming up and it’s fun to watch. I’m still young, but been around a little bit and fun to see these kids come up and play some good hockey for us.’’
While the Flyers have some hope for the future, there’s still that little statistic about not getting past the first round of the playoffs for the past six years.
At some point, even the most patient ownership group or fan base is going to want to see some results.
Voracek, for instance, hasn’t scored a playoff game in 10 games. For Simmonds, the drought is 13.
Even Voracek said at last year’s exit interview that the Flyers’ veteran core group better start making something happen or risk having it blown up.
“We have a pretty young team,’’ Andrew MacDonald pointed out. “A lot of guys first time around. It’s a tough league. It’s a grind. It’s a long season. A lot of ups and downs. But you know, it was a lot made out of the big losing streak. We had some winning streaks.
“I think we did a really good job of staying even keel in the dressing room regardless of how we were playing on the ice. That is what a true team does. They stick together. I thought we did a really good job at that.”
Of course, there will be questions about coach Dave Hakstol in the offseason.
He’s taken the Flyers to the postseason two of his three seasons in Philadelphia but is that good enough? His team was outscored 28-15 by the Penguins and the 2016 series with Washington was pretty lopsided as well.
When the Flyers break up either Tuesday and/or Wednesday, Hextall will get a lot of questions about Hakstol’s performance and status.
Hakstol is putting his faith in the hands of his young, developing players.
“As a group, I think you saw a ton of guys move in the right direction,’’ Hakstol said. “You always want development to be this smooth path, smooth climb.
“It doesn’t work that way. It’s kind of a jagged climb. As long as you’re seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction. I like the growth of our young guys.’’
The question is: How long will it take? And who still will be here if/when this big experiment is finally successful?