While this season doesn’t look like it will turn out quite as badly as the franchise’s worst in 2006-07, there are some similarities.
In both campaigns, the general manager and coaching positions changed hands.
Both teams found creative ways to lose games, be it poor special teams, inconsistent goaltending and/or massive amounts of turnovers fueled by mental mistakes.
When the ice chips settled in the spring of 2007, the Flyers had the lowest point total in the NHL and the fewest in team history.
Early in the 2006-07 season, coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and general manager Bob Clarke resigned.
It was left to new general manager Paul Holmgren to get things fixed.
He went about it by making some clever trades, obtaining the rights to Nashville’s Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell and then signing free agent Danny Briere to an eight-year, $52-million contract.
Things turned around quickly. The Flyers were back in the playoffs the following year and under new coach John Stevens made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.
Now, some 12 years later, the same task would appear to be falling on new GM Chuck Fletcher, who has succeeded Ron Hextall in the driver’s seat.
It’s Fletcher’s mandate to see if he can finish what Hextall started, namely a patient rebuild while at the same time remaining in contending position.
Which brings us to the NHL trade deadline, coming up on Feb. 25.
Fletcher has already made some minor transactions, sending Jordan Weal to Arizona, putting Dale Weise on waivers (although he’s still with the team for the time being) and sending prospect Taylor Leier to Buffalo for another project, Justin Bailey.
But when things start to heat up, Fletcher has to decide how much work has to be done to get the Flyers back on track again.
He has a number of questions to answer, not only at the trade deadline but all the way into the offseason.
>Is Carter Hart already in position to make all the other Flyers’ goaltenders expendable? So far, in a small 11-game sample of work, it sure looks that way. With the contracts of veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth about to run out, Hart looks like the favorite to be the No. 1 heading into the 2019-20 season.
>Can defense hotshots Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere regain the form of a year ago? Both are going through “tough’’ (that’s putting it mildly) seasons. Provorov says he’s not bothered by lack of progress in negotiations toward a new contract but it sure looks like he’s distracted. Fletcher has to decide how much the Russian is worth and whether he figures into the team’s long-term plans.
>Would the Flyers consider trading potential unrestricted free agent Wayne Simmonds at the deadline as a rental to a contending team, then try to sign him back this summer? That would maximize his value. Only thing is, Simmonds doesn’t sound too happy that players like Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux and Gostisbehere were handed big contract extensions and he wasn’t. Maybe he wouldn’t want to come back.
>Is it too late for 30-year-olds like Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds to still be a factor when the Flyers’ cast of up-and-coming prospects do potentially lead them back into serious contention? And if it is too late, is it time to move on and consider a reconstruction of the leadership group? Giroux has a no-movement clause in his contract and Voracek’s similar eight-year, $66-million contract makes him a tough player to trade, so Fletcher probably has to go the free-agent route (such as James van Riemsdyk last summer) and hope that his potential top-end draft pick can make an impact if the Flyers want to return to contention in a hurry.
>Will Fletcher be bold in free agency? Well, he once signed both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to free-agent contracts in Minnesota totaling 13 years and $98 million each. Now that’s bold. The Flyers won’t have anywhere near that much salary cap space but you get the idea.
There are so many factors involved here but this much we do know: With a few creative moves, like the ones made in 2007, a team can get back into contention and it doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time if everything falls into place.
Recently, Fletcher updated four Flyers who are on the mend:
>Elliott, G, (lower-body injury): “Brian is progressing nicely and continuing with his rehab. He’s back on the ice but there really is no timetable set for his return.’’
>Corban Knight, C, (broken collarbone): (Saw doctor on Friday). “He is progressing very well and hopefully we get the green light for Corban to advance on and off the ice.’’
>Samuel Morin, D, (ACL surgery): “Sam saw the doctor on Wednesday. The game plan for Sam is to get his body ready to go back and play NHL hockey. We’re looking at another month before he’s ready to do that.’’
>Neuvirth, G, (lower-body injury): “Michal is doing well. He was evaluated on Thursday. His timetable has not been set. We’re hoping to get him back on the ice late next week.’’