This one hurt.
In terms of expectations versus results, there have been disappointing Flyers seasons in the past but this one had to be one of the more painful ones.
When the Flyers dutifully tripped to the Zoom call chair to individually give their tale of woe on Tuesday, there were few smiles and basically no laughs.
Philadelphia, picked by many to do damage in this year’s playoffs after an encouraging performance in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, made it to March, then marched into oblivion.
Some excuses, like the COVID mess, were obvious. Others had deeper analysis. Take the miserable penalty kill for example.
Sean Couturier noted things fell apart early and stayed unraveled because, in part, the team lost veteran killers Tyler Pitnick, Derek Grant and Nate Thompson and tried to replace them with younger personnel.
That tactic didn’t work.
“I think we lost some key guys last offseason, guys with experience that were good penalty killers, you got guys like Thompson and Pitlick and even Grant that were those guys that we brought in, were experienced and knew their role and were good at it,’’ Couturier said.
“This year we had kind of new guys kind of filling in some roles and yeah, those are tough players to replace especially when they’re established for so many years in the league. It’s an opportunity for some younger guys or some new guys to fill in roles. But those are three guys that you don’t replace with one guy, or you need a few guys to step up. So yeah, it’s tough losing those guys.’’
Duly noted. Next up, Joel Farabee. He scored a team-high 20 goals at age 21, while a number of his young brethren took a step back. Coach Alain Vigneault credited part of Farabee’s success to training in the U.S. in the offseason where there were fewer restrictions than elsewhere.
“I think everyone was affected differently this year,’’ he said. “It’s a tough year and I can speak from experience. When things aren’t going great, sometimes it’s been really hard to find your game and stuff like that.
“I have a lot of faith in my teammates here. I think we have a really good group. We have a lot of good young guys. I think this summer will be really useful. It’s kind of a normal summer and we’ll be heading into more normal camp and more normal season. So hopefully with that, guys are ready. And I’m pretty confident that all the young guys are going to take a step forward for next year.’’
- How about Justin Braun? Does he have a theory on why the young players didn’t progress?
“I honestly would tell them you got to put the work in the summer,’’ Braun said. “It’s one of those things you got to think about it for a while but then put it aside and kind of not turn this into work. “You’ve got to enjoy it. You have got to have fun and that’s when you’re going to have the best success. When you’re showing up to the rink and enjoying it like you were as a kid. It’s when it gets stressful, you’re losing sleep at night and you just got to go back to that, that younger mind. Enjoy your summer training. Get out there, work on things, but not make it work.’’
Sounds like a plan.
Moving to another topic, lack of practice time proved to be a bugaboo for the Flyers, especially for the young players.
Would Kevin Hayes agree?
“It’s easier to tune up your game when you can practice as a team a lot more than we did this year,’’ he said. “That was definitely a challenge for our team. The whole league went through it, so we can’t really use that as an excuse. That’s when you get better. That’s when you build chemistry. That’s when you work on your systems and become a better team. I feel like this year, it was tough without it. Next year, it’ll be a normal season, and we’ll get back to it.”
The Flyers have one of the highest winning percentages on their home ice in NHL history. That advantage was taken away this year. But Oskar Lindblom said the Flyers will get that back next season when hopefully the Wells Fargo Center is at or close to capacity.
“That’s a big part of the sport,’’ Lindblom said. “The fans. They’re unbelievable, especially here when we have a full house to give you so much energy. It’s way more fun to play when we have a full house too. I can’t wait to get back and play for the fans again. Give it back to them from this year when they missed part of it. It’s going to be great to see them again. Hopefully, we can play better next year and give them something to cheer for.’’
He’s right. When things get back to normal, maybe the Flyers’ record will, too. Then we won’t have to listen to a bunch of excuses next time around.