Let’s climb aboard Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine for a brief retro trip to the 2006-07 season when that year’s Philadelphia Flyers were looking a lot like this year’s.
In the highly forgettable campaign, the 1-6-1 start led to the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock and retirement of general manager Bob Clarke. They were replaced by John Stevens and Paul Holmgren respectively and things got worse before they got better.
When the season ended, the 22-48-12 record for 56 points (last in the NHL) would be arguably the worst in Flyers history.
But to their credit, the organization turned things around in a hurry and by the following season the Flyers made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. More on that later.
So jump back on the Wayback contraption and let’s return to the present.
After 40 games this season the Flyers had accrued just 34 points, leaving them on a pace to possibly finish in the high 60s. As for playoff hopes, their nearest opponent for postseason consideration was Boston, which held an 11-point edge with three games in hand.
Of course, at season’s start hardly anyone saw this coming. The Flyers had made wholesale changes from last year’s no-playoff failure, adding 10 new players to the roster, and many predicted a return to the postseason.
The injuries and COVID showed up like uninvited guests to crash the party. Hardest hit was the leadership corps. Hardly any have escaped either the virus list or injured reserve.
So will this end as badly as it did 15 years ago? And, if so, can general manager Chuck Fletcher take another stab at a rebuild with better results?
There are parallels here: In 2007, the Flyers had future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg on their roster and since he was an impending free agent while the Flyers were going nowhere, they traded him to Nashville and in return received Scotty Upshall and a first-round draft pick, which they later returned to Nashville in exchange for Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.
Later the Flyers signed free agent Danny Briere and they were off and ruuning.
This year there is speculation the Flyers might ask Claude Giroux to waive his no-movement clause so that he can be traded before he reaches UFA status in July.
Such a move could start the ball rolling toward a new look in team leadership.
We asked Bill Meltzer, chief writer for PhiladelphiaFlyers.com and content manager for the Flyers Alumni Association, if he sees parallels in the two situations.
“Peter had the foot issue and he always said he would have re-signed if he had been healthy,’’ Meltzer said. “With the season being what it was he was a rental for Nashville. Then they flipped defenseman Alexei Zhitnick to Atlanta for a young prospect named Braydon Coburn.’’
As for Giroux, it might be worth the Flyers’ while to go this trade route. They could always bring him back in July if he wants to keep chasing Bob Clarke’s records.
The problem is the Flyers might not have the salary cap space to take advantage of the situation.
“I would think they would be able to get a first-round pick for Giroux,’’ Meltzer said. “And at least a young prospect or an NHL roster player out of it. If not all three, at least get the best you can.’’
The season is barely half over and already people are writing off the Flyers. Joel Farabee and Kevin Hayes were recently added to the injured reserve list, making immediate prospects look dim.
“The one thing this team is a little behind that (2006-07) team was, at least that team had Simon Gagne,’’ Meltzer said. “He scored 40 goals in back-to-back years. This team doesn’t have that benefit. It could end up with the second overall pick in the draft. The Flyers could have a couple first-round picks in this year’s draft, and then hopefully bringing in some young players with a little bit of NHL experience.’’
A team’s wish list might be encouraging but prying talent from other teams isn’t easy.
“Teams are generally reluctant to part with top prospects,’’ Meltzer said. “And really high-end first-round picks. Most of these teams (potential landing places for Giroux) are going to be playoff teams, they will be in the lower half of the first round.’’
One constant in the NHL: Teams can, and often do, turn things around in a hurry. Just look at that 2006-07 team.
“I think there are certain models the Flyers can look at for help,’’ Meltzer said. “The ’06-07 team was in the conference finals a year later and then the Stanley Cup Final (2009-10). It can be done but it’s hard to do.’’
It’s tough to underestimate what the loss of Ryan Ellis has meant to this team. He was brought in not only for his hockey talent but his leadership ability. That’s an element sorely lacking right now.
“He was going to be (Ivan) Provorov’s partner, play 20-something minutes a night and then you could slot your D-pairings the right way,’’ Meltzer pointed out. “There was a lot of heavy lifting Ellis was supposed to do and now he’s played four games this season. And they figured on a healthy Kevin Hayes. Same with Sean Couturier.’’
Hopefully better days are ahead. It’s just a question of when.
“This team should have been better on paper than it’s been,’’ Meltzer said. “One good thing has been the goaltending (Carter Hart, Martin Jones). If it had been like last year, they would be at the very bottom.’’
They say the darkest hour is just before dawn. Right now the sky looks a lot like it did 15 years ago before there were signs of light.