By the turn of the year it was fairly evident the Flyers wouldn’t be participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that alone would be a marker of how far things have fallen.
But throw in the fact this will be the first time the Flyers have missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1992-1994 and it really hits home how much changes are badly needed.
And that could help explain why the Flyers – at least prior to Monday’s NHL trade deadline – haven’t made a serious attempt to hold onto franchise player Claude Giroux.
The 34-year-old captain has been the face of the franchise for the better part of a decade and it’s perhaps an overstated fact the team will have qualified for the playoffs only four times in those 10 years with Giroux wearing the “C.”
As interim head coach Mike Yeo pointed out the other day, that lack of success shouldn’t be placed solely at the Ontario native’s feet. If he had been surrounded with elite talent the way Sidney Crosby has in Pittsburgh and Alexander Ovechkin in Washington, things might have been different.
So, in the wake of the Jake Voracek trade to Columbus last season, this could mark the second straight year the Flyers part ways with a veteran leader. Clearly, the core group is breaking up. The previous exits of locker room forces such as Wayne Simmonds and Matt Niskanen have only added to the turnover.
General manager Chuck Fletcher figures to be quite active at the trade deadline, unloading expiring contracts such as those of Justin Braun and Derick Brassard. Those two also supplied a veteran presence.
How will the core leadership group look when the dust settles?
Well, the Flyers are hoping for the healthy returns of Sean Couturier (back surgery) and Ryan Ellis (hip) next season.
Cam Atkinson has been serving as an alternate captain of late and his play on the ice (a team-leading 23 goals) commands instant respect.
Scott Laughton has been around the better part of 10 years and figures to have a bigger say in the room. Some believe Kevin Hayes is captain’s material as well.
Ultimately, a changing of the leadership guard must also include young mainstays such as Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee and Oskar Lindblom.
The question, however, remains: Do the Flyers have to bring in some more dynamic talent to supplement this group either by free agency or trades?
If you look back to just the end of the 2019-20 season when the Flyers came within a game of the Eastern Conference finals, the answer would be there’s already enough raw ability to get the job done.
There are those who say a season free of COVID and injury problems would be all it takes to get the Flyers right back into contention.
They have goalie Carter Hart, who’s been nothing short of remarkable in a bounce-back season in which he’s kept the Flyers in more games than anyone could reasonably expect.
The long-term signing of Rasmus Ristolainen guarantees the Flyers will have their top four defensemen (Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Ellis the others) in place.
Up front, the addition of another sniper or two, plus some more progress from prospects such as Morgan Frost and Wade Allison, should be enough offense to carry the load on most nights.
No doubt if Giroux and several other veterans aren’t here next year, it will be up to players such as Atkinson, Laughton and Hayes to fill that leadership need.
Plus, a lot of the mechanics would depend on which way Fletcher decides to go with the coaching position. Does he bring back Yeo, who’s done a pretty good job with the hand he’s been dealt? Or would he go after either a tough guy like John Tortorella or a fan favorite such as Rick Tocchet?
From local hockey fans’ perspective, it’s just too bad Giroux most likely won’t be here to enjoy any sort of team renaissance after all the adversity he’s been put through.
One could sense he knew that as he circled the ice the other night after the inspirational win over Nashville. Giroux knows hockey, like any professional sport, is still a business at the end of the day, so there are no ill feelings. It’s a mutual parting of the ways.
He most likely will be playing for another team next year. But when he has an off day and he turns on the television to watch an out-of-town game, you just know he’s going to be checking out the team dressed in orange, white and black.