Granted, it’s only a handful of games and hardly proves a thing.
Yet, what Flyers followers have to be encouraged by over the past week is the play of a couple newcomers – perhaps signaling the dawn of a true youth movement in the team’s future.
The play of 23-year-old Owen Tippett and 26-year-old Hayden Hodgson in the Flyers’ 5-2 win at St. Louis on Thursday night had to bring smiles to a lot of faces.
Trading Claude Giroux last weekend made sense from a tactical, strategic standpoint in that the team was getting maximum value for a 34-year-old player with an expiring contract.
But the timing of saying goodbye to the face of the franchise while having the general manager come out and say he was committed to building a nucleus of under-25 players seemed almost uncanny.
Clearly, something had to change around here. Even if the Flyers hadn’t been decimated by injuries and COVID, this season didn’t feel all that promising. While adding veterans such as Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle, Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard and Martin Jones among others, it seemed like the Flyers thought of themselves as close to serious contention, which in hindsight they weren’t.
Now it sounds like general manager Chuck Fletcher is taking a step back from that approach.
He unloaded Giroux, Justin Braun and Brassard at Monday’s trade deadline. It wouldn’t be surprising if he parted ways with some other “veterans’’ during the offseason.
Let’s face it, the Flyers are missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in nearly 30 years. They’ve only been to the postseason four times in the past decade and won only one playoff series over that span of futility.
Those who follow the team closely will tell you an infusion of youth – such as their University of Denver hotshot Bobby (Orr) Brink – perhaps next season will bring an infusion of badly needed energy.
With Giroux out of the picture, interim head coach Mike Yeo is already expanding the leadership role of 25-year-old Travis Konecny. Konecny was used on the penalty kill in the win over the Blues and he responded with tight defense, then scored a pair of goals in what was undoubtedly his best game of the season.
Also, playing 22-year-old Joel Farabee at center shows a change of thinking. On the way out the door, Giroux pointed at Farabee and said, “there’s the guy who’s going to break all my records.’’ Judging by the way Farabee has played in recent games, Giroux wasn’t kidding.
Tippett was double-shifted quite a bit by Yeo in the St. Louis game and it was a showcase performance. The ex-Panther played a solid two-way game and triggered the play which led to the Flyers’ big fourth goal by Patrick Brown.
After the game, Tippett said he welcomed the additional ice time, stating it builds confidence when the extra minutes keep a player “in the flow of the game.’’
There could be more of this attitude on the way. Up in Allentown, right wing Wade Allison is getting himself together after a long series on injuries. If he can get healthy (and stay that way), he adds another weapon to Fletcher’s young arsenal. Ditto young defenseman Egor Zamula.
Fletcher was particularly pleased with the play of 22-year-old Morgan Frost and Tippett in Sunday’s 2-1 win over the red-hot New York Islanders.
“For young players like that to maybe get an opportunity to have a bigger role because Brassard’s not here, or young defensemen that play a little bit more because Braun isn’t here, those are the opportunities that are hard to get sometimes in the regular season,’’ Fletcher said. “These opportunities are presenting themselves to many players.’’
In Fletcher’s mind, that was the key to the Giroux trade, to get a young player back in Tippett who would contribute to that next generation of Flyer mainstays.
“We’re trying to build core players under the age of 25 that can play together here for a long time,’’ Fletcher said. “Getting a player like Tippett instead of an additional pick for example, meant a lot to us because he was a first-round pick and he’s developed now. He’s developed in the American League. He’s developed in juniors. Time will tell what that means for the NHL but he’s ready to play. That’s exciting for us that he’s a guy that can come in and start to learn and develop. Hopefully in the next year or two, he’ll start to make an impact here.’’
You could make a case Tippett’s already made an impact here. He could be a key figure in the Flyers’ commitment to get younger, bigger, faster and he’s already shown signs he can provide those elements.
The transformation won’t happen overnight but the signs are encouraging. What have the Flyers got to lose?