VOORHEES, N.J. — It would be easy for the Flyers to look at their roster, pencil in the return of injured stars such as Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis on their lineup card, and expect to just waltz back into playoff contention again next season.
Even if all the laid-up players do make it back in one piece next season, there’s no guarantee the Flyers will enjoy immediate success.
Other things have to happen:
>All the young players brought in at the tail end of the season must continue to improve and make bigger contributions.
>Puck management has to be better. The Flyers turned the puck over too many times, a big reason why they finished a whopping minus-87 goal differential, one of the worst numbers in team history.
>They must upgrade their scoring, particularly at the center position. Claude Giroux and Derick Brassard were traded away. Scott Laughton is an excellent two-way player but not a big-time lamp-lighter. The Joel Farabee wing-to-center project is a work in progress. Right now it’s Couturier, Kevin Hayes and a revolving door of characters.
>Be a tougher road opponent. Eleven wins in 41 games? Just not good enough.
>Faster starts, better second periods, less third period collapses. If the current cast can’t get the job done, then find someone who can.
>A bit more proactive in the physical department. Zack MacEwen and Rasmus Ristolainen added some energy and jam to Philadelphia’s game but perhaps it wasn’t enough.
All that considered, the Flyers players believe they can turn this thing around in a hurry if they can get a healthy roster, play smarter hockey and add a few new faces.
James van Riemsdyk, now the dean of Flyers players, said the summer should give the Flyers time to reset.
“It was a trying, frustrating year for everyone,’’ van Riemsdyk said on Saturday’s getaway day at the Flyers Training Center. “As far as the players, coaches, fans, I think kind of the way the guys on the team tried to handle the adversity with that and they did a good job to keep a good environment. (Interim head coach Mike) Yeo did a great job at that trying to keep a good environment in a year that was tough for all of us.’’
Maybe that will pay off next season.
“Guys now, going into the summer, will have things that they want to work on as a player and whether that’s physical attributes, mental stuff, maybe reading situations a little bit differently,’’ JVR said. “Hopefully, something that when they come back, there’s a noticeable difference in certain areas of the games. There were lots of areas where there was lots of improvement on our team and that’s ultimately what it takes for us as a team to take the next step. We need individuals to take steps, too. That’s the way to go for going into the summer.’’
As for the toughness factor, that doesn’t come down to just dropping the gloves. It means harder body checks, a better job of clearing out the crease on the defensive side of the rink and charging the opponent’s net on the other side. Maybe some additions are needed.
“After a year like this, you need some new members and changes,’’ Ristolainen said. “I really trust the guys we had here. But I feel like I didn’t play personally good enough and as a group, we didn’t play good enough.’’
Travis Konecny, who rebounded from a slow start to lead the team in points, is preaching patience. The Flyers did start last season with a 6-2-2 record before things fell apart. Maybe they get off to another fast getaway in 2022-23 but don’t crumble so easily.
“It (last season) is not what we’ve all hoped for,’’Konecny said, “but there’s been plenty of teams that have dipped for a few years and then their contenders and great playoff teams for years to come. Be patient. We’re coming.’’
Even young guys such as rookie Noah Cates want to get into the act. He plays the game with an attitude and put together a five-goal/nine-point run as the season came to a close.
“It’s little things,’’ Cates said. “It’s stopping on pucks, having a good stick. Being physical. Not blowing guys up. Just kind of little things that you don’t like when players do it to you, you’ve got to do to them. I think that’s a huge part of my game. Just the kind of things that I need to bring to the table on stopping those pucks and little stick details.’’
So far it’s just talk. But the Flyers who will be here next season at least have a blueprint for getting things turned around. . .in a hurry.