One might look at the Flyers’ desultory past season and conclude this team could be years away from serious contention.
To that assumption we counter with one shining example: The New York Rangers.
Out of the playoffs since 2017 (the brief Stanley Cup qualifier in the 2020 Toronto bubble is not considered official postseason play), the Rangers needed just one big move to turn things completely around.
They hired head coach Gerard Gallant and the former coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights turned things around in a hurry.
Yes, the emergence of Vezina Trophy favorite Igor Shesterkin in goal has had a lot to do with the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. And strong seasons from veterans such as Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider have been contributing factors.
But in our eyes, Gallant’s greatest accomplishment to date has been the development of the Blueshirts’ “Kid Line’’ of Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko.
This trio played a big role in New York’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the opening round against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then really had an impact as the Rangers rallied from a 3-2 hole during the conference semifinal series with the Carolina Hurricanes.
We’re not big fans of hockey’s advanced analytics but here’s a number which simply can’t be ignored: The three aforementioned youngsters are scoring 4.91 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play.
The rest of the Rangers? Just 2.59.
Overall, the Rangers’ revival has been nothing short of remarkable.
Under former coach David Quinn, the Rangers finished 27-23-6 in the pandemic-shortened 56-game 2020-21 season with a plus-minus of plus-20. They finished fifth in the one-shot East Division standings.
This year: 52-24-6 and a plus-47, good for second in the restored Metropolitan Division.
Gallant, a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy for best coach, has brought structure back to the Rangers’ style of play. Plus, not only has he gotten improved play from his youth corps but veterans as well. Kreider went from 20 goals/30 points in 50 games in 2020-21 to 52 goals/77 points in 81 games this season. Zibanejad: 50 points in 56 games to 81 points in 81 games.
All that said, the Flyers would be wise to follow a similar blueprint.
They have a promising Kid Line of their own with Morgan Frost centering rookies Noah Cates and Owen Tippett. All three players are the same age, 23.
What Philadelphia needs to do now is find a coach of the Gallant ilk – one who can get the best out of fledglings like these while restoring the confidence of veterans such as Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis. . .all on the comeback trail from injuries.
Apparently that’s why general manager Chuck Fletcher has already interviewed proven winners such as Barry Trotz and John Tortorella.
Each has a Stanley Cup on his resume but more importantly, they know how to get the best out of individual players, old and young alike.
If Fletcher, who has salary cap issues to contend with, can find a way to fill a few key holes in the offseason, the Flyers just might be on their way back to relevance much quicker than a lot of people think.
Remember this: In 2007, the Flyers finished dead last in the NHL standings.
The following year, under coach John Stevens, the Flyers turned things around and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference before losing to powerhouse Pittsburgh.
That was the year the Flyers added Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, three key veterans.
However, let’s not forget three young players who helped fuel that resurrection: Mike Richards (22), Jeff Carter (23) and Joffrey Lupul (24).
Richards led the team in scoring, Carter was fourth and Lupol was an opportunistic right wing who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Like the situation the Rangers faced at the start of this past regular season, the Flyers have failed to make the playoffs for two straight seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1992-94. Clearly, the Flyers want to avoid a dubious hat trick.
If Philadelphia’s ownership, management and “new’’ coaching staff can follow the Rangers’ blueprint going into 2022-23, maybe another 2008 could be in the making.
It’s going to take some shrewd thinking and perhaps a little luck to make it happen.