If we’re being completely honest, the 2023 season was always going to be a long shot for the Flyers under first-year coach John Tortorella. One look at the team’s opening night lineup will tell even those wearing the most orange-tinted glasses the same. Honestly, the Flyers just didn’t have nearly enough good players to be a contender, and despite what general manager Chuck Fletcher or Tortorella said publicly, this was really always going to be a rebuilding year.
There have been false dawns, notably three straight comeback wins to open the season and an almost unthinkable 7-3-2 start. But the team’s fortunes always reverted to the mean, and the Flyers’ glaring lack of top talent was sure to be exposed. It was plain as day to see with one’s own eyes, even without delving into advanced analytics, that painted an ominous picture.
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The Flyers may have been winning, but they were vastly outplayed and it wasn’t going to last. Tortorella acknowledged as much, saying the team was “just awful” in points in some wins and “really good” in points in losses.
Plagued by several key injuries, reality hit, and hard, beginning on Nov. 10 in the form of a 10-game losing streak. The Flyers have never really recovered and are currently in a stretch where they have lost 18 of their last 22 games. In the famous words of the late NFL coach Dennis Green, “They are what we thought they were.”
While the Flyers’ 11-16-7 record is about where you’d book them to be, there have certainly been some real positives.
After consistently inconsistent seasons, Carter Hart (.911 save percentage, 2.87 goals-against average) looks every bit the No. 1 goaltender, despite spending most nights in lockdown behind a young and overachieving group. The resurgence of Travis Konechny was also a welcome sight. The winger, who is still only 25 years old, has 14 goals and 30 points in 28 games after scoring just 16 goals in 79 games last season.
Some young players have also started making positive moves. Owen Tippett (10 goals), a 23-year-old acquired in the Claude Giroud trade, seems to have found his confidence and footing at the NHL level and uses his size and excellent shooting to great effect. 23-year-old rookie Morgan Frost also looks to be having a moment with goals in three straight games and seven points in his last six contests. Add in 23-year-old Noah Cates, who has impressed Tortorella with his defensive play, and recently drafted 21-year-old guard Cam York (four points in seven games), and there are some young pieces to work with. .
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The team has been more competitive for the most part, with 11 of its 23 losses coming by lone goal, including 7 in overtime or a shootout. The Flyers didn’t let up, reeling off nine comeback wins, a total that already matches last season’s 82 game mark. There’s no salvation in moral victories, but the effort and pride have been there this season even if the results haven’t been, and that wasn’t always clear last season.
For a team that didn’t have a chance to contend for the Stanley Cup this year, being in the games but not winning them is probably the ideal scenario. The Flyers currently have the league’s sixth-worst record, and a year after landing Cutter Gauthier at No. 5, they will likely be at the top of the lottery in hopes of landing another premium draft pick. In a powerful draft with a generational prospect in Connor Bedard and other potential stars in Adam Fantilly and Matvei Michkov, the best long-term plan of action is to lose while being competitive.
The Flyers are not going to be a playoff team for the third straight season. As disappointing as it may be for fans to hear, it’s definitely for the best. The second half of this season isn’t about wins and losses, it’s about building an identity under Tortorella, giving young players in key situations on-the-job experience and determining which players are part of the long-term solution. and which players the team should move on from. It’s long overdue, but the Flyers need to stop playing average and commit to rebuilding from the ground up. That process is ongoing.
It may be hard to believe, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but throw away the record, the Flyers are in better shape than they were at this time last year.