2018-19 Season Could Be Make or Break for Flyers
The Flyers season just came to an end on Sunday afternoon in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs. Turning the page to the 2018-19 season may still be a little premature here, since the offseason is mere hours old at this point.
That said, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year and where this year went wrong. With the Flyers preparing to hold breakup day on Wednesday, it’s certainly a fair time to evaluate where the 2017-18 season went and what needs to be done.
The Flyers had a critical year ahead of them at this time last season. They had missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons and the one year in, one year out results were starting to get old and tired.
The Flyers made the playoffs this season, against all odds based on the path the season took. That said, this offseason doesn’t get any easier for the Flyers as the build-up to next season begins. Next season could prove to be a make or break season for several key figures, most notably the GM and head coach.
When the Flyers approached the trade deadline in a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division, you could have argued then that it was go time for Ron Hextall to expedite the retooling and rebuilding process. Kids were up and making an impact. Veterans were having career seasons. The playoffs felt like a lock at that moment. Make move to improve your chances of making a run.
Hextall didn’t while almost every other contending team did. That wasn’t a glaring error on Hextall’s part. He made a deal to acquire a goalie in a time when the team was in dire need of a veteran. It ultimately backfired. Better to not pull the trigger on a deal that would cost so much for so little in return.
But now that you’ve had a good look at this team in a playoff series and know the talent that young players can offer, it’s time to start to get aggressive. Hextall should be exploring trades. He should be targeting legitimate, game-changing free agents.
It doesn’t mean he has to make a big splash effective immediately. The last thing the Flyers need to do is end up with another Andrew MacDonald or Dale Weise type of contract. What Hextall does need to do is look diligently at the other avenues of improving the team. Forget the band-aids that were free agent signings of the past three years. It’s time for impactful moves.
Before the puck drops on even the first preseason game, Hextall’s job is to assemble the best roster he can within the salary cap. A lot of things won’t change in doing that. The core will primarily be the same. So will the youth. But a lot of things will change as well.
Once the puck drops, this is very much a make or break season for head coach Dave Hakstol.
No matter what Hextall does in building the roster specifically, if he provides the best roster he can assemble within the cap, it becomes Hakstol’s job to use that group effectively and devise the proper gameplan to win.
Hakstol has faced criticism for lineup decisions in the past. Ultimately, in three seasons as head coach, he has lost more than won -- 121 wins to 123 losses if you lump regulation and overtime losses together -- and despite two playoff appearances has yet to get the Flyers to the second round.
Flyers fans have been relatively patient with the approach. They have waited as the team focused on getting younger and building out a blueline. The patience has to continue in some regard, because not every prospect is on the fast track to the NHL.
That said, it has been six years and counting since the Flyers won a playoff series. It has also been that long since the Flyers clinched a spot in the playoffs with more than a week to go in the regular season.
The bottom line there is that the Flyers identity has become a borderline playoff team that bows out in the first round. That cannot be the product of a rebuild.
What makes this a big season for Hakstol is that after four seasons with that identity, you have to start to take a closer look at the coach and wonder if that isn’t the problem.
The Flyers essentially backed their way into the playoffs in Hakstol’s first season. Getting a first-round series to six games against the Capitals was an accomplishment for a team that had exceeded expectations. Then the Flyers missed the playoffs in Hakstol’s second season.
In his third, it was essentially almost the same outcome as the first season. The Flyers made the playoffs on the last day of the season and took a first-round series six games. The roster was very different and featured much more youth. Getting to the playoffs and forcing a six-game series with that is an accomplishment. The Flyers were also nowhere near outplayed against Washington as they were against Pittsburgh.
So for Dave Hakstol, next season is about results. This team can’t be as streaky as it was this season. It can’t be as inconsistent as it has been. It can’t lack fundamentals like it has been prone to show.
It has become time to speed up the process and show more progress. The Flyers need to start looking like a contender, both on paper and on the ice. It’s on Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol to make it happen.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.