Flyers ‘Aggressive’ Approach to Offseason Needs to Bring Relevance Back
It’s the Monday after the 2018-19 season, which has really been over for the Flyers for the last 10 days. A look around the city would tell you that.
The Sixers have just locked up the third spot in the Eastern Conference with a 50-win season. A playoff run will start this weekend for them and the city will be watching.
The Eagles are one year removed from a Super Bowl title and reached the playoffs last season defying the odds of an injury-plagued year. They have spent the offseason making more roster moves that have them poised to be at the top of the division and making a playoff run again. April also marks a new beginning of sorts with the NFL Draft happening later this month. There’s always football talk throughout the year and the Eagles are certainly relevant.
But it really hit when the Phillies opened their season nearly two weeks ago. With several new additions to the lineup, namely one Bryce Harper, the Phillies were suddenly a must-see in the city. Rating and attendance have been up in the first few games of the season.
And then you have the Flyers. If the Phillies are able to carry this early success and make the playoffs, the Flyers will be the only team out of the major four that did not make the playoffs. What they did was make a coaching change and a GM change over the last season. Roster changes are sure to follow.
The word going around is that the Flyers are going to be “aggressive” this offseason in the free agent and trade market, looking at all the ways they can upgrade the team. Quite frankly, they have no choice. All you have to do is look across the street for a reminder of just how relevant they are right now.
Baseball and hockey are obviously two very different sports, but the Phillies were riding through that same level of irrelevance in the city for a long time. No playoff appearances since 2011. Disappointing results every year. It took until last season before the potential was finally seen. They had a rotation ace in Aaron Nola. They had a centerpiece to the lineup in Rhys Hoskins. They made a playoff run that kept them in first place in the division into mid-August, then fizzled out in the final 30 games of the season. Now it was time to build around that and make a change. It was time to be a contender and be relevant again.
That’s where the Flyers are. These on-again, off-again playoff appearances have become tired. The constant chasing of the season to barely make the playoffs and bow out in the first round will not be tolerated anymore. It can’t be. It’s becoming too complacent. And it’s why the Flyers upper management could see what was happening in November and knew a change was needed.
In a span of three weeks, Ron Hextall was out as GM, Chuck Fletcher was hired as GM and Dave Hakstol was fired as head coach.
To see Hextall go was a bit of a shock. He had stocked the farm system and players were starting to filter to the NHL ranks. Hakstol’s departure came to be expected, because there was really nothing different about Hakstol’s teams than there was Craig Berube’s or Peter Laviolette’s last few seasons either. Every year, the Flyers fell behind the eight ball in October and November and spent the final four months of the season playing like it was the playoffs.
Through it all, many of the players have been a part of these ongoing slow starts. Claude Giroux has been the captain since 2013. Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier have been here through it all. Until the trade deadline this season, Wayne Simmonds was a part of it. And now the prospects that came up over the last few years are part of it.
Even when Hextall tried to signal a win-now period was coming and made a signing that should have been significant, he signed James van Riemsdyk. Adding the scoring is welcome, but JVR is also a past Flyers draft pick and played three seasons here before making a name for himself with Toronto. A familiar face was not exactly something that moves the needle either.
Carter Hart gave the team a shot in the arm and provided fresh blood and has turned out to be everything he was advertised to be, especially when you consider the group in front of him. That’s what the Flyers need at the other positions.
The Flyers enter the offseason needing to make a significant upgrade on defense. They need a pure scoring winger who doesn’t care about making the perfect play and just fires at will. They need a second-line center who can provide stability and veteran leadership. They need new faces who can make their mark on this franchise and turn it around.
It’s a tall order to get all of those parts in one offseason, but it may be necessary to keep people coming. There’s a reason the building was half-empty during the Sixers process or the Phillies rebuild. People don’t want to feel like they are wasting their time and money on a product that doesn’t entertain and perform. For a stretch, Hart brought people in. Everybody wanted to see the rookie sensation. The national media raved about how a 20-year-old was sparking the Flyers playoff push. It made the Flyers relevant again, even for just a few weeks.
But those few weeks quickly faded away and here the Flyers are now, facing another long offseason and talking about the holes that need to be filled, the items on the checklist that need to be picked up and trying to figure out where and how they will get those pieces.
It is a critical offseason for the Flyers. If being aggressive is going to be their style, then it can’t result in the same team being back on the ice with one or two changes. Chuck Fletcher needs to put together a team that gives people a reason to watch and to attend. If he doesn’t, the Flyers will know. They will feel it in the wallet while the rest of the city focuses on the success stories happening around them.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.