For Flyers, Ongoing Soap Opera Rages On
In any sport, the course of a season is a day-to-day affair. Things happen throughout a season that can change its course, building momentum or taking it away. The same goes for a franchise’s history. The happenings of one day can be franchise-altering and make the next chapter that much better or worse.
In the Flyers case, it’s been an ongoing soap opera of things going from bad to worse and showing no signs of stopping.
Go back to last Thursday when the Flyers won for just the fifth time since October, their 10th win overall on the season. The formula was familiar – Carter Hart was the best player on the ice and made 48 saves against a New Jersey Devils team that spent the first 30 games of the season opening up a lead in the Metropolitan Division.
But in the process, Kevin Hayes was stapled to the bench for the entire third period, the second time this season that has happened. On Saturday, the benching was extended, as the team’s leading points scorer this season was held out of action as a healthy scratch.
Head coach John Tortorella declined to elaborate on anything involving the scratching, stating multiple times that “that’s between me and Kevin.” On Monday, he added some context.
“I have had many conversations with Kevin, had conversations prior to this. I don’t want to get into a public debate with Kevin, with you guys, as far as why. It’s one of the things I pride myself on is being honest with a player. I think they deserve the honesty, whether it be good or bad. That is my job is to be honest with them. However Kevin feels about it, I don’t understand his thinking there.
“I will never lie to a player about anything. When it comes to a scratch – I’m sure you guys think it’s cause of a turnover, the turnover in the middle of the ice. I’m never scratching a player for one mistake. This is where Kevin and I have had those conversations much prior to him missing a game. I’ll leave it at that.”
Hayes didn’t agree with the benching.
“I’m never going to say there’s a benefit to being benched,” Hayes said following Monday’s practice. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I should have been benched, but it’s not my decision. He’s the coach. I’m a player. He makes the lineup. He wants the best team on the ice to ultimately win and that’s what he went with that night.”
It’s not the first time Hayes has disagreed with the coach’s sentiments. Prior to the four-game road trip, Tortorella believed that the team needed to get on the road after being at home for too long, having just completed a five-game homestand. I asked Hayes about Tortorella’s comments on getting on the road.
“I don’t want to disagree with him, he’s the coach, but there’s only one way to play in this league and that’s the right way,” Hayes said after the team’s 4-1 loss to Washington on Dec. 7. “Whether it’s home or away, we have to be able to figure out what we’re supposed to do.”
Whether Tortorella doesn’t want it to play out in the public eye, it’s already developing as such. Everyone can see the healthy scratches. Everyone can see the messages being sent by each side – Hayes has publicly disagreed with Tortorella multiple times, Tortorella doesn’t want to elaborate on reasoning for benching his team’s leading point producer.
It has led to rumors that the team could buy out Hayes following the season, according to Elliotte Friedman on the 32 Thoughts podcast.
That’s the Hayes-Tortorella chapter of this soap opera. Prior to Saturday’s game, there was another wrinkle. Lukas Sedlak, who had been claimed off waivers on Oct. 19, was one of the team’s better performing players, even stepping into a larger role than anticipated due to injuries. He wasn’t on the ice for the team’s morning skate prior to Saturday’s game against the Rangers. When Tortorella addressed the media that morning, he revealed Sedlak had decided to leave. He would allow Sedlak to explain his decision.
“The reasons are more than one,” Sedlak said. “It’s nothing serious with my family or anything like that. I just felt, me playing in the NHL didn’t bring me what I expected it to bring me. I would rather be home with my family.”
Translation: Playing for an NHL bottomfeeder, despite the bigger role and success he was experiencing, wasn’t enjoyable. So Sedlak just decided to up and leave to go home and play there.
Following Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Rangers, one that felt more like a game at Madison Square Garden than Wells Fargo Center, the hits just kept coming for the Flyers. This time, it was on the injury front, and it was another drama-filled situation.
Cam Atkinson would be undergoing neck surgery and will miss the duration of the 2022-23 season. He did not play a game all season.
Depending on what happens with Sean Couturier – who GM Chuck Fletcher said would start skating again soon in hopes of a possible return from back surgery in late February or early March – the Flyers could have three players on the payroll who don’t suit up at all during the 2022-23 season. Ryan Ellis’ status has already been confirmed.
Atkinson’s situation this season was very similar to Ellis a year ago. His whereabouts were seemingly a mystery. He would practice on occasion, there would be belief a return was looming, then something would happen that would take him off the ice with little to no update or mention of his status.
Between lingering injuries last season to Hayes, Couturier, and Ellis, and now Atkinson’s injury this season, it’s created a lack of trust within the fanbase. It’s created a desire for more transparency from an organization that not only struggles to stay healthy, but seems to regularly have debilitating injuries to their top players. All teams go through injuries, few teams go through something like this, especially when the playoffs aren’t involved from the season before.
There are questions at every corner for the Flyers organization. Questions about ownership’s priorities and intentions for the future of the Flyers. Questions about the management group and what could be percolating there. Questions about the head coach’s approach to building. Questions about the players and their futures within the organizations. Questions about injured players and if they will play again and what level of play they will even give.
When will there be answers? Stay turned for the next episode of the ongoing soap opera that is the Philadelphia Flyers.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.
Philadelphia Flyers Uniforms Through The Years