From Total Disarray to Top Seed, Flyers Have Come Far
If the Flyers can turn this recent string of wins into a long playoff run, remember the date. August 8, 2020. That’s the date the Flyers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Round Robin finale and claimed the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
On the surface, it’s a historic date because it is unprecedented. Hockey in August? It’s never happened before, that’s for sure. But it’s also an important marker for where the Flyers are now and where they were just a short while ago.
November 26, 2018. That’s the day the Flyers fired GM Ron Hextall. That was 622 days before the Flyers win on Saturday that clinched the top seed.
What happened in the time since that day is nothing short of remarkable. A week following Hextall’s firing, the Flyers hired Chuck Fletcher. Two weeks after that, head coach Dave Hakstol was fired. Carter Hart made his NHL debut 600 days before scoring his second playoff win and helping the Flyers lock up the No. 1 seed.
Perhaps one of the biggest milestone dates of this turnaround was on April 15, 2019. That was the day the Flyers hired Alain Vigneault.
At that time, 622 days ago, the Flyers were a team in complete disarray. They needed a change and fired the GM. They followed by replacing the GM, firing the head coach and powering through with an interim coach and a rookie goalie in net.
There were certainly many changes made to the roster between then that helped the Flyers reach this point too. There were upgrades to add depth. Kevin Hayes was brought in at forward as a free agent. Matt Niskanen was acquired in a trade. So was Justin Braun. So was Tyler Pitlick.
There were opportunities given to young prospects as well. Nicolas Aube-Kubel finally got his chance and ran with it. Joel Farabee eventually broke into the NHL and hasn’t looked out of place. Phil Myers, a former undrafted free agent, became an NHL regular. Travis Sanheim showed tremendous growth. Travis Konecny took another big step playing in the top six and finding his scoring touch. Ivan Provorov returned from a down year looking like the defenseman he was in his first two seasons and got better and better all year.
At their peak, the Flyers had their longest winning streak of the season. They won nine straight games before a loss to Boston snapped the streak on March 10. They were scheduled to have a game on March 12 in Tampa Bay. On the morning of that scheduled game, the Flyers had a 19-6-1 record since Jan. 8.
And then, it all came to a stop. The Flyers were one point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the conference in points percentage and competing with every team in the league, looking like a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. But the NHL, like the rest of the sports leagues, had to stop play due to COVID-19 and all of the playoff hopes ahead of the Flyers were on hold.
Perhaps that’s the most unlikely thing that has happened in all of this. It’s not the Flyers climbing from the fourth seed to the first seed. It’s not both hub city hosts and a laundry list of top talent in the NHL making an early exit from the bubble. It’s not the pair of five-seed upsets of Pittsburgh and Edmonton. It’s that this is even happening at all.
“If somebody would have told me three months ago, that my team, Flyers, would have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, I would have serious doubts,” Vigneault said on Monday. “Now we’re one in sixteen teams, thanks to the great job the NHL has done to have the opportunity to compete for the Cup. Our first opponent is the Montreal Canadiens. They are a team that works extremely hard. They play a fast game. Everybody knows about their goaltender. It’s going to be a tough series. Having the opportunity, more so in these times right now, to compete for the Stanley Cup means a lot to me and my team.”
It is a scenario that Flyers fans had serious doubts about just a season ago, nearly two years ago, as the team was in total disarray, needing a completely new sense of direction. They have it now, and the sights are set on a long playoff run in Toronto.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.