It’s No Question Anymore, Flyers Need a Significant Change
Following a 6-1 loss on home ice to the New York Islanders on Oct. 27, it was fair to wonder if the 4-7-0 Flyers needed to make a change. But after just 11 games, it’s more of a question than a statement.
Making any rash move to a roster or coaching staff in the first quarter of a season requires absolute certainty. The Flyers took off for the West coast after that game with four games to convince management that a change was not needed. They won three of the four games on that trip, losing the other in overtime. When they returned home, they scored a 5-4 overtime win with a third-period rally and a convincing shutout win in the first two games of a five-game homestand.
Perhaps the mere mention of major changes was enough to turn this team in the right direction. At least that was the thought. Then the next four games played out.
The Flyers lost the next two on home ice to two teams below them in the standings. They miraculously managed a point in the standings with a furious comeback in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then came Wednesday’s game. That was a team that went through the first 10 minutes completely overwhelmed by the competition, a complete lack of preparation to play after three days off from game action.
It harkened back to several other losses this season -- an 8-2 loss in the home opener, a 6-3 loss to Columbus on the road, the 6-1 debacle to the Islanders.
Then Friday happened, and the Flyers went out and played another convincing game that ended with a 4-0 shutout win against the Rangers. That was followed by a similar performance to Wednesday, a 6-0 drubbing to the Toronto Maple Leafs, more embarrassment.
In the midst of a stretch of five losses in six games, there are too many questions and flaws with this team. It’s not a question anymore. A change is needed.
Where that change comes is anybody’s guess. The Flyers could be in the market for a trade, and not just a minor one. They could be the fifth team in the NHL this season to make a coaching change. Perhaps there is something bigger that isn’t even on the radar to the fan base.
When you evaluate the problems and see the flaws, it’s easy to see the first place they could turn.
A lack of preparation for a game is on the players to a degree, but it’s as much a coaching problem as anything. It shouldn’t take a timeout or goalie change 10 minutes into the game after falling behind 3-0 or 4-0 to say it’s time to go and actually start playing. If you’re not ready to play, you shouldn’t even be on the bus to the arena or on the ice for warmups.
At the same time, the roster makeup of this team is too talented to struggle like this. But even the most talented players can look average and mediocre if there is no sense of direction or system in place. The Flyers have talked about system work because every team has some sort of system in place. But Dave Hakstol’s isn’t working. It can’t be. Not when the team continuously starts games slow, resulting in slow starts to the season that require chasing a playoff spot. Not when other teams fundamental display is leaps and bounds above the Flyers, from passing, to zone exits, to zone entries to generating chances and going to work on the forecheck. The Flyers come up small in so many areas.
Perhaps the Flyers could look into making a trade of significant value. That means not something simple like shipping off a depth guy. It would need to carry substance. Think Wayne Simmonds or Jake Voracek, two guys that can make an impact on another team and would definitely send a message to the Flyers locker room that the status quo will not be tolerated.
Look, it's not lost that while talking about a system with flaws, players may just be underperforming or underachieving and not doing anything about it. Maybe sending a message regarding one player's lack of performance sends the right message and shows some accountability that has been lacking.
One problem with changing the roster via a trade is that two parties have to be involved. Ron Hextall isn’t going to make a trade just to make one. If you’re going to part ways with a core piece or make a trade to try to lift the team to a different level, you need to be sure you’re doing it with the good of the team in mind.
That requires another team’s participation though. Making a change behind the bench requires the realization that a season is being lost, especially when there are expectations that say it shouldn’t be like this.
A big reason you can look to the bench is because there is really nothing different this season than last season. At Thanksgiving last season, the Flyers were 8-9-5 with 21 points in the standings, sitting in 13th in the conference. At the same time, the Flyers had lost six straight games, three in overtime.
Entering the Black Friday matinee this season, the Flyers were on a four-game losing streak with a 9-10-2 record and 20 points in the standings, ranking 15th in the conference.
That six-game losing streak last season eventually ballooned to a 10-game slide. The Flyers never wavered and somehow worked their way out of it to make the playoffs on the season’s final day.
But in having that happen, hitting rock bottom on a season and still finding a way to at least gain entry into the postseason, was met with more of a challenge. The Flyers were obviously not going to be able to contend for a Stanley Cup last season no matter how well they played down the stretch. This season, they could not put themselves in a similar hole.
Friday’s result saved them from another massive losing streak, but Saturday’s loss was the eighth time in 23 games that the Flyers allowed five goals or more. It was also their eighth loss by three goals or more. It’s not like a majority of these games are even remotely competitive. They are laughers and complete blowouts. At what point is it enough?
It should be after this weekend, when the Flyers return home for the next week with only one game on the schedule. With a break in the schedule, the time is ripe for making a change.
The Flyers are a quarter of the way through the season showing as much inconsistency and mediocrity as ever. Pretty soon, they will be closing in on the cellar of the NHL standings. Fans are already becoming apathetic.
It’s hard to see the patient approach being taken much longer. The pressure is on and the Flyers need to take action soon to grab the fans’ interest again.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.