Long before the Flyers had hired a head coach and even longer before their offseason message of aggressiveness took a complete 180 at free agency, the so-called plan the franchise had for the offseason was always rooted in hope.

The end-of-season press conference from general manager Chuck Fletcher was one that screamed of misfortune. It was about possibilities if players returned from injury healthy and back to their former selves. 

“Another element will obviously be the return to health of certain players. Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis are players that would be hard to acquire in the offseason,” Fletcher said on May 3. “It is hard to acquire a top defenseman with a $6 million cap and it is hard to acquire a number one centerman. We are going to be hopeful that those players can return and play well.”

Since that press conference, not only has there been no update on Ellis and the latest reports of a significant injury to Couturier. The team has also seen Joel Farabee and Bobby Brink suffer serious injuries that require extensive recoveries. 

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a top-line center, top-pairing defenseman, and two budding young forwards that could both have factored into the Top-6 out for months. 

It’s one thing to be hopeful to essentially “acquire” those players over the offseason with restored health while making additional attempts at bettering the roster in every way possible. If there were other moves that were made that would be improvements with the return of Couturier and Ellis, then maybe you would have a more concrete plan of retooling or rebuilding. 

This is what happens when there is no plan, or at least a plan that is entirely rooted in hope. It lends to the incompetence of the organization once again. Not only did they foster an aggressive approach to the offseason until free agency, but they now are paying the price for relying solely on hope that injured players would return and make an impact. 

The Flyers haven’t even taken the ice for the start of training camp and their offseason plan, or lack thereof, has already backfired massively. Couturier and Ellis are already on the shelf for unknown timetables. Brink was likely never an NHL possibility this season with a lengthy recovery into 2023, when getting his feet wet and getting more experience with substantial minutes in the AHL can be better for him. 

To make matters worse, it’s not like the Flyers have an easy escape from any of this. They are locked in with Ellis for the next five seasons at a $6.25 million cap hit. Couturier just signed an eight-year extension that kicks in this season with a cap hit of $7.75 million. That’s $14 million of cap space tied into two players that have no timetable for return and may never resemble the players they once were ever again.

It very quickly has changed the complexion of the Flyers upcoming season as well. Sure, if you were to ask the fanbase or pundits from around the league, the expectations were already low for the Flyers. But the team seemed well aware of this and ready to play the underdog card. And with John Tortorella behind the bench, a coach known to maximize the performance of his players no matter what the narrative may be, it was plausible that this team could overachieve this season.

But take away Couturier and Ellis for most, if not all, of the season, and that complexion changes. It’s a team that will not be able to stay afloat for long without their top-line center and top-pair defenseman.

For over four months, it was abundantly clear that Fletcher and company were focused on injured players returning healthy. It was constantly said throughout. 

“We hope to have Sean Couturier back.”

“We hope to have Ryan Ellis back and healthy.”

“We can’t have any worse luck with injuries than we did last season.”

How’s that working out now?

Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.

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