Ostensibly, the rebuild is still on in Philadelphia. Now, I could quibble about what a…
The Philadelphia Flyers make absolutely zero sense. They are far from a good team, even after winning six out of their last seven games. Sure, it was a miraculous streak that will almost certainly end soon and likely never happen again this season, but at the end of the day, the Flyers remain seven points out of a playoff spot. Point being, the Flyers are a bad hockey team but it’s also hard to go as far as saying that they are tanking.
The Flyers are currently 8th from the bottom in the NHL standings. Is that what anyone would consider a team that is tanking?
In the standings, the Flyers are four points removed from both the 6th and 7th worst teams, and they’re seven points removed from the 5th worst team, and 10 points removed from the 4th worst. And please, don’t even inquire about how far they are from the bottom three teams of Anaheim, Columbus, and Chicago. They’re basically cemented.
So, what the hell are they doing?
The Flyers are caught in no-mans land by refusing to tank in the race to bottom of the standings. They also have no hope of being an actual contender. Fans and the team alike are stuck in the “murky middle.”
This was the fear back in the summer. People wanted Chuck Fletcher’s head on a pike, because his decisions led to this situation: a year where the Flyers were guaranteed a spot in the bottom half of the league, but unlikely to be truly tanking.
They were going to miss out on a potential franchise altering prospect in Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, or even Leo Carlsson. And then they were stuck. There was nowhere to take this franchise. It wasn’t on the rise. It wasn’t falling. It was just… there. It was wholly irrelevant, and caught in stasis.
Those were the fears. They’re manifesting right before our eyes. Yet, Flyers fans seem to be jubilant at the thought!
Here, the “Flyers Nitty Gritty” website pronounces the death of the tank! Yay! They’re accelerating right to mediocrity, shouldn’t we all be happy! What the piece fails to do, however?
Simple: it fails to tell me why that’s a good thing. Other people have tried. In fact, all the way back in the summer, I tried to make the case that this was actually an ideal outcome for the Flyers.
On the whole? It was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever written. Honestly, it was nothing more than a half assed attempt at coping with the bleak reality of the current state of the Flyers. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Some of the things I said in the piece are true.
“The 2023 NHL Draft is one of the most anticipated drafts we’ve ever seen in the league’s history. It’s already up there with the 2015 Draft and the 2003 Draft in terms of how heralded so many of these kids are. It has the potential to deliver several game-changing players.”
I stand by that. There will be players who go below the top-3 who are absolute, bonafide game-changers. Is Kyle Connor just as good of a player as Mitch Marner? You can argue the semantics, but yeah. They’re both absolute superstars, the elite of the elite.
One went 4th overall, and the other went 17th overall. The Jets got a superstar and they didn’t even use a lottery pick. I can almost guarantee that will happen this year.
The 2023 Draft, by all indications thus far, is delivering on the hype. And it doesn’t stop at Connor Bedard, not by a long shot.
Here’s what I missed: Who on God’s green earth believes that the Flyers are going to be the one who pulls off that miracle? And not some other team?
Maybe the Flyers are that team that picks 10th overall and selects a franchise altering talent like Mikko Rantannen, as the Avalanche did. Maybe.
Or maybe they pick Lawson Crouse or Denis Gurianov at 10th overall. The two players who went immediately after Rantannen did.
Just because the Flyers can get lucky and defy the odds doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to maximize those odds, and make it a virtual certainty that you select a high impact player.
Sure, Dylan Strome went 3rd overall in 2015. He’s a good player, but hardly high impact.
Who else went in the top 5 that year?
Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, and Noah Hanifin. The worst outcome of those 4 besides Strome is Noah Hanifin.
Noah Hanifin–after a rough start to his career and a trade to Calgary–is a bonafide, top-shelf #1 defenseman who plays in all situations and wins matchups against the other team’s top players. That’s immensely valuable. We’ve been praying Ivan Provorov would do that for how long?
80% chance of the top-5 of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft ended up being cornerstone pieces.
Between selections 6 and 15, there were three players selected who I’m comfortable calling cornerstone pieces.
Zack Weresnki, Mikko Rantannen, and Timo Meier. You could argue that Meier is borderline and doesn’t qualify, but let’s assume he does.
Of those 10 selections, only 30% of them went on to be cornerstone pieces.
So, what would you rather have? The 80% chance or the 30% chance?
Here’s another thing I said that’s… true, but also not.
“Some fans are angry with that. Why don’t they go even farther? Why not strip down everything in an attempt to get Bedard or Michkov? Well, the truth is: you don’t want to do that. If you have nothing around him, Bedard will not bring a team to the promised land. No single player in the sport of hockey is that good.“
No, Bedard will not bring a player to the promised land by the virtue of his own brilliance. But I was guilty of missing the point, and thinking impatiently.
He only has to do it alone if I expect to contend in year 1 with Connor Bedard on my hockey team. And I don’t. The Flyers won’t be contending next year, no matter who they draft in July. They’re simply too far away.
This is a multi-year rebuild that the Flyers need, which means multiple attempts to land high-end talent. Just as the Devils did with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.
And then, once you add those core players and they’re growing up and making the team too good to tank… then you can add things like top-4 defensemen and top-6 forwards. Those are good players, but they’re not all that rare.
There’s always one available in free agency, and there’s always one of them on the trade market. And it’s more likely to land a good player who is nevertheless not a cornerstone piece in the lower portions of the first round.
A rebuild makes a lot more sense, and is a lot easier to accomplish, if you start by acquiring the most rare piece first: the cornerstone guys and high end talents.
What the Flyers are doing is completely illogical. They’re putting the cart before the horse, and trying to get the middle and bottom tier guys first… then somehow find the high end talent along the way.
That’s absolutely absurd.
“Whether it’s the best player in the NHL or the tenth best player in the NHL, that doesn’t really matter. The gap between those players isn’t wide enough to fret about.”
I stand by this without reservations, but this isn’t the logic to use if you want to justify getting Jayden Perron or Andrew Cristall over Connor Bedard. Why? Because the likelihood of Cristall being a superstar vs. Bedard being a superstar is way different.
Bedard will be a top-10 player in the NHL. It’s practically guaranteed. I don’t care if he’s as good as McDavid. That doesn’t make a lot of difference.
Andrew Cristall may theoretically–but probably not–be a top-10 player in the NHL.
See the difference?
I told you why you shouldn’t fret if you got Matvei Michkov or Adam Fantilli instead of Connor Bedard. Who cares? They’ll all be ridiculous.
I didn’t make a convincing case that the Flyers should pick 10th overall and assume they did a good thing. I don’t believe you can make that case.
But I certainly understand the temptation to believe that the Flyers can get where they want to go without any short-term sacrifice. I understand, because I was there. And a lot of people who are going to try and justify this will use arguments that I, myself, made.
The truth of the matter is that the Flyers are following an extremely low percentage path to contention.
Now, note the wording I’m using: “low percentage.”
Maybe they beat the odds, but the odds are decidedly stacked against them if they continue to follow this course.