April 16, 2023
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Monday. The Flyers won't be there – again – as they try to begin a rebuild over the summer.
For now, their big date is May 8, when the draft lottery will confirm where they'll really be selecting in what's expected to be a deep draft class, and barring any ping-pong balls forming a miracle (or disaster), it'll be seventh.
But even though they'll be down until next season, there are still a few reasons to keep watching if you're a fan, from keeping track of former Flyers to seeing what can be learned from contending teams.
So here's a Flyers fan's rundown of what to watch for over the next couple months of playoff hockey:
Former coach Dave Hakstol, stone-faced as ever behind the bench, has the expansion Seattle Kraken in the playoffs in Year 2.
Pierre Eduoard-Bellemare is in Tampa Bay, playing with a heavy heart in the wake of his mother's passing from cancer, and in search of the Cup after falling just short of it a year ago.
Wayne Simmonds is still in Toronto and a highly-respected presence within their organization, but he's been falling in and out of the lineup in what could be the end of the line for his NHL career, though where that point may be all depends on if the Leafs can finally break through that first-round wall. (And hey, Luke Schenn is back with the Leafs now too!)
And maybe most surprising is the Florida Panthers' surge to secure one of the Eastern Conference's two wild card spots, with heavy-hitting defenseman Radko Gudas in tow and Alex Lyon – who was the Phantoms' steady goaltender for several years and a spot backup for the Flyers as well – catching a hot hand between the pipes.
This year's former Flyer watch in the playoffs doesn't have a big headliner like the last – when Claude Giroux was trying to chase a Cup with the Panthers after being dealt – but there are still names to keep an eye on.
It's easy to forget – well, some more than others – but a lot of teams in the playoffs now, not too long ago, used to be bad.
Teams like the Hurricanes and Devils were aimless franchises going nowhere, the Kings' and Rangers' old cores had aged out and they were struggling to move on, the Leafs were in hockey purgatory for over a decade, and the two recent champions in the Lightning and Avalanche? Oh man, did it have to get real bad before it got real good.
But they all have one thing in common: at one point or another, they had to commit to a rebuild and stuck to it.
They all took different routes, had different timelines, and had varying levels of luck and setbacks, but the key was they all had plans and patience, GMs and coaches who could think creatively and adapt, and then with time, the talent to compete.
And they've all come out on the other side.
The Flyers have a long way to go get here and have a number of decisions coming up that they need to get right in order to have a shot.
And while there's ultimately no guarantee it will work, the playoff field absolutely does prove that it's possible.
There's hope to be found in that.
(Note: I didn't mention the Oilers here because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl falling into their lap after massive lottery luck and multiple top-10 picks over the years already is such an extreme outlier that the NHL even took steps to ensure wouldn't happen again.)
And that's really the crux of it.
Any enjoyment from watching the Flyers this year came with a ton of hoops to jump through.
For every answer found in Owen Tippett's breakthrough or Travis Konecny's bounceback, there were always several other problems to match – like Joel Farabee and Travis Sanheim struggling for much of the season, someone getting benched or scratched for poor play, a complete failure of a trade deadline, or Rangers fans taking over the Wells Fargo Center.
Watching the Flyers was often an exercise in patience, but with the playoffs, the league's best are all going to go at it at full tilt, and Philly fans can watch all the seven-game battles, clutch-time heroics, and sudden-death marathons to come relatively stress-free (unless of course, you're up for some bandwagon hopping).
Personally, I've loved watching the Bruins all season on their way to shattering the all-time single-season wins and points records. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand – as hateable on the ice as he is – still have gas left in the tank, David Pastrnak is playing the best hockey of his career, and somehow, Boston just lucked into the best goaltending duo going right now with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Plus, the Winter Classic at Fenway back in January was awesome!
Then watching Edmonton on the West Coast to see McDavid and Draisaitl go to work when one or both are out there, it's unbelievable how great they really are, and sometimes you just can't fully comprehend it until you actually see them in action.
“fire Hextall” chants pic.twitter.com/k0HPXyhBFI— Katie (@KatieTalksPens) April 12, 2023
The Penguins have relieved President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, General Manager Ron Hextall, and Assistant General Manager, Chris Pryor of their duties, it was announced today by Fenway Sports Group.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 14, 2023
Details: https://t.co/kqyacgr0Fr pic.twitter.com/fr9dPvCPOK
WOAH, WOAH, WAIT!
Now that the news is official and Ron Hextall is out as #Pens GM:— Tony Androckitis* (@TonyAndrock) April 14, 2023
I can report a source told me not to rule out the possibility of Hextall returning to the #Flyers restructured front office.
Something to keep an eye on during the off-season.
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