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January 31, 2023

The Flyers are stuck in the middle

The Flyers have some good things going and are just six points out from a Wild Card spot, but where does that leave them in the short- and long-term future?

The Flyers went into their bye week with a 4-0 shutout of Winnipeg and six points out from a playoff spot. 

Surface level, that isn't too bad, right?

Definitely way better from where they were this time last year when the freefall was well underway. 

John Tortorella has the team playing a much more competitive brand of hockey, Travis Konecny has rebounded into a career year, Carter Hart has mostly found his form again between the pipes and has outright stolen a few games along the way, Scott Laughton has been an ultra-reliable two-way presence and may only be inching closer to becoming the next captain, and younger pieces like Cam York, Owen Tippett, Noah Cates, and Joel Farabee are steadily establishing themselves as everyday NHL players. 

But in the short- and long-term, what is it all going towards?

There are good things going for the Flyers, for sure – and prospects like Cutter Gauthier and Tyson Foerster will more than likely be up by season's end as a bonus – but from where things stand right now, as a team, they're just okay. 

At 21-21-9 after 51 games, they're far from one of the worst clubs in the league, with a definite leg up on the likes of Anaheim, Arizona, Chicago, and Columbus. But against the Bostons, Carolinas, and Tampa Bays of the world – even with all the hustle in the world? They stand little chance. 

They're in the middle, which is really the last place an organization and the majority of its fans want to be. 

Could the Flyers possibly work themselves into a playoff spot? Sure. At face value, a six-point gap seems like manageable ground to make up once they come back from the break. 

But it becomes a much steeper climb once you step back and look at how they would have to do it, and that's not including maintaining the spot until the end should they gain a hold of one. 

Here's a look at the Eastern Conference Wild Card picture as of Tuesday afternoon:

 Rank TeamW-L-OTL Pts P% Diff. 
Washington* 26-20-6 58 .558 +13 
Pittsburgh* 24-16-9 57 .582 +8 
Buffalo 26-19-4 56 .571 +20 
NY Islanders 25-22-2 55 .529 +4 
Florida 24-22-6 54 .519 -5 
Flyers 21-21-9 51 .500 -20 
Detroit 21-19-8 50 .521 -15 
Ottawa 23-23-3 49 .500 -9 
*Holds Wild Card spot

Ahead of the Flyers are all teams that can go toe-to-toe with them right now and came into the year with the playoffs in mind, save for maybe Buffalo, who majorly benefitted from All-Star Tage Thompson's scoring breakout to get them into the running.

Then waiting for them when they return on February 6 are the Islanders, who just geared up for a push with the trade for Bo Horvat from Vancouver.

Actually holding the Wild Card spots at the moment are Pittsburgh and Washington, who are always going to be competitive so long as the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the picture and the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin waiting at the top of the left faceoff circle. 

Then there's the matter of overall team performance and a cursory glance into the metrics doesn't paint the picture of a playoff team, but rather one operating at a deficit, where the Flyers only have a 2 percent shot at making the postseason per FiveThirtyEight's projections model.

 CategoryStat NHL Rank 
Goal Differential -20 22nd 
Goals For Per Game 2.78 27th
 *Expected Goals For %46.58 24th 

*Via Natural Stat Trick

On the other side of the coin is draft positioning, and if the season ended today, they wouldn't be lined up for a potentially game-changing prospect in Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli. 

Under the current order, they would be selecting 10th with just a 3.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the lottery, per Tankathon

The trade deadline is March 3, and the likelihood is movable names like James van Riemsdyk, Justin Braun, and possibly even Ivan Provorov are on their way out. 

But beyond that, what the Flyers are exactly trying to do here still isn't really clear. 

Tortorella has been open about the team needing to "build" and that doing so is going to take a while, but at the same time, general manager Chuck Fletcher and the rest of the front office, at least public-facing, have been hesitant to throw around the term "rebuild" and have tried to keep some hope in the team's chances to compete. 

On top of that, the heat on Fletcher's job security has seemed to cool off a little bit – granted, Philadelphia is preoccupied with much bigger things right now – but his long-term status within the organization is still somewhat of a mystery, especially with Danny Briere right there and seemingly being prepped as a rising front-office star. 

There just isn't a clear direction for the Flyers yet and right now they're just okay. Not good enough to really scare the rest of the league but not bad enough to stock up on draft picks and get better down the line. 

They're in the middle, and that's not the place to be. 

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