April 14, 2023
What head coach John Tortorella at one point dubbed "this godforsaken season" finally came to an end Thursday night in Chicago and went out on as big of a high note as it could: back-to-back overtime wins for the Flyers against two other opponents who were in a race to the bottom.
After putting away the Blue Jackets at home on Tuesday and then the Blackhawks on the road Thursday, the Flyers finished the 2022-23 campaign 31-38-13 for 75 points, and barring a ping-pong ball-related miracle/disaster on May 8, will have the seventh overall pick in a deep NHL Draft at the end of June.
That selection will certainly be one of the key points in an offseason that's finally giving way to a rebuild, all after another frustrating and often aimless season that has now seen the Flyers miss the playoffs for a third straight year.
A critical summer lies ahead in determining where this franchise goes next. Here are five thoughts going into it:
For the sparse crowd that still cared to follow Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Owen Tippett sent them home happy. He netted the overtime winner against Columbus, pulling off maybe his nastiest move of the entire season, to end the Flyers' home slate on a high note, and arguably no one on the team deserved that moment more.
Then in Chicago, he scored one more.
Success wasn't found often around the Flyers this season, but Tippett's massive leap in development was an undeniable victory to at least hang their hat on going forward.
Finally with steady ice time and opportunity, the 24-year-old winger took off toward 27 goals through 77 games, and even if he went cold for a stretch, in the back half of the season, he always looked confident and in control, using the instincts, size, and wicked shot that he's always had to their fullest effect.
When he was on the ice, you always knew it, and that sure is a long way from where he was a year ago – coming in as a prospect from Florida lost in development limbo.
"I think his games evolving," said assistant coach Rocky Thomspon on Tuesday night, who was running the bench in place of Tortorella. "Not just as a shooter, which is what we’re seeing, that’s kind of maturing, but I think he makes good plays too. I think he can be very hard to play against because of his speed, not just when he has the puck. He can forecheck and take advantage of those attributes that he has.
"Definitely, the offense has come. He’s been put in a good situation this year to succeed, and I think he’s taking advantage of those opportunities. The future is very bright, in my opinion, moving forward."
Tortorella was always vocal about the reality of the situation, but once the Flyers as an organization itself came to grips with it following the firing of Chuck Fletcher as GM, there was no more disillusion.
The rebuild was on, and what was left of the season explicitly became about development and who to take going forward.
Tippett will be around next year, and guys who just put in career years and are still young, like Travis Konecny, Morgan Frost, and Joel Farabee (even though it didn't often look it) likely will too. So will younger names who made strides but still have more to offer like defenseman Cam York and two-way specialist Noah Cates, and guys who were down but have a reasonable assumption to bounce back – i.e. Farabee and Travis Sanheim, who to their credit, both played way better in the final stretch of the season.
Where it gets tricky is who goes.
Last month, Tortorella started talking about the thought of addition by subtraction, or in other words clearing out contracts or players who don't fit the long-term picture anymore to make way for incoming prospects. And when you look at the roster, it was obvious who the Flyers would be eyeing to move this offseason.
Kevin Hayes put in a career season as well, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and his production fell off in the second half as his opportunity shrank. His name floated around in trade rumors as the deadline approached and those rumors will likely come back stronger as the summer approaches.
Expect to hear Ivan Provorov's name getting tossed around too. He's routinely eaten up big minutes on the Flyers' blueline but has struggled to reach the level of play he had back in 2019-20, and rumors of both parties wanting to move on have sporadically popped up going back to last season.
Tony DeAngelo may also be on his way out after he was a healthy scratch for the last five games, which is jarring considering the Flyers paid Carolina three draft picks for him last summer and then signed him to a two-year deal.
All three may have their days as a Flyer numbered, though due to term and salary, it'll take some creativity on the front office's part to move them if they in fact do.
Then there are the players expected to walk on expiring contracts, two of which have been beloved veterans within the locker room.
James van Riemsdyk didn't get dealt at the deadline, despite being an obvious trade rental target all season. He scored his 300th goal Tuesday night, and that likely put a bow on his second run in Philadelphia.
Justin Braun is at the end of the line too, both as a Flyer and maybe for his NHL career. His father was on the bench with him Thursday night in Chicago, and with 199 career points, he was on the top power-play unit to try and get him to 200, which is something the whole team is pushing for even after the horn sounded.
When it did though, it finally hit him.
"Emotional, yeah," Braun said postgame. "It didn't really hit me 'til Provy scored that that's it."
After Fletcher was fired, Danny Brière was made the interim general manager, and based on the way he spoke of the future, and the fact that Tortorella stepped away from the bench to watch several games with him from up top, that "interim" tag might only be temporary.
Either way, the Flyers' front office and ownership are in for an overhaul, and they have to get it right.
Dave Scott is retiring as chairman of Comcast Spetacor and governor of the Flyers effective July 1, and in his place will come Dan Hilferty, who joined as CEO earlier this year.
Ahead of him lies two full-time hires for GM and President of Hockey Operations.
Brière may very well be one of them already, but either way, for the Flyers to have any sort of chance, they have to get this right.
Sean Couturier hasn't played since last December, and though he tried to make it back for at least a few games before the end of the season, the recovery from another back surgery ultimately kept him sidelined for the entirety of it.
Cam Atkinson also missed the entire season with an unspecified upper-body injury that eventually required neck surgery.
When healthy, both have been productive veteran two-way forwards – with Couturier even having the reputation as one of the best defensive centers in the league – but now both have missed a lot of time, aren't getting any younger, and are coming back to a rebuild.
What will they be if and when they come back next season? Where will they fit?
"Rebuild or not, for me anyways in the situation I'm in with the two back surgeries, it's important to come back strong and show that I can be the player I was before the injuries, "Couturier said during the players' exit interviews Friday. "Obviously we're using the 'rebuild' word, but I think it's on us players to just make sure we come ready and maybe speed up the process."
The Flyers didn't go anywhere this year, but down in the AHL, the Phantoms have a playoff run ahead of them and that'll be huge for down the line.
Numerous prospects like Tyson Foerster, Elliot Desnoyers, Emil Andrae, Olle Lycksell, Samuel Ersson, and so on have all thrived playing together in Lehigh Valley, and will now get a taste of what the postseason is like, even if it's down in the minors for now.
"It’s too important," Tortorella said of the Phantoms' playoff push back when Foerster was getting his look up with the Flyers. "It’s such a great process if they do win some rounds down there, for him to go there and go through that. That’s very important in his development."
And something for every fan to keep an eye on this next month.
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