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March 01, 2023

'Rebuild' is a matter of terminology for the Flyers, but it's what they need to do

The Flyers are selling and will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, but Chuck Fletcher is still hesitant to admit to a rebuild.

A day after John Tortorella outright said that the Flyers aren't making the playoffs, Chuck Fletcher stood in front of the media and confirmed even more of the obvious. 

They're selling, they're listening to any and all offers – even if it means retaining a chunk of salary to move a bigger contract – and they're looking to get younger through draft picks and prospects. 

After going 2-7-1 through February, including back-to-back shellackings over the weekend from Montreal and then New Jersey, the team is plummeting toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and heading toward its third straight losing season. 

Yet "rebuild" is still a word the Flyers' general manager tried to avoid saying.

"It's terminology," Fletcher said from the Flyers' training facility in Voorhees on Tuesday. "I mean, are we gonna gut this team? No, we're not gonna gut this team. I'm not looking to trade [Owen Tippett] and [Joel Farabee] and [Morgan Frost] and [Cutter Gauthier] and just trade everybody and start over, but clearly we have to get younger and we have to find some more young assets."

And look, if it's a matter of terminology for Fletcher and the front office, they can call it whatever they want – just not "The Process," that's taken – but a rebuild, and likely a lengthy one, is ultimately what they're gonna have to do if they ever want to be reasonably competitive again. 

Look up and down the lineup and it's clear, as it's been from as far back as training camp, that the Flyers are at a severe lack of offensive power, much less true star power, especially now that Travis Konecny's out due to injury. 

They do still have some young, notable pieces. Farabee has had a down year coming back from neck surgery over the summer but is likely to bounce back with a full offseason, Cam York is probably the team's best defenseman right now and should only get better, Elliot Desnoyers is finally getting a look and Tyson Foerster should soon too, and Gauthier will be here soon enough after the college season. 

But for the most part, it's a roster consisting of mostly bottom-six forwards and middle-low pairing defensemen that need to outwork and outhustle every single opponent they face to have a chance. 

That's worked in spurts over the course of the season, but not now. They look like they're running out of gas and just can't keep up with playoff teams trying to get their acts together for a Cup run. 

Saturday night's 7-0 blowout from the Devils was brutal and Wednesday night against the Rangers, with Vladimir Tarasenko now in their lineup and a jolt from Patrick Kane being on his way, probably won't be as fun either. 

But it'll likely paint a clear picture of just how far away the Flyers actually are and maybe even worse, how long it's really going to take, provided they can even get there that is. 

At least to Tortorella's credit, he's been clear about the state of the team from the moment he blew the first whistle in camp. They need to get back on the rails, they need to build, and it's going to take time and a whole lot of pain to get through it

And he didn't deviate from any of that message on Monday, may have been even blunter about it in fact.

"It's just the pride of putting the uniform on," Tortorella said of what's left to play for. "Listen, guys, it's hard for athletes to see other teams bolstering their lineup because they're gearing up for it. We're on the other end of that. We're gonna sell, right? We've talked about the process, I've talked about it and I haven't stopped talking about it, that we have a long way to go. We do.

"But it's hard for athletes to be towards the end of the season and have to go through it. They're not martyrs, but I want to see guys just play with a little bit of pride here."

Because as far as an 82-game schedule is concerned, that's all there's really going to be for a while. 

"Next year's gonna be a grind too," he added. "This is a process, it's going to take time, but I'm not gonna be a coach that's screaming at players at this time of year because of what's settled in. 

"I want to see them get it within themselves, and I think that's how you find out about people. I'm gonna push and prod and try to be the best we can be, but we're all gonna have to do it together and it's not gonna be by peeling paint off the wall."

Where's Couturier?

Sean Couturier hasn't played in well over a year now stemming from persistent back issues. 

He's back skating by himself again and Fletcher said he's ramping up his rehab from back surgery undergone back in October, but couldn't commit on whether he would play this season.

"Is there enough runway for him to play this year? I don't know," Fletcher said. "The back is feeling great, he's missed a lot of time, can we get him into hockey shape with the time remaining? I'm not sure. 

"But we're pleased with the progress, and he's in a pretty good frame of mind."

Before his back issues, Couturier, now 30, was known as one of the best defensive centers in the league and would have likely been at the top of the Flyers' lineup had he been healthy. 

But instead, he's trying to find his way back at the start of an eight-year contract extension. 

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