Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo has been a victim of circumstance in his brief time in charge of the team. Despite rebounding from initial consecutive losses to rattle off an encouraging seven-game points streak, the Flyers are back in the mud due to factors largely outside their control. The NHL’s absurdly packed modified schedule pitted the team, themselves severely limited by injuries and COVID absences, against some of the league’s hottest teams in a West Coast road trip. Another busy period on their return home started poorly in a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh and does not figure to get any easier against the Bruins or Rangers. In short, the early 2022 slate of games has effectively drained what little enthusiasm remained for Flyers fans. Perhaps that is not the worst thing, though. The Flyers losing ways may just force the organization to realize that for almost a decade they have pursued the Stanley Cup in a deeply flawed fashion.
In the offseason, Chuck Fletcher staked the team’s future to compete now, bringing in veteran defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis for steep prices. He did not stop there, signing playoff experienced depth in Keith Yandle and Derick Brassard. For a team that has too long been in and out of the playoffs, Fletcher’s moonshot was a breath of fresh air. The young players he jettisoned had, by and large, failed to pan out, and a revamped blueline seemed like a sure bet to transform the roster for the better.
Fletcher’s failure was the assumption that the Flyers were close enough to a championship to take a swing at it. The Flyers’ top-end talent was never good enough to elevate even a well-rounded roster, the sort of which Fletcher has ostensibly assembled, to Stanley Cup levels. Coming into the year, the team’s top two skaters were Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov. The duo would most likely crack any top-six forwards or top-four defensemen, respectively, but are unlikely ever to play at a Hart or Norris trophy level. The Blues of 2018-2019 were the last team to win the Cup without top-15 skaters, and even their star trio of Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Ryan O’Reilly dwarf any of the Flyers current talent.
To compete then, the team would have needed excellent coaching and a stellar injury record. While that is hardly a groundbreaking take, hearing it in January 2022 will doubtlessly garner some bitter laughs from the Flyers faithful. Fletcher decided to stick with coach Alain Vigneault on the strength of his 2019-2020 campaign despite a difficult second season. The gamble went bust, as Vigneault dared fans to tune out and left on the note of a colossal losing streak. The health of the team has been no less shambolic; virtually every player has missed time, either through illness or injury, with key players Sean Couturier (29 GP), Joel Farabee (28 GP), Kevin Hayes (17 GP), and Ryan Ellis (4 GP) having been especially absent.
Fletcher made a worthy effort at turning the Flyers into a winning outfit through depth and defense. It has not worked, though, because the roster he was bolstering was never good enough to begin with. If there was not enough star power to win in 2010, or better yet in 1997, there most certainly is not now. Perhaps Fletcher would have been better served spending all of the draft capital and young players he used to acquire Ellis and “Risto” on 25-year-old superstar Jack Eichel and continuing from there. After all, if this season has proved one thing it is that the team needs a marquee name to build around. That player is not on the current roster, and so aside from the ever-present Provorov and locker room leader Couturier, perhaps no one should be untouchable.