That’s the word I would use to most accurately describe the Philadelphia Flyers this season: squandered. They’ve squandered excellent years from Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. They’ve squandered amazing performances from goaltender Steve Mason whose play has been otherworldly since before his surgery. They’ve squandered what will likely be a 30-goal season from Wayne Simmonds. They’ve squandered points in games that they’ve had locked up and games in which they’ve been the better team.
It’s not often that a team receives superb goaltending, has nearly two point per game producers, a 30-goal scorer, and doesn’t make the playoffs. But here we are, in mid-March, watching a team that has two guys that are just under a point per game, a guy who has 30 goals, and a goaltender who is having nearly a Vezina-worthy year, and they are exactly 10 points out of the playoffs with 13 games to go. What went wrong?
Is it coaching? Partially. Is it the roster? To some extent. Is it mental? Hard to argue against that as well. There are so many things that had to align for this team to not make the playoffs with all of the great things that it has going for them, and yet they all seemed to coalesce just at the right times to keep the Flyers from getting to the dance. Steve Mason has three games now in which he’s allowed no goals during regulation or overtime, most commonly known as shutouts, but the guy has only one win under those circumstances. Odd, no?
It’s just the way sports go sometimes and speaks to the team nature of this game. A team made up of individuals is just that. The Flyers are in a rebuilding phase and they largely have been since the 2011 off season where Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were shipped out of town. The caveat to trading away good veteran players for younger, inexperienced players is that they will have growing pains. Sean Couturier is one of the best checking center in the NHL, but that’s all he might ever be. Brayden Schenn is a solid third-line player, but at 23, is that what he is?
The Flyers will need to answer many questions like these this offseason and continue to answer them as their prospect pool grows and this year it stands to grow quite a bit, especially with two first-round draft choices in what is expected to be a very deep draft. The key to long-term success, however, is building from within as proven by every Stanley Cup Winner since the 2004-2005 lockout. It looks like Ron Hextall is committed to doing just that, but when the pressure comes from above to make moves and to go out and get guys, will he give in and go after high-priced, declining free agents just as Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke did? Time will tell. I just hope the word squandered is not the word I’m using to describe this team ever again.