In the end, for the 43rd season in a row, the Flyers skated off the ice as losers. Even as some of the gray-haired heroes of those prehistoric Stanley Cup days watched from the rafters in South Philadelphia, angry fans spotted the ice with beer cans.
Let’s agree it was a handful of idiots hurling 12-ounce missiles. But let’s also agree that most orange-and-black loyalists are justifiably out of patience. They paid outrageous ticket prices to watch the good guys cough up 18 goals in three home playoff losses. No amount of dragging Kate Smith out of the crypt will fool people into thinking the good times have returned.
Okay, let’s back up a second in this postmortem. As hideously as the Flyers played in Sunday’s third period – along with the two other home games this series – there are positives worth recounting. Sean Couturier had a season and a series to celebrate, capping it by scoring five points in the finale while skating on a torn MCL.
Overall, the Flyers are more talented than they were a year ago. Ivan Provorov is an elite young player, and a half-dozen others on the roster are still ascending. GM Ron Hextall’s farm system promises more help next season. And, finally, they’ve got money to spend on free agents.
But there are major concerns. The goalie they’ve been waiting for since the 1980s (Carter Hart), is perhaps several years away from being able to actually grow a playoff beard. As the Flyers wait for Hart and other pups to mature, their leadership nucleus of Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek-Wayne Simmons just gets older.
I won’t rip Giroux here. Yes, there’s no excusing his six-game playoff performance (1 goal, 2 assists). But the Flyers wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Captain Claude’s 102-point season. The big question is one of timing: Will Giroux, Voracek and Simmons still be at their peak when the young talent finally ripens?
Actually, the biggest question to me is who leads them. I’ve never been a fan of Coach Dave Hakstol, who has a three-year record of 122-124 (counting OT losses) and has not won a playoff series.
I saw the same dumb penalties and lack of discipline plague the Flyers in this round as I have for three seasons. At some point, that falls on the coach. I saw the same curious pairings and head-scratching overuse of bad players (Helllooo, Radko Gudas). I saw a team that too often fell asleep and allowed quick-strike multiple goals.
I saw a coach unable to make adjustments in games or after losses. That’s exemplified by the passive, perimeter-passing power play the Flyers tried right to the end on Sunday.
And, of course, this Flyers team was blessed and cursed by its streakiness. They would look great for a week or two, and then reel off a 10-game losing streak. Just when you thought they had figured it out, they’d do a face plant.
It’s easy to say Hakstol’s silent, stone-faced demeanor fails to inspire. I don’t disagree, but I think that’s just part of the equation.
This is a huge off-season for Hextall. As he reviews what he’s got moving forward, he probably should start by looking at the coach.