The Flyers are in a big rebuild — and they can't hide it

The Flyers are in a big rebuild — and they can't hide it

They can't win away from the Wells Fargo Center, and they can't win at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers, quite frankly, can’t win anywhere.

The Flyers aren’t who we thought they were. This season wasn’t supposed to go this way. This team was expected to be better. The harsh reality is, it’s not. That much is clear after the Flyers' ninth straight loss Tuesday night, a 3-1 decision to the San Jose Sharks in a game the orange and black didn’t look interested in playing.

What the fanbase is disgruntled with isn’t so much the process; in large part, the Flyers faithful have embraced the rebuild, even though general manager Ron Hextall hasn’t called it what it is. The fans are more so growing miffed with the handling of the youth, and both the head coach and general manager sugarcoating a nine-game losing streak.

Hockey, in the Philly sports landscape, is irrelevant. The Flyers are last in the Metropolitan Division, mired in a downward spiral with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Eagles are the NFL’s best, and Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are must-watch commodities with the Sixers. The Flyers are nothing more than an afterthought.

How did they get here, what needs to change and are we overreacting? These are all questions we have to examine here. We have to take a step back and again evaluate whether we placed too high of expectations on a team we knew wasn’t a contender yet.

“I’ve always said, ‘Talk is cheap,’” Hextall told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon. “It does take time. I think if you look at Chicago and L.A. and do the timeline when they build, it takes time. In saying that, we can be competitive right now. … 

“As much as right now things aren’t real positive — we don’t feel real positive about things right now the way they’ve gone recently — there are some positives.”

Los Angeles timeline
Let’s look at the Kings' because, well, Hextall was directly involved in it. Many have made these connections before, and it’s fair to connect the dots again. It’s a good blueprint for what Hextall is doing here, and in L.A., it took a while to see the results.

After four straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Kings reshuffled their front office in April 2006. Dave Taylor, who had been the general manager since 1997, was replaced with Dean Lombardi. Two months later, Hextall was hired as assistant GM.

We’re using the Lombardi hire as the benchmark, though three major players — Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick — were drafted by the Taylor regime. For the first three years of the Lombardi era, the Kings didn’t qualify for the postseason but did improve each season. By Year 4 — 2009-10 — the Kings were in the playoffs. And then in Year 6, Los Angeles won its first of two Stanley Cups with Lombardi as the GM.

The 2011-12 Stanley Cup team had 13 drafted players and one undrafted free agent, which we’ll include since they had to come up through the ranks. Eleven of those 13 played throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while two other picks also saw time. Three players — Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner — were acquired in trades during the rebuild with draft picks. Of course, Lombardi had some free-agent signings, too, that contributed — Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Simon Gagne, to name a few.

Under Lombardi and Hextall’s guidance, the Kings won a Stanley Cup in six years. They were a non-playoff team in the first three years of the rebuild, a playoff team for two years before finally adding missing pieces via trades and free agency in Year 6, which, again, has to go to the credit of drafting and developing. The Kings were the 10th-oldest team in the NHL when Lombardi took over and by Year 4, they were the youngest team in the league. When they won the Cup, they were around the middle of the pack at 13th.

State of the Flyers
Fans have every right to be displeased with how this season is playing out. When Dale Weise is getting more ice time than Nolan Patrick, like he did last game, there is a reason to be ticked. When Samuel Morin, who many believed should be here along with Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim, is stuck in Lehigh Valley, there is a reason to be upset. When the Flyers scratch Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal for Jori Lehtera and Weise, there’s a reason for fans to yell behind their keyboards. When the Flyers have lost 46 of their last 74 games since their 10-game winning streak last season, there’s a cause for concern.

The fan is the customer, and right now, the product they’re paying for — attending games, tuning in, buying merchandise, it’s all relevant — isn’t satisfying. Philly fans don’t want to hear Dave Hakstol say, “I think in seven of our last 10, we’ve gotten a point” after the Flyers lost their seventh straight, or Hextall say the Flyers “are not playing poorly” after the ninth straight loss. Even if it's true, that's what bothers them.

While the Flyers are last in the Metro, they are within striking distance of a wild-card spot in a jam-packed Eastern Conference. We're just hitting December and there is plenty of time to turn this season around. Playoffs are not out of the picture. Yet. But if there is anything this losing streak has reminded us, it’s this team is not quite there.

It might not even be as close as we believed it was, either.

“We’re a young team,” Hextall said Wednesday. “We have a lot of young kids coming and we’re going to get better. We’re going to play better than we’re currently playing.

“We’re going to get better every year. We’re going to get younger every year and we’re going to be competitive and we’re going to get there.”

Hextall has continually said the Flyers are going to get younger, and since he came back to Philadelphia in 2013-14 as an assistant GM, the orange and black have done just that. When Hextall was the AGM in 2013-14, the Flyers were the fourth-oldest team in the NHL. This season, in his fourth as the GM, the Flyers are the seventh youngest. And they’ll get even younger next season and the following year, too.

With youth comes growing pains, and it might even get more painful. Hextall refuses to put a timeline on when the rebuild will be complete. He says the Flyers will be competitive while they build, and they have been. This team can make the playoffs. But if we use the Los Angeles blueprint and factor into what Hextall inherited as GM — a nightmare of a salary cap situation — we might be looking at three or four more years before this team becomes a legitimate contender.

When discussing the Flyers' nine-game losing streak Wednesday and last season's 10-game winning streak, Hextall said, "You do have to keep a balance, a realistic view of your club."

The realistic view is, this rebuild is just getting started. The Flyers are younger than last season, and they'll be younger next year. For all intents and purposes, Hextall has drafted well. The reality there is, we won't know for a few more years if his picks hit.

Perhaps a little more transparency with what’s currently going on would help with the fan backlash.

Petr Mrazek in strange yet familiar territory

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Petr Mrazek in strange yet familiar territory

DETROIT — Petr Mrazek knew the day he was traded to the Flyers wouldn’t be the last time he’d be in Detroit. Looking at the Flyers’ schedule, Mrazek noticed one more game left to be played against his former team.

Tonight, Mrazek will make his 12th start with his new team against the organization that drafted him in the fifth round in 2010.

Prior to the morning skate, Mrazek spent time talking with former teammates and fellow netminders Jimmy Howard and Jared Coreau. But it was a little strange walking into Little Caesars Arena for the first time as a visitor.

“A little different, different entrance, but it’s a fun building and one of the nicest visitor locker rooms in the league,” Mrazek said. “Every game is different. I wouldn’t know who’s got more of an advantage. I talked with Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou) this morning and asked if he’s going to do the same move as he always does or if he’s going to go backhand. But when the puck drops, we've just got to focus on ourselves.”

Mrazek won his fifth game in orange and black with a 6-3 victory over the Washington Capitals Sunday. If the Flyers advance to the playoffs, the Red Wings would receive a third-round draft pick as compensation.  

The Dead Wing era
With a win tonight, Mrazek and the Flyers can eliminate the Red Wings from postseason contention. It will mark the second straight season Detroit has failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which hasn’t happened in Hockeytown since the early 1980s.
The current-day Red Wings have completely tanked since the trade deadline. They’ve dropped 10 straight (0-9-1) since Feb. 26, and have just one regulation victory over the last 15 games.

The Flyers will be looking for a three-game season sweep of the Red Wings while being mindful of a dreaded letdown game against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s important for us to be ready from the start,” center Sean Couturier said. “We don’t want to get surprised. They’re still a good team. They’ve got some talent, probably some guys who want to prove themselves. These games are never easy. We’ve got to be prepared for that and just focus on what we’ve got to do.”

The Dead Wing era is a period in Detroit hockey from the late 1960s to the early 1980s when the Red Wings failed to reach the postseason in 15 of 17 seasons. 

Passing 'Big E'
With a point tonight, Claude Giroux can pass Eric Lindros for fifth place on the Flyers' all-time scoring list with 660 points. Whenever his career ends, Giroux will join Lindros one day in the Flyers' Hall of Fame.

The current and former Flyers captains spoke briefly in Voorhees, New Jersey, earlier this season prior to Lindros’ No. 88 retirement ceremony on Jan. 18. Overtaking “Big E” is an accomplishment Giroux holds in high regard.

“Just for what he’s done for the organization, it means something. He’s had a great career,” Giroux said. “Just talking with him was pretty special. He talked about what experiences he’s had, talking about things he was going through as a team. To be able to pass him, it’s pretty special.” 

This season alone, Giroux has worked his way from 11th on the franchise’s career scoring list to where he is now. Once he moves past Lindros, Giroux will be 38 points shy of passing Rick MacLeish for fourth place, which in all likelihood, will come next season.

Blue Jackets pull even with Flyers in points

USA Today Images

Blue Jackets pull even with Flyers in points

BOSTON -- Cam Atkinson scored 2:55 into overtime to lift the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-4 victory over Boston on Monday night for their eighth straight victory, spoiling a splendid NHL debut for Bruins forward Ryan Donato.

Sonny Milano, Boone Jenner, Thomas Vanek and Artemi Panarin also scored for the Blue Jackets. Nick Foligno had two assists, nd Vanek and Jenner each added one. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 34 shots.

Atkinson cut in on the left wing and fired a wrister past Rask for the game-winner.

Columbus moved into a tie with Philadelphia with 85 points, but the Flyers hold the tiebreaker for third place in the Metropolitan Division and the Blue Jackets hold the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Donato had a goal and two assists for Boston, which moved a point behind idle Tampa Bay for first in the Atlantic. Riley Nash, Brad Marchand and David Krejci also scored for the Bruins, and Tuukka Rask finished with 19 saves (see full recap).

Luongo, Panthers blank Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Roberto Luongo stopped 28 shots for his third shutout of the season and 76th of his career, leading the Florida Panthers to a 2-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.

Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov scored to help the Panthers inch closer to a playoff position, pulling three points behind idle new Jersey for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Florida has two games in hand on the Devils.

Antti Niemi finished with 38 saves for Montreal, which was shut out for the second straight game and 12th time this season -- including three against the Panthers. The Canadiens were coming off a 4-0 loss at Toronto on Saturday.

The opening 10 minutes saw two fights, one of which had Ekblad sparring with Nicolas Deslauriers. It may have fired up the big defenseman because he stole a puck from Michael McCarron, deked past defenseman Jeff Petry and beat Niemi with a move to the backhand for an unassisted goal with 1:29 left in the opening period.

Jacob De La Rose thought he had tied it for Montreal 17 seconds later, but a video review showed Alex Galchenyuk was offside by a toenail and it was waived off.

Barkov got his 26th of the season at 6:23 of the third when his shot from the left side went in off Montreal forward Logan Shaw.

Star goalie Carey Price returned to the Montreal lineup after concussion suffered Feb. 20. He backed up Niemi (see full recap).

Rinne makes 35 saves in Preds’ shutout
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Pekka Rinne stopped 35 shots for his eighth shutout of the season and the Nashville Predators set a franchise record by earning a point in their 15th consecutive game with a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen scored goals 4:34 apart in the second period, and Filip Forsberg and Ryan Hartman sealed the victory by scoring in the final four minutes.

The NHL-leading Predators improved to 14-0-1 in their past 15, and also extended their team-best road winning streak to nine straight.

Rinne won his 11th straight to match his personal best in a stretch in which he's allowed just 18 goals. The shutout was the 51st of his 12-year career and third in nine games.

And Rinne also improved to 40-9-4 in becoming the NHL's seventh goalie to win 40 games in a season three or more times.

The Predators haven't lost in regulation since a 3-1 defeat to Detroit at home on Feb. 17. And they improved to 12-0-3 in their past 15 road games since a 3-0 loss at Vegas on Jan. 2 (see full recap).