If general manager Chuck Fletcher needed any more incentive to not buy whatsoever on this Flyers team, he got it Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.
With one more game to evaluate before Monday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, Fletcher watched the Flyers lose embarrassingly, 5-3, to the NHL-worst Sabres. In their last opportunity to show the GM something, the Flyers gave him all the reason to think sell and shift his focus to next season.
The Flyers (19-16-6) blew a 2-0 lead in the second period. They held a 3-2 lead with just over three minutes left in the third period and lost that one, too.
The colossal collapse came a day after the Flyers kept things interesting with a win over the Bruins, the team they're trying to chase in order to salvage a highly disappointing season. Boston, who holds the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division, is four points ahead of the Flyers. After the Bruins play the Capitals on Sunday night, they'll have two games in hand on the Flyers entering Monday.
The Sabres (10-25-6), with no Jack Eichel (upper-body injury) or Taylor Hall (healthy scratch), stunned the Flyers. In the head-to-head matchup with the Flyers this season, Buffalo has outscored them 24-22.
And Sunday was the latest — and perhaps final — blow to the club's fading hopes on this season.
"It's hard to explain," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said somberly postgame. "We had that game in total control. We were giving them almost nothing and we just blew it."
• On March 24, Fletcher said the Flyers were "certainly not looking at selling right now."
It's safe to say the Flyers' play since then has changed his course of action. The play before then didn't help and it hasn't gotten much better. The Flyers might not have massive, franchise-altering moves ahead. Maybe they're not propping up the for sale sign out front. But they need to start planning for 2021-22. It's just not happening this season.
Monday's trade deadline will be a way to start retooling for next season.
Fletcher will have a decision to make on Scott Laughton, who is a Swiss army knife and can hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career this offseason. For many reasons, the Flyers should not sell his value short for the clubs that reach out on him. He very well could and should be a part of the team's future next season.
Erik Gustafsson, who has been relegated to a healthy scratch all of this month, will not be re-signed this offseason, so you have to think the Flyers will try to move him for anything.
"The trade deadline, I've been in a lot of them — the unknown, not knowing who's going to be here tomorrow or what the future has for us," Claude Giroux said postgame. "It's out of our control. It's not on us to make those decisions."
• Is this the best Shayne Gostisbehere has looked offensively since 2017-18, when he put up a career-high 65 points?
Gostisbehere had a multi-point game Sunday and broke a 2-2 tie on a nice shot 3:47 minutes into the third period. He has eight goals and 14 points in his last 22 games, going back to Feb. 24.
Gostisbehere turns 28 years old later this month and has two more years left on his contract with a $4.5 million cap hit. Fewer than two weeks ago, NHL teams passed up on him when the Flyers placed the puck-moving blueliner on waivers. Will clubs be more interested at the deadline after this stretch?
A weird time for Gostisbehere, who has gotten used to it. Right now, he's fueling on it.
• Michael Raffl, who has played all 504 of his career games with the Flyers, did not suit up. The 32-year-old Raffl can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, one in which the Flyers have not played like a contender. Those two aspects have made the veteran role forward a candidate to be moved at the trade deadline.
Raffl's strengths are qualities that contending teams seek as they try to set themselves up for any edge down the stretch. He's a puck-protection forward with smarts and versatility. With a flat-cap world and the Flyers possibly wanting to get younger in their bottom six next season, Raffl could walk in the offseason.
He'll have to wait things out at another deadline.
The Austria native has been a quietly productive player in Philadelphia. He signed an entry-level contract with the club in May 2013 and has ended up playing more games in a Flyers uniform than the likes of Eric Lindros, Paul Holmgren and Dave Poulin.
Tanner Laczynski, a 23-year-old center who made his NHL debut earlier this month in place of Raffl, did some good things in 9:34 minutes Sunday.
• Thanks to first-period tallies from Oskar Lindblom and Joel Farabee, the Flyers held their first multi-goal advantage since March 18. They had gone 12 straight games without holding a lead of two or more goals.
In a span of 46 seconds early in the second period, the Flyers lost that seldom-seen 2-0 lead.
They entered the third period in a dogfight with the Sabres. It didn't end well for the Flyers.
• Carter Hart was piecing together another solid performance until the wheels fell off late in the third period. In 25 seconds, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Asplund turned the Flyers' lead into a deficit. Buffalo sealed the Flyers' fate with an empty-netter.
"We made some mistakes that just gave them goals," Vigneault said. "Things that you can't do in this league, things that we did tonight with some of our most experienced players."
Hart finished with 26 saves, while Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark converted 40 for the win.
• After consecutive healthy scratches, Philippe Myers entered the lineup for Samuel Morin. Myers had an assist in 18:51 minutes. The Flyers will continue to watch his decisions with the puck.
• The Flyers visit the Capitals on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP). How much different will they look (if at all) after Monday's trade deadline?
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