It’s clear, by now, this season’s version of the Flyers is mired in slush. Only Wayne Simmonds’ OT goal saved them from humiliation during a five-game home stand. They cling to the final playoff spot while embarking on a Canadian road swing, and the math — 15 of their final 26 games on the road — looks ominous.
That 10-game win streak back in autumn was an illusion. This team can’t score goals, can’t shut down the net, rarely comes up clutch. And the product — for so long among the sport’s most exciting — has become stale.
Blame who you like, because there’s plenty to go around. Captain Claude Giroux, face of the franchise, is on pace for just 18 goals and a minus-25 season. He has just one even-strength goal in the last 21 games, fewer than Nick Cousins.
Likewise, Jakub Voracek, owner of an eight-year, $66 million deal, suffers through another season where he can’t score. Other young players touted as part of the nucleus are failing: Sean Couterier, Matt Read, Shayne Gostisbehere — especially Gostisbehere.
Coach Dave Hakstol isn’t helping his offense by shifting to a defense-at-all-costs system. Nor is he helping his credibility by telling fans at a town hall meeting that slogger Andrew MacDonald is “a top three- or four-defenseman in this league.”
Ron Hextall, never known for calm or patience as a player, is showing both as GM. His lineup is largely the work of his predecessor, Paul Holmgren. Hextall reads the glowing scouting reports on his prospects and waits … and waits.
One date looms on the calendar. The NHL trade deadline is two weeks away. The Flyers would be foolish to be buyers on March 1, and equally foolish to stand pat. This team needs change.
The most obvious chip is veteran defenseman Mark Streit, who’ll get back a middling draft pick. Another idea is to swap goalie Steve Mason to a playoff-bound team looking for insurance.
Mason has now been here four-plus seasons and the Flyers haven’t won a playoff round since his arrival. Despite some calling him an elite goalie, all evidence shows him to be a streaky player capable of getting hot for a few weeks — and then surrendering a costly cheapie at the worst of times.
He’s a free agent after this season, which means Hextall would need to commit big money to keep him. Meanwhile, erstwhile backup Michal Neuvirth has been the better netminder this year. And there are a gaggle of goalie prospects in the system, starting with 6-foot-5 butterfly-style Anthony Stolarz, who could back up Neuvirth next season and hold things down until teenager Carter Hart matures.
Mason is not the Flyers’ biggest problem this season, but he’s also not their solution. My radio partner Ray Didinger calls him hockey’s Sam Bradford — a guy who’ll shine at moments, never live up to the potential some foist on him and too often be absolved of his mistakes.
Expect to see many new faces on the Flyers next season. I’d start with the goaltender.