Flyers hope 50th birthday ends with a party
There will be time to see it on a power play, or in the final minute of regulation, or in a shootout, the Flyers should pardon the reference.
There will be a resolution in the spring, in the playoffs, perhaps before.
There will be, soon enough, every required way to judge a hockey team.
Until then, Mark Streit will have his eyes, his ears and mostly, his 21 years in major competitive hockey. And that’s how he chooses to judge the Flyers.
“The guys here,” the learned defenseman was saying the other day, after the final training camp practice, “they like to hang out together. There are no groups. Everybody goes to lunch and dinner with everybody. And it’s a good atmosphere.
“I think we have a good balance between knowing when to have fun and when to let loose a little bit and when to work on the ice. And I think that is very important going into this season.”
It’s been said before, all of it, around the Flyers, around other teams on every level of athletics. But it is not always said, and it is not always said by someone with as much historical authority. So when Streit shared what he saw before the Flyers rolled into Los Angeles to begin their 50th season Friday night, it meant something. It meant that the Flyers might have it right this time.
They were inconsistent last season, starting poorly, recovering, flourishing for a while, dipping, then nosing into the playoffs, where they would show a horrifying inability to score. But, as it would happen, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere were injured, and both would require offseason surgery. That compromised their power play, which damaged their ability to win games. And even if every team has injured players in the spring, that’s what happened.
With that, Ron Hextall would face a test of his policy. He was hired, in part, for his patience. And even if he didn’t have much patience, he would by definition have more than most who had been running the Flyers through their 2-for-49 frustration. So, he would show some. He would bring almost all of it back again. He would not make the (almost) annual organizational coaching change. He would not carry on and blame Giroux, still a wonderful player, if an octave short of Peter Laviolette’s infamous yodel that no one in the world was better. He’d try the two-goalie system again.
There was something there. Something worth one more shift.
“I am not a reactionary guy,” the general manager said. “I don’t like to make decisions based on small samples. I anticipate the coaching staff being here a long time and our players being here a long time. I don’t necessarily like change. It’s got to make sense. I think stability in an organization at any level is a good thing.”
Hextall made some changes, importing Boyd Gordon and Dale Weise for their size and understated skills, adding Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny for their youth and potential. With that, the Flyers had a snug fit. They were a little bigger, a little healthier and a little younger around the edges. Yet they have just enough in-their-prime, hardened, desperate veterans to negotiate a hockey season’s challenges. By the time they all landed in Dave Hakstol’s second full training camp, they were there to work, not to learn. So, they did.
“I would say we’ve got more speed,” Jake Voracek said. “Everybody is one year older than last year, with more experience and more games under their belt.
“When you have two 19-year-olds making the team like that, with the way that Hexy thinks, it’s a sign that they are doing something right.”
The standings, and then the postseason results, will be the only such sign that matters. And the Flyers have been trading in ultimate disappointment for so long that almost every photo of their last championship celebration is in black and white.
“We have belief in ourselves,” Hextall said. “With that belief, it can’t be, ‘OK, we’re going to get it done this year.’ We believe, but we have to put the work in. It’s always a thing that’s a little dangerous. We don’t make the playoffs two years ago, we make it last year and there’s always a little thinking like, ‘We’re going to make the playoffs.’ Well, we can’t view it like that. We have to MAKE the playoffs. We have a lot of work to do.
“I think our group knows that and we have to get off to a better start. The first half has got to be better. But I think with the additions, we are going to be a better team.”
They are at the right age, with the right mix, with the right coach, with the right attitude, with the right power play, with the right goaltending, with the right recent postseason experience and frustration, with the right level of patience. And 50 is a nice, round number. At least until the first shootout, just leave it at that.