The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Trade deadline gives Flyers a chance to bail on a season the team’s already quit
PHILADELPHIA >> The NHL trade deadline will hit Friday, at which time the Flyers will quit on this season. The only question is whether it be the first time.
The deadline resignation is inevitable, a circumstance brought upon by lousy roster construction and worse injury luck. Under Chuck Fletcher, the Flyers have deteriorated into an irrelevance that never would have been tolerated under previous franchise curators, and the only way out will be to try to push poor players onto playoff-minded rubes in exchange for marginal draft picks and salary relief.
The Flyers will be sellers, not buyers, because whatever they acquire cannot be worse than what they offload. Any reasonable fan or critic will be hip to that pro-sports reality. Less acceptable, however, is the onice behavior that the Flyers showed last week in a lopsided loss to the Montreal Canadiens, another injured and inept operation. In that, they were booed after the first period, after the second period, at regular points in the third period and as they trudged into the locker room with their sixth loss in seven games.
There, as if some inconvenient obligation, a string of tired-eyed Flyers performed the expected skit and promised to do better the next time. Owen Tippett did it the best.
“We play again tomorrow,” he concluded. “Any time you can build momentum off a game that isn’t going your way, it can sometimes be in your favor for tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came, and with it so did a loss to the New Jersey Devils, but only by 7-0, making it seven of eight defeats just about a month after a peaceful wander onto the fringes of playoff contention. That meant the Flyers were outscored, 12-2, in about 24 hours just about a week after being outscored, 12-4, in consecutive games at Seattle and Vancouver.
Are they that bad, player for player? Or have their players just decided that winning once every seven games is enough to keep the meal-money stipends coming? And if so, then it is as much a John Tortorella issue as it is a Fletcher problem.
“The biggest concern of mine was just the lack of quickness to pucks, to the 50-50’s” Tortorella said after the Montreal loss, “so we can get going the other way instead of being stuck in our end zone.”
Sluggishness is going to occur in big-league sports, and the Flyers were particularly vulnerable in that spot having just played four games in the far northwest. But the only trip they were required to make the next night was from Voorhees to Newark, where not only were they useless, but they couldn’t blame a time-zone change between Exit 4 and Exit 14.
So it had to be something else, and rampant disinterest is high on that list. Ivan Provorov, once a franchise showpiece, is playing as if living out of a suitcase waiting for another move. Cam York, more comfortable on the right side, has seemed uncomfortable on the left. Joel Farabee hasn’t scored a goal since the day after the end of the NFL regular season, and his camp has been caught hollering about something, insinuating that a trade would be fine. Tortorella’s first instinct about Kevin Hayes – basically, that the Flyers could lose without him – was probably correct. Carter Hart is not who the Flyers thought he was. And it’s a good thing – isn’t it? – that the Flyers will pay James van Riemsdyk a little less than a million bucks a goal this season.
Without Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier, both out for the year, the Flyers were doomed to a season of struggle, and they didn’t need leading scorer Travis Konecny injuring his arm. But the one thing Tortorella promised when hired was not a playoff spot but that whatever they did the Flyers would play with a pride in the emblem. Trite, but vital. Other than a Cup, it’s the only thing Flyers fans have ever demanded: Play with fight.
For most of the season, Tortorella delivered. He found a way for an injured team to remain competitive with straightforward hockey. The Flyers have led the league in fights and for a few weeks they were hot enough to generate a buzz. There is a connection. But they were smothered on that road trip and have not recovered. Their play has been unacceptable. The boos have been justified.
“I don’t think it’s ‘effort’ from our team, necessarily,” said Scott Laughton, as close to a captain as Tortorella will allow. “We have to be way more connected, play with the puck, support the puck when we are entering into zones and make things happen for ourselves.”
The Flyers have one game before the deadline, Wednesday night at 7:30 against the visiting Rangers. That gives them a couple of days to prepare for the game and then the game within the game.
The changes are coming. And they can’t stop until Tortorella has a team that will not quit.