It's Time for the Philadelphia Flyers to Rebuild

Adam Herman@@AdamZHermanContributor IDecember 12, 2021

Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux plays during an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The Philadelphia Flyers are not in a good place.

When it comes to organizational turmoil, the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens have been front and center. That's in part because of their existence in big Canadian markets as well the melodrama regarding the teams' management groups. That the Flyers' struggles have been able to fly under the radar is perhaps the only silver lining for the organization in what has been a total failure of a season thus far. The Flyers sit 24th in the league by points percentage (.462).

Head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien were rightfully fired earlier in the week, with the team producing a pitiful 43.4 expected goals percentage under their watch this season, per Evolving-Hockey. Only the Sabres and Coyotes ranked lower.

Many of the team's top players such as Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov were woefully underachieving, while the defense on the whole looked lost in coverages. It comes on the heels of a 2020-21 season in which the Flyers similarly struggled, missing the playoffs.

Vigneault did not have the team prepared, and the Flyers roster is definitively better than the results show. But while the Flyers may not be the basement dweller they currently present as, they're not a contender-in-hiding, either.

This is a roster constructed to hang with the middle of the pack, and that's become a trend in Philly. A run to the second round during the 2020 playoffs under unique COVID-19 circumstances serves as the only plausible deniability for an era in which the team has otherwise struggled to elevate above mediocrity. Indeed, this projects to be their ninth season out of 10 in which they will have either missed the playoffs or exited in the first round.

Sensing a stale product, general manager Chuck Fletcher made a series of major moves over the summer. Jakub Voracek was sent to Columbus for Cam Atkinson, while youth and prospects were sacrificed to bring in Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen on defense. In prior seasons, the team swung big on Kevin Hayes and Van Riemsdyk in free agency. The Flyers have been openly trying to contend for years and aren't getting the results. They've tried different coaches and different reinforcements to the roster.

By now, it's clear: This group just isn't good enough.

If trying to build a team upward to win now doesn't work, there's only one direction to go. The Flyers do not need to execute a scorched-earth policy, stripping the entire roster bare and building a new team from scratch. What's clear, though, is they need to stop chasing their losses. If the organization is set to tread water, at best, over the next couple of seasons, then it needs to do so with a greater future purpose in mind.

Most pending unrestricted free agents need to be moved prior to the 2022 trade deadline to give the team an arsenal toward building a more optimistic future.

The Flyers have a fairly average pool, as there is some emerging talent to complement the roster but no obvious future stars waiting in the minors. They traded their 2021 first-round pick for Ristolainen and do not have their second-round picks the next two summers. Ristolainen needs to be moved, as do Derick Brassard, Justin Braun, Martin Jones and Keith Yandle. Mountains should be moved to try to deal Van Riemsdyk, who's approaching age 33 and holding a $7 million cap hit through 2023. If that requires retaining half of his contract, so be it.

Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus RistolainenBill Kostroun/Associated Press

Couturier is a great two-way center who just turned 29 and is under contract long-term. He's going nowhere. Their hand is likely forced with Kevin Hayes (29) and Ryan Ellis (30) on lengthy contracts that reflect a level of ability they won't match during the downswings of their careers, but both still have plenty to contribute and shouldn't harm the team in the next few seasons.

The team has some young players who will be part of the foundation going forward.

Forward Joel Farabee (21) and goaltender Carter Hart (23) are locks to be key figures. Konecny could be trade bait but is 24 and signed through 2025. Travis Sanheim (25) becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2023 but is a quality top-four defenseman and one of the few Flyers on his game currently. If the price is right, he should be a high priority to retain.

A discussion has to be had about Provorov, as the 2015 seventh overall pick has had an up-and-down career. He scored 17 and 13 goals in 2017-18 and 2019-20, respectively. His skating ability is visually exhilarating, but often the Russian comes across as more flash than substance. His defensive acumen doesn't match the physical tools, and he's struggling this season.

Provorov doesn't appear likely to achieve the status of a No. 1 defenseman previously expected of him, and the $6.75 million cap hit until 2025 is starting to look more like a burden than a luxury. He could still be a big part of the future, but if he doesn't improve they'll regret not having moved him while his value was still high.

Yet the biggest decision of all will be regarding the future of Claude Giroux. As the captain, the best player on the roster and the face of the franchise, it's hard to imagine him with any team other than the one with which he's spent his entire 15-year career.

But Giroux turns 34 in January and is in the final year of his contract. He's still a very good player, but he's approaching the twilight of his career. Trading him would open up a lot of cap space and earn the Flyers quite the trade package.

Giroux, currently sidestepping questions about his future in Philadelphia, might even welcome the move to a contender. He could remain with the team and contribute for some years ahead, and perhaps that's even the smart bet at this stage, but parting ways is a possibility and would signal the start of a new era.

The organization has to be prepared to build toward something. Parts of the current roster need to be turned over in pursuit of cap space and future draft picks. Room must be made for top prospects Morgan Frost, Cam York and Bobby Brink to play meaningful minutes in the next few seasons, and the team has to be prepared to endure their growing pains.

The New York Rangers made a radical decision in 2018 as a similarly middling team to move their veterans and proactively start a new era. A few years later, the team appears to be back in the Stanley Cup race. Meanwhile, teams like Vancouver and Chicago lived in denial and are now backed into the rebuilding corner with their tails between their legs.

The Flyers need to rebuild. The degree to which it will be necessary will depend on how soon they are willing to confront that reality.