The Philadelphia Flyers finished the 2021-22 NHL season with two major issues.
First, they were not a good hockey team. They finished 29th in the NHL standings and missed the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in the salary-cap era. And their .372 points percentage was the second-worst in franchise history. By comparison, it made 58 points in 56 games in the Covid-ravaged 2020-21 campaign look quite good.
Second, attendance has cratered at the Wells Fargo Center. After regularly averaging announced crowds of more than 19,000 fans since the new arena opened in 1996, attendance dipped to 18,391 before Covid-19 shut down the 2019-20 season.
This year, average attendance fell to just 16,541. That’s the lowest attendance in 50 years, since the 1972-73 campaign at the Spectrum.
Only two early-season games drew more than 19,000 fans — the 5-4 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks in the home opener on October 15 (19,338) and the 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on November 20 (19,644).
That defeat against Boston marked Philadelphia’s first back-to-back losses of the year, and moved their record to 8-5-3. But that losing streak eventually stretched to 10 games. It was snapped on December 10, four days after Alain Vigneault lost his job.
From there, the Flyers never got back on track. Ten home games in 2022 saw crowds of less than 15,000. On February 9, just 13,243 spectators watch the Flyers lose 6-3 to the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
An Aggressive Re-Tool And A Blank Check
In late January, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott promised he’d give general manager Chuck Fletcher a “blank check” to turn the franchise around. Presumably, that came with the managerial freedom to make the moves he deemed necessary.
But money can only solve so many problems in a salary-cap world. And a trade-deadline selloff brought back only one present-value asset, winger Owen Tippett. The draft picks acquired for Claude Giroux, Derick Brassard and Justin Braun are all for 2023 and 2024.
The offseason started with some promise. Hard-driving John Tortorella pledged that he’d bring the team together and make the Flyers tougher to play against. On July 5, his defensive assistant from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Brad Shaw, joined him as an associate coach. This week, it’s being reported that Rocky Thompson is being eyed to join the organization.
Thompson, 44, was a rising star in the coaching community after taking the AHL’s Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup Final in 2019. But after one season as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks, he stepped aside at the beginning of the 2021-22 season because “due to a medical exemption that prevents me from taking the Covid-19 vaccine, under the new League protocols, I am not permitted to fulfill my duties on the Sharks coaching staff at this time.”
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Gaudreau Is Gone
Johnny Gaudreau sparked rumors that he’d like to play for his hometown Philadelphia Flyers all the way back in 2016.
At Glou. Cath assembly, Gaudreau says he hopes to play a lot of seasons in Calgary, but would love to play for Flyers at end of his career.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) May 12, 2016
At that time, Gaudreau was a 22-year-old restricted free agent. He went on to sign a six-year deal with the Flames, with a cap hit of $6.75 million. And he broke the 80-point benchmark three times in those six years, topping out with 40 goals and 115 points last season.
By all indications, Johnny still wanted to come home this summer, despite the Flyers’ on-ice challenges. In the end, he spurned his most lucrative offer to remain with the Flames. And he delivered the biggest surprise of free agency when he chose a seven-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets at a cap hit of $9.75 million per season.
But after trading for defenseman Tony DeAngelo and inking him to a two-year deal with a cap hit of $5 million, Fletcher didn’t have enough cap space for Gaudreau. He offloaded Oskar Lindblom‘s contract in a buyout on Monday, freeing up just over $3 million. But Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that Fletcher couldn’t find a trade partner who was wiling to take on the $7 million attached to the last year of James van Riemsdyk‘s deal at a lower price tag than the Flyers’ 2023 first-round pick. And that selection could turn out to be immensely valuable, with wunderkind Conor Bedard leading that draft class.
“I don’t know that it’s fair to comment on specific players,” Fletcher said, when asked about the van Riemsdyk rumor on Wednesday. “We looked at some different options, but the price of moving contracts is really expensive. In some cases, even more expensive than what you just indicated to me (a first-round pick).”
Gaudreau may not have solved all the Flyers’ woes. But he’s an exciting player and, as a hometown boy, would have delivered some coveted marketability to a franchise that needs to get its fans back on board.
Instead, Fletcher settled for two minor signings on Wednesday. Veteran right-shot defender Justin Braun punched above his weight in a first-pairing role in Philadelphia for a good part of last season. He was traded to the New York Rangers at the deadline and now returns on a one-year deal at $1.75 million — slightly below the $1.8 million AAV of his last contract.
And Fletcher was the winner in the Nic Deslauriers sweepstakes. The rugged 31-year-old policeman was expected to be in high demand this summer after raising his profile following a trade-deadline deal to the Minnesota Wild. The Flyers got him by offering four years at $1.75 million. That’s a nice increase from his last deal, a two-year pact at $1 million.
“Right now, as an organization, the most important thing that we have to do is stabilize,” Fletcher said Wednesday. “We’ll be a much-improved team. We’ll be a competitive team. A lot of things that we really struggled with last year, I feel we have a chance to be considerably better at, whether it’s our goals against, our structure, our penalty kill, and our power play, in particular. Those are areas we’re all going to attack.”
For now, skepticism reigns among the Flyers fanbase. We’ll find out this fall whether the on-ice product is actually improved.
The post Flyers’ Free-Agency Moves Further Alienate A Disgruntled Fanbase appeared first on Full Press Hockey.
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