The Metro Division is jam-packed with teams who could disappoint. Sid and Geno are back for their 16th season in Pittsburgh, and the bottom has to fall out eventually. Similarly, Alex Ovechkin is 36 and coming off a career-worst 24-goal season. Carolina was one of the darlings of hockey last year, but the ’Canes replaced all-world Dougie Hamilton with awful person and player Tony DeAngelo. Yeesh. There’s always the chance that the New York Islanders will collapse under the weight of their wretched boringness, but the hockey gods surely hate us all and that probably won’t happen.
If there’s one franchise that has become reliable in its ability to disappoint, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers, who haven’t done anything smart since the marketing team came up with Gritty.
Why are expectations high for the Flyers? Really, they’re not. But after a shocking collapse last season, expectations are that the Flyers will continue their pattern of making the playoffs every other year. The Flyers were dead last in the league in goals allowed, with 201, after being eighth in the league the year before, so some regression to the mean is expected. However, we’re firmly in “Fool me twice, shame on me” territory.
To help improve the goaltending situation, the Flyers replaced backup Brian Elliott, who was terrible, with Martin Jones, who is... not good. The idea is that Jones being reunited with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh will help him. Except that Dillabaugh is the guy who oversaw last season’s disaster.
Why they’ll disappoint: But the real coaching problem is Alain Vigneault and his cast of merry dinosaurs, Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo. Because honestly, you can never have enough failed coaches on one team.
Credit must be given to all New York Rangers fans who snickered as the Flyers hired Alain Vigneault in 2019. In 2019-20, Vigneault was able to restore a sense of professionalism and pride after the team had suffered through five years of in-over-his-head Dave Hakstol. But the tough guy act wears thin after a while and there’s rarely been a team that so obviously had quit on its head coach as last season’s Flyers. The team lost a shocking seven games by 5 goals or more, including a 9-0 disaster to the Rangers on March 17.
Vigneault’s most notable achievement last year was questioning the play of his young goalie, Carter Hart, who was arguably the most accomplished goalie prospect the league had seen in years. Through the first two years of his career, Hart gave every indication of looking like a potential franchise goalie. Then last year’s disaster hit, and Hart was -22.77 goals worse than average. This was part of the inspiration for Robin Lehner’s rant about dinosaur coaches.
Why this coaching staff was allowed to return, we’ll never know, as GM Chuck Fletcher decided to run it back while shedding some of the core players who weren’t favorites of AV, like Jake Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Those deals weren’t exactly winners, but he did manage to snag Ryan Ellis from Nashville for disappointing Philippe Myers. Unfortunately, he undid all the good of that trade by sending actual assets to one of the worst franchises in sports, the Buffalo Sabres, for one of their worst players, Rasmus Ristolainen. We’ve seen this play before, as the Flyers traded for Andrew MacDonald in 2014 and hoped his bottom-of-the-league possession numbers would improve under different usage. (It didn’t, and it won’t happen with Risto, either.)
There’s enough talent here that, given the right coach, a solid year from Hart, and some contributions from rookies like Morgan Frost and Tyson Foerster, this team could be dangerous. The problem is AV isn’t the right guy, and to make matters worse, Kevin Hayes is injured to start the season. That leaves the Flyers with Derick Brassard as their No. 2 center, a role he might have been able to fill five years ago.
The best bet for the Flyers is that they start out so slow that Comcast ends up cleaning out the entire front office and coaching staff.