Where has it all gone wrong for the Flyers, and where do they go from here?

Philadelphia Flyers
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There is no team in the NHL that brings more chaotic energy to every season than the Philadelphia Flyers. There is always a coaching change, or a blockbuster move, or a 10-game winning streak, or a 10-game losing streak lurking just around the corner. Sometimes all at once. Sometimes, like this season, all in the same season.

The Flyers enter Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders riding an eight-game losing streak (their second such losing streak of the season) and sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They have already made a coaching change, and barring some kind of insane second half run the playoffs would seem to be an extreme long shot. That would make it three times in four years where they finish on the outside of the playoff picture and the sixth time in 10 years. It is not great.

This season has to be particularly frustrating because there really did seem to be a path to return to the playoffs at the start. They had a wildly busy offseason that saw them overhaul their defense and trade Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson, while there was hope for some bounce back seasons from core players like Travis Konecny and Carter Hart. Hart seemed to be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle given how much his struggles a year ago impacted the team, as well as his upside at the most impactful position on the ice. And while he has been better this season, it has not been enough to make up for everything else that has gone wrong.

So let’s dig in a little.

The defensive overhaul has not gone as planned

This is where most of the roster overhaul happened.

The results have been ugly. A big part of the problem is that Ellis — an outstanding two-way player when healthy — has been limited to just four games this season. He was supposed to be the big offseason addition, and at the time and on paper it seemed like a strong move. With better luck, it could have been. Ellis has five points in the four games he has played while also posting strong underlying numbers, but he just has not been available to make a difference.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Panthers are embarrassing teams; Shesterkin carrying Rangers]

Beyond the Ellis injury, Yandle has struggled to find any consistency (and taking him out of the lineup seems to be off the table, at least for now, given his consecutive games streak) while the Ristolainen deal was curious at the time given his struggles in Buffalo.

The result of all of this? One of the league’s worst defensive teams across the board. Just look at where the Flyers rank in several defensive categories during 5-on-5 play.

  • Total shot attempts against per 60 minute: 31st (61.01)
  • Shots on goal against per 60 minutes: 31st (34.3)
  • Expected goals against per 60 minutes: 32nd (2.80)
  • Scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 31st (31.1)
  • High-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 32nd (13.19)
  • Goals against per 60 minutes: 24th (2.65)

Those are bad numbers and significantly worse than they were a year ago. The team has taken a decisive step backwards defensively, and given how bad the shot and scoring chance numbers are it is a testament to how well the goaltending has been that the goals against numbers are not even worse.

Injuries, COVID, and regression

It is not just the defensive failures that have left them here. They were one of the many teams that saw their lineup get decimated for a stretch by COVID protocols, while injuries have robbed them of some key players for significant stretches including Sean Couturier and Ellis. In the games Couturier has played, his offensive production is at its lowest level in years.

Then there is the matter of Travis Konecny.

[Related: Which teams still have realistic chance to make Stanley Cup Playoffs]

During the 2019-20 season he scored 24 goals in 66 games and was nearly a point-per-game player (61 points in 66 games) in what was a breakout year offensively. When the NHL returned to play in the bubble he was mired in a goal scoring slump that saw him score zero goals in 16 games. He has not yet rediscovered his scoring touch. Starting with that 2019-20 postseason he has just 17 goals in his past 112 games, including only six in 36 games this season. His goal on Monday snapped what had been a 20-game goal drought. It is a confounding stretch when you consider that his underlying numbers are still among the best on the team while he is generating more shots on goal per game than at any point in his career. His assist numbers are also still in line with his career averages. But he can not buy a goal. That is a problem.

Add in a lack of quality depth beyond the top forwards and a power play that is one of the least potent in the league with some of the worst shot generation and, well, you have the current offensive predicament.

It is an already flawed roster that has had some bad luck compound the issues while their roll of the dice on defense backfired very, very badly.

Time to trade Claude Giroux?

When a team is in this position in the standings at this point in the season trades seem inevitable, but the options for major moves seem very limited. Most of their pending UFAs are on defense and probably have very limited value. They are probably going to get back less for Ristolainen than they gave up for him, while Yandle and Justin Braun will probably not fetch major returns.

At forward, Couturier is probably still an untouchable, while James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes have contracts that probably make them tough to trade. Dealing Konecny now would be insane because his value is at an all-time low and there are enough signs that he could still bounce back. If he does, you want it to be for you and not somebody else after you trade him too soon.

Then we get to Giroux. He is a pending unrestricted free agent after this season, is still playing at a high level that would be attractive to Stanley Cup contenders, and as the folks at Broad Street Hockey argued on Tuesday they probably owe it to him to give him a chance to win a Stanley Cup. It is the perfect trade situation where not even the most loyal Flyers fan could be too mad about it. Team is going nowhere, he is a free agent, he can bring a good return, he gets a chance to win. Seems like a no-brainer and the obvious trade.

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.