There are teams in the NHL that know they are Stanley Cup contenders and know exactly what to do to make themselves better.
There are also teams in the NHL that know they are not very good, need to tear things down to the foundation and aggressively rip things apart for future assets.
And then there are teams like the Philadelphia Flyers — a team that seems to have no idea what they are and what direction they need to go in.
The first two groups of teams are pretty easy to accept as a fan. You know what to expect in the short-term and can adjust your expectations accordingly. But when you are in that latter group of teams, the fun simply gets sucked out of sports. And how else is there to explain the Flyers’ current situation? They have spent the past 10 years tumbling through perpetual mediocrity, missing the playoffs six times, finishing higher than third place in the division just once, and winning only a single playoff round (against a 24th ranked team in the league in the expanded playoff bubble). They are coming off of a 2021-22 season where they were not only one of the worst teams in the league, but also finished with the second-worst points percentage (.372) in franchise history.
It was, by every objective measure, an awful team with holes and question marks all over the roster.
[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
As that mess of a season was unfolding, management talked a big game about how they were going to fix this.
The words “aggressive retool” and “blank check” were thrown around. That set pretty high expectations, and made the Flyers a potential landing spot for unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau, or some other major addition.
But as we learned over the past couple of days the Flyers never actually made a push for Gaudreau. We know this, because they told us this. General manager Chuck Fletcher basically came out and said they did not pursuit Gaudreau because their salary cap situation did not allow it, and that it would have been difficult to move out the necessary contracts to create salary cap space for him.
In other words, they could not (or did not want) to do the “aggressive” part of the “aggressive retool.”
What has to make it even more frustrating for Flyers fans is that they could not make an effort to go for a difference-maker and bonafide superstar because they are paying players like Rasmus Ristolainen and Tony DeAngelo a combined $10 million in salary cap space.
That is where things truly become baffling with this team. The asset management here just does not make any sense. Let’s look at some of the most prominent roster moves over the past year.
• Last summer they traded a second-round pick (which turned out to be No. 36 overall) and a seventh-round pick simply to get rid of Shayne Gostisbehere‘s contract.
• Then they traded their 2021 first-round pick (No. 14 overall), a 2023 second-round pick (which will probably be very high), and Robert Hagg to the Buffalo Sabres for Ristolainen.
[Related: Blue Jackets sign Gaudreau in free agency stunner]
• They also traded Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers to Nashville for defenseman Ryan Ellis. This could have been a good trade, but Ellis played just four games due to injury and nobody knows when he will return. This is bad luck. No major criticism here.
• Along with with that, they also traded Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson. It reduced the team’s salary cap number in the short-term, but Atkinson’s contract goes an extra year. It is pretty much a wash. Once the season became a dumpster fire, another core player, Claude Giroux, went out the door for Owen Tippett, a 2024 first-round pick, and a 2023 third-round pick.
• But then this offseason, they traded three more draft picks (second in 2024, third in 2023, and fourth in 2024) for DeAngelo and paid him $5 million per year over the next two years.
If you want to try, you might be able to justify each move individually. But as a collective it is all nonsensical. Look at the totality of those moves.
Flyers give up: No. 14 overall (2021), No. 36 overall (2022), No. 101 overall (2022), 2023 second-round pick, 2023 third-round pick, 2024 second-round pick, Gostisbehere, Voracek, Giroux, Hagg, Patrick, Myers.
Flyers receive: Atkinson, Ristolainen, Ellis, DeAngelo, Tippett, 2024 first-round pick, 2023 third-round pick.
They were willing to use draft picks to dump Gostisbehere’s contract, but then replaced him with a worse contract (Ristolainen, which required more assets to be given up).
But they were not willing to give up assets to move somebody like a James van Riemsdyk to clear space for Johnny Gaudreau.
They talked a big game about doing whatever it took to turn this around as quickly as possible, and the offseason so far has been signing Nicolas Deslauriers for four years and acquiring DeAngelo for three draft picks, who is the exact same player as Gostisbehere that they paid two draft picks to get rid of.
None of this even gets into the question marks that are already on the team. Will Travis Konecny rediscover his goal scoring touch? Will Joel Farabee eventually breakout? And what about the biggest wild card of then all, starting goalie Carter Hart?
The Flyers are clearly stuck somewhere between rebuilding, thinking they can compete, but not willing to make any of the moves in either direction. At some point you have to pick a direction and follow it. That makes for a bleak situation and what could be a very long, frustrating season.
Probably multiple seasons.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.