The Flyers season has come to an end after a valiant effort against the “mighty” Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. The lockers have been cleaned out, the post-season interviews are complete, and the team is scattering for several months to rest, heal, and rebuild in preparation for training camp in September. I, like most fans, started thinking about the promise of next season the second the final playoff game ended. Here are three things we learned about the Flyers this season that make the promise of next season so exciting:
The plans work. Flyers GM Ron Hextall has a plan to be patient and grow the organization from within. In a similar way, rookie coach Dave Hakstol has a plan for how to guide a winning hockey team. And this season proved that both plans are working well. The Flyers had a very successful 2015 draft, taking several highly-touted prospects in early rounds, including number seven pick, defenseman Ivan Provorov, who is regarded as one of the top NHL prospects. The Flyers’ farm system is stacked with many other promising prospects who could make a huge impact on the Flyers within the next few years.
When many people thought that Hextall would take the conservative route and hire a seasoned NHL coach at the beginning of this past season, Hextall went outside the box and hired University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. I am sure there were people who did not think Hakstol could make the leap from college to the NHL. And though it took a little while for the Flyers to adjust to Hakstol’s system, they did and have thrived in it. I think that the team gelling together in Hakstol’s system was a main reason for the Flyers’ successful season-end push to the playoffs. I see this positive trend only getting stronger as next season gets underway.
This team has tons of heart and perseverance. Innately talented, smooth-skating teams are a dime a dozen. I’ll take an underdog with heart and a no quit attitude every time. And that is what we saw from these Flyers in every minute of play versus the Caps during the playoffs. The Caps were bigger, faster, and more talented, but they almost didn’t win the series. (And, it’s tough to lose when it seems like even the officials are on your side.) But personal feelings about the horribly uneven officiating aside, the Flyers never gave up, even after going down 0-3 in the series. I was at the first playoff game in Philly and it was not a pretty sight. No one would have blamed the Flyers for giving up after that one. But they didn’t. They never gave up and were within a goal of pushing the series to a decisive Game 7. And, in every penalty kill, impossible save, and struggle for a quality shot on goal, the Flyers stayed in the game by sticking together and never giving up. That is a team that any fan will be proud to cheer for when hockey season starts again.
The future looks bright. Thanks to Hextall’s focus on building this team from within, the Flyers are already looking like an incredibly promising team over the next few seasons as the stable of elite draft picks start making their way to Philly. The names go on and on (Konecny, Provorov, Sanheim, Morin, Stolarz, Hagg) and it is feasible that all of them could make a huge impact on the Flyers soon. Add them to the solid core that already exists and the sky’s the limit. And Hextall has proven that he is capable of making nearly impossible deals to clear cap and roster space to make room for the rookies when they are ready.
Is it October yet? The 2016-17 season can’t get here soon enough.