In many ways, success comes for a sports franchise when the club exceeds expectations.
Teams get compared to each other on the ice every night. They need to run a gauntlet to secure a championship. But every fanbase has a unique set of expectations. In Philadelphia, they’ve been stymied for the last decade — watching their club reach the playoffs one year, then miss the next.
Hopes Were High
Last season, hope built. New coach Alain Vigneault guided the Flyers to a .645 winning percentage — its best since the 2010-11 season under Peter Laviolette. Vigneault was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy; Sean Couturier won his first Selke; Carter Hart looked like a Vezina candidate in waiting. And the club won a playoff round for the first time since its run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, dispatching the Montreal Canadiens before falling to the New York Islanders in seven games in Round 2.
Though fans had gotten used to the pattern of one year in, one year out, this season seemed like it was going to be different. There were no big changes to the lineup. All-divisional play would minimize travel. And getting Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick back onto the roster after the serious health issues they both went through last season would provide a nice boost to the forward group.
It was wonderful to see Lindblom and Patrick healthy and able to complete the full season. And after everything they went through, neither player should be judged harshly for failing to match his previous performance level.
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Patrick’s Road Back
Patrick was off the ice for 18 months with migraine disorder, missing crucial development time. In his first two NHL seasons, the second-overall pick from 2017 averaged 14:24 of ice time and 0.42 points per game, and was a minus-seven through 145 games. This year, Patrick managed just nine points in 52 games, for 0.17 points per game, and finished as a team-worst minus-30.
At 22 years old, Patrick could be one of the young players that Alain Vigneault was referring to when he talked about how much a lack of practice hurt his team when they came out of their Covid-19 break with such a tightly-packed schedule.
“Those younger players, when the game slips a little bit, were not quite executing the way we need to have success,” Vigneault said at his season-ending press conference on Tuesday. “You have to practice and we didn’t have any practice time.
“I’m not saying that’s the reason. A lot of things happened, but I’m going to need some time to reflect on it. But I do think that played a part in our game slipping and our season going the way it did.”
Lindblom Named Flyers’ Masterton Nominee
Lindblom, of course, was off to an incredible start last season, putting up 11 goals and 18 points in 30 games before he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December. After going through an intense treatment process, his comeback for the Flyers’ final two playoff games was an inspiration, and he’s a most worthy candidate for this year’s Masterton Trophy.
Before he was sidelined last season, Lindblom was a key part of the Flyers’ forward group. He averaged 17:37 of ice time and 0.60 points per game. This season, he played almost exclusively in the bottom six. He averaged 13:11 per game and finishing with 14 points in 50 games (0.28 PPG).
The Flyers were able to fill the void created by his absence last season. But it looks like Lindblom’s going to need more time to get back to where he was before his diagnosis. As a fourth-year NHLer who’s 24 years old, he’s another player who probably could have benefited from more practice time as this season ground on.
But Patrick and Lindblom weren’t the only young players who faced challenges this season.
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Farabee A Super Sophomore
“I would say, with the exception of Joel Farabee, that the majority of our players plateaued or took a step back this year,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher frankly on Monday.
Last season, Farabee finished with eight goals and 21 points in 52 games. His ice time climbed from 14:06 in his rookie year to 16:01 this season. He scored twice in the Flyers’ 4-2 comeback win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday. That gave him a team-leading 20 goals and 38 total points.
Vigneault thinks Farabee’s offseason training situation may have given him an edge over some of his teammates.
“The difference between Joel Farabee, an American who stayed in the States and was able to train, and our Canadian players, all the ones that went back to Canada? If I look at all the other players that went to Canada, they struggled, whether it’s because of lack of training possibilities, lack of skating possibilities,” he said.
“One of my questions when meeting with the players this afternoon is ‘What are you doing this summer?’ If things stay the way they are right now in Canada, they’re going to have to make some adjustments to their summer plans.
This is just our team. I can’t reflect throughout the rest of the NHL. But our team, the Canadian players that went back to Canada had a challenging time.”
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