It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers underachieved last season. Outside of Carter Hart’s emergence, Sean Couturier proving himself as one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, and of course Gritty taking over America, what exactly went right for the Flyers this past season? In true South Park and Philadelphia fashion, what matters most to us Flyers fans is figuring out whose fault this is. Flyers fans will always point fingers everywhere within this organization. But when it comes to how the Flyers’ roster was built specifically for the 2018-19 season, it comes down to the signing of one player…James van Riemsdyk.
Hear me out. James van Riemsdyk was actually one of the better players for the Flyers last season. He earned himself multiple hat tricks, he was solid on the powerplay, and who could forget the proximate goal he scored late in the Stadium Series game to start a thrilling comeback against the Penguins? JVR was terrific all things considering. The problem was the signing itself.
In the 2018 offseason, Ron Hextall managed to bring JVR back to Philly after Toronto let him go to sign John Tavares. Although JVR was an aging winger whose ice time was shortened during his final year with the Leafs, his goal production surprisingly increased with the reduced TOI. Comcast Spectacor CEO and Flyers Chairman, Dave Scott pressured Hextall to sign JVR as Hexy was entering the final year of his five-year rebuilding plan. Like every other team in the NHL that had the cap space, the Flyers were trying to sign John Tavares. However, Tavares easily passed on Philly to sign with his childhood dream team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the pressure mounting on Hextall to make a big offseason move, he signed JVR. But Hextall used the signing as a piss poor distraction to sweep the Flyers’ glaring problems that he was unwilling to solve under the rug. He also didn’t prepare for what would happen if he had to place his big offseason acquisition on the IR…which is exactly what he had to do right after the Flyers’ second game of the year. Early on during said game against the Colorado Avalanche, the puck struck JVR in the knee during a zone clear attempt from an Avalanche skater. JVR was out for 6 weeks, and there was no plan B, C, or D in preparation for this.
And the walls came down…
After JVR’s injury, the Flyers kicked things off at the Wells Fargo Center with their worst home opener since 1971: a devastating 8-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. That game set the tone for most of the season. It didn’t help that Sean Couturier took a bit of a while to get his legs back after recovering from MCL surgery. Things weren’t looking great on the blue line either, as the top two defensemen, Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov were shells of the players they were the season before. Many Flyers fans felt bamboozled that there were stretches during the JVR injury where Scott Laughton was the best and most consistent player on the team. Somehow the Flyers actually remained resilient at this point compared to how the rest of the season turned out.
…all the way to Hell
Even with JVR coming back, there was already too much inconsistency in the lineup, and the powerplay remained abysmal. I can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out if JVR remained healthy all year. I mean who was the team going to rely on to fill his role? Mikhail Vorobyev? Corban Knight? Pickings were slim. Yet for years, the fanbase kept hearing that the Flyers had one of the best farm systems in professional hockey. However, the Flyers’ inconsistency also affected the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Reading Royals, as the constant callups and send downs prevented both of those teams from earning spots in the Calder Cup and Kelly Cup tournaments respectively. Flyers fans didn’t even have a decent minor league team to root for.
Never saw them when they’re standing, never saw them when they fell.
All in all, Ron Hextall’s poor planning around the JVR signing led the Flyers to yet another disappointing season under his tenure. Whether or not you like the JVR signing and term, the signing itself was the top of the roller coaster ride that was the 2018-19 season as it mostly went downhill. To be so stubborn, sacrifice so much and build the farm system just to have it breakdown largely because of failing to plan around one free agent signing unfortunately summarizes Hextall’s time as Flyers GM.