The Philadelphia Flyers are good, but could be a holiday mirage

For the past 10 years or so, the Flyers have just muddled. There has never been any particular direction. Sometimes they’ve been kinda good, but nowhere near good enough to do anything that mattered. Sometimes they’ve been kinda bad, occasionally really bad, but never by design with their sights set on a top pick and finding a foundational piece to build around. They’ve just ping-ponged between both ends of the middle, unable to leave because they couldn’t find the door on either side that would suggest the team had a plan or destination. They were just that guy sitting at some random gate at the airport that looks like he’s been there since last week. They muddled along.

The funny thing is that the Flyers are fun now, are playing well, are the surprise team in the NHL, and it still might not be the right thing to do. They may not have escaped their muddling ways. But we’ll get around to that.

Anyway, Cold Ones. The Flyers are currently second in the Metro Division, the fifth-best points-percentage in the East, in a season where they were widely predicted to be cheeks. And cheeks by design, according to their very own GM. They even hired John Tortorella, which basically screams a team that’s putting in fundamentals, but is quite ready to lose a ton of hockey games. Hiring Torts would never be described as forward-thinking. It’s usually just a lot of yelling and dogs.

And yet, here they are. It would be easy to point out that Carter Hart has put it together, finally, yet more proof that NHL teams have no idea how to develop a goalie, at least not North American ones. Hart, who somehow is still only 25, has a .917 save-percentage, the best of his career. But Hart has only saved 2.3 goals above expected, suggesting the Flyers’ defense has been quite good.

Which it has been! They’re fifth in the league in expected goals-against at even-strength, and even better on the penalty kill, where they’re second. Even getting average to average-plus goaltending from Hart, which they have, has made them a pretty stingy team to score against.

There are no caveats to getting Sean Couturier back full time, though. Couts missed nearly two years thanks to back problems and surgeries, including having to go through back surgery twice thanks to leaking spinal fluid. Couturier has always been the insider’s favorite player, a center who does everything and does it while taking the hardest shifts, starting an overwhelming majority of his shifts outside the offensive zone. In fact, no one on the Flyers takes more draws in the defensive zone than Couturier, and he’s second on the team in scoring. Thanks to his return, Travis Konecny has been nearly a point-per game. The Flyers spread out the scoring, with 11 guys having 10 or more points, but Couturier and Konecny are the focal point.

The Flyers have teased having a dynamic blue line for a long while now and yet the players within it never really flourished to fulfill that promise. Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg and Ivan Provorov are just a sample of players who flashed at a young age, but then never really put it all together.

Travis Sanheim seems to have broken that streak on Philly’s top pairing and his partner Cam York, at just 22, might be another who does. Sanheim has become one of the premier puck-movers from the blue line in the league and York, his free safety. Sanheim has 21 points in 27 games.

But with whatever green shoots are on display now in South Philly, it is natural to wonder how this fits into any long-term plan that Daniel Briere had. Couturier is already in his 30s, Konecny will turn 27 in March. Sanheim is already 27. Joel Farabee, Owen Tippett, Bobby Brink, York and Yegor Zamula are all 25 and under and contributing, and can be around when the Flyers truly matter again. Because it’s hard to say they truly matter now. Their numbers are real, they belong where they are so far, but no one sees this team making a lot of noise come the spring.

They’ll be waiting on Matvei Michkov, their first-round pick, for another two years before he can get out of his KHL contract (though he is lighting up that league at 18). Couturier isn’t really a No. 1 center now, and isn’t going to be in 2026 for sure. Are Poehling or Frost going to become that in the interim? If they were, we would probably know by now. Massimo Rizzo (and with that name, he’ll probably become the most popular Flyer ever as soon as he steps on the ice) is beating up the NCAA as an over-ager, but that’s no sure thing either.

Already the Flyers have taken themselves out of the top of this season’s lottery, though it’s widely thought to be a weak draft anyway. The bet is still that the Canes and Devils will get their act together, leaving the Flyers scrapping for just a wild-card slot. Which feels like the ceiling for this roster

But now that they’re in it, they can’t be tossing anything overboard at the deadline. Sean Walker might have interested teams and players with one more year left on their deal like Konecny or Cam Atkinson could have fetched something noticeable, too. Now the Flyers can’t really think about it.

It’s always better when teams are good and win and play games that matter, and the Flyers will do that this season. The question is will it keep them from doing so in a year or two or five? But it’s always been the Flyers thing to be unable to follow a thread to its conclusion. With the Flyers, you buy the ticket and take the ride.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky

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