Dave Scott: Flyers are a playoff team, and eyeing a move to improve chances

January 31st, 2020

As you glanced through the massive windows, the sky was gray and somber, but the Wells Fargo Center conference room, high above ice level, became sunlit when a tall man wearing black slacks and a matching, outdoor Flyers vest strode into the room.

Dave Scott, chairman of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast Spectacor, was in a cheery mood. His hockey team, despite medical problems, is in the playoff hunt, and, with recent wins over Washington, Boston, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh, has shown it can play with the big boys. Without prompting, Scott said he felt justified that he stunningly dismissed general manager Ron Hextall in late November 2018.

“I was concerned then that if I waited until the end of the season, we’d lose another year,” Scott said Tuesday of the decision he made with then-club president Paul Holmgren to fire Hextall early last season. A week later, Chuck Fletcher was named the GM and got a chance to watch the team and figure out what he needed to make it more competitive.

Fletcher fired head coach Dave Hakstol two weeks later. The remaking of the Flyers was underway.

‘Gold-plated coaching staff’

Scott likes what Fletcher has done, likes that head coach Alain Vigneault was hired after last season and that Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien were added as assistants. “Our gold-plated coaching staff,” he called it.

He is happy with the progress the Flyers have made — they entered Saturday are 27-17-7, 11 points better than at a corresponding point last season — and believes Fletcher’s offseason additions (center Kevin Hayes and defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun) have triggered the improvement.

So he smiled easily and had an air of satisfaction as he sat at the conference table for a rare state-of-the-team discussion.

“We needed some more veteran players. I told Chuck that time and time again. I said, ‘You have to look at things you are able to affect,’ ” Scott said. “Kevin Hayes was probably the biggest piece. As you look at life right now, we really needed that, especially in light of what happened to Nolan” Patrick, who hasn’t played this season because of a migraine disorder.

Niskanen and Braun “reshaped that young defense. The defense is much better,” Scott said. “In my mind, Chuck positioned us real well for this season.”

To most fans, however, the season won’t be considered a success unless the Flyers reach the playoffs and make a strong showing. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2012.

Facing adversity

Yes, they would be in a much better position if Patrick and Oskar Lindblom were healthy. But virtually every team has had to overcome medical problems, though few have had the emotional toll the Flyers experienced with Lindblom’s diagnosis of a rare bone cancer.

That said, the Penguins and Blues are among the teams that deserve credit for losing star players and not skipping a beat.

The Flyers have also stayed afloat, thanks to improved defensive play and a strong farm system built by Hextall. They have used 11 rookies this season.

 “We’ve adjusted and hung in there,” Scott said. “I feel good. I’m excited. Things aren’t perfect, but we’re in the hunt. That’s how we went into the season. We want to make the playoffs, and once you get in, anything is possible.”

Scott said the Flyers, who have little salary-cap room, would like to at least add a fourth-line center before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but even if that doesn’t happen, “we’re definitely a playoff team,” he said.

Among the centers who could be available: Minnesota’s Eric Staal and Joel Eriksson Ek, Nashville’s Nick Bonino, Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter.

The Flyers are on pace for 98 points, which would get them into the playoffs in most seasons. This year, because of the Eastern Conference’s strength, it might not be enough.

Seeking a deal

Scott said he recently met with Fletcher, the pro scouts and advisers, and the data-analytics team and they went through all the options that would make the Flyers better in the stretch run.

“We think there are some things we can do out there,” Scott said. “A fourth-line center, or better, would be nice to have. I came home feeling great that day. We have some good options. We’ll see what we end up with there. A center would be great, and if Nolan were to come back — and we’re hopeful — that would [help].”

Patrick has been skating but has yet to take contact.

“There are some good indicators there,” Scott said.

With Patrick out, the Flyers have jockeyed their third- and fourth-line centers all season. They recently moved Claude Giroux from left wing back to center on one of their best lines, giving them more strength up the middle. That move has made Sean Couturier, Giroux, and Hayes their top three centers.

“I don’t know how long we’ll see it, but it’s been really effective,” Scott said. “And I don’t know where we’d be without Kevin Hayes.”

Kevin Hayes just murdered a goalie

Off the ice, with his engaging, outgoing personality, Hayes has loosened up the locker room and helped make the Flyers more close-knit. On the ice, he has aided the penalty kill’s revival and is on pace for 23 goals and 44 points, helping the Flyers stay in the crowded playoff race.

If the Flyers fall short and don’t reach the playoffs, would Scott call it a wasted season?

“I wouldn’t say wasted because we’ve played some good hockey,” he said. “It’s building blocks. I think things are so much better than it would have been had we done it the traditional way and let [last] season play out with Ron. … We really did try to get ahead of it.”

In Scott’s mind, the clouds are lifting. The gray sky is turning blue.