Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.
Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.
The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.
Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.
Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.
When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.
Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.
This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.
There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.
Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.
And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.
At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.
If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.
Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.
Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.
Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.
Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).
There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.
Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.
Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.
Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).
Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.
Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.
Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.
In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.
Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.