OTTAWA -- The only thing that could possibly have been worse for any club in the NHL once the lockout ended was a spring without playoffs.
Miss half a season because of a war between the NHL and the NHLPA. Then miss the second season because you weren’t good enough.
Well guess what? In the Flyers' case, it was true. They weren’t good enough.
“It’s going to be weird,” Scott Hartnell said. “Next week, the playoffs are on and I will be doing whatever.
“I have no plans to do anything. It’s frustrating the way this whole year went.”
The worst Flyers campaign since 2006-07 -- when they last missed the playoffs -- ended Saturday night at Scotiabank Place with a 2-1 win over the Senators.
“Eight games ago, 10 games ago we were in a hole and we put ourselves there,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
“We talked about it every [game] just making sure we played hard. Give an honest effort. The guys did that right through … They played the games hard right to the end.”
This game meant nothing, except to Mike Knuble, who may have played his last game in the NHL and rookie Jason Akeson, who scored a goal in his NHL and hometown debut.
Steve Mason was superb in goal too, with 43 saves.
As for where the Flyers (23-22-3) will pick in this summer’s draft, that remains undetermined pending late results.
They actually won six of their final seven games and four straight, yet in the process they hurt their draft positioning. But the Flyers have never deliberately “tanked” games to ensure a higher draft pick.
Jakub Voracek’s 22nd goal with 9:58 left assured the win and, in effect, cost the Flyers four places in the draft. They win and they still lose!
“It was important to finish strong even if we weren’t in the playoffs,” captain Claude Giroux said. “It’s good to see. We finished as a team. We learned a lot this year.
“We’re a young team ... Everybody was on the same page [at the end], having fun. We’re gonna learn how to win. That’s how it is. Some teams know how to win games. That wasn’t case [here] at the start of the year.”
Look for a major restructuring of the defense this offseason, because that’s where many of the problems begin and end.
Questions remain about who is coming back and who is gone, starting with Laviolette.
General manager Paul Holmgren has said many times he “expects” Laviolette back and when asked on Saturday was even more forceful.
“How many times have I said it?” he asked.
Sources continue to say that Laviolette will be given the opportunity to begin his two-year contract extension next fall but that management will insist on him making adjustments to his attack system.
Giroux was asked whether the team felt it was playing to save Laviolette’s job these last weeks.
“It's not about one person,” Giroux replied. “It's about a whole team together. Lavy has a job to do and we have a job to do. We'll see. We let ourselves down, not just Lavy.”
The status of goalie Ilya Byrzgalov also remains up in the air as to whether he will be amnestied. Steve Mason started against the Senators for the third time in four games.
There are other decisions to made on no less than nine other players, as well.
Free agency begins July 5, although in the Flyers' case, some of their major issues can’t be addressed that route given the lack of free agent talent available. They will have to be creative in trading to upgrade this club.
All the optimism that greeted them in January when the lockout finally ended faded rather quickly as the Flyers began play losing five of their first seven games to close out the first partial month of the season.
From the get-go, injuries were present and multiplied throughout the season, especially on the back where the Flyers were already poorly equipped to compete because of a lack of speed and skill.
To compound matters on the blue line, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros, in addition to suffering season-ending injuries, badly underachieved while the Flyers' entire offense and several key veterans failed to turn in good seasons.
Offensively, the Flyers had some of the best forward lines in the NHL, but their sticks came up empty nearly the entire season while several players had terrible years on the ice.
The Flyers finished with 133 goals scored versus 141 yielded.
Long regarded as one of the best road clubs in hockey, the Flyers were a pitiful 8-15-1 this season. No one feared them, not even the janitors.
When Feb. 1 came, the Flyers traveled to Washington, knowing they were dead last in the Atlantic Division and 13th overall in the Eastern Conference.
Six times the Flyers had a chance to reach .500 as they moved through February into March but kept missing out, looking up in the standings and getting no closer, yet they still remained alive for a playoff berth.
It never happened.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We have in the previous years. The losses came quick right. You find yourself under. 500 in a tough spot in the standings.
“In saying that, we got back to a point where we could move forward a couople of times. We got back to .500 and missed those opportunities.”
Any one area that made the difference?
“No, it’s not one area,” Laviolette replied, leaving no doubt it was many areas.
Their defense was slow and immobile at the start and wrecked with injuries throughout the season right to the bitter end.
Their offense was impotent much of the season, incapable to rescuing them in close games while relying too heavily upon their special teams to pull them through.
The Flyers' five-on-five play was tumultuous throughout the season, burdened by poor play and poor offensive production.
“We were never a consistent team,” Ruslan Fedotenko said. “I felt that not making the playoffs is very disappointing, especially with this kind of a talented team we had.”
Their goaltending was good at the start but the lack of a true, NHL backup forced Laviolette to overuse Bryzgalov, leading him down a path of exhaustion in trying to play catch-up in the standings.
Of note in this game was Laviolette, in a classy gesture, allowing Knuble to skate one last time. He had been a healthy scratch six of the last seven games.
This could very well have been the 40-year-old’s last NHL game. He hasn’t decided on retirement.
“He told me on the ice and I was surprised a little bit,” Knuble said of playing the last game. “I’m appreciative of the chance. The odds are stacked against you as far as continuing.”
Knuble admits he would consider scouting and coaching next.
“It gets to the point where hockey almost gets in the way of your life and what you are trying to do for your family,” he said.
They’ll now have plenty of time for their families without the playoffs to occupy themselves.
“At the end of the day we had chances to save ourselves and we didn’t,” Luke Schenn said.