No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

During his infamous press conference meltdown after the home loss to the
Magic in late February, Doug Collins offered a fairly simple
explanation for downturn the Sixers had taken in the '12-'13 season. "We
made a huge deal and we have nobody playing a part of that deal,"
claimed Collins. "How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala,
Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and have nothing in return playing?
That’s tough to overcome. That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any
outs. That’s a fact."

This remark of Collins rubbed some people
the wrong way--especially as he went on to isolate Spencer Hawes'
production that night versus Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed 19 rebounds to
Spence's one--and some of those claimed that blaming injuries was a
cheap excuse for a coach who had simply lost his team. But really,
Collins was just stating the facts--the team had traded away its
most important player and its two best prospects, and also parted with
key players like Lou Williams and Elton Brand at least partly in
anticipation of making such a trade, and as of January 18th
(Richardson's last game as a Sixer before his season-ending knee
surgery), they were getting absolutely nothing in return. No coach,
regardless of command over his team, could overcome that without it
taking its toll on the team's win-loss record.

The Sixers dropped to six back of the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night
with their loss to the Miami Heat, with only six games to go and the
Bucks owning the tiebreaker between the teams--meaning that, officially,
the Sixers will be lottery-bound for the first time in Doug Collins'
three seasons in Philadelphia. It's a sad, but unsurprising way for the
season to end--despite residing in the #9 spot in the East standings for
most of the season, the Sixers haven't really been within striking
distance of the playoff picture since the All-Star break, and for a
while there it seemed a near-certainty the team would drop to the bottom
third of the standings.

One word is likely to appear in just about every story about the
Sixers' soon-ending season: Disappointing. This was supposed to be the
year we took the great leap forward, with an exciting, developing young
core (led by the recently acquired star big man Bynum) pushing the team
into the upper strata of the Eastern Conference, maybe getting a playoff
series win that wasn't injury-assisted, and maybe even winning a game
or two against those damn Miami Heat at some point. It didn't happen,
obviously, and now a team that once seemed like one of the rising teams
in the league goes into the off-season with far more questions than
answers.

Injuries are obviously the primary culprit here, since Richardson
missed more than half season after starting off the year very
promisingly, and of course Bynum never played a minute for the Liberty
Ballers. But even with the injuries, should we still be disappointed
that the team didn't at least make the playoffs? After all, we still
have much of the same core that pushed the Celtics to seven games in the
Conference Semi-Finals last year. We signed veterans that were supposed
to patch some of the holes left by Lou Williams and Elton Brand. And we
did benefit this year from a next-level jump from Jrue Holiday and a
big step up from Thaddeus Young, So could this team have pushed for the
playoffs, even without Bynum and J-Rich contributing anything?

My gut reaction is to say no. We knew we'd miss Andre Iguodala on
defense, but I wasn't really prepared for the way losing him and Lou
Williams would affect our offense as well--without their athleticism and
transition play, we lost a lot of the running element that had made up
our offensive identity the last few years, as the team dropped out of
the top ten in fast break points for the first time since 2006. And of
course, there was the lack of free-throw shooting--Sweet Lou and 'Dre
were far and away #1 and #2 on our team last year at getting to the
line, for a team that already was getting there at a historically low
rate. Without them, only this year's Orlando Magic are saving us from
holding the all-time record for fewest free throws shot in a season.
Without those easy points on the break and at the line, the team has
been a bottom-five offense pretty much all season.

Inconsistency was probably always going to get this team in the end,
as well. Only Thad and maybe Jrue---and you could probably throw J-Rich
in there when he was healthy at season's start--could be relied upon
night-in, night-out to produce for the team, with players like Evan
Turner, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young and even Dorell Wright alternating
extended hot streaks with long, long stretches of going in the tank.
Your team can survive having one or two key guys like that, but when
your team consists of too many of them, it can lead to disaster when a
couple of them start slumping for weeks at the same time, as happened to
the Sixers in early 2013, when they lost 10 of their first 14 games of
the year and basically fell out of post-season consideration.

And of course, let's not forget that we didn't exactly have a huge
margin for error last season. The team's surprisingly hot start and even
more surprising (though hardly unqualified) playoff success last year
belied their final regular season record, which was a middling
35-31--they finished as the #8 seed, and looked for a couple of weeks
like they might drop out of the playoffs altogether in favor of an
improving Bucks team that eventually finished four games out. When you
consider that all the front office basically did with that roster was to
subtract from it--of the newcomers on the team, only Dorell Wright has
had any kind of sustained positive impact, and he's not exactly a huge
difference-maker--it's hardly a shock that the team isn't making the
post-season this year.

So no, when you assume the massive losses to injury, I don't think
you can really call it a disappointment that the Sixers aren't making
the playoffs this year. But that said, the real disappointment for
Sixers fans isn't even about this season--it's about the next five, and
beyond. We believed, possibly naively, that Andrew Bynum could become a
foundation piece for this team for the next half-decade, someone for the
Sixers to build around, but now it looks entirely likely that he'll
never play a game for the Sixers, leaving the team confused,
directionless, and just kind of stuck. That's a far bitterer pill to
swallow than not being able to watch this Sixers team play basketball in
May.

There's a ton of important decisions to be made with this team in
the off-season that will dictate the path of this team for seasons to
come, and we'll talk a lot about them in the weeks to come--for better
or worse, it's all we're going to have to talk about soon enough.
But for 2012-13, it was basically over for the Sixers before it even
began. This season was one long succumbing to the inevitable, and as
depressing as that is, it's hard to really call it all that
disappointing.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

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.

Again.

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.