Despite Playoffs, Flyers Aren't Ahead of Schedule

Now that the players have packed their bags and left the team's practice facility for the last time this season, we can all remember that the Flyers' playoff run was an unexpected bonus.

Yes, the team put up a fight against the Washington Capitals. Yes, they went on a tear toward the end of the season to climb in the standings and earn a wild-card spot. Yes, there was Michal Neuvirth and Shayne Gostisbehere and Brayden Schenn.

Win, lose, whatever ... they made it interesting when it was supposed to be anything but. And on top of that, much about the season, as a whole, got us excited for the future, and rightly so. There's a lot to look forward to.

It just might not happen as fast as we'd like. And we need to remember that, too.

Despite that unexpected playoff berth, the Flyers aren't ahead of schedule in their retooling at the hands of general manager Ron Hextall. The final product is likely still a year or two away, at least.

Or, to put it another way: Things might not go this well next year. The Flyers could easily be middle of the pack yet again, and just as easily miss the postseason entirely. And that's OK. It's part of the process.

Hextall even said it at the regular season's end in Brooklyn. He'll repeat it Wednesday when he meets with the media at Skate Zone to give his final remarks: The Flyers themselves don't believe they're ahead of where they were supposed to be. We shouldn't either.

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Of course it's easy to get carried away. The Flyers fought with the best team in hockey for six games in the postseason, clawing back into that series after getting all but blown away in the first three games. They played their best when they needed to in the weeks leading up to the regular season's conclusion, too, thanks in large part to extraordinary goaltending from Steve Mason.

But we can't forget they got some help from other teams (read: the Boston Bruins' epic end-of-season collapse) in the process. This year was great for many reasons, but not because the Flyers were better than we thought. They weren't, and there's a good chance they won't be next year either.

For one thing, there are still contracts on the books that will likely hurt the team more than help it. Mark Streit has looked a fraction of himself since his pubic plate detachment injury. He's signed through next year with a $5.25 million cap hit. Matt Read, who hasn't lived up to the expectations he made for himself his first season in the league, is under contract through 2017-18 and can hardly be considered trade bait.

And that's to say nothing of R.J. Umberger who, well, should probably get bought out this summer (and to stick with this column's theme of reminders, would cost the Flyers two-thirds of his $4.5 million-per-year salary for the next two years, and come with a cap hit too).

There are questions, as well, about key players on the roster. Will Jakub Voracek rebound from his up-and-down season? What's up with Claude Giroux, who had an uncharacteristically rough playoff series? Is Schenn finally becoming the consistent player he was supposed to be?

And then there are the needs. Top of the list: A big winger who can score. Great in theory, but when you look at the list of this summer's free agents, it's easy to see that this critical item on the wish list might not be checked off right away, or at least not without a trade.

All that said, next season will certainly have its highlights. Ivan Provorov, the highly touted defensive prospect, sure seems NHL-ready. Travis Konecny, who simply lit it up for his junior team, has a shot at making the big club, too. And that's on top of other young guys already with the Flyers like Nick Cousins and, of course, Gostisbehere, and the rookie head coach who seems to be a risk of a hire that has already paid off.

There's a sense of optimism heading into next year, Ryan White agreed Tuesday on locker-clean-out day at Skate Zone. This season was indeed a step forward from the last, Scott Laughton added. "It's exciting for this organization," he said, "but we've got to take another step forward next year."

Undoubtedly, they will. That step toward becoming an elite team just might not appear in the form of a team that fares better in the playoffs than this year's did.

We need to remember that, too.

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