Claude Giroux (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Flyers have played themselves back into playoff contention, but their hot streak might tempt management and ownership to make a trade for the here and now, sacrificing the future in the process. In Philadelphia, that would be a huge, and familiar mistake.
With just one regulation time loss in their past 13 games, the Philadelphia Flyers have played themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. And this is where it gets tricky, because of who the Flyers are as an organization: under the ownership of Ed Snider, a hunger for winning permeates the franchise, but that can be to its benefit as well as its detriment. Despite being an above-average identifier and developer of young talent, Philadelphia has been quick to turn over its roster as fans often are when changing their fantasy hockey team. But as Snider told THN in October, the process that led to the team's only two Stanley Cup wins in the 1970s was one of patience with its youth, and he vowed GM Ron Hextall would have full backing on a slow build back to being a powerhouse and legitimate championship contender.
That would have been so much easier if Philly had began the calendar year 2015 as poorly as they played in the 2014 part of the '14-15 campaign. But in starting the season 14-18-7, the Flyers dug themselves a massive crater to climb out of in the second half. Captain Claude Giroux & Co. get full credit for the resolve it takes to scratch and claw their way back to where they are at the moment - four points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild card berth in the East – but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if, instead of making a trade or two for a veteran to help them in the here and now, management and ownership simply stayed the course with their youngsters. And that goes regardless of whether they wind up making the playoffs this year.
At 27, Giroux is the old man of the young core. Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are 25, 23 and 22, respectively. There is no need for them to absolutely gain playoff experience this season, especially if it means one of them is moved in any transaction before the NHL's March 2 trade deadline. Allowing them to make mistakes, to work their way through difficult moments and brutal stretches, eventually will pay off. And that has to be Hextall's attitude, even if his team stumbles again next season.
Indeed, if any team can afford to miss the playoffs for a year or two in the name of keeping their young core together and growing as a unit as the Kings, Hawks and Blues have done of late, it's the Flyers. They haven't missed the playoffs two years in a row since the 1992-93/93-94 seasons, and although their fans certainly wouldn't be quiet about losing, Philadelphia needs to give its prospects some assurance the personnel carousel won't continue to turn simply because of a bad year or two.
If you're Hextall, the way you do that is by making some minor moves at or before the trade deadline, but nothing earth-shattering. The Flyers' current hot streak should be seen as an indication the players believe in themselves. In past years, Snider would see that type of development and attempted to parlay it into bigger success by making massive deals or free-agent signings.
He and Hextall have a chance to show Flyers fans the way you reward a confident young team isn't by bringing in a number of veterans, but instead, by leaving it intact.