Flyers' season a roller-coaster ride that was far too bumpy

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall.

The Flyers' 2016-17 campaign should be called The Roller-Coaster Season.

It has been a bumpy ride, filled with too many ups and downs instead of a steady, productive journey through the grueling 82-game season.

Up: The Flyers won 10 straight earlier this season, their longest winning streak since 1985. On Dec. 15, they had the fourth-most points in the NHL and were ahead of teams such as Washington and Columbus. They were nine points ahead of the ninth-seeded team in the East.

Down: Since the winning streak ended, the Flyers have won only 13 of their last 38 games (13-20-5) - the second-fewest wins in the NHL during that span. Barring a miracle finish, they will become the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs during a season in which it won 10 straight.

Up: The Flyers scored 102 goals in their first 32 games (3.2 goals per game). Only Pittsburgh and the Rangers scored more.

Down: In their last 38 games, the Flyers have scored just 74 goals (1.9 per game). Only Colorado has scored fewer. So the Flyers went from the league's No. 3 offense to No. 29.

Up: The Flyers blanked the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, 4-0.

Down: On Thursday, the Flyers dropped a 6-2 decision to New Jersey, which had lost 10 straight and was the Eastern Conference's worst team.

"We've been inconsistent all year, and that's on the players," said winger Brayden Schenn, whose team began the weekend six points out of a playoff spot with 12 games remaining.

The up-and-down season has baffled general manager Ron Hextall.

"You're sitting there going, 'It's the same team every night, right?' " he said. "You're going to have peaks and valleys, that's reality. You're dealing with human beings, not robots. We understand that. But our valleys have been a little too low for me."

Everyone needs to be held accountable.

Yes, the players deserve the brunt of the blame, but management hasn't helped much: Hextall's free-agent signings (Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon) have struck out; coach Dave Hakstol's constant (and sometimes curious) lineup juggling has prevented the team from having much continuity; and the special teams, coached by Joe Mullen and Ian Laperriere, have struggled mightily in the season's latter stages.

Under Hakstol, most of the players have regressed this season, and it was inexcusable for them to play such a listless game Thursday in New Jersey with so much on the line.

No one expected the Flyers to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season. There are too many shortcomings in the lineup, and Hextall is shrewdly building through the draft.

Most fans have bought into that. They understand this is a process, that Hextall had to dig out from a bad cap situation he was dealt, and that the farm system has some talented players waiting in the wings.

That said, Hextall needs to supplement things by making a shrewd off-season trade - the team's core has grown stale - and adding a key player in free agency, though he won't have as much to spend because of the Valtteri Filppula trade and his $5 million cap hit next season.

Hextall's most important challenge: stabilizing the goalie situation.

Assuming unrestricted free agent Steve Mason isn't re-signed - Hextall hasn't decided whether he will make an offer - the third-year general manager must decide whether to protect Michal Neuvirth or Anthony Stolarz in the expansion draft.

The free-agent goalie market includes Ben Bishop and Scott Darling, and the Flyers also have several gifted goaltender prospects getting closer to being NHL-ready.

There were too many times this season when the Flyers lost simply because their goalie was outplayed by the guy down the other end - and in many cases, the opposing goaltender was a backup.

Yes, the defense has contributed, but too often, the Flyers goalie has failed to make a momentum-turning key save.

The roller-coaster season is almost over.

It has not been a fun ride, but it would at least be more entertaining - and, you can argue, beneficial - if Hextall brought up some players from the AHL's Phantoms to give them some experience for next season in the final 12 games. Isn't it time to start the future today?

"We'll see where we're at," Hextall said before Thursday's embarrassing loss to the Devils. "We'll see where our younger guys are at. We'll see the situation in terms of injuries and everything else."

Hextall said he doesn't want to take a player away from the Phantoms "if they're not going to help us here. We know how good those players are. Our job is to watch those players and figure out next year where we think they'll be in terms of this level.

"Is it nice to get a peek every once in a while? I guess it is, but if a player comes up for one game it's not like if he plays a great game or a bad game you know what you've got there. You don't. . . . You've got to be really careful with that. Our job is to evaluate that level and figure out next year whether they have a chance to be here or not, and then they come to camp and they've got to prove it."

scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull www.philly.com/flyersblog

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