Coach Dave Hakstol called the Flyers’ 98-point regular season, which produced a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Division, a good result that didn’t have enough consistency.
That was followed by a six-game playoff loss to Pittsburgh that left the third-year coach with a bad taste.
“Ninety-eight points is respectable. Being a playoff team is respectable,” Hakstol said at his season-ending news conference Thursday at the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees. “We’re not here to be respectable. We’re here to be better than that.”
Hakstol said he saw improvement in many areas from last season, including five-on-five play, and he praised the team’s resiliency after an early-season 10-game losing streak.
“I love the way our guys fought and battled back out of an early hole, and the stretch we had to put together at the end of the year to make the push to get in,” he said. “They showed an awful lot of the character of our team. … I think we have to spread that out over the 82 games and become a bit more consistent.”
Hakstol called the Pittsburgh series winnable, and said “we have to recognize the failure of the playoffs. We have to find a way to learn from it. There’s a lot of lessons in there. The fact we went to six games, for me, covers up a lot of things we didn’t do well. We weren’t good enough. We’ll take the failures out of the playoff series and those are some things that are going to spur us on to be a lot better.”
In the playoff loss to the Penguins, the Flyers’ goaltending and defensive play were shoddy and their special teams were outplayed as they were outscored, 28-15. In five-on-five play – which was a Flyers strength and a Penguins weakness in the regular season – the Flyers were outscored, 21-10, in the series.
“I don’t think we were efficient enough with the puck,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t win enough puck battles once we got in the zone. That’s one reason we didn’t have the puck enough. ….On the flip side, I thought we gave up too many pucks for goals against.”
Hakstol said the Penguins “don’t blow you out of the rink with their number of shots,” but they capitalize on their quality chances. “They killed us with that,” he said. “They showed their maturity in terms of patience with their game. They waited for turnovers and their opportunities and were excellent in executing in this series.”
General manager Ron Hextall hinted he is looking for a veteran defenseman and a third-line center in the offseason. Hakstol was asked if he thought major personnel changes were needed.
“No, I think we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s hard to say when we failed in this playoff series. That’s probably a hard one to buy. But I like our group of D and we’re going to continue to build and improve there.”
He said he also liked the team’s offensive core, “and I believe we’ve got a couple of young players that will probably have the opportunity to make an impact on our team next year.”
At the top of that list: center Nolan Patrick, who blossomed in the second half of the season, and left winger Oskar Lindblom.
When Hextall became the general manager four years ago, he said he wanted to build through the draft. That hasn’t changed.
“We put a plan in place. To go sideways now would be the wrong thing to do,” he said.
That said, Hextall will explore the free-agent market because, for the first time in his tenure, he will have lots of cap space. (Even if Hextall doesn’t buy out Jori Lehterea, the Flyers are expected to have about $22 million in cap space.) But he won’t overload his young and up-and-coming team with free agents.
“We want to be successful,” said Hextall, whose team made a 10-point improvement over last season. “Successful is not making the playoffs, winning one round, or winning two rounds. Four years ago, I sat here and said our vision is to build a top contending team to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight.”