Absence (from the playoffs) makes the heart grow fonder.
Or so the Flyers say.
They missed the playoffs last year for the second time in three seasons. It gnawed at them all summer.
“We underachieved, big-time, I think,” said high-scoring right winger Wayne Simmonds, one of a few players who didn’t.
The Flyers, in case you have forgotten, became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs during a season in which they had a 10-game winning streak.
“Everyone is pretty frustrated with the way last year turned out,” said Andrew MacDonald, who at 31 is, by far, the elder statesman of the Flyers defense. “It was pretty promising during the streak and things just kind of fell off the rails for us. I think if you asked anyone else here, they’d tell you this year is kind of redemption for us. We’ve got a little bit more bite in us this year. We’re a little more determined to learn from last year and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“With the team we had last year, we knew we were good enough to make the playoffs,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I mean, we won 10 games straight. Obviously it left a sour taste in our mouths and we’re going to be hungry this year.”
Hungry and young. The Flyers could have four or five rookies in their lineup this season, with forwards Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom and defensemen Sam Morin and Robert Hagg the leading candidates.
“I love it,” Gostisbehere said. “Obviously there’s going to be some mistakes at first, but once they start getting it, we’re going to be a fun team to watch. We’re going to be fun, fast, exciting. I know everyone in this room is excited.”
The youth doesn’t mean the team will regress, captain Claude Giroux said.
“I don’t think it’s a step backward at all,” said Giroux, one of many Flyers veterans who arrived at the team’s Voorhees practice facility way before training camp starts Friday. “We have spots for young kids to come in and take those spots, and camp is going to be really competitive and it’s going to be good for us.”
“It brings kind of a new, fresh image,” center Sean Couturier said. “A lot of the [young] guys bring positive energy and young legs. We have a lot of prospects and we need to show we have one of the best [farm systems] in the league.”
The rookies “make the older guys push even more and show them the way,” right winger Jake Voracek said.
“There should be a ton of battles for playing time,” Simmonds said about training camp. “I expect it to be high-paced and a lot of posturing for positions.”
Despite their expected youth, Giroux, who is healthy and primed for a bounce-back season, said the Flyers can be in the playoff mix.
“Making the playoffs is our first goal,” he said, “and when we get there, we’re going to have more goals after that.”
“It’s up to everybody to come together as a group,” MacDonald said. “It’s not just about a few new guys coming in, but it’s about everybody growing collectively as a team.”
After an uninspiring 88-point season that included a 14-22-5 road record, let the growing begin.