Looking ahead for the Philadelphia Flyers: How they take the next big step

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention -- either mathematically or by losing in the postseason -- we'll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2018-19, along with three keys to its offseason, impact prospects for 2019-20 and a way-too-early prediction on what next season will hold.

What went wrong

It was a disastrous start for the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that had legitimate Stanley Cup playoff aspirations. General manager Ron Hextall was the first casualty, fired in late November after four-plus seasons on the job. (The impetus for the firing was a 6-0 thrashing by the Tampa Bay Lightning in which the Flyers didn't commit a single penalty, a cause of concern for many fans accustomed to a tougher brand of hockey.)

Then coach Dave Hakstol was let go. For the first two months of the season (through Jan. 13), the Flyers had the worst record in the NHL, at 16-23-6, allowing the third-most goals while scoring the fourth-fewest. It didn't help that the franchise's decades-long goalie carousel became almost a parody of itself. Philadelphia would set the NHL record by using eight different netminders in one season.

By the end of the season, things started to shape up. Touted goalie prospect Carter Hart, 20, finally was called up and (despite an injury hiatus) proved he is the real deal; Hart is poised to begin next season as the eventual end stop to the carousel. Interim coach Scott Gordon eventually reconfigured the defense into a much more effective unit. James van Riemsdyk, the big free-agent signing who got injured in the second game of the season, finished the season producing at an elite point-per-game level.

If the Flyers hadn't started the season in such sluggish fashion, they might have been able to make up ground and sneak in the playoffs. But that start was dreadful. The recovery was too little, too late.