VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe it's easy to draw comparisons between these Flyers and the 2019-20 club.
In 2019-20, the Flyers were coming off a tumultuous season that forced an overhaul in management and coaching. New general manager Chuck Fletcher didn't have the splashiest of summers. His offseason didn't elicit a ton of buzz, but it was busy and quietly effective. The Flyers, without significant expectations, surprised many and finished a win short of the Eastern Conference Final following the COVID-19 pause.
Through 29 games that season, they were 16-8-5.
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This season, the Flyers are 16-10-3. In the offseason, they introduced a new front office. As the Flyers publicly embraced a rebuild, their offseason saw subtraction and depth signings. With little to no outside expectations, the Flyers have surprised people by their progress in a year that was proclaimed a rebuild.
On the surface, perhaps the Flyers are writing a story similar to 2019-20. But the players that experienced the then and now see contrast between the two teams.
"It’s a different feel," Travis Konecny said Friday after practice. "That was a completely different team. I feel like we’re winning different ways this year than I would say back then, kind of how we’re getting the job done. Similar outcomes.
"We could out-skill sometimes. Where this year, it’s more showing up and getting your work done. Every night you’ve got to compete and do things the right way.”
The Flyers' locker room was already established in 2019-20. The team had mainstays in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk. Matt Niskanen and Kevin Hayes were among the offseason additions to augment the core.
There was more experience and pedigree.
The 2023-24 Flyers certainly feel newer, with a blend of youngsters and veterans that haven't played much together yet, but are building their own bonds. Cam Atkinson had high praise for the group after its 4-3 shootout win Thursday night over the Capitals.
"It has been a good start. We need to continue to go here," Scott Laughton said. "It's still pretty early, quarter of the way in or just over. I think it's a little bit of a different feel, a little bit younger I feel. Some different guys brought in. But the buy-in has been huge from the start. The young guys have been great for us and the guys that we brought in have brought a great energy."
With time, the 2019-20 Flyers started drawing big crowds, especially when they won nine straight just ahead of the season being suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.
While attendance has been better of late, the 2023-24 Flyers aren't there yet. That could change if the team continues to play a competitive, hard-nosed, entertaining brand. And staying relevant in the playoff picture wouldn't hurt, either. The Flyers' brass doesn't want to lose sight of the big picture, but the players will dictate the present.
"We make our own bed, we’ve got to play good hockey, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to get into some playoff series along the way and that’s when you start getting the people back in," head coach John Tortorella said. "If they don’t want to come in, they don’t come in. All we can do is try to be the best we can be and keep on building this the proper way.
“I love the sports town here, I’m a huge sports fan, the Eagles, baseball, all the things going on around here, I love it. I hope we’re a part of it. But it’s their call, it’s the people's call when they decide to come in and watch us play. My job is to try to put the best product on the ice with our team and go about it. I hope we become a part of it.”
The Flyers haven't made the playoffs since 2019-20. Fan interest suffered severely over the past two seasons as 108 losses piled up (56-84-24) and the franchise's direction became unclear.
As the Flyers have gone 11-3-2 since their Nov. 7 loss to the Sharks, fans may be starting to identify with the team again.
“They expect a lot and they should," Laughton said. "They’re hardworking-class people. It’s a lot of money to go to a game. You want to put a good product on and Torts has said it, you make your own bed. I think we have in the last couple of years. You start bringing those loyal fans back, you create that energy and atmosphere that makes it a really hard place to play.”