Having been in front offices since 1993, Chuck Fletcher knows every season in the NHL is precious.
Any shot at the Stanley Cup is not taken for granted; not in a league this competitive, with 31 teams constantly proactive in hopes of winning and gaining every edge.
"You only get so many chances in this business," the Flyers' general manager said Aug. 22, ahead of his team's second-round playoff series against the Islanders.
It's true. Things can turn quickly. Look at the Flyers' recent history. The club went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. It lost in the second round the next two seasons and went without a playoff series victory over the next seven. Since Peter Laviolette and that run to the Cup Final, the Flyers have had four head coaches, if you include Scott Gordon, who had interim duties for part of 2018-19.
People in this business are often judged on if they've hoisted that Cup. It dictates the job security of team executives and coaches, while it shapes a player's legacy among fans and a city.
The Cup and a conceivable run at it hold great power.
"You always like to think you're going to get this far every year, but it’s tough, so we've got to take advantage of this opportunity," Fletcher said. "Opportunities are not always there and we have a good one right now."
The Flyers failed in their opportunity Saturday night. They lost Game 7 to New York, 4-0, finishing their season in the second round and short of what would have been their first Eastern Conference Final appearance since 2010.
The Game 7 defeat will eat at head coach Alain Vigneault, who looked crushed in his postgame media availability. Vigneault knows all too well the preciousness of each shot. He's in this game to win the Stanley Cup, which he said was the one final thing on his bucket list when he took the Flyers' job in April 2019. The 59-year-old bench boss was a game away from winning the Cup in 2011 with the Canucks and lost the 2014 Final with the Rangers.
“At this time, I’m not in the mindset to analyze our season," Vigneault said Saturday in a video interview. "We just played Game 7, we were one win away from going to the final four, so my disappointment right now is at a very high end.”
But with each season, from an organizational standpoint, there's perspective. And the fact is the Flyers were a mess in 2018-19. Midseason, they embarked on franchise-shifting change at the top of the totem pole. When 2018-19 was all said and done, the Flyers had fired their general manager, head coach, an assistant general manager, an assistant coach and finished with 82 points, their fewest over a full season since 2006-07.
In 2019-20, the Flyers were far from firings, far from drama, far from uncertainty. The organization won its first playoff series since 2012 and finished with seven more points during the regular season than it did in 2018-19, despite playing 13 fewer games because of the stoppage.
Vigneault, Fletcher and the Flyers will not be OK with the final result of 2019-20. They can't be in a city like Philadelphia, which hasn't seen a Stanley Cup champion since 1975.
But truthfully, did any Flyers fans have Stanley Cup aspirations heading into this season? The club went from one of its worst seasons in the last 20-plus years to a game away from the Eastern Conference Final.
Now you build off of it, take the next step.
"Right now, it’s very frustrating," Claude Giroux said. "We like our team, we like the pieces we have. Frustration’s high right now. We’re going in the right direction. It’s one game — we win this game and we're in the Conference Final. We've got to learn from this and move forward."
There was some stagnancy and even regression before 2019-20. This season had the Flyers seriously moving forward.
Next season will be precious, too, as expectations have returned for the Flyers.