This is Part 7 of a 10-part series examining the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the NHL, and how close teams are to breaking through for their first championship in decades — or ever.
The Philadelphia Flyers won a pair of Stanley Cups early in their history, but they haven't been able to get over the hump in the decades since, despite a number of close calls.
Philadelphia isn't a threat to change that in the immediate term, as the team has entered a rebuild coming off a three-season stretch where it produced the 26th-best points percentage in the NHL (.441).
At times, the club has resisted the kind of teardown that would have benefitted it, but under the stewardship of new general manager Daniel Brière, the Flyers seem to have gained more patience than they've shown in the past.
That probably improves their championship probabilities over the long term, but the on-ice product might not be pretty in the next couple of years. It's going to take a while to bring a competitive squad back to Philadelphia.
Here's a look at the state of the Flyers Stanley Cup drought:
How long has it been?
The Flyers not won the Stanley Cup in 47 seasons.
How close have the Flyers come?
Unlike most of the teams featured in this series, Philadelphia has had plenty of chances to win the title during its drought. We don't have to examine obscure what-if scenarios, or lionize teams that were still multiple series away from a Cup.
That's because the Flyers have made it to six different Stanley Cup Final series during their 47-season drought. A quick look at each of those series gives us a sense of how a title has evaded Philadelphia for nearly half a century.
1975-76 — Lost to the Montreal Canadiens 4-0
The Flyers brought back a team that had won two straight Stanley Cups for the 1975-76 season and produced a magnificent 118-point campaign before marching to the Final. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Habs were on another level.
The 1975-76 Canadiens went 58-11-11 during the regular season, and lost just two games in the first two round of the playoffs. Montreal was about to begin a run of four consecutive championships with Guy LaFleur as the headliner up front and Ken Dryden in his prime holding down the crease.
Although the Canadiens swept the series, three of their wins came by a single goal. Philadelphia didn't get steamrolled, but it would've needed plenty of breaks to earn a victory against the dynastic Canadiens.
1979-80 — Lost to the New York Islanders 4-2
Once again, the Flyers ran into a dynasty that was about to embark on a run of winning four consecutive titles.
This time, they were far closer to winning, though. This series was tightly contested as the Islanders scored just one more goal than the Flyers, and two of their victories came in overtime.
Game 6 included a controversial missed call that may have swung the series as New York scored a goal following a play that was indisputably offside.
With modern replay technology a goal would've come off the board for the Islanders, and Philadelphia likely would've forced a Game 7. There's no way to know what would've happened at that point, but it would've been at least a coin flip.
The Flyers were the significantly better team during the regular season — and they would've hosted the game at The Spectrum, where they were 27-5-8.
1984-85 — Lost to the Edmonton Oilers 4-1
Based on regular season results, the Flyers seemed to be in a similar class to the Oilers, but they couldn't handle Wayne Gretzky at the height of his powers.
These were the playoffs when Gretzky set the NHL records for points in a postseason run (47), and he led Edmonton with 11 in this series.
Philadelphia earned a dominant 4-1 victory in Game 1, but the Oilers took over from there. In the next four games, they outscored the Flyers by a collective score of 25-10.
The Flyers had the NHL's best record and made the Stanley Cup Final, so they were close to a title in theory, but when it came time to play for one they got outclassed.
1986-87 — Lost to the Edmonton Oilers 4-3
Two seasons later, the Flyers faced the same opponent, but this time the situation was different. The Oilers had put together the superior regular season, and won two of the last three Stanley Cups, making them clearer favourites.
Despite that, Philadelphia gave them a great series, and got within a single game of winning the Cup.
Rookie goaltender Rox Hextall helped keep the Flyers in the series, on the way to a rare Conn Smythe Trophy win for a player on the losing side.
In Game 7, Philadelphia scored the opening goal, but the Oilers controlled the game, outshooting the Flyers 43-20 and winning 3-1.
1996-97 — Lost to the Detroit Red Wings 4-0
Yet again, the Flyers faced a team that was about to win multiple Stanley Cups in a row.
This time, the Red Wings were coming off a relatively unimpressive regular season that saw them win just 36 games, but the core that had taken them on deep playoff runs the previous two seasons remained intact.
This was the closest the Flyers came to winning during the Eric Lindros era. The Hall of Famer was sublime in the postseason with 26 points in 19 games, but his magic wore off during this series. He had just one goal and two assists as the Red Wings outscored Philadelphia 16-6.
Goaltending was a massive factor in the sweep, as the Red Wings only managed seven more shots on net than the Flyers, but Mike Vernon was a wall for Detroit, posting a .944 save percentage.
2009-10 — Lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2
The 2009-10 Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Final is one of the most surprising playoff pushes in recent memory. The team managed an 88-point regular season with an unimpressive +11 goal differential, but got hot at precisely the right time.
Brière, the current GM, dazzled in the postseason with 30 points in 23 games, while a 35-year-old Chris Pronger skated more than 29 minutes per night and produced almost a point a game while locking things down defensively. The unheralded goaltending tandem of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher were also rock-solid.
In the Stanley Cup Final, they faced a team that had put together a far more impressive regular season, but fought them tooth-and-nail. Three of Chicago's four wins came by a single goal, and the deciding Game 6 winner off Patrick Kane's stick was a weird one.
On June 9, 2010, an overtime goal by Patrick Kane gave the Chicago Blackhawks a championship after 40 years. They defeated the Flyers in game six, winning the Stanley cup in Philadelphia. #memorablemoment pic.twitter.com/tgWqNKL0Ff
— Sports Media (@SportsMedia__) September 13, 2021
This was one of Philadelphia's closest calls, even though the team was more of a feisty underdog than an inner-circle contender.
How does Philadelphia's championship prognosis look now?
Not great, but there is some reason for hope.
Like an Arizona Coyotes team we covered on Tuesday, the Flyers will have to rely primarily on players not currently on the roster to make their next competitive push.
Travis Konecny could theoretically be a building block, but he's under contract for only two more years and has been a fixture in trade rumours lately. The Flyers have some interesting forwards under 25 in Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Noah Cates — but none of them project to be stars.
Cam York could be a major piece of the blue line picture for years to come, and if Carter Hart sticks around he still has potential, but he's been in trade rumours as well and the team also has Cal Petersen as an option between the pipes.
Those are some interesting pieces to work with, but no clear-cut winning core. In order to build one of those, Philadelphia will have to draw on a group of prospects that The Athletic ranked 14th in the NHL midway through the 2022-23 season.
That might not sound too promising, but the 2023 NHL Draft delivered an unexpected bounty in the form of seventh overall pick Matvei Michkov.
Michkov was widely considered to be the second-best prospect in the draft, and some talent evaluators have even described him as a generational talent. The fact that the offensively-gifted winger specifically wanted to play for the Flyers — and used the leverage his KHL contract afforded him to find his way to Philadelphia — is a massive shot in the arm for the franchise.
If the 18-year-old is able to reach his potential, the Flyers might have a franchise player to centre their team-building efforts around. It's far too early to assume that will be the case, but it's well within the possible range of outcomes for a team in dire need of a cornerstone.
It's tough to project out what a team built around Michkov could look like, but the Flyers have a solid amount of cap flexibility in the years to come, and the chance to accumulate some top picks while they try to turn this thing around.
Philadelphia is a long ways from competing for a Cup, but they have a logical route to becoming a contender — it's just going to take some time.