PHILADELPHIA, PA – You could see the signs. It was bound to happen sooner rather than later. The Philadelphia Flyers, once a model of consistency, have all of a sudden become the new poster child for how not to build a winner, much less a championship-winning hockey team. Sports aren’t complicated, but the Flyers have been turning algebra into calculus these days.
The Flyers in the pre-salary cap days used to spend money like drunken sailors in a feeble attempt to win back Lord Stanley’s Cup ever since the Flyers last won the Cup in 1975. The irony is that the Flyers never overspent to win the Cup back in the day, and they wouldn’t have won back-to-back Cups without goaltending, timely scoring, a solid defense, and physical play.
In the years since they are lucky to have someone just make a save much less win a game for them, the goal scoring has been an up-and-down proposition, the defense is usually made up of the over 35 crowd, but the one consistency is the Flyers usually have at least two players who are more than likely to beat you up than score on you, and sometimes it’s even the goaltender.
Regardless of how the Flyers have been built over the years, the main reason the Flyers have not won the cup is simple: The NHL Entry Draft. The last time the Flyers were in a position like this (bottom 5 in league standings) was back in 2007 when the Flyers drafted second overall, despite having the league’s worst record. They selected James van Riemsdyk.
In typical fashion, General Manager Paul Holmgren traded him away to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn, who has been a virtual fixture on the Flyers’ bench. JVR on the other hand has seven goals, third on the team, and is tied for second on the Maple Leafs in points with 13. Another former Flyer, Joffrey Lupul, has eight goals and 12 points. Both players would lead the Flyers. Lupul you might remember was traded away from the Flyers for Dan Carcillo.
Patience has never been a Flyer strong suit. The Lupul deal is a prime example of that. Still, the draft is Philadelphia’s Achilles heel. Since 2000 the Flyers have only Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux on the current roster. In fact, since 2000 only Zac Rinaldo, Joni Pitkanen, JVR, Andres Nodl, Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have played at least 82 games, a full regular seasons worth of games for the Flyers. That’s not bad, that’s pathetic
If the Flyers are going to change their fortunes they might want to look at the team that’s won two Stanley Cups since 2007 and that is the team the Flyers lost in the 2010 finals to, the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrick Kane was taken ahead of JVR in 2007 and is one of the top players in the game. In fact, the Hawks team that won the cup last season had at least 10 players who played in over half their games that were drafted by them. If you want more proof, look at every team that has won the Cup since the salary cup has been in place: only the Anaheim Ducks had less than half their roster (eight) made up of players they drafted.
Do you get where I am going here? It is not rocket science but let’s face facts, some people in the Flyers organization sure are making it out to be. As much as we’d love to send all of the blame Holmgren’s away we can’t. This starts at the top. He is 80 years old, he is the team’s founder, and he is Ed Snider. He is also the main reason the Flyers are in the shape they are in.
The win at all cost, despite the cost, is the problem, and that approach has never been the right solution. Snider’s ego has led Holmgren and former GM Bob Clarke to lead with the checkbook, and the inevitable mistakes have come without consequences. Loyalty is a wonderful thing but it is the reason both former players were put in the position they are/were in. It is also part of the problem when both see things through orange and black glasses. The Flyers need to seek advice from outside sources, someone who is respected and doesn’t have ties to the team. No more “yes” men, just a few “this is where you’re going wrong” men.
Will that ever happen? Probably not. Right now Flyers fans see no hope in a team with the league’s worst offense, middle of the pack defense, and above average goaltending. If I were advising Flyers fans I’d suggest getting to know the draft eligible prospects heading into this year’s draft. The draft is in Philly this year and the Flyers should come away with a top scoring prospect. Start getting use to the names Sam Reinhart, William Nylander, Leon Draisaitl, and Michael Dal Colle. Reinhart is the cream of the crop. The Flyers will have to hope their cream rises to the top of the draft for a shot at him. Still they are only fourth from the bottom so hope springs eternal of that happens.