PHILADELPHIA – Well, here we go again. Like death and taxes, the Philadelphia Flyers fire another Head Coach and, as usual, one has to ask the question, how many coaches have to get fired before Ed Snider realizes that his dream of winning a Stanley Cup just might not be realistic? That “going for it” year in, year out isn’t always the best approach when it comes to building a cup winner.
Despite pre-season predictions that the Flyers might be Cup worthy this time around, the team is in a free fall for the ages. How did this happen, how did it get to this point? Does it really matter?
Bashing the Flyers when they are down is the easy thing to do, but knowing how to fix the problem is another. Let’s take a look at how the Flyers got to this point and how they can finally fix the root of their problems not only for this season but for years to come.
Ok, tell me where you’ve heard this before. The Flyers goaltending is subpar and are in dire need of an upgrade. This past off-season the Flyers felt that not only did they need an upgrade in goaltending but that they also had to cut costs as well. Sorry, but someone needs to tell the organization that this is hockey, and in order to do both at the same time in this sport can only be done via the draft and prospects.
If you’ve been a reader of these fine, outstanding pages in the past, you know that I have chronicled the Flyers draft record. It is poor to say the least.
Only three times in team history have they ever drafted a goaltender in the first round. Only Brian Boucher was one of those first round picks is the only one of the three who has ever played in an orange and black jersey for more than a brief fart. Couple that with the Flyers inability to sign or trade for a goaltender who’s in the prime of his career and you have the most important position in hockey reduced to a non factor in south Philly.
The Flyers need to fix this situation once and for all we look at a couple of options. We don’t care how they do it mind you. Just pledge to fix it. I have a couple of ideas in my fuzzy little brain so here they go.
If we look at all of the available free agents next season we see that Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco as the most expensive options but neither has taken a team to the cup finals much less win the whole thing. The Flyers won’t have much cap space unless they trade Simon Gagne, Danny Briere or Jeff Carter for prospects and draft picks. If I go the free agent route Pekka Rinne, whose do for a raise from his $750K cap hit now, is on my radar as is Dan Ellis and Chris Mason.
Are either of the three the answer?
Probably not, but, unless Ray Emery has a great second half of the season, it is important to look elsewhere. The Flyers don’t have much in the way or prospects, which is why the best course of action is NOT in free agency.
My answer is…drum roll please.
Make a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for either Jonathan Bernier or Jeff Zatkoff. With Jonathan Quick stealing the starters roll in LA, the leaves Bernier or Zatkoff. Neither is projected as backups and need a team they can make their mark on.
Zatkoff, a former third round pick of the Kings in 2006, has never, I repeat, NEVER has a season where his save percentage, was below .914 and that was his first season of highly competitive hockey in the USHL back in 2004-05. He is having his best season ever in Manchester (AHL) with a .934 save% and a goals against average, of 2.15. Grant it he has only played in nine games this season, but his teammate Bernier has played in 25 and is third in the league in GAA (2.15) and is second in save % (.943).
The point is, someone is going to be expendable. It won’t cost as much to get Zatkoff as it would Bernier, who was the Kings first round pick in 2006, the same draft as Zatkoff. Bernier would be a great first choice and since the Flyers don’t have a first round pick in 2010 thanks to the Chris Pronger trade, a second round pick plus one of your own goaltending prospects might get you a Bernier. Zatkoff could most likely be had for a second round pick straight up but a third and a prospect should do the trick.
The trade would finally give the Flyers something they have not had in years, a goaltender they can build around for years to come. The Flyers don’t have the money to go after a big name goalie so Rinne or trading with the Kings make the most sense for Philadelphia.
Learn some patience and stop spending up to the cap:
Now, I know I’m asking a lot of the Flyers when I say this but, going for it every year does not work, it hasn’t worked, it never will work, especially in the salary cap era. It might have sounded great when there was no cap but there is one and the Flyers still have not learned their lesson.
The core of this problem is Snider, who has always felt that spending money is a way of making money. Well, that might work in the business world, and it might help keep people in the stands, but the boos have grown louder with each loss and the fans see no direction.
It is time to face facts and the Flyers need to start taking their lumps like everyone else. It is not a sin to have 3-5 bad years before turning things around. It is painful, but necessary.
This does not mean that I want the team to lose intentionally, it just means that if the Flyers need to do what the Kings did, which is hire someone as their GM like Dean Lombardi, who believes in building a team through the draft rather than a bunch of overpriced free agents, then so be it.
If you have been a loyal reader of mine you know by now than when the Kings hired Lombardi he was with the Flyers for one whole season after being let go by San Jose. The scary part is, Flyers had a choice between current GM Paul Holmgren and Lombardi. I said at the time that hiring Holmgren over Lombardi was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I like Homer, but he is built in the same mold as former GM Bob Clarke and the Flyers needed a change in philosophy and direction, not the status quo.
I meant it then and I mean it now. The Flyers made a mistake. I also said that the Kings would win a cup before the Flyers would. That might be pushing it a bit but look at the standings and you will see that this is exactly what I saw in the future and it’s coming to pass.
Snider will not fire Holmgren, just like he couldn’t bring himself to fire Clarke when the time comes. If he does fire him it might not happen until the end of next season should the Flyers not recover from their current demise. If that happens, they need to hire someone who has never worn orange and black colored glasses. They need someone from outside the organization.
Even if the Flyers decide to keep Holmgren, it is time to change the direction of this team. The truth is, they need to have a direction first, and building through the draft is not an option this time, its mandatory. It is time to build a team, not piece meal a team for one year runs.
Dump the tough guys:
This issue runs along the same lines as the above mentioned issue, which is that the team is constructed poorly. The time of building a team of tough guys went out with the 70’s. The last time I checked my calendar, we were heading into another decade and coming up on 2010, not 1970.
Name a team in this league other than the Flyers that would have Dan Carcillo, Ian laperriere, Jon Kalinski, Riley Cote and Arron Asham all on the same roster? If you want you can include Scott Hartnell and Chris Pronger on the list. The Flyers are the most penalized team in the league in both majors AND minors. It is time to dump the penalty machines. Carcillo should never have been brought in for a talented, but inconsistent Scott Upshall.
Talent is what wins games, not tough guys.
Hartnell leads the team in minors with 25 (Pronger and Briere are next on the list with 16) but he also has the most marketability of those listed. Pronger isn’t going anywhere but everyone else on this list should be moved or waived.
Stop worrying about the offense:
There is too much talent on this team to worry about the offense. They will come around. Gagne’s return will help and moving Jeff Carter just because he is in a slump is a huge mistake. Again, learn some patience and let the offense get back to normal on its own.
And don’t tell me to move Briere Flyers fans, he makes too much money so you can forget about moving him for at least another three years when his actual salary, not his cap hit, is manageable. He like everyone else will come around.
Get your first round pick back from Anaheim:
You can bet the last thing the Flyers thought about when they traded for Pronger was that they were going to be so bad they were going to be one of the worst teams in the league. Check the standings today and you will see Flyers would be a lottery team. They are tied with Edmonton and Toronto for the NHL’s second worst point total. The Ducks are only three points better and would have two picks in the top eight in the upcoming draft thanks to the Flyers. In order to get their pick back, they probably would have to give up Carter or Giroux and a bigger package to get it back.
Looking at the draft the top prize will be left winger Taylor Hall. The way the draft works now it’s hard to move up and take the top pick but Chicago did it to Philly a couple of seasons ago so it’s not impossible. In fact, maybe fate would return the favor if the Flyers had their pick back and were able to get Hall.
After Hall defenseman Cam Fowler would be a perfect fit for the aging Kimmo Timonen who is turning 35 and has three seasons left to go on his contract, but his salary drops after next season. Having a stud defenseman who can step in after Timonen’s contract runs out would be perfect for the Flyers.
Even if the Flyers were told they could only have the worst of Anaheim’s two picks, the Flyers can continue to build their defense with Erik Gudbranson (Kingston, OHL) or Brandon Gormley (Moncton, QMJHL). If not the Flyers are in dire need of help on right wing and this is a good year for drafting highly skilled wingers.
The point here is that the Flyers need to work the draft and get back in the game. Making the Pronger deal happen is good for a team on the cusp of winning the cup, but, as you can see they are not even close to being a cup contender. If they don’t get back into the first round this year it will be a huge mistake, especially considering the blunders they have had in recent drafts.
Need the list? How about drafting Steve Downie.
Trading away a first round pick for Steve Eminger and passing up a chance to draft their goaltender of the future in Jacob Markstrom because they felt the need to go after Johan Backlund as a free agent on the advice of long time Philadelphia Phantom Neil Little. In trading Pronger they moved former first round pick Luca Sbisa and also could have drafted forwards Jordan Schroeder and Carter Ashton or defenseman John Moore or any of the goaltenders in the draft since none were taken in the first round.
Shall I go on or do you get the idea? I think you do.
The season is far from over but the Flyers need to change their way of thinking or spending years out of the playoffs will become the norm rather than the exception for the orange and black.