Top Shelf: Embattled Flyers grasping at straws
Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider has the earned reputation of a man who does not take losing lightly.
In light of that fact, with the way the Flyers have been playing lately, Mr. Snider's employees would be wise to fear for their job security.
The fact that Snider hates losing has made him a larger-than-life character during his 40-plus years with the Flyers, but that trait hasn't helped Philadelphia win a Stanley Cup title since it claimed back-to-back titles in the mid 1970s.
Snider's no-nonsense attitude might be comforting for Flyers fans if Philadelphia was one firing away from figuring things out, but, alas, there doesn't seem to be an easy solution for a team that's 12-15-1 and hasn't won more than two games in a row at any point this season.
Philadelphia's helplessness to find a quick fix to its problems was on full display Tuesday night in New Jersey. At the start of an important home-and- home series with the rival Devils, the Flyers came out flat and fell behind 3-1 in the first period en route to a deflating 5-2 loss.
Following the latest setback, Flyers players offered up votes of confidence for their head coach and general manager, who could both feel Snider's wrath if things don't change soon. With his team sitting tied for last in the Atlantic Division with the New York Islanders and out of a playoff spot, Snider may start the head-rolling process as soon as this weekend, especially if the Flyers don't show some life in Friday's finale against the Devils.
Considering the way the club is currently spinning its wheels, it's hard to believe this is a franchise less than three years removed from a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2010. Then again, when you look at how few players are left in Philly from that run and how the ones who departed are doing, maybe it isn't such a mystery after all.
No one can ever question the Flyers' desire to win, but the way the club goes about chasing a Stanley Cup title can be dizzying to say the least. With Snider at the helm, the organization seems incapable of doing anything other than charging full bore at that elusive third championship, leaving prudence and common sense in the dust.
The go-for-it attitude has cost the franchise dearly over the last few seasons, most notably with the decision to bring in high-priced goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov via free agency and to move centerpiece forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter after a disappointing run in the 2011 postseason. The fact that all of those decisions came on the same day tells you how quickly things can change when things aren't going the Flyers' way.
Bryzgalov has been up-and-down during his time in Philadelphia and is known more nationally for his entertainingly odd postgame interviews than his puck- stopping skills. Still, it's not all Bryz's fault the Flyers are where they are right now, three games under .500 and fighting just to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff conversation.
It would be nice to be able to blame one person -- like Bryzgalov or head coach Peter Laviolette or general manager Paul Holmgren -- for Philadelphia's disappointing season, but as usual, there's more to it than that.
That's not to say the Flyers shouldn't buy out Bryz this summer or even fire Laviolette and/or Holmgren. All of those things would make perfect sense considering the disparity between where this team is at and where the front office thinks it should be, but there are other ways of turning things around besides getting rid of a bunch people when things don't go as planned.
Since Snider isn't firing himself, he needs to at least consider the fact that reshuffling the deck every few years may not be the best way to build a winner. The constant push for a title has produced loads of playoff appearances and six unsuccessful trips to the Stanley Cup Finals since the Orange and Black won the second of consecutive championships in the spring of 1975, but at some point you'd think the idea of committing to an old-fashioned rebuilding phase would gain traction.
At times, the Flyers have given off mixed signals as to whether they're rebuilding or going for it. The events of June 23, 2011 is a perfect example because even though Philadelphia brought in Bryzgalov for nine years and $51 million, they also dealt Carter and Richards to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively, for a sizeable haul of talented, yet unproven, youngsters. Of course, Bryz's contract meant the Flyers may have liked those young players' small contracts even more than the prospects themselves.
The fact that Richards and Carter, who was dealt to Los Angeles midway through the 2011-12 season, already won a Cup together with the Kings should've been an omen to the franchise to be patient with its own talent. After all, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had years to build his team via the draft before making a big splash with trades for guys like Richards and Carter.
But the Flyers showed they had done little to heed the lessons hidden in their own mistakes again in the summer of 2012 when they dealt winger James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn. While van Riemsdyk is at 14 goals and counting for the Maple Leafs this season, Schenn is part of a retooled, but still ineffective Flyers defense.
All indications point to the fact that the Bryz signing and trading of Carter and Richards were direct orders from Snider to Holmgren. If Snider in turn fires Holmgren for the results of those decisions, there's little hope anything will change for the better in the Flyers' front office.
Snider is a Hockey Hall of Famer who has done a tremendous amount of good for the city of Philadelphia, but in recent years his desire to see another championship seems to have clouded his sense of what is best for his hockey team.
With so much movement in and out of Philadelphia in recent years, maybe the best bet in order to get the Flyers out of this rut is acknowledging that always going for it isn't necessarily a noble pursuit. Being aggressive is not a bad quality, but it shouldn't be the only weapon in one's arsenal.
Nobody thinks Snider and the Flyers are failing to achieve their goals because they're not trying hard enough.
Maybe if things continue to get worse in 2013 the team will finally realize that patience should always be a top priority when attempting to build something worthwhile.