Clearly, after the Boston series, most of us felt, “Hmmm, something needs to be fixed”. The trick part, was, what? I was originally going to post a fanpost looking at the possible changes the Flyers might make, and how the cap made the options the Flyers had mutually exclusive. I was actually thinking about as many as 5 different posts looking at
(3) Power-play performance
Unfortunately, work interfered with my doing these fanposts right after the playoffs. But some of the posts were more or less going to write themselves. The injuries one would have been the easiest. If Pronger, Versteeg and others were hurt, it would explain a lot. But that is also the one that is the copout, since no team is fully “healthy” going into the playoffs. That also meant not many changes in 2011-12, except at worst maybe losing one of Leino, Versteeg, Carle, or Hartnell if there were cap issues. Goaltending would not have been difficult to discuss; in fact, several others have done the analysis that I would have relied on, that goaltending was not as significant a problem as it appeared. Plus, goaltending dollars would interfere with how much change to the roster needed to be made to fit an expensive goalie in the cap. So I likely would have recommended a modest change at best (like Nabokov). Two of the more difficult posts ones were related, since I believe the power-play problems and the exhaustion were directly related to Laviolette’s style of coaching. I, like many others, became very disenchanted with Lavi during these playoffs. If the players weren’t exhausted, and there was a better power-play scheme, that might have fixed a good deal of the malaise it appeared the Flyers were in. But to quantify this, or to determine a fix, or to suggest a coach firing the year after a Cup Final, well, that would require significant analysis and work to avoid being rightly flamed.
But the one that bugged me, and the one that I truly had done the least thinking about, because I wasn’t sure of a solution, but which in turn would require the most justification, was the leadership one. Now, this is interesting to me in part because I not only teach strategy, but also leadership-related courses. But for me, strategy is a lot easier to teach than leadership, since leadership theory is kinda fuzzy. I can tell you pretty specifically how a firm can gain competitive advantage, but I’m a lot less sure of the best way you can develop leaders. In many ways, leadership is something that you “know when you see it.”
And in Mike Richards’s case, I couldn’t see it. Now, that might not have been a problem. I’m a fan, I have no idea what happens behind the scenes. There are many leaders who are relatively quiet like Mike but who are strong leaders in private (although the academics would tell you leaders generally are strong communicators). But it’s also true that great leaders demonstrate their skill by strong organizational performance. And beyond all the stupid Center City rumors, I saw a team melt down multiple times under different coaches with Mike Richards wearing the C. Now, in hockey, the captainship actually means something. Maybe not as much as we fans think, but it isn’t zero either. When Pronger went down in 2011, the team faltered. That is an observable fact in wins and losses. But I was much more upset at the performance of the team in 2009. The collapse in the last few weeks, followed by the dismal inconsistency against the Penguins was very distressing. I believe Holmgren would have been fired, and rightly so, if Olli Jokinen scores in the shootout. Most of us forget that the second half of 2010 was no picnic either, after trying to recover from a sickening start to the season.
The performance in Spring 2011 was simply more of the same. There starts to be a question about which performance is on the regression line and which is the outlier. But I don’t know whether Homer (and Snider) were going to continue to tolerate that inconsistency. You know, if the team just ground out every game like Nashville, with relatively little talent, maybe that would be ok. But instead, the team showed flashes of real brilliance, and flashes of mediocrity, never more evident in the bizarre mediocrity of the power play. With the salary nudged against the cap.
Maybe Mike’s leadership wasn’t the cause. But something had to change. Snider ordered a goalie. Apparently, Homer decided it was more than that. Sending out Versteeg and not signing Leino might have made Bryz possible. Or just sending out Carter as a cap casualty. But I think, at a minimum, Richards would have been stripped of the C this coming year. I mentioned this in at least one thread earlier in May sometime. That is something that they could do as a wake-up call.
But now, if you strip Richards of the C, you also wake up Comcast/Snider. Richards was signed to a contract that was appropriate in salary amount, but massive in length. And there is a reason for this: management thought that Richards brought leadership skills similar to Clarke’s. I’m guessing that they repented of this belief. Now, that does NOT mean that you automatically ship out Richards. But it suddenly means that you have an asset that might be deterioriating in value, particularly as his contract reaches NMC status next year. And suddenly, it means that he is no longer untouchable. And it also means that you start shopping him, just like you would ANY player at this time of year (even Stamkos, although it might take Pittsburgh offering Crosby to convince Stevie Y to trade him).
And if you get a market-value trade, you have to consider it.
The Flyers traded Bernie Parent. They had to. It rocked my world. But Bernie learned, and was ready for the next level when he came back (he was very, very different in 1974 than in 1971). I’m not saying Richards will be back. I am saying, that, like Parent in 1971, his performance disappointed management in a way that forced the Unthinkable Trade.