Once upon a time, the Flyers drafted highly-touted prospects, held on to them, and let them blossom into great players. What a novel concept. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI)
The Hockey News published their annual NHL Franchise Rankings in the June 13 edition. They take into account a whole multitude of things, from attendance and stable ownership to on-ice success and prospect stock.
The Flyers finished 8th in the NHL according to THN's rankings, behind Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago, in that order. For the most part, the organization has high numbers across the board in every category -- regular season success, playoff success, franchise value, ownership, 2010-11 standings, attendance, even draft success.
But there are two categories which drop the Flyers far down on the totem pole: front office and "Future Watch." The front office criticism might be a little flawed, as it's based on turnover in the coaching and managerial ranks. The Flyers have had the same GM for five years now, but the firing of John Stevens a year ago clearly hurts them. Somehow the Flyers are ranked 3/10 here while the Penguins, who fired a coach less than two years ago, have an 8/10. Whatever.
Future Watch is dead on, though. The Flyers earned a 1 out of 10 possible points, the worst score a team can get. It's true: the cupboard is completely bare. No regard for early-round draft picks, no star prospects anywhere in sight.
Paul Holmgren and his staff have done a nice job acquiring decent young talent from the college ranks and spotting undrafted guys overseas, but these kinds of players will never be of the same caliber as James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Mike Richards or Jeff Carter. Sergei Bobrovsky could be the lone exception. For the most part, stocking the prospect cupboard like this is a shot in the dark, and a horrible way to operate over the long-term.
In the salary cap era, you need cheap talent to fill out your roster. It won't be long before JvR joins those other three stars near the top of the Flyers payroll ledger, and with that goes the offensive depth that we've learned to love over the last two-three seasons.
The salary cap is only going to go up so high. The Flyers can't look at themselves as the richest of the rich anymore. Being a filthy rich team isn't much of a luxury anymore when it comes to hockey operations.
So when the Flyers do actually get the opportunity to draft players, and they wind up with guys that do have skill and high NHL potential, it's important to hold on to them. Groom them. They don't grow on trees, especially when the roots of Philadelphia's trees have been poisoned worse than Toomer's Oaks in Auburn.
This is why the news that the Flyers have lost the rights to goaltending prospect Joacim Eriksson is so frustrating.
We buried the lead a little there, but yes, Eriksson is gone. No longer a member of the Flyers organization. That was announced by Paul Holmgren today, according to Bill Meltzer.
We're assuming they lost him at the same time as defensive prospect Simon Bertlisson, who needed to be signed by 5 p.m. on June 1 as per the Swedish transfer agreement with the NHL. It's not 100 percent clear on whether or not he's still draft eligible (we think he is) but either way, the chances of him coming back to the Flyers are slim to none.
We say that Wellwood is the best prospect in the organization, but until now, that title went to Eriksson.
Drafted 196th overall by the Flyers in 2008, he played this past season in Sweden's Elitserien, the top league in that country. He expected to get more starts than he did, but being stuck behind an experienced veteran cost him some games.
He put up decent enough numbers in 17 starts with Skelleftea though, with a 2.56 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. He still has another year left on his contract there and he expected to play another season there, which would've made sense given that he's only 21, would likely get more experience with another year in Elitserien, and of course, the convoluted goaltending situation in the Flyers' North American ranks.
But Eriksson was not far off, and he almost came over the pond last summer. He's considered the second-best Swedish goaltending prospect behind Jacob Markstrom, the highly-touted netminder in the Florida Panthers system. Hockey's Future ranked him above Sergei Bobrovsky in their September 2010 rankings of Flyers' prospects. Niko Hovinen, the free-agent goalie signed by the Flyers a few weeks back, doesn't come close to Eriksson.
Now, he's gone. The Philadelphia Flyers just let their top prospect walk for nothing.
It's really pretty incomprehensible. It has nothing to do with money or the desire to trade draft picks away for players they think can help the team win now. There simply is no justification for it. It's just a complete failure.