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DISCLAIMER: The following is a series of unorganized, incoherent and not really connected thoughts about the Flyers. Sorry about that.
I'm not going to try and pretend that we all shouldn't be pissed as hell right now, the same way we all should've been happy last Saturday or Tuesday or any of the other nights of our wins so far this year. We're sports fans. Philadelphia sports fans, even. We're not rational people.
I'm not going to sit here and throw all (or any of) the advanced stats your way to convince you that not everyone sucks and that the Flyers are better than they've shown, because anyone who'd actually pay attention to/would believe those has probably already seen them.
I'm not going to try and sell it to you all that this team is a Cup contender despite what we've seen so far, because it probably isn't unless several players progress a lot in the next 35 games (which is to say it isn't totally out of the realm of possibility, but I'd put money against it before I put money for it).
Here's what I will say.
Our all-world center is the only real offensive threat on this team right now and every team knows it. We've all seen how much he cares in the past. To insinuate that he doesn't care, as some have, is equal parts hilarious, ridiculous and insulting. If anything--as others have pointed out--he's trying too hard. And there's a valid point to be made there, if you think it's adversely affecting the team. But don't give me some bullshit about how he's not in the game right now.
Our second and third centers are probably younger than most of us, and they've actually both been pretty good this year. One of them, whether you've realized it or not because apparently everyone wants to trade him, has been one of our best scoring forwards so far, at 21. And the other one has been fantastic defensively, as we all expected him to be despite being twenty years old. (Not to mention he didn't play tonight. Maybe not a coincidence things didn't go so well defensively.)
We had six (well, five and a half based on playing time) really, really solid wingers last year. One of them was 40 and is now playing for someone else. One of them has barely played this year. The half a guy got traded. Still having any of those guys, let alone all of them, would probably be a tremendous help to all of these guys. The other three guys (24, 17, and 93) left have actually all done a pretty decent job points-wise, despite--again--being really the only quality options at the wing on this team right now.
There are really only about six guys, give or take, that are quality offensive forwards on this team right now. And that's not good. Being a two-line team doesn't work in this day and age. But let's keep something in mind for a second: of the six guys that first come to mind, they're currently 25, 21, 20, 26, 24, and 23, and entered this year with a combined 15 years of experience between them. More than half of them aren't even in their prime yet, and they're still doing a respectable job out there even if it's not translating into wins.
I feel like (and admittedly I could be fighting a strawman here, but I think I've been seeing it) in light of what's happening here (and what happened last June in Los Angeles) there's been a lot of sudden regret about a pair of trades made two summers ago. The ones where we turned two really good players into four legitimate contributors to this team, a solid prospect, and (a bit further down the road) another top-4 defenseman. A quick refresher, if you will, as to what our dear general manager said on the day of that trade, emphasis mine:
We looked at our team at the end of the year and felt we needed to get bigger on the wing. I think with the acquisition of Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, both those guys are bigger wingers that can play in your top-nine mix of forwards. And perhaps the hidden gem in this whole thing is Brayden Schenn. In our opinion, he’s one of the top, if not the top young player outside the NHL. So it kind of led to that. We had said for a number of years to our local guys that I really liked our team, and I still did, even a few days ago. Today we’re a different team, and I really like this team, the way it’s structured right now.
He went on to say about as much in the first episode of 24/7, along the lines of "I don't know if we're going to be better or worse, but we're different."
And that's valid. Long-term, who knows how much better the team's going to be. And honestly? Replacing two really good players with as many as four really good players, like we did? That isn't a bet I'm against, even now knowing who won the Cup last summer.
But in any event, this team was--and, most importantly, still is--going through a shift. Believe it or not, most things that could've gone right last year did, as long as they weren't wearing goalie pads. This year, despite some solid individual performances from guys (BSchenn, Voracek, McGinn, just to name a few), a lot isn't going right. And yes, there are guys who are truly struggling (Giroux, Briere, Talbot), and yes, there are very valid concerns about this defense, even beyond some bad bounces.
Amidst the shit sandwich that was tonight's game, there was a set of really valid points made by a pair of commenters, including one of our mods here and another commenter as well. If you managed to miss it, here's the back-and-forth:
I would’ve rather seen them play the kids on defense and just go through the growing pains there than dump a lot of offense and not make up for it.
But if people weren’t patient enough to let JVR develop as it was; would they have been patient enough to watch the kids go through growing pains on defense?
That is kind of the problem with the domination of the Penguins last year. A lot of the kids played so much over their current level (JVR/Boston series over) that it made us assume they were ready for that full time, thus getting rid of a good chunk of offense.
Round of applause for DG and Pronger? I don't even know her! for a sequence that we should all really think about.
When our young guys do awesome stuff, like JVR against Boston in 2011 or Couturier and Schenn against the Penguins, it's really, really sick. (And something that we haven't been accustomed to lately, based on how poor our track record has been with drafting young talent in the last half-decade.) But you just can't look too much into it. Because then it leads to things like giving guys $25 million extensions based on two respectable seasons and one really good postseason. And when they disappoint, you also can't react too much to it...because then you end up trading that guy for someone with the value of a third-pairing defenseman.
So here's my point, I guess. Be frustrated. Throw some shit. Swear at any piece of Flyers paraphernalia that you see. But don't sit here and say we should tear it all apart because the team is struggling this year. There's a nucleus of really solid forwards on this team, some of whom are locked up for years to come. There are a lot of risks and gambles here, but last I checked there was a lot of optimism regarding the future of this team as recently as about a month ago, and if 13 games has changed that for you then I think you're overreacting just a little bit.
This team, barring another tremendous rash of injuries, is going to finish with a better point percentage than the 42.3% it's sporting right now. And I think we all know that. If you disagree, name your price on that bet and I'll probably take it. And maybe they are going to miss the playoffs--it's a short season, and bad breaks have already eaten up a quarter of it.
But even if they do: so what? Even if you were optimistic, this team sans Jagr, JVR and Carle was probably never going to win a Cup this year unless everything broke right. And even if you're not optimistic, chances are this team is going to be much better in two years or so than it is now if it shores up its defense even a little bit. Give and take. It's how it is when most of your best players are still improving at the NHL level.
And sometimes good teams just end up having bad years. Ask the Devils. #2 seed in 2010 to god-awful in most of 2011 to within two games of a Cup last year. I assume they were all pissed in 2011 and that a lot of their fans wanted to see wholesale changes. They were all angry at their star forward who seemed to be trying too hard. The team proceeded to not change much--and look where it got them.
Be patient. This is a young, inexperienced nucleus of players that had expectations set very (probably unrealistically) high despite some obvious flaws in some places and on the back end. It sucks right now. But it doesn't mean everyone sucks or something significant needs to change now. It's hockey. This stuff happens.
(I don't know what the point of all that was but I felt like writing a bunch of thoughts. So my apologies--and thanks--if you actually read through all of that.)