What’s "wrong" with the Flyers
? They have a top 5 player in Giroux, Briere is back and the goalie has proven he can be an elite player. They have four quality defensemen in Timonen, Coburn, Grossmann and Schenn (a 5th when Meszaros returns). That should be enough to beat half the league, right? Are injuries the issue? No, all teams face injuries and are still expected to win games. The issue should be laid squarely at the feet of the coach.
Here’s why. From a reductionist standpoint, let’s look at when his system has worked:
2006 Carolina, seven to eight scoring threats – Staal, Brind’amour, Williams, Cullen, Recchi, Weight, Whitney, Cole (hurt post season, 60 gp in regular season).
2010 Philadelphia, seven to eight scoring threats – Briere, Richards, Giroux, Leino, Hartnell, Gagne, Carter, JVR.
Quite simply, when there are two 20+ scorers on your third line, attack all you want. The system fails if you do not have the seven to eight scoring threats and still play attack.
2013 Philadelphia – Giroux, Briere, Hartnell, Simmonds, Read. Even when fully healthy the amount of scoring forwards are not there in order for the system to work. In addition, an argument can be made that Read is not dynamic scorer and his production from last year was a benefit of the attack system.
The system fails a second way from an X and O perspective. When your two most dynamic players are small, quick forwards playing chip and chase actually stifles their creativity. When was the last time you recall seeing the Flyers on an odd man rush? That’s a fundamental flaw to Laviolette’s system; he ignores the importance of the neutral zone turnover.
Where do odd man rushes typically initiate? From the systematic neutral zone turn-over. Three men square to the other team’s attack at the blue line, force the turnover, puck moves the other way. Because Laviolette wants three men entering the zone together on the attack, chipping the puck deep and attacking together you often find three Flyers forwards chasing (behind the puck) the other team’s forwards going the other way. That leaves the defense to defend by themselves rather than have support from a forward playing high in the zone.
If there is not a depth at scoring forwards the system is then very easy to shut down – anticipate the chip and chase, shut down the cycle lanes, man to man on the play maker, easy out (what other teams are doing to Giroux right now).
But what if there was an adjustment to the system? Do the Flyers currently have the parts to win games under 3 goals against? I believe they do. It’s much easier to defend as a unit and protect your net than score as a unit, especially when two of your top 6 forwards are injured. This requires a fundamental change to the system and a dedication to a defense first system.
Current situation aside and assuming Simmonds and Hartnell are healthy, let’s compare the Flyers to the Kings
success last post season.
The Kings could not score until Carter arrived. That means that Kopitar, Williams and Brown were largely unproductive simply because the other team could focus on shutting down one line (much like the Flyers today).
The Kings played a very basic system and structured their lines in a traditional two scoring lines, a dedicated shut down line and a dedicated energy line. They systematically protected their blue line and if the other team was lucky enough to actually enter the zone everything was kept to the outside or off angle shooting lanes allowing Quick to shut down the angle. Remember, Quick was "terrible" in the playoffs the season before (much like the knock on Bryzgalov).
With that in mind how do you fix the Flyers, fast?
I argue that the goalie and defense are equal to the Kings. The difference is the system in combination to what is missing in the forward group:
Two scoring lines: Giroux with Hartnell and a missing RW. Briere with Simmonds and a missing LW.
Shut down line: Couturier with Talbot and Fedotenko.
Notice three names missing? That’s correct, Brayden Schenn
, Matt Read
and Jakub Voracek
Schenn has proven he currently cannot produce on the NHL level. He has had ample opportunity playing PP, on a line with Briere and on a line with Giroux. Don’t believe me? Couturier has out-produced Schenn with 1/3rd the PP time, playing with 4th line wings and in a shutdown roll. One wonders what Couturier would have done with Schenn's TOI and linemate opportunites.
Voracek is clearly not a goal scoring threat. Read is a different story. He can score on the NHL level, but is not a top 6 impact player on a contender and is wasted in a 4th line roll.
Can those three players plus picks command two top 6 wings? I’ll leave that to the trade speculators. Are the Flyers "trading away youth" to "win now"? Not necessarily when you consider that the Flyers retain Couturier, McGinn, their Captain is 25, Simmonds is 24 and you hope to get at least one player 25 or younger in trade.
These proposed moves also immediately help a struggling Power Play, spread the match-up of the other team and maybe one of the players in return is a quality penalty killer.
Next, if the coach will not change it’s time to change the coach. The alternative? Anyone who plays a defense first system, protects the middle and the goalie, and will allow Couturier to play a dedicated, traditional 3rd line center roll with dedicated defensively responsible wingers (Talbot and Fedotenko fit the bill nicely). Couturier could still chip in 15 in that roll.
If those two things occur, removing the coach for a defense first system and the acquisition of two scorers, I believe the Flyers instantly go from one of the worst teams in the NHL to one of the best, destined for a long post season run.
This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by Broad Street Hockey.