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The Flyers' Short-Term Memory

This is unfortunately the only play that Holmgren remembers Nodl making.
This is unfortunately the only play that Holmgren remembers Nodl making.

One repeating theme in the Flyers' roster management is that often their moves appear to be focused on the short term. From giving older players long, front-loaded contracts to adding players before they have cap/contract room for them; from acquisitions that put the team over the cap and result in a bonus penalty to trading away draft picks for veterans, the Flyers have consistently valued tomorrow more than next year.

And there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. There are definitely times when a team should focus on the immediate future. And while I personally wouldn't adopt that strategy year after year, a fair argument can be made that things like unpredictable player development and CBA changes create enough uncertainty about the future that teams should focus largely on the short term.

So OK, I can see it. It's not my style, but if a team wants to focus their future plans on the near-term future, that's defensible. What's much harder to understand is focusing your view of the past exclusively on the near-term past, and yet this is a pattern the Flyers seem to be establishing.

Let's go back to the Andreas Nodl waiving. At the time, the team was short on defensemen, so it was suspected that the team might be letting Nodl go to clear a contract space so they could acquire a defenseman. They've made no such acquisition and instead took on the risk of bringing Matt Walker through re-entry waivers, so this no longer seems like the right explanation.

What other reason could there be for just giving away a player who last year took on the toughest defensive assignments, played them to a territorial draw, and scored like a typical third line forward? What changed since he signed a contract extension just a couple of months ago?

Nodl played in 12 games this year, and really didn't play very well over that stretch. It would seem that a month of dodgy play was enough to move him from "third line player worth a two-year contract extension" to "guy we'll give away for free."

This is what I mean by a short-term focus on the past. It would seem that they let 12 bad games weigh more heavily on their decision than 67 solid games just because the bad ones were more recent.


Waiving Nodl was certainly not the only decision the Flyers have made which seemed to be overly influenced by recent results.

Entering his tenth NHL season, Matt Walker had a long history as a borderline #6/#7 defenseman. Despite that long history, when he had a solid preseason this year, the Flyers decided Walker was so much of an upgrade over Oskars Bartulis or Erik Gustafsson that he was worth the extra million dollars or so on the cap, and he made the opening night roster.

Last year, James van Riemsdyk had a 40-point campaign that saw him scratched, shopped in trade, and generally disappointing the team for the second year in a row. Yet in the playoffs, he played extremely well and scored seven goals in eleven games. Just like that, the two disappointing seasons were erased from the team's memory; those eleven games featured so prominently that even though he was under contract or RFA control for the next five years, they rushed to extend his contract at $4.25M per year.

That year, the Flyers had excellent goaltending all year long. Sergei Bobrovsky had a very strong rookie season, with a .915 save percentage in line with that of Ryan Miller, Niklas Backstrom, Michal Neuvirth, and Kari Lehtonen. Brian Boucher was equally impressive at .916.

And yet again, that whole season's results was forgotten eleven games later. In a series where they only gave up 18 goals in seven games (2.53 GAA), they somehow managed to change their starting goalie three times -- again, because of an excessive focus on the most recent results over the established pattern.

In the off-season they blew up the team and gave Ilya Bryzgalov $51 million. The team's short-term memory caused them to overlook the fact that Bobrovsky's save percentage was nearly identical to Bryzgalov's career rate (.916).

This happened last year, too. Michael Leighton was a career .902 goaltender who had never been above .905 for even a ten-game season. He had previously been traded by Chicago (for Milan Bartovic), waived by Nashville, waived by Philadelphia, traded by Montreal (for a 7th round pick), and waived by Carolina. He had one strong half-season in Philadelphia and the Flyers forgot that long history and signed him to a two-year deal thinking he would be their starting goalie.


There is a clear, multi-year pattern here. The Flyers have consistently demonstrated that not only is their future focus tilted towards the short-term gain, but their review of the past also heavily emphasizes the most recent results.

In a rapidly changing market landscape, short-term planning is defensible. But in a sport where everyone goes through hot and cold streaks, a team can't make its roster decisions based just on the last few games.