As a Flyers jersey hit the ice in Toronto during another lopsided loss, fans no doubt started to come to grips with the fact that this team is not as good as they’d hoped. They also must have realized that this Flyers organization is no longer the one they grew up with. The house that Snider built with love, passion and the desire to win has seemingly become so self-absorbed with patience that mediocrity has become it’s trademark. A single jersey hit the ice, but what it said about the fans of this team was profound.
I remember many Flyers moments in my life. I remember them all differently than today however, and most fans would probably agree. I remember the good moments, like Lindros streaking down the ice and burying a patented snap shot or Simon Gagne scoring a goal in the Eastern Conference Finals vs Tampa Bay and then looking to the sky. I remember the bad times, like the Flyers losing the Stanley Cup on a fluky goal that somehow snuck under Michael Leighton’s pads as we watched in disbelief. I even remember the trades and the signings that sometimes came with both hope and despair. Most of all I remember - and miss - the passion.
These moments all came with a certain entertainment value, but more importantly, even the mistakes were made out of the never-ending desire to win…not just today or tomorrow, but always. The Flyers were proud. The Flyers were something the fans could be proud of. What we’re seeing now is miles away from the Flyers most of us grew to love.
On Saturday night all of the ugliness fans have complained about for years came to the forefront. A team that lacked a goalie who could make a timely save, a roster that lacked fire and determination, a coach that didn’t have their team prepared to start yet another game and a General Manager that condones it with his persistent inactivity. As fans watched the final moments run off the clock the jersey thrown on the ice was an exclamation of exasperated embarrassment and the question, again, became “what else would it take to make a change??”
The Flyers have fallen behind by four or more goals in three of their last four games and have a 1-4-1 record in their last six games overall. They now sit at 10-11-2, which is good for 25th overall, behind teams like the New York Rangers, who sent letters to their season ticket holders apologizing for their rebuild prior to this year. Teams who are above Philadelphia in the standings, like Edmonton and Chicago, have made coaching changes already, but apparently the more things change (elsewhere), the more they stay the same (here).
The Flyers are 29th in goals against, 30th in penalty kill efficiency, 31st in save percentage, 26th on the powerplay and 18th in goals scored. With major changes already occurring in other markets, clearly the Flyers must be in a better position than those teams? Clearly the underlying statistics must favor Philadelphia mightily to warrant the fact that they’ve done nothing to improve in any of these areas? Not so.
Flyers vs teams who have fired coaches in 2018-2019
The Flyers rank right in the middle of the pack of a group of teams that have already fired their coaches. While some of those teams (specifically Los Angeles and Chicago) were teams who you could expect to suffer this year based on their roster construction, Philadelphia has drastically under performed based on their own expectations.
This was the year, we were told, where the team had to take the next step. This was the year where we no longer accepted mediocrity and patience would bring excellence. Maybe it wouldn’t bring a Cup, but this year would certainly bring excitement, entertainment and a genuine run in the playoffs. Instead, the Flyers are again in a situation where simply reaching the playoffs would be an achievement and even though that seems unlikely, given nothing changes, it would ring hollow with a group of fans who have seen enough of this dog and pony show.
Gone is the tolerance for slow starts. Gone is the acceptance of a genuine lack of preparation. Gone is “just good enough” or “we won’t mortgage our future”. We’re living the future and it looks a lot like the past. Ivan Provorov is here. Travis Konecny is here. Patrick, Lindblom, Sanheim, Hagg, Laughton, Vorobyev, Lyon, Stolarz…they’re all part of the future that’s already played a part in this year. The future is now and it has yet to live up to five years of promises by the GM.
If this organization wants to salvage its relationship with a fan base that’s supported them through good times and bad, there needs to be change and the clock is ticking. The Flyers have wasted more than a quarter of a season and yet another twenty-three games of Claude Giroux’s magnificent career. Haven’t the fans been patient enough?
Other teams who began rebuilding at nearly the same time as the Flyers, with half the assets and just as many problems, such as the Leafs, have lapped them and moved into contention. Toronto, Boston, Buffalo, Colorado and even Tampa Bay have all rebuilt their teams in much quicker fashion than Hextall and these Flyers. In fact, Tampa Bay has been good so long that many people forget Yzerman was brought in to fix them. Meanwhile, Hextall waits.
It doesn’t give me any pleasure to point things like this out. It gives me even less pleasure to talk about people who have or who may, lose their jobs. The people involved in this debacle are more than likely good people, who many fans might even enjoy sitting down and having a coffee or beer with, but as I’ve said many times before…sports is a results-oriented business. If the results are there, people will tolerate a lot. If the results aren’t there, and they certainly aren’t, people want change. In Philadelphia it’s time for a change.
In light of all the areas that have backfired for Philadelphia it’s unlikely a single trade would correct all of the things that need to be corrected and this is most likely why so many fans point their finger at the coaching staff. The best coaches can get the most out of their team on a nightly basis. They see the unseen and prepare for the unexpected. They think on the fly and make changes as necessary to correct issues or exploit match-ups at home. These Flyers haven’t had that on nearly enough nights.
To blame Hakstol alone would, however, be ignorant. Yes, it’s his responsibility to coach the players he’s given and he certainly does have some high end talent, but it’s not his job to supply the goalies. It wasn’t his job to sign two aging, injury prone goalies and hope they’d be world-beaters until a prospect could take a job. It wasn’t his choice to continually cite not wanting to “block a prospect” as a reason for not having improvements on NHL ice. These issues lead us to the reality of the situation.
Ron Hextall has prioritized tomorrow over today. He has placed all of his trust in the prospect base and today we’re paying for it at the NHL level. Even the best of prospects don’t always make it. For every Carey Price there is a Dan Blackburn, who was drafted too high, used too soon and out of the league too early. For every Claude Giroux there is a Peter Mueller, Jiri Tlusty or James Sheppard (all drafted ahead of Giroux in 2005). Managing a team as if every prospect is a golden goose and every contractual commitment to a proven NHL player is to be avoided, leads to days like today and that’s not on Dave Hakstol.
All of these moments and decisions led a fan to hurl a Flyers jersey onto the ice last night (something I am absolutely not condoning). An item bought with pride, discarded for all to see on Hockey Night in Canada. It was only one jersey and it most likely flew just a few feet, but I hope it landed on the doorstep of this organization last night, because it spoke volumes about their failure to act.
The fans are waiting for something to restore their faith. The fans have been waiting for it for far too long. The Flyers can ill afford to wait until there are no fans waiting…and passion fades to silence. It’s already happening, and the Flyers would do well to notice.