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The Phantoms will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year

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The Phantoms left Philadelphia six hockey seasons ago. They haven't made the playoffs since, and it's not going to happen this year either. Why are they so bad?

Pat Jacoby

Six years ago, Comcast-Spectacor decided to demolish the Spectrum for some insane reason**. With it, the Philadelphia Phantoms moved to upstate New York, and ever since that move, they've been truly horrendous on the ice.

Season Team Division GP W L T OTL SOL Pts Pct Result
2008-09 Philadelphia Phantoms East 80 43 30 0 2 5 93 0.581 Lost in round 1
2009-10 Adirondack Phantoms East 80 32 41 0 3 4 71 0.444 Out of Playoffs
2010-11 Adirondack Phantoms East 80 31 39 0 4 6 72 0.450 Out of Playoffs
2011-12 Adirondack Phantoms Northeast 76 37 35 0 2 2 78 0.513 Out of Playoffs
2012-13 Adirondack Phantoms Northeast 76 31 38 0 3 4 69 0.454 Out of Playoffs
2013-14 Adirondack Phantoms Northeast 76 30 38 0 2 6 68 0.447 Out of Playoffs
2014-15 Lehigh Valley Phantoms East 63 29 27 0 6 1 65 ??? ???

Not a single playoff year since 2008-09 -- and even that year, they were swept right out of the first round by the eventual Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. The Phantoms haven't won a playoff game since May 1, 2008 in the East Division Finals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They've been bad for way too long now.

And it's going to continue this season: their unlikely 2014-15 playoff push became an almost certain impossibility with three losses in three days this weekend, dropping the Phantoms 10 points out of the Eastern Conference playoffs with just 13 games to play in the season.

Lehigh Valley has three games in hand over the eighth-place Springfield Falcons, but it would take a miracle to both make up that 10 point gap and climb over three other teams who are currently ahead of them. It's not going to happen.

Why are the Phantoms so bad?

There are lots of reasons for the Phantoms' ineptitude, but chief among them is the Flyers' decision to make the NHL draft an afterthought. Just look at their drafts for the last decade. They had a great draft in 2003, and they found Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

But other than that, it's been a big pile of crap.

Draft Year Picks No NHL GP less than 50 NHL GP 50+ 100+ 200+ 300+ 500+
2003 11 5
1 1 1 1 2
2004 11 8 3




2005 6 3 1 1

1
2006 10 6 2
1
1
2007 7 3 2 1

1
2008 5 1 2
1 1

2009 6 4 2




2010 6 4 2




2011 6 5


1

2012 7 too recent to judge
2013 6 too recent to judge
2014 6 too recent to judge

You have enough fingers to count up the number of legitimate NHL players the Flyers have drafted since 2003, and that's true even if you've lost two fingers. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Colin Fraser, Steve Downie, Claude Giroux, Luca Sbisa, Zac Rinaldo, Sean Couturier. That's it. And how many of those guys are in the organization still?

This has hurt the Flyers, obviously, and one could argue it's why the NHL-level defense in the organization is in such shambles right now. But it's hurt the Phantoms too. The mediocrity trickles down.

The AHL team hasn't been a breeding ground for successful NHL talent. It's been a wading pool where borderline pro talent shows up, plays a bunch, and then moves on -- to other AHL teams, to Europe, to the ECHL, or to retirement.

117 players suited up for the Adirondack Phantoms in their history, according to hockeydb.com. Of those, just 58 played even one single game at the NHL level. Of those 58, maybe five could be considered legitimate NHL talent. The rest are all AHL lifers -- or worse.

Is there hope for the future?

Ron Hextall said last summer that there was a renewed commitment to building the AHL team last season. They wanted a good team there ... and, well, it certainly hasn't happened. Here's what Hextall told us in August 2014:

That was one of our focuses this summer, to put a better team in there. I think that the Phantoms used to be a team that players took a lot of pride in playing for and the winning atmosphere and everything was terrific.

I think somehow that slipped away, whether it was being in Glens Falls -- and that's not a knock on the city, it's a great little city -- but the facilities, the weight room, the locker room and all that need some work. I'm not blaming that but I think there are some areas that we can get better at and we've gotta recreate the culture that was there years ago.

It does matter to us. That's our minor league team. That's where we develop players and that's where we develop attitudes. It's important. That doesn't mean we're gonna sign a bunch of older players and just try to win the Calder Cup. We need to develop players but part of developing is developing a winning attitude. So yeah, it was a focus and it's important to us.

The problem with using the AHL as a developmental league is that you need players to develop. That just wasn't the case in the Glens Falls years, but with better drafting in recent years, it's starting to happen.

Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Robert Hagg, Anthony Stolarz -- all are recent Flyers draft picks that are key pieces for the Phantoms this season. Mark Alt, Jason Akeson and Brandon Manning are all guys who weren't drafted by the team but were savvy pickups via trade or free agency, and they're making a major impact on the team. Shayne Gostisbehere would of course be on the list if not for his ACL injury.

There's still too much fat on the roster in the form of AHL veterans that have no future -- and that's not to discredit those guys, because they are an important part of creating that "winning attitude" at the AHL level that Hextall craves. But you need to balance that quality AHL-level talent with the skilled kids you're looking to develop, and striking a balance that can be successful hasn't happened in six years for the Phantoms.

But hopefully, with a better philosophy and action taken on that philosophy, the Phantoms will be playoff-bound again in the near future.

(** Seriously, it's just a parking lot now. The original plans called for a hotel, and it just never happened. They didn't have to knock down the Spectrum. But whatever. That's for another day.)