Is the Philadelphia Flyers Loyalty Crippling the Team?
By Pat White (@patwhite9126)
Flyers Chairman Ed Snider has developed a family-like atmosphere within the organization that draws players back to the Philadelphia area. Just this weekend, I saw a few former Flyers down at the Jersey shore following the Flyers Trial on the Isle in Stone Harbor, NJ.
The Flyers front office and team staff is loaded with former players. Most recently is yesterday’s announcement that Ron Hextall has been hired as the team’s assistant general manager and director of hockey operations. Hextall’s hiring makes 15 former Flyers (my unofficial count, according to the Flyers and Phantoms websites) who are employed within the organization.
The loyalty to former players is all well and good in developing a staff that does things the “Flyer way.” I would be all for the Flyers bringing back players who embody the Flyers’ identity.
If they had one.
Hockey cultures are built, developed, nourished and executed with a winning culture that sticks to a certain principle. The Red Wings, for example, have done their due diligence in the drafting department for years, especially of European players and in the later rounds (i.e. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall). They keep the players they need and don’t overpay for the ones that are replaceable. General Manager Ken Holland has won three Cups at the helm of the Red Wings. Granted, having Scotty Bowman and Jimmy Devellano helped him along, but that is how identities are built. Identify a culture and stick to it.
The Flyers honor this loyalty of bringing back former players as scouts, executives, coaches and advisers and for what? It’s been 38 years and counting since the Cup was paraded down Broad Street.
I don’t question Hextall’s hockey knowledge and ability to help orchestrate a winning culture like he did with Los Angeles. The Kings have improved each year since Hextall’s arrival, going from 68 points in 2006-07 to 101 points in 2010-11, and then winning the Stanley Cup in 2011-12. Hextall’s resumé speaks for itself, but will he have enough say to tweak Philadelphia’s hockey culture?
The problem that I have is that the Flyers’ brass has not changed their philosophy about constructing a team that will win that elusive Stanley Cup. The Broad Street Bullies are a thing of the distant past. The league has gone through many style changes from rough and tumble to speed and scoring. The Flyers have never quite get the memo on that front, which may stem from the fact that they hardly ever go outside of the organizational roots. General Manager Paul Holmgren and former GM Bob Clarke have operated the team from their glory days of a physical, in-your-face brand of hockey.
Holmgren has gotten a lot of criticism for the way he has constructed an old, slow and decrepit team. The blue line has been shoddily thrown together for years, the front office often brings in players in the twilight of their careers, and patience with prospects has set the team back. Not to mention the loyalty to bring back former Flyers to fill a roster such as Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.
Wait, maybe that is the Flyers identity.
Quick fixes and overvaluing players past their primes have been constant trends in the Flyers organization, but not ones that are prudent to long-term success. Specifically, look at the Chris Pronger trade that sent Joffery Lupul, Luca Sbisa and two first-round picks to Anaheim (Those picks ultimately netted the Ducks Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, and Mat Clark for you counting at home).
Sure the Flyers made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, but what do they have to show for it now? Pronger now serves as a scout. Once again, another former Flyer added to the scouting department alongside Ian Laperierre and Mark Greig. So the Flyers got parts of three seasons from Pronger, but the move has set the team back in the depth and prospect department. It’s just another example of the Flyers mortgaging the future to fill a need to compete every year.
It’s admirable that the Flyers honored Laperierre and Pronger with scouting positions after their respective career-ending concussions. They were already getting paid for being on long-term-injury-reserve and for being over 35 years old, so it makes sense on that level. But is that loyalty really what’s best for the organization? Players come back to the organization because of the family atmosphere, not because of Cup-winning memories. It’s a harsh reality, but until the Flyers change the culture of the front office and how to build a staff-let alone a team-they will be stuck in the doldrums of competitive mediocrity.
Maybe Hextall’s experience with another franchise has given him a different perspective than executives working their way up the Flyers’ ranks. Maybe he is the missing piece of the Flyers’ front office alumni team. Or maybe the Flyers should simply change their approach and bring in a breath of fresh air from outside the organization.
Look what the Dallas Stars did with Joe Nieuwendyk. He got his shot as general manager, but he proved that being a former star player doesn’t always translate to being a successful executive. The Stars brass didn’t abide by the Flyers loyalty rules and let Nieuwendyk go after four unsuccessful years at the helm. They brought in Jim Nill from Detroit, and the Stars already have a different complexion with the additions of Tyler Seguin, Shawn Horcoff and a good crop of prospects from June’s draft. How it pans out, we don’t know yet. But the change in culture and new philosophy at least brings a new outlook to a stalling organization.
Does Hextall help in the drafting process? He can’t do worse than what the Flyers are currently doing, but other people around the league could solve that problem as well.
Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill was on my list of potential suitors to replace Holmgren, should he have been fired after an underachieving season. Botterill, 36, is a master of working the salary cap and player development, two areas the Flyers need help. He would be a guy outside of the organization with no Flyers roots that could have brought a new philosophy to the Flyers front office.
To clarify, I don’t hate Hextall’s hiring or question his abilities. We won’t know how it pans out until two or three years down the line. But if a business model hasn’t worked for 38 years, maybe a change in philosophy is necessary.
It’s cliché, but Albert Einstein’s quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” seems to ring true with the Flyers.