Putting On The Foil with @jsaquella: No Cohesion, No Confidence, Quite Frankly Embarrassing
Editors’ Note: Noted Philadelphia Flyers fan John Saquella is going beyond 140 characters. The man most of you probably know from social media as @jsaquella will bring you his wide-ranging opinion and commentary on the Orange and Black in his column Putting On The Foil.
By John Saquella (@jsaquella)
Well, here we are. Or close enough to rock bottom that it doesn’t matter.
The Flyers are the worst offensive team in the NHL. Their power play is near the bottom. They look about as dangerous as the average “Mites On Ice” team taking the ice during intermissions. The worst part is, there is no way that the Flyers should be this inept. They have talent on the roster. But they have no cohesion, no confidence and quite frankly are embarrassing.
It’s so bad, I expect the highlights to start running on Tosh.0, rather than the NHL Network.
It starts at the top. Ed Snider is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He built this organization and led it to massive amounts of success. But how far off are people when they call him the “Al Davis of the NHL”? He’s meddlesome, making pronouncements on players, the coaches and what he expects to be done. But unlike the late Mr Davis, Snider refuses to own his role. When questioned about the ill-fated Ilya Bryzgalov move, Snider drops all responsibility on the door of his GM-ignoring that his pronouncement following the 2011 playoffs tied his GM’s hands and forced him to make a move.
Not that the GM is blameless. Paul Holmgren built a good team, a contending team, out of the ashes of the worst season in team history. He made smart trades, good free agent additions and built around the young group of players that he inherited. It led to a couple of deep playoff runs, including an appearance in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. But then, Holmgren seemed to start tinkering without a plan. Two of the faces of the franchise were dealt away, and Holmgren’s response was “I don’t know if we’re a better team, but we’re different”
Far too often since the summer of 2011, that sentence could be used to sum up the bigger moves that the Flyers have made. Trading draft picks for a clearly washed up Pavel Kubina. Rushing to re-sign Nicklas Grossmann. Trading James van Riemsdyk and neither filling a need or getting full value. Losing Matt Carle to free agency and not adequately replacing him. Re-signing Scott Hartnell to a long term deal that makes him virtually untradeable.
Holmgren seems like a guy who went to Vegas, got on a heater, and failed to recognize when it ended and just kept betting more and more chips.
The coaching shares blame as well. Peter Laviolette seemed to be trying to jam square pegs into round holes for the final two seasons he coached the team. He was unable to find a way to consistently beat the Rangers or Devils and his teams lacked discipline. Rather than make a change after a non playoff year, Holmgren sat through a disappointing camp and the first 3 games of this season, before firing Laviolette. Enter Craig Berube.
Berube talked of playing better two way hockey and discipline and accountability. Unfortunately, he’s really failed to achieve that. He’s certainly benched players for undisciplined or stupid play…but it’s been uneven at best. Both Jay Rosehill and Zac Rinaldo took really bad penalties in close games, and neither was scratched as a direct result. Andrej Meszaros took a stupid penalty at the end of a close game and ended up sitting out for 5 games. Young defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Luke Schenn struggle with their games and end up sitting and watching for several games in a row. Meanwhile veteran Grossmann commits an unforced icing late in a one goal game, and the resulting faceoff ends up in a scramble and a goal against, leading to an OT loss…and Grossmann is among leaders in ice time the next game.
Berube’s juggled his lines almost every game, which has really prevented any opportunity for the lines to achieve chemistry. Guys have bounced from line to line and, in some cases, position to position, from game to game. The confidence is at a low ebb and all Berube’s actions have done is to drain it more. He’s seemed overmatched when it comes to in game adjustments and he’s been unable to keep the team from folding when hit with adversity during the game.
The players deserve blame, too. They’re getting outworked, outplayed and out-everythinged. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored in over 20 games. But it’s happening because he’s spending far too much time as a perimeter player. Jake Voracek is pressing hard and making far too many low percentage plays. Scott Hartnell has gone from a gritty, antagonist to being a guy that is easy to play against. Young players like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier haven’t progressed as quickly as expected…and are supposedly no longer among the team’s untouchables.
The defense also has skill, but it’s a horrible mix. Far too many players with subpar mobility and puck skills, a big lack of hockey sense and the deterioration in skills of key veterans. The younger defensemen, in whom a lot of faith was placed find themselves as regular healthy scratches amid inconsistent play. Overall, defensively under Berube, they have been pretty solid…but there’s usually at least one hug breakdown a game that leaves the goalie hung out to dry and results in a back breaking goal.
In goal, there hasn’t been an issue. Steve Mason has played exceptionally well. Ray Emery has also been pretty solid, despite unappealing numbers. So yeah, the one area the Flyers went shopping at the dollar store has held up much better than the pieces they loaded up on at Neimann-Marcus.
There is no one person to blame here. The blame starts at the top and spreads like a disease to the far reaches of the roster. The proud Flyers are indeed becoming the NHL’s version of the Oakland Raiders. Old, legendary owner clinging to the past methods, a team ignoring new trends and refusing to adapt and thrive in the new reality of the sport and players being rewarded and seeming to lose the drive and determination that got them their big contracts in the first place.
It’s a perfect storm of denial, ignorance and arrogance and it’s dangerously close to becoming irrelevant to the fans that pay the bills. During the early 1990’s, the Flyers went through a 5 year playoff drought. They still drew fairly well, because the fans believed the team had a plan and were making strides to get better.
This team? It’s a poorly built, highly priced train, running off the tracks…and people are past getting angry. They’re getting apathetic.
And when that happens, it’s not the Philadelphia Flyers anymore.