Snider looks ahead to Philly Live!, goalie upgrade, hopefully another Stanley Cup

Posted: May 12, 2011

THE WALL-LENGTH WINDOWS of Ed Snider's corner office at the Wells Fargo Center overlook an endless pile of rubble. Stacks and stacks of chewed-up concrete that used to be the Spectrum are in the foreground, the city that launched this 78-year-old icon now an unobstructed view in the distance behind.

That's what you see anyway.

Ed?

Mr. Snider sees the future.

"Right there, that's going to be the world's largest sports bar," he was saying as we stood at the window this week. "Right there, where 11th meets Pattison. That's going to be the start of Philly Live!"

The multistory bar, which will absorb 50,000 square feet of the 300,000-square-foot site, will be ready to serve customers by the Phillies opener in 2012, he said. As for the rest, of which the centerpiece is to be a luxury hotel, well . . .

"We're still waiting for the economy," the CEO and president of the Flyers and Sixers said.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Lots of plans. Lots of hope.

Lots of frustration.

It has been 36 years and counting since the Flyers won their second Stanley Cup and held their second consecutive parade. The Sixers, a team Snider acquired 16 years ago, became more than a civic afterthought this season. But the league's economics were a mess even before the nation's were, and there is now widespread speculation that their current owner is looking to become their previous one.

Snider was asked to confirm this. "You've got a reporter on it," he said coyly. "Let me know what he finds out."

Still standing there, Snider recounts details about the second Cup as if it was 36 hours ago. Two million people. A beautiful May day. Lots of Flyers paraphernalia. A day not unlike this one.

Except that on this one the latest general manager of his hockey team is meeting with the media back at the South Jersey training facility, discussing goalies, the captain, what went wrong in their latest short-circuited season. Earlier in the week the team's coach, Peter Laviolette, engaged in a lengthy give-and-take with the media on the same subjects, a session that fueled speculation that he and the captain, Mike Richards, did not have the best of working relationships.

Snider is asked if his team has the right captain.

"I'm the last guy in the world to ask that," he said. "I don't know any more than you do. I really don't. I'm not there every day. I'm not in the locker room. You've been around hockey enough to know there's an inner sanctum there. In that locker room you don't know what's going on. It's up to the coach, who probably has a handle on it by now."

The coach's take, as relayed to reporters this week, is that it's a work in progress, or at least the relationship between the 26-year-old captain and his third NHL coach is. Some media relayed this as a rift, which GM Paul Holmgren dubbed "crap" the following day. But Holmgren also said that Richards is not the most communicative person in the world, even with his teammates, and that makes him hard to read sometimes.

All of that obscured what should have been the week's top theme, goaltending. Snider bristled at the common perception that the Flyers don't value the goalie position, even in the wake of Holmgren's contention after the sweep in Boston that the position is a "function of the team" and not the other way around.

Snider dipped into the team's not-so-recent history to make his case - "Bernie, Pelle, Hextall . . . I mean, we got good goalies," he said. "Now, recently we haven't had good luck with our goalies.

"We thought we had one here and there. I mean, Boucher when he was young did great things. It didn't work out. Thing is, whatever goalies we had took us to the Stanley Cup finals the year before. We lost on a lousy goal. The [series] before [Michael] Leighton had three shutouts against Montreal. And they were the hottest team. That's not chopped liver . . . Now we get a kid who everybody says has a great future. We're trying. But it doesn't always work."

I offer that it would have a better chance if more money was allotted to the cause. "That's bull-," he said, but the evidence is there just the same, going back to their pursuit of Mike Richter years ago. Whether it was John Vanbiesbrouck or Martin Biron or Ray Emery, the Flyers under Bob Clarke and now Holmgren have often spent less and hoped for more from their acquired veteran goalies.

While calling Laviolette's use of Leighton in the playoffs "sentimental," Snider said, "We're lucky to have him," when asked about the coach. And he had no problem with Holmgren avoiding a trade last summer for Tim Thomas. "Let's not get into revisionist history," he said. "That decision was made after the goalies we had took us to the Stanley Cup finals. If we're going to blow up Leighton over the horrible goal, then his three shutouts didn't mean anything.

"We didn't think we needed a goalie. And particularly a $6 million goalie who couldn't play first string for the team he was on."

After meeting with Holmgren and Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko this week, Snider now believes they need to spend for a top-notch goalie. "We can make room for anybody we want," he said. "We can make room for the most expensive goalie in the world. We just have to unload players."

Hmmm. Such as the incommunicative captain? Or Jeff Carter, the team's oft-injured leading scorer? Or are there more creative contract solutions, such as the back-loaded contract of Chris Pronger, that will free up the required funds?

"That's for Paul to decide," he said. "There's a lot of second-guessing going on right now.

"And it's too soon. The team was in first place halfway through the season. Of the entire league, with the same goaltenders, the same captain . . . The one captain can't make all the rest of the players play better. Our team played badly against Boston. That's the shocking thing.

"That's why everybody's looking for answers. I'm looking for answers. We're not used to that. We're not used to a team that was in first place in the entire league halfway through the season doing something like this."

There was calm in his voice as he said this, though. This was the Philly Live! Ed Snider talking now, a guy who has spent much of the last decade building his other businesses, picturing and plotting a future that is about to spring up outside his window.

The guy who once threatened to stiff the Soviet hockey team, who once pounded on referee doors - well 36 years of pounding can wear a guy out.

He was asked if he would be grossly disappointed or a little disappointed if there wasn't one more championship parade in his lifetime.

"I'd be a little disappointed," Snider said.

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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