Free-falling Flyers passed by Penguins

Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov keeps his eyes on the Islanders' Colin McDonald, who scored twice, as the right winger tries to get a shot past him and defenseman Luke Schenn.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov keeps his eyes on the Islanders' Colin McDonald, who scored twice, as the right winger tries to get a shot past him and defenseman Luke Schenn. (         MATT SLOCUM / AP)
Posted: March 30, 2013

The contrast only makes it worse.

A year ago, the Flyers eliminated their bitter rivals from Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. The year before, the Flyers went one round further than the Penguins. The year before that, the Flyers went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

On Thursday, Penguins fans woke up to news that their first-place team had acquired future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla in a late-night trade. Iginla joined winger Brenden Morrow and defenseman Douglas Murray, brought in as Pens general manager Ray Shero loads up for a run at the Cup.

Flyers fans? They woke up to a team with the third fewest points in the entire league, a team that continually finds new ways to lose must-win games.

Through wheeling and dealing, the Penguins have their best team since winning it all in 2009.

Through wheeling and dealing, the Flyers have their worst team in years. Since '09, they had caught and passed the Penguins. Now they've passed them again, free-falling in the wrong direction.

The Flyers are 25 points behind Pittsburgh. They are in 14th place in the 15-team East. The two teams immediately above them, Buffalo and Tampa Bay, have already fired their head coaches this season. Repeat: The two fired coaches' teams are doing better than the Flyers.

Three years after playing in Game 6 of the Finals, this is the company the Flyers are keeping.

It is a difficult situation to read. If you believed this season was irretrievably compromised by the NHL's ridiculous labor war, how can you reach any firm conclusions based on the way it is playing out? How could the Sabres fire Lindy Ruff, a coach who won there despite a small-market payroll for 15 years?

And no matter what happened in this 48-game travesty, how could you reasonably argue the Flyers should fire coach Peter Laviolette or GM Paul Holmgren, or both?

The problem with reasonably is that it starts crumbling after 33 games of mostly lackluster hockey and unsatisfactory effort. Two nights after failing to show up for a must-win game against the Rangers, the Flyers found a way to blow a 2-0 lead and lose in a shootout to the Islanders on Thursday.

They are the Skating Dead.

Laviolette, who pushed every correct button during that magical run to the Finals in 2010, can't seem to find the "Go" switch for this group. Does that mean he's gone stale, or this just is not a good team?

It is hard to accept that Laviolette's message has gotten old. There are only a handful of players left from 2010. The current group didn't have to hear about playing with jam throughout all those locked-out months. It might just be a bad group.

And if that is true, this falls on Holmgren.

The worst thing the Flyers could do now is make any rash moves before next week's trade deadline. They are not the Penguins, adding experience and depth in an effort to add a Cup during the Sidney Crosby era. These Flyers are not a player or two from making a run - unless those players were named Gretzky and Lemieux.

If the corrupted season gives Laviolette and Holmgren some slack, then it does the same for the players. It may be painful, but the only sensible thing to do is endure the rest of this season and regroup.

That way, the questions aren't about finding ways to squeeze a couple of meaningless points out of this team. The questions become about what is best for this franchise in 2013-14.

Is Laviolette the right coach? Is Holmgren the right man to make a clear-eyed evaluation of the roster he assembled and then repair it? Do you stick with this core group of young forwards or are they simply not quite as good as they looked last year? How do you rebuild the defense? And, as always, what about the goalie?

The list of questions is long, even if the season was short. That's how disappointing this team has been.

A year ago, Flyers fans were forced to watch exiled stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter skate with the Cup. It's a guess, but they're not going to feel much better this year if they're watching Crosby and Iginla.

Contact Phil Sheridan at Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

comments powered by Disqus