Flyers' identity crisis

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Paul Holmgren has been hampered by a 'win now' mentality.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Paul Holmgren has been hampered by a 'win now' mentality.
Posted: October 22, 2013

THE FLYERS have a full-blown identity crisis.

For the first time in a long time, the Flyers are stuck in neutral: Not only are they not exactly sure what kind of team they are as currently assembled, but they don't seem to be quite sure of where they are going.

That is unusual. Think about it. If nothing else, the Flyers always could rely on being one of the toughest teams to play against in the NHL.

But the days of the Broad Street Bullies are over. The Flyers are eighth in the NHL in fighting majors with six. They are also eighth in the league in hits with 223. They aren't going to intimidate anyone.

They aren't a particularly tough team to play against at the Wells Fargo Center with a 1-4-0 home record this season.

They aren't exactly an exciting team to watch, as evidenced by the growing number of empty, burgundy seats at home games. The most interesting thing about this season so far is that the 2014 draft is being held in Philly.

They aren't a fast team, despite being pushed to skate more and more daily by Craig Berube.

They aren't even that talented a team, just look at their 1.38 goals-per-game through the first eight contests and the numerous holes on their roster. They are more sandpaper than finesse.

More than anything, though, perhaps the most troubling fact about the current state of the Flyers is that their future is muddy. Who are they?

You can say a lot of things about the Sixers, or even the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, but they are at least stockpiling high draft picks and clear about their goals for this season. The Flyers' "win now" mentality gets in the way of any clear rebuilding plan. It is reload instead of rebuild.

In Buffalo, fans have been chanting "Fire Darcy" at each home game, calling for the head of general manager Darcy Regier, who has been in office since 1997.

The forecast - at least for the next couple of seasons - is bleak in Buffalo. But the Sabres have dressed four teenagers in their lineup so far this season: Nikita Zadorov (18), Zemgus Girgensons (19), Mikhail Grigorenko (19) and Rasmus Ristolainen (18). And they're ahead of the Flyers in the standings.

Perhaps unlike any other sport, hockey is a young man's game. So far, 13 teenagers have scored a goal in the first 3 weeks of the season. San Jose's Thomas Hertl, 19, would lead the Flyers in scoring by a whopping four goals.

The Flyers are squarely stuck in the middle. On opening night, the Flyers were the ninth-oldest team in the NHL, with an average age of 28.1 years.

Their average is brought down by players like Sean Couturier (20), Brayden Schenn (22), and Luke Schenn (23). The only way to fix the Flyers is through the draft and trades - the latter an avenue that Paul Holmgren has been perusing daily.

But you could make an argument that the Flyers really don't have all that much to offer besides Couturier, the Schenns, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. Matt Read is 27 now, does not have a point this season, and starts a $14 million deal next season. The rest of the roster is either too old, too highly paid, or too much of a band-aid.

And you could also make an argument that the Flyers have overvalued their young talent, since the production they've gotten has been at times inconsistent. Teams were clamoring to acquire a player like Couturier last season, but if he continues not scoring, how long until teams pigeon-hole him as a glorified, shutdown defensive forward?

Part of the trouble is that much of this Flyers roster was shaped around the style that Peter Laviolette wanted to play. Nearly any player who didn't mesh with Laviolette's style or attitude - from Jeff Carter to James van Riemsdyk to Dan Carcillo to Matt Carle - was either traded or let walk through free agency. Laviolette influenced a ton of personnel decisions. And now he's looking for another job.

It will take more than five games - or more than a month - for this team to assume Berube's chosen identity. Part of that can begin now, though, with a series of moves to acquire players who will be here for the long haul.

There is an old adage in sports that says a general manager shouldn't be given a chance to rebuild, since it is his fault the original build crumbled.

But I'm going to take a different view on Holmgren. He is under a different type of pressure - the itchy trigger finger of Ed Snider - than any other general manager in the league. To say that pressure doesn't affect his long view of the franchise is absurd. It is the main reason the Flyers' minor league system was so barren, its fruits and replenishments robbed by a "win now" mentality.

The cupboard is in the process of being rebuilt by Ron Hextall. Top prospects Sam Morin and Scott Laughton aren't being poisoned by a losing atmosphere in Glens Falls.

There is a way to fix all of this - and it will only come by making tough decisions. Holmgren needs to decide which of his tradable young assets are worth keeping and find new homes for those who are not. And he needs to do it fast.

Because the Flyers aren't going anywhere stuck in neutral.

Injury update

Scott Hartnell said he "isn't anywhere near 100 percent," but he wouldn't exactly rule out a return to the ice on Thursday when the Flyers resume their schedule against the Rangers. Hartnell (upper-body) and Vinny Lecavalier (lower-body) practiced yesterday for the first time since sustaining their injuries on Oct. 11.

"Not bad," Hartnell said after skating. "I just need to be a little careful what I do out there. It's amazing how fast you get out of shape, too. It's been just a little over a week out there, and I was already sucking wind."

Hartnell, who didn't score a point in his first five games, said there is a little extra pressure to get back quickly.

"Everything seems just out of whack," Hartnell said. "I'm a little ginger. It's the worst feeling in the world when you play a team sport and you can't help the guys. You feel like you're letting everyone down, letting the city down."

ICING ON THE CAKE

Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith now has more goals this season than 10 Flyers forwards, including Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.

When Smith pushed the puck ice-length and into an empty net with 0.1 seconds to spare on Saturday night, it was just the 14th goal credited to a goaltender in the 96-year history of the NHL.

It was also just the seventh from a goaltender to actually shoot the puck, rather than an own-goal deflected off an opponent with the goaltender being the last to touch the puck — and the first in nearly 12 years. Flyers assistant general manager Ron Hextall has two of those,

including the first-ever in a regular-season game and first-ever in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

Smith, 31, also scored once in the ECHL.

Here’s the list of regular-season goals by goaltenders:

*denotes shot on goal

Nov. 28, 1979: Billy Smith (NYI) at Colorado

Dec. 8, 1987: Ron Hextall (Flyers) vs. Boston*

March 6, 1996: Chris Osgood (DET) at Hartford*

Jan. 2, 1999: Damian Rhodes (OTT) vs. New Jersey

Feb. 15, 2000: Martin Brodeur (NJD) vs. Flyers

Jan. 2, 2001: Jose Theodore (MTL) at NY Islanders*

March 10, 2002: Evgeni Nabokov (SJS) at Vancouver*

Feb. 14, 2004: Mika Noronen (BUF) at Toronto

April 15, 2006: Chris Mason (NSH) vs. Phoenix

Dec. 6, 2011: Cam Ward (CAR) vs. New Jersey

March 21, 2013: Martin Brodeur (NJD) at Carolina

Oct. 19, 2013: Mike Smith (PHX) vs. Detroit*

Stanley Cup playoff goals:

April 11, 1989: Ron Hextall (Flyers) at Washington*

April 17, 1997: Martin Brodeur (NJD) vs. Montreal*

STAT WATCH

29th: Flyers’ offense rank (1.38 goals-per-game).

27th: Flyers’ power-play rank (9.1 percent, 3-for-33).

14th: Flyers’ penalty-killing rank (81.6 percent).

12-2: The Flyers have been outscored in the third period by that margin, worst in the NHL.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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