Strap yourselves in ladies and gents, I am about to eviscerate this team. Not because I hate them or take pleasure in this, but because someone in this town needs to hold this team accountable for once. All over the place I’m seeing articles and conversations about how “they just need to finish” or “they’re still getting their feet under them with a new coach” or “they’re playing better” and I am just flat-out sick of it. And before you roll your eyes and say “here we go again” understand that this isn’t just another mindless rant about how they need to fire the coach or trade everyone. Let’s start with the team numbers as a whole shall we?
Through 19 games, the Flyers have amassed an impressive haul of 17 points. Of those first 19 games, the Flyers have won 6, including a scorching hot record of 2 wins from their last 12 contests (2-6-4). 6-8-5 is where they stand. 6 wins and 13 losses. But wait there’s more, the Broad Street Bullies also have managed to torch the competition for 35 goals this season, good for the 30th best (read: worst) offense in the league this year. The most impressive stat though, given how their defense has been their Achilles heel for so long, is that the defense is ranked higher than their offense. In goals against, the Flyers pull into the rankings at a fierce 22nd best in the league. It’s like this team is almost good enough to be dangerous. Progress!
At 6-8-5, the Flyers sit 13th in the East (1 point above those mighty Maple Leafs), 6th in the Metro division (4 points off the Devils), and are 24th in the overall league standings. Oddly enough that is exactly where they finished last season as well. Amazing how a team that hardly changed last year’s 7th worst roster hasn’t somehow magically improved. They’re on pace for 73 points this year too, only 22 points off last year’s final playoff spot. Did I mention that the power play is currently ranked 27th in the league as well? The penalty kill has been soooo much better though; it comes in at 24th in the league. With numbers like these, how can any team realistically hope to shut this team down? I can’t imagine what it must be like to play against this red-hot group every night.
But wait John, they’ve been playing so well! They beat the Hurricanes in OT and they almost managed to beat the Kings and Sharks! Surely things are turning around right? Right? …………..WRONG. The Flyers are not turning things around. They are merely doing what they’ve been doing since last year. They have become (in)famous for showing up and playing well against good teams and playing down and getting beaten by bad teams. Yeah they did beat Carolina, but that doesn’t mean they played well. They were inconsistent and pretty poor for most of that game.
And yes, they played hard and stood toe-to-toe with LA and San Jose, but they still did not win the game. The squeezed out a point in each game, but did they deserve to win them? Not really.
They did not necessarily deserve to lose those games but certainly were not a clear-cut better team in those games. They blew a 3rd period lead with under a minute to go against LA and then squandered 3 or 4 golden chances to win it in OT. They lost in a shootout. Last night they played the Sharks and fired 33 pucks on net, none of which went in though. They lost that one in OT. It was good seeing them finally get pucks to the net, but they didn’t generate any quality chances or 2nd and 3rd chance opportunities off rebounds. Most of their shots were one and done. They may have fired 33 shots on goal, but at best only 2 or 3 of those were shots that actually asked questions of Martin Jones. Everything else he saw was fairly routine. And no matter how well they may have played, no matter how much rubber they got on net, no team that fails to score a goal EVER deserves to win the game. Period. If you don’t score, you have no claim to that game, you simply were not good enough to win.
None of this should come as a surprise though. They have been this bad for the better part of the last 4 seasons now. They were horrific during the 2013 lockout shortened season. They followed that year up with an abysmal start to 13-14. They did however get scorching hot during the 2nd half and managed to squeak into the playoffs by some miracle, only to be shown what a real contender looks like in the first round. Last season, they came promptly right back down to earth despite Mason’s other worldly play, and Jake and Claude continuing to perform at an elite level. The fact that the team got worse, even as their 3 most important players elevated or maintained their game is a testament to how lost this team truly is. This season is proving it as well. There is no identity to this team. No signature style. It’s like watching a high school team trying to skate against a Division I NCAA team. They just look lost, they look like they have no options on the ice. Night in and night out they get comprehensively dominated in every facet of the game.
Fans want to blame the coach. They want to blame the GM, they want to blame the captain. They want to find one person responsible for slop their beloved team has turned into and hold that one person accountable. Most people do not want to accept that maybe it’s more than one person, maybe it is everyone. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the entire team? (I’d also accept Paul Holmgren as an answer as well.) Look, this team has remained largely the same since 2011-12. Sure some players have come and gone, but apart from Hartnell, the core has remained largely unchanged. I’m talking about Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier, Read, and Raffl. That has been the team that has been put in place for a number of years now. 3 coaches in the last 4 years have not changed the results on the ice. Adding and subtracting supporting cast members of various abilities (Rinaldo, Vinny, MDZ, Streit, Grossmann, etc.) have had no change in the results on the ice. It’s not coaching that is the issue. The issue is that this core of players is not one capable of winning games in this league on a consistent basis. I read posts and articles and comments about how this team has talent up front, they just need to get it going.
WHERE!?!?! Where is the talent up front? Apart from Giroux and Voracek where is this hidden talent that people are seeing?? Giroux and Voracek cannot carry this team by themselves. Hell, Gretzky and Lemieux couldn’t carry this team by themselves. They need help and they are not getting it. Matt Read has disappeared as an offensive threat. He just doesn’t have the speed anymore. He’s 29 years old and already washed up. Watching him skate at 24 versus watching him skate for the last two seasons is like watching Pavel Bure become Mike Rathje. Read used to be that secondary threat who was able to take off at light speed in the blink of an eye. He was our Carl Hagelin or our Jannik Hansen. Never a dominant player but a threat to beat you with raw speed every time he touched the ice. That part of his game has completely evaporated. He’s not contributing, so who else?
Brayden Schenn? You mean the painfully inconsistent and incredibly underhwhelmingly average player with no threatening aspects to his game at all? What about Wayne Simmonds? He works hard, he mucks and grinds but he’s not skilled enough to be the lone secondary contributor. Simmonds desperately needs a competent #2 center to help him, Coots and Schenn are not that kind of player. Simmer is essentially a 1-dimensional powerplay threat unless he has good players around him.
What about Michael Raffl? He does nothing well. He is basically a carbon copy of Andreas Nodl. He may have scored 21 goals on the coattails of Giroux and Voracek but his 7 assists last season tell a much darker story about his inability to create or contribute in any way that doesn’t involve cleaning up the trash left for him by his other linemates. He has been rotated up and down the lineup for all of his time here, and most recently went from the 1st to the 4th line in the span of 1 game. Real difference maker he must be.
Sean Couturier? Well at least we can say he’s valuable in the defensive zone. I can’t really say much else positive about his game. He’s an embarrassingly slow and technically poor skater. He’s upright and keeps a very high center of gravity, which is why he seems to possess almost no strength on the puck and is easily knocked off it by a passing breeze. In addition to his poor skating, his hockey IQ is as low on the offensive side of the ice as it is high on the defensive side. He has arguably the worst hands on the team to go with his snail’s pace and complements those hands with a shot that I can only describe as apathetic and unenthusiastic, along with inaccurate. In the offensive zone he often seems to forget that his 6’3″ frame that he just used to win a battle in the defensive zone is an asset he should be using to shield the puck and create space. Friendly reminder that this guy is going to carry a $4.333 million cap hit next season. You’ve earned it Coots, what with your career high of 39 points 2 years ago. But hey, he shut Malkin all the way down for those 6 playoff games 4 years ago…oh wait Malkin still had 8 points in those 6 games didn’t he?
I’m not trying to pick on Coots or Schenn or Simmonds or Raffl individually and lay the blame on each of them for this team’s struggles over this season and the previous 3 before it. What I am trying to point out is that this team, collectively just doesn’t have enough. They cannot even field a complete 1st line, let alone fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players. The way I see it, Giroux and Voracek are the only players worthy of 1st line minutes. Simmonds is the only real 2nd line caliber player. Read, Schenn, Raffl, Couturier and everybody else are 3rd liners at best, fringe NHLers at worst. You cannot expect to compete and contend in the NHL with a roster overloaded with 3rd line players. This team has a severe deficiency in skill and speed. They sorely lack that raw natural talent that teams need to generate offense. Offensive production in the NHL has become more and more heavily predicated on speed and skill. Gone are the days when the Milan Lucics and Tomas Holmstroms ruled the league. Big, physical heavy hitting power forwards are a dying breed being replaced by the smaller and faster Nathan Mackinnons and Johnny Gaudreaus. Speed and skill is the trend of the league and the Flyers currently possess very little of both outside of Giroux and Voracek.
It is not indicative of depth to see the Flyers rotating their forwards across all 4 lines. That is a huge red flag. It does not say we can put our players anywhere and with anybody and still beat you. It says, no matter who we put with who, the on ice result is not going to change. Raffl can slot in with Giroux as easily as he can slot in with Bellmare. Simmonds can play with Coots or he can play with Laughton, or he can jump out on the PP with Giroux. It does not matter to this team who is on the ice in what situation because their players are interchangeable. That’s a problem. Contending teams do not have interchangeable players. The top line is the top line. The #2 center and at least 1 winger are always the #2 center and winger. Sometimes 1 or 2 players may change, players move up and down occasionally, but not every single night like the Flyers do.
The Flyers have no discernible depth at wing nor at center. Sure they have a lot of centers but that does not make them deep. There is a clear-cut #1 in Giroux, a clear-cut #4 in Bellmare, and then 4 centers trying to nail down #2 and #3, but none of those 4 (Vinny, Laughton, Coots, Schenn) are good enough to play the #2 role. Therein lies the problem. It is the same issue the team has on defense. It’s a logjam of mediocre players, but at least the defense has reinforcements coming. There is only 1 viable center in the system in Konecny who may even get pushed to wing.
This has gone on for a while, and I probably sound stark raving mad at this point. I could go on and on and bring up the bad contracts and their inability to free up space to try to sign a big free agent like Kopitar or Stamkos, but I think we all get the picture. And thank the hockey gods that we have Hexy running this team now and finally giving some indication as to the direction of the team. He’s drafted well, he’s made shrewd trades and done quietly well in free agency. The way I see it, he is the only hope this team has to steer itself out of the mess Holmgren got us into. Buckle up guys, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride the rest of the way.