Mediocrity; The Achilles' heel for the Flyers?
6. That is how many times the Philadelphia Flyers franchise has missed the playoffs since their last Stanley Cup championship. This includes 5 straight seasons from '89-'94. Save for the Detroit Red Wings, the Flyers have been one of the most consistent NHL franchises at reaching the playoffs. Where am I going with this? Let's take a look.
What happens to your draft status the longer you go in the playoffs? It declines. As a result of making the playoffs and being that team that always "almost" gets the job done, the Flyers draft position has suffered year after year. Now obviously high first round draft picks aren't going to work out one-hundred percent of the time, Alexandre Daigle I'm looking at you, but odds are that they will at least bring some substance to your team.
The Flyers have not had a #1 overall pick since they traded up to select Mel Bridgman in the 1975 NHL entry draft. In contrast, let's look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, yes I know you hate to do that. But the harsh reality is the Penguins, after years of basement hockey, amassed 5 consecutive drafts with top five picks. 2002 Ryan Whitney, 2003 Marc-Andre Fleury, 2004 Evgeni Malkin, 2005 Sidney Crosby, and 2006 Jordan Staal. I'm sure you all recognize these names.
Now am I saying the Flyers should go on a draft lottery binge? Absolutely not, but I am saying that draft picks are a very important asset to build your franchise. Unfortunately, the Flyers have a history of trading them, they don't have a first round pick until 2012, and finishing well in the standings. This is a recipe for disaster.
Now they have added some key pieces in recent drafts, Claude Giroux 2006, and James van Riemsdyk 2007. But they haven't added that key piece to put them over the top.
The next piece of the puzzle is building on your weaknesses. The most glaring case to me was from last year to this one. The '09-'10 Flyers caught lightning in a bottle, there is no denying that. The unfortunate part of that was the proverbial wool had been pulled over the eyes of upper management. A subpar regular season gave way to one of the more memorable playoff runs in recent memory. The fact still remains that the team fell just short of their ultimate goal. However, a team that was several pieces short of a Stanley Cup caliber team over-achieved in the playoffs. Subsequently, not much was done in the off season to improve on these weaknesses.
Goal tending was not addressed, yet again. A journeyman, a career backup, and a rookie were expected to take this team to the promised land. That weakness was brought to the forefront in this years playoffs. The words "laughing stock" come to mind when our goal tending situation is discussed.
So where do we go from here?
Stock up on draft picks. We traded our most recent number one pick to Toronto for Kris Versteeg. This has always been the win now mentality of the Philadelphia Flyers. Granted, this year was one of the most promising teams in recent memory, and as overachieving as last years team was, this years team underpeformed overwhelmingly. In the next few years we need to build our stock of NHL ready defenseman. Pronger and Timonen aren't getting any younger, and the prospects to take their place aren't exactly 1/2 defenseman quality.
Move a big name for prospects. Now before you go off the handle on me, hear me out. Dumping a big contract and building from the net out needs to be a priority of this team. They need to free up room, bring in a veteran netminder, and surround him with young talent. We have a solid defensive corps. Moving a big name centerman, we have a plethora of talent there, can free up the space without hurting our defense. Van Riemsdyk is poised for a breakout year and Richards, Briere, Giroux are a solid top 3 centers. Without saying it, I think you see where I'm going.
Scout, Scout, Scout. Pavel Datsyuk, 6th round 171st overall. Henrik Zetterberg, 8th round 210th overall. Nicklas Lidstrom, 2nd round 53rd overall. These are just a few of the "diamonds in the rough" that the Detroit Red Wings pulled from seemingly nowhere. If they can do it, why can't we? One thing the Flyers are always known for is making a splash. They want that big name, highly touted player. Who is to blame for that? Us. Flyers fans are very demanding, we aren't looking for the young Russian from the mining town of Yekaterinburg. We are looking for the scoring dynamo from London, ON, that we mortgaged the future for. I still love ya #88.
This means a fundamental overhaul to the entire organization. From the Russian scout, down to the goalie coach, and beyond. Before this team can take that step and reach their ultimate goal, two steps back may be necessary. The Flyers have one of the best records of any NHL team. With that said, they also have a history of being overwhelmingly mediocre. Until the organization takes a look at what is fundamentally necessary to build not just a successful franchise, but a STANLEY CUP successful franchise, I fear they may flounder in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. Build from the bottom up, draft well, develop your picks, and reinvent the franchise. This is not going to happen over night, but a wise man once said, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step." It's time to take that step, Philadelphia.