Ray Emery as a Flyer this seasonBy Tim Panaccio
They brought in Chris Pronger, expecting his vast experience, talent and leadership would pull the various factions together in the dressing room. They brought in Ian Laperriere, expecting his grit on the ice and zero tolerance for losing would impact on younger players whose focus tended to wander. They brought in Ray Emery, expecting his fiery demeanor would add some intimidation in goal the club has lacked since the Ron Hextall era. They fired John Stevens as coach and replaced him with Peter Laviolette, who brought in a new, more aggressive attack system, but found his players weren’t physically fit to play the game the way he wants.
Given their near $54 million payroll, this group is the most underachieving team in the NHL, as well as, the most expensive sub.-500 Flyers club in franchise history. Allowing for injuries, the roster general manager Paul Holmgren has assembled hasn’t gelled like it should have and no one knows why.
If the past several home games are any indication, the Flyers could be in for a rude financial awakening given the increasing number of empty seats and worse, those attending, are downright hostile from the first period to the end these days.
This is Philadelphia. Fans expect more from their Flyers and right now, they haven’t gotten anywhere near the bang for their expensive buck at the Wachovia Center.
“This is a sports town where people are demanding,” said goalie Brian Boucher. “They have a right to be. They’re not liking what they’re seeing right now. We, as players, are not happy with what’s going on right now. You got to take it. Be a man and take it and try to be better every day. “In Phoenix, we weren’t piling up wins there. The only difference is there weren’t any expectations. There are expectations here. This is a sports town where people are passionate about their sports and passionate about the Flyers and they expect us to win. When you are not winning, it makes it hard.”
Maybe Gwen Stefani could be the difference-maker on this team
The NHL Christmas trade freeze won’t be lifted until midnight on Dec. 27. Holmgren and club president Peter Luukko have stated several times recently that they want to give Laviolette more time to implement his system, rather than make a major trade. Yet given the widespread lack of scoring and absence of overall offensive chemistry, plus the fact the Flyers are 7 points out of a playoff berth approaching mid-season, you wonder whether the club can afford to wait past this weekend to make a major move.
If firing the coach can’t turn things around, then the only other realistic option is a trade.
We’re pressed to find other examples that ended up that way. A trade appears the only option.
Unfortunately, a number of key Flyers have no-trade or no-movement clauses, including Danny Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Richards (later years), Kimmo Timonen, and Pronger. The only Top 6 forward the Flyers have to deal, whose value is high and who has not proven to be a liability to injury, is Jeff Carter, who has a year remaining on his contract at a reasonable $5 million.
Kovalchuk has the shot that would generate goals, but such a deal would require a lot coming from the Flyers – perhaps Braydon Coburn or Hartnell going back to Atlanta and another player or draft pick. And while Mike Richards has a cap number that every team moving forward would want on a long-term deal – $5.75 million – the Flyers don’t seem inclined to trade him. After all, they consider him the franchise model.
It’s not easy to trade players with a no-trade clause. It requires convincing. The truth is, the Flyers don’t have many options here because of the contracts Holmgren has given out, plus the few he’s inherited.
“This is as bad as it gets,” Holmgren said late Tuesday afternoon. “Who would have ever envisioned the slide we are in? This is a poor time for the Flyers to look at making a trade that would help us. The last thing I need to do is make a bad trade. If something comes along that makes sense, I’d look at it.”
There’s been a lot of chatter lately as to whether this team is “good” enough to play Laviolette’s pursue-the-puck system. But as one player correctly pointed out this week, if you’re deemed a “Cup contender,” you should be able to play any system, right?
The lack of passion on the Flyers is something that began at the tail end of the Ken Hitchcock era and has raised its ugly head every season since, no matter who has been standing behind the bench.
All hockey clubs go through the kind of slumps and mental anguish the Flyers are experiencing. The Penguins were in similar straits a year ago and ended up winning the Cup anyway.
Good teams overcome adversity. Fragile ones succumb.
These classy Flyers fans are not happy this year. Great fan base!
That seems to be the mantra for Flyers’ management right now. That they are “good” enough to get out of this prolonged rut and save the season. “I think it’s going to come sooner or later if we keep working,” Richards said. “It’s when you stop working when you’re going to have trouble. When you get in slumps like this andyou don’t score goals, you get frustrated.
“It’s easy to point blame and make excuses. But when you start working harder, you do things in practice harder. Just bearing down and not thinking about it, that’s when you come out [of a slump]. I was always told that when you are in a slump like this, working hard is going to take you out of it. We have to start working harder in practice, doing a little extra and put it together.”
It’s interesting that the two things that players, coaches and management all agree that is missing across the board is “confidence” and “swagger.”
Think of the irony there.
Can you possibly envision a Flyers’ brand of hockey without confidence and swagger? No. That’s because those words were synonymous with the logo on the front of those orange ’n black sweaters from the very beginning.
Laviolette, echoing his players, said his team needs to “relax” and just play the game. How do you relax when you’ve lost the very essence of who you are – the confidence that always came with putting on a Flyers jersey?
“That’s a good question,” Holmgren said. “That is something we need to talk about as a group right now, the coaches need to talk about it with the team. We just got to go to work. That’s the only way out of it. Hard work.” Maybe so, but the feeling among the inhabitants of Flyerdom is that, work ethic aside, a major trade may be the only way to save the season.