by Clark Groome
When Ralph Waldo Emerson made his comment that “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” he clearly wasn’t referring to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers, for only the second time in the last 18 seasons, failed to make the playoffs. While the season was maddening in its inconsistency, there are reasons, but not excuses, for it.
Before the NHL lockout last Sept. 15, General Manager Paul Holmgren made great effort to sign a couple of elite defensemen (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter) and winger Zach Parise. Holmgren’s efforts failed.
While those negotiations were underway, future Hall of Fame-forward Jaromir Jagr and underappreciated defenseman Matt Carle signed with Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Jagr was a huge loss, having an amazing work ethic that set an example for the younger forwards. Carle brought speed to the Blue Line corps missing in the 2013 campaign.
After the lockout the season was shortened from 82 games to 48. While some of the Flyers players had played in Europe or on the team’s AHL Phantoms, the players didn’t have time to get into game shape or to get familiar with teammates new to the Flyers system.
While all 30 teams faced similar situations, the Flyers’ played more games than any other team during the first month of the season.
All 48 games were played against teams in the Eastern Conference, thus each game had more weight than those played against Western Conference teams in a regular season. Once the Flyers got out of playoff contention, it was extremely hard to fight back when the teams above them were playing each other. No matter who won, the Flyers couldn’t gain any ground.
On top of that, the locals faced a lot of injuries. most significantly defensemen Andrej Meszaros (37 games), Nicklas Grossmann (18), Braydon Coburn (15) and Bruno Gervais (8) and forwards Jody Shelley (36), Scott Hartnell (16), Zac Rinaldo (16), Danny Briere (15) and Max Talbot (10).
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov started most of the games because team had no reliable backup until it traded for Columbus’ Steve Mason on April 3, less than a month before the season ended. Bryzgalov was also the source of great quotes, many of which probably annoyed his teammates.
The most frustrating thing – to get back to Emerson – was the team’s inconsistency. There were games when their play was so strong they could have beaten any team in the league. The next night that strong team didn’t show up and it looked like they might succumb to a college team.
What needs to be done to get the Orange and Black back on track? Here are some suggestions:
• Sadly it’s time for the Flyers to sever ties with fan-favorite and all around good guy Danny Briere. By using one of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s two compliance buyouts (also called amnesty buyouts) the Flyers will save $6.5 million charged against the team’s $64.3 million salary cap.
• Use the other amnesty buyout to unload the colorful and controversial Ilya Bryzgalov. While many people still think he hasn’t lived up to his previous performance levels, his mediocre play doesn’t justify the $5.667 million charged to the cap or the remaining seven years on his contract.
Apparently a lot of people think Bryz should stay. My guess is that they enjoy his quirkiness and his entertaining quotes. Those qualities, however, don’t stop pucks or breed a healthy atmosphere in the locker room.
• With former rookie of the year Steve Mason’s acquisition, the Flyers have a possible number one goaltender already in the fold. They should look for another potential number one who’s living in someone’s shadow: the LA Kings’ Jonathan Bernier (who backs up the elite Jonathan Quick) is a name that is being bandied about. Two good, potentially number one goaltenders competing for the job without all the Bryzgalov drama makes sense to me.
• Re-sign Simon Gagne. He’s a long-term Flyer who wants to play here. He says he’ll take a discount to be re-signed. He’s a sane and experienced veteran voice who still can play.
• Find the best defenseman possible and sign him. This may mean trading some of the younger guys like Matt Read or Sean Couturier. As tough as that would be, the defense is in dire straits. Pronger’s absence (and he’s not coming back) and Kimmo Timonen’s age coupled with the injuries to Meszaros, Grossmann and Coburn demand a strong new D-man. The name most mentioned is Phoenix’s 26-year-old Keith Yandle. Good choice, and it’s likely he’ll be available.
• Finally, and this may be a stretch, there are two future Hall of Famers who will be free agents when the season ends. One is long-time Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla who is now playing for Pittsburgh. The other is, you may have guessed, Jaromir Jagr. He’s in the playoffs with Boston but has said he loved his time in Philadelphia last season and wanted to return. It would be a real plus to have one or both of these all-time greats in South Philly.
The summer ahead will be critical to the team’s future. GM Paul Holmgren has a generally fine record. Owner Ed Snider has plenty of money. The Flyers have the reputation of being one of the best organizations in the NHL for which to play.
Maybe the team can prove Emerson wrong: Consistency really is the result of big minds making tough, daring decisions.