Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
“There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going.
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing.
Is it raining?
Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing
so the danger must be growing.
Are the fires of hell a glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
Yes! The danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing.
And they’re certainly not showing
any signs that they are slowing!”
The Philadelphia Flyers are becoming known for their annual controversial personnel decisions. This stigma was sharply reinforced in June when Paul “Homewrecker” Holmgren sent the still young and talented winger, James Van Reimsdyk packing for Toronto in exchange for Luke Schenn, an under-acheiving defensemen.
Most casual hockey fans view this as a logical exchange in a surplus of offense for much needed defensive help. This is not the case. Holmgren managed to lose a top line scoring wingman in Jaromir Jagr and a top four pairing defensemen in Matt Carle. The Flyers would be a better hockey team today if, on July 1st, Holmgren had simply re-signed Carle and then went to Beijing for a month without his cell phone.
The best argument in defense of the Flyers’ moves to date is that they were swinging for the fences in trying to land Zach Parise and Ryan Suter; that the potential reward for connecting with either player was worth the risk of striking out. It’s the best argument, but it’s not a good one.
In hockey, the effect of adding any one player to a roster is less significant than in most sports. More importantly, I feel the need to point out that Parise and Suter were top shelf free-agents but not necessarily top shelf players. Zach Parise had an incredible playoff run and Suter has been a solid top pairing Defensemen in the NHL for years, but neither of them is a transcendant talent. Neither is a game-changer. And when you pay a HOCKEY player 100 million dollars, they damn well better be.
I’m not sure which hard-headed, swagger wielding gentleman was the driving force in the decisions to forego re-signing Carle and/or trading JVR, but whether it was Paul Holmgren or Ed Snider, the other is just as guilty for allowing it to happen. I’ve been lauding the moves from the past off-season for a calendar year now, defending the overhaul that took place to many skeptics. The young, exciting talent that the team possesses was the selling point. The promise of that young talent growing and flourishing as they developed a tighter grasp of the Flyers’ system made me giddy. Finally, there was a clear trajectory in sight; a blueprint for a championship…and then I woke up.
With recent rumors swirling about potential trades for the 30 year old forward, Rick Nash and slightly above-average Bobby Ryan, the Flyers’ front office couldn’t have sent a clearer message to their fans. There is no plan. Philly’s professional hockey team knows how to do one thing well; field a respectable team. They do it every single season and there’s something to be admired in that.
Still, when you lose your patience as quickly as this organization has, there will always be a clearly defined ceiling for what you can accomplish. The best way to win a Stanley Cup is to cultivate a winning environment; an effective system and then allow your players to become comfortable in it.
The Flyers don’t seem to be interested in development, patience or following a plan. Like a dog chasing cars, the organization just wants to collect shiny things and show them off. Any championship that comes as a result of such lust would just be a bonus. There’s no better explanation for the contradictory decisions of the Flyers’ management of late.
With such names as Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and even Brayden Schenn being tossed around in trade discussions for players of Rick Nash’s caliber, confusion and rage have overwhelmed even the most reasonable fans. How could there even be a discussion, after what these players showed as rookies, about shipping them out? What more could a player, in his first professional season, have possibly shown to earn the trust and commitment of his general manager?
This franchise has been treating the idea of a young player getting better all on his own like folk lore. It’s finally reached a boiling point. I realize that only Van Reimsdyk has actually been moved to date, but the frustration that is building in me and many Flyers fans is due in large part to the intentions of the franchise coming into focus. It’s being made painfully obvious that if this core of talented, fiery skaters remains on the team through the 2012-2013 season, it will be because the front office couldn’t find a productive way to spend them like cash. They will remain Philadelphia Flyers for any reason but the right one.
What else have the Flyers said about themselves in recent years? I’m ready to accept the possibility that this organization had no idea Claude Giroux would be as good as he is. Maybe they happened upon this “asset” through sheer dumb luck. Who’s to say even his contract isn’t on the table next season, when a fresh lot of potential trades become available? Could you honestly put such a move past this front office?
The reputation the organization has developed for being disloyal, for finding value in change for the sake of change is palpable around the NHL. I would not be surprised if this reputation played a significant role in the decisions of Parise, Suter, Carle or Jagr.
Is there any way to project the Flyers’ success over the next few seasons? Will they be a young, talented team with a bright future, or an aging, overpaid team with maybe one run left in them? Is there any way for the season ticket holders to know? Does the organization, itself, know?
I’m convinced this franchise cannot answer one of those questions. For your sake, I hope you take care in choosing which jersey to invest in. Whoever you eventually decide on, cornerstone or not, may have a bad week; Some blockbuster, headline-grabbing trade may present itself and the name on the back could become just another reminder of a guy who won a cup somewhere else.