Once upon a time the Philadelphia Flyers were a world class organization. The team was always in the hunt for a Cup and failing wasn’t accepted. The standard was set high and only certain players would rise to the level demanded of them. Fast forward to 2022 and all of that is gone. The loser mentality has infested the franchise and there seems to be no way out of the dark cloud that has enveloped the team.
With things at an all time low, it’s left fans and the front office alike scrambling for answers to try and save a quickly sinking ship. It all seems to boil down to culture. The culture of the team is no where close to where it was even a decade ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago. But “culture” is a broad term with various branches that effect different fronts of the team. Player development, leadership, the identity, and the fans all play a role under the bigger culture umbrella.
Player development has been a question that has risen to the forefront of the discussion lately. After years of drafting under Ron Hextall, very few of his once-highly-touted prospects have ever amounted to much. There are various reasons for prospects not reaching their potential in the NHL, but the driving force here seems to be a lack of accountability.
Whether it is on the Phantoms or even the main roster, there seemed to be a lack of coaches and players holding each other responsible for their play. It all feels like a close knit group of friends who get together a few times a week to play a fun little game of hockey that, win or lose, doesn’t matter. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in criticizing the man in the next stall over after he screwed up a play. No demanding better, no pushing each other to the limits, no interest in critiquing the play of your friends.
This has lead to leadership in the room is getting a closer examination under the spotlight as well. After a summer where Fletcher added players from across the league who all wore an “A” with their previous teams and ditched the perceived problem children in Shayne Gostisbehere and Jake Voracek, very little has seemingly changed.
At the end of the 2020-21 season, Fletcher spoke of the redundancy within the lineup, and he was spot on with that terminology. This team always felt like a listless ship. Just a bunch of players throw together with seemingly no design. When Alain Vigneault would shake up the rosters, a tactic he was known for, it rarely had any impact because the players on the top line were only minutely better than the players on the third line. The ooze the Flyers roster has devolved into has been championed as “depth” by some, but true depth is the ability to have defined lines. A true top line, a true second line and true bottom six with specific roles for the third and fourth lines. Instead, the Flyers have three lines worth of middle-six forwards who fail to rise to the occasion when desperation times hit.
Not only was the team poorly constructed, but it was done so without an identity. The Broad Street Bullies are a thing of the past. While the Bullies mentality would be a difficult one to uphold in the modern day version of the league, the spirt should still be within them. It may not necessarily be busting actual skulls every night anymore, but the fighting spirit and defying the odds should still be a staple of the franchise.
How do you play for one of the richest cultural teams in the league yet when you pull that sweater over your head you disregard the history that came before it?
For the Flyers’ faithful, complacency was a term that didn’t exist all that long ago. Demanding a winning product and doing whatever it took to get there was the engine that kept the front office on their feet. But somewhere over the last few seasons, that intensity diminished. Fans got too attached to lackluster players, convincing themselves that the current group could win and refused to see the growing cracks in the foundation.
Because there was no longer fan pressure on the organization to uphold their legacy, the standards from within the franchise went unchecked for nearly a decade and by the time the haze surrounding the fans started to fade and the demand for success returned, things had fallen to an irreparable state.
Most of this can be traced back to Ron Hextall. He came in and convinced everyone that he was a drafting genius and that if we just believed in his process, we’d come out on the other side winners. It lead to fans and corespondents talking up the Flyers growing prospect pool and hoping the sheer quantity of picks would result in a handful of star caliber players to lead the team for the next decade. A case of counting your chickens before they hatch. Now, all the prospects earmarked as key pieces on the main roster are horribly underwhelming and its left Chuck Fletcher scrambling to save a team with a flawed foundation his predecessor built, so far unsuccessfully.
What’s the solution to fix a culture problem of this magnitude? There really isn’t an easy one. A complete teardown of the organization both on the ice and in the front office seems to be the best way, but also the most unlikely. The be approach might be strategic. Fletcher and company will have to sit down in the war room and make honest assessments of the on-ice talent and get rid of people that it may be unpopular to get rid of at the time, but could ultimately help right the ship in the near future.
These are desperate times in Philadelphia. The Flyers are at an all time low and there’s no easy way out. It feels like the phrase “this is the most important offseason” has been uttered for the last handful of years now, but this time it actually is. There’s no more runway after this summer, it’s make or break. If things don’t get better through trades and free agency, then a full on teardown may be unavoidable regardless. If they can bandage the team through offseason moves that bring in the correct pieces to solve this puzzle, maybe there’s still hope for a mighty wreck of a franchise that once was proud.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: inquirer.com