The Flyers are coming off one of the symbolic weeks in the history of their franchise. It was like the last 25 years got wadded into a neat little ball and soft-tossed in the direction of the general public. The Flyers bought out two free agent contracts (one a misguided attempt to land an elusive goalie), signed a player to an 8-year extension AND locked up a 33-year old free agent who last played a full season four years ago. These are the Flyers I’ve come to know, and even more than that, this is Ed Snider. The guy owns a team in one way. He has no change of pace.
Ed Snider is committed. Perhaps to a fault. He’s committed to a style of play. He’s committed to members of the “Flyers family,” and he’s committed to spending an ungodly amount of money in pursuit of a third Stanley Cup. The only problem is, Snider hasn’t hit upon the winning formula in almost four decades. So, is Snider and his “win at all costs,” approach really a detriment to his franchise at this point?
I’m no historian of the Flyers franchise, but from my casual observations, it seems to me that the Flyers were a pretty model franchise through the Eric Lindros era. They lost some Cup Finals to dynasties in the eighties and rebounded from the worst stretch in team history with Snider’s signature act of aggression–the Lindros trade. That Lindros cost them Forsberg, and eventually left town concussed and on bad terms is just hindsight. You can’t fault the team for going after the player who was supposed to change the sport and likely could have brought a Cup if he remained healthy.
Instead of harping on the Cups Forsberg won in Colorado, I think it’s better to look at what the failure of Lindros and that era in Philly has done to Ed Snider. In my mind, it’s taken away any shred of patience he may have had. Instead of cementing his legacy with Lindros led Cup teams, Snider now must stare in the face of “the drought” and his own mortality as Flyers Chairman. I think after Lindros, Snider suddenly has heard the clock ticking. That’s created a few phenomena in my opinion.
First, the revolving head coach door. I guess there isn’t much unusual about 5 coaches in 13 years for a professional team, but it’s a lot of movement for a team that considers itself an elite franchise. That’s five new directions the team has taken, and you get a sense that Peter Laviolette is running out of time to make his system work.
Second, there is no patience with young players. You can go back as far as you’d like. The Flyers have always been liberal with trading draft picks, and when they do take a player with a high pick he usually doesn’t stick with the organization for very long. A sampling of names: Pitkanen, Umberger, Upshall, Lupul, Parent, Carter, Richards, Bobrovsky and van Riemsdyk. That’s five years. The team has certainly traded away plenty of picks and prospects that amounted to nothing, but it’s hard not to look back at some of these moves and call them rash. One year Carter & Richards are signing almost lifetime contracts and making the Stanley Cup Final and then–they’re gone. Sergei Bobrovsky is discarded for a high-priced free agent and he wins a Vezina in Columbus. Could Carter/Richards and Bobrovsky helped bring a Cup to Philadelphia? We’ll never know.
Lastly, too much money and years are going to veteran players. The Flyers always hunt the name. You could dedicate a wing of the Hall of Fame to players the Flyers acquired well past their prime. Hatcher, Pronger, Forsberg (part 2), Jagr, Roenick, Amonte, Briere, Oates, Timmonen, Rathje, Smith, etc, etc. This month you can add Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit to the list. When you go to the Flyers’ website, a huge ad pops up touting Lecavalier, highlighting his 300+ goals. The question is, how many goals does the former #1 pick have left in the tank to score for the Flyers?
I should take a moment to acknowledge that it is difficult to build a championship team. It is easier to talk about finding a franchise goalie than actually acquiring one. I should also say that there were moments along this ride where I was on board. I was comfortable trading Richards. I liked the sound of getting Chris Pronger, but after a certain period of time, you start to lose that blind faith in the moves your team is making. Is the team going to stick with the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds and Schenn or will they just become future trade fodder?
With the Flyers, it’s hard to know who is calling the shots. Is it GM Paul Holmgren? How much input does Snider have? Does Holmgren’s position as part of the “Flyers Family,” impact his relationship with Snider? Since 1994 Snider has had one of his guys in charge. Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren. Two Flyers players, two strong organizational guys have been the only GMs in the last 20 years. There have been about 10 coaches in that time. Another equation that doesn’t quite add up.
There is no getting rid of Ed Snider as Flyers Chairman, and there are far worse owners the team could have. You can have cheap owners, detached owners, Jeffrey Loria, etc. So, perhaps we shouldn’t bemoan Snider, just as Cowboys fans shouldn’t bemoan Jerry Jones (18 years and counting since last Super Bowl), but we should acknowledge that the well-meaning owner could be the one driving with two feet–pressing ahead and holding the team back at the same time. For years, I’ve believed that this was going to be the season the Flyers got it right, but judging the past week, Snider is still calling the shots and the team is still going to be without a Cup.