What are the Flyers going to do over the summer?
It’s kind of a broad question that certainly will have a lot of answers, and any that I can give personally would be just as speculative as the next guy, but I find it fascinating still.
Reason being that there is a multi-faceted purpose behind the question.
1.Flyers fans really care. No, I mean REALLY care. They won’t take time to truly decompress from a disappointing season, and would much rather march forth with a purpose in to the summer and consider all options that the team has to assure itself of marked improvement.
2.Philadelphia is starving for a winner again. Sure, we waited 25 years until someone won us a championship in 2008 (Yay, Phillies) but here we are, five years later and we just endured an unexpected collar between September and April that saw all four major pro teams in town miss the playoffs in the same season. So, the impatient among us – and if there’s anything we’ve mastered in our day its impatience – want answers immediately.
3.People know where I work and they assume I have a wire tap – or equivalent – on general manager Paul Holmgren’s phone. And while that would be ideal for me, I can assure you, I don’t. But, being around the team every day I think gives me at least an informed enough perspective to make a few guesses.
So, my stock answer to the big question for everyone has been this:
The Flyers are going to do a lot over the summer. There are going to be some significant changes made to the team – but it won’t be a complete overhaul, like it was in 2007. This team is not that bad, and at it’s core is pretty set up for several years to come.
That response usually sets up a series of follow up questions – which is to be expected, but I’d rather answer things a little more specifically anyway. Broad questions lead to broad answers, and sometimes they can be misinterpreted.
Of course, the first follow up question I was asked always surrounded the coach and if he should return.
Well, as we know now, Peter Laviolette will be back to coach the team next season – Holmgren made that declaration yesterday.
And I couldn’t agree more with the decision. Laviolette is an excellent coach. Ask anyone around the league and they’ll tell you he’s one of the best in the business. And consider what he’s done since he came here to Philadelphia – a trip to the Finals in his first year, back-to-back second round appearances in the next two and then this season’s misstep. Shouldn’t a guy with his track record of success – dating back to his days where he last had the New York Islanders in the playoffs or when he won a Stanley Cup in Carolina – be afforded a down season?
And consider all Laviolette had to deal with this season – a free agency strikeout, a work stoppage, a brutal schedule at the start of the season that didn’t allow for practice time to work on adjustments. An injury-riddled franchise that ended the season with five minor-league call ups on the blue line.
You know, maybe if the team had completely had the wheels fall off, there was discord in the locker room and Lavy’s message had grown stale, I’d say yes. But none of those was the case.
He’s still a well-respected – and liked – coach. His message still rings clear. If the players wanted to quit on him, they wouldn’t have had the success that they did at the end of the season. These are all factors needed to consider when deciding the future of the coach, and Laviolette passed them all easily. That’s why, in my mind, his return should have always been a no-brainer.
But there was speculation to the contrary – so much so that Holmgren blew his top when asked about it for the umpteenth time prior to the season finale in Ottawa Saturday.
It’s easy to see why Holmgren was annoyed – he has been answering the same question for three weeks now and finally had grown tired of hearing it. Every man has a limit, and the writers asking the same question repeatedly finally pushed Holmgren past his.
However, in defense of the questioners, it was easy to speculate that something might happen when there was never an endorsement given publicly toward Laviolette over the final month of the season.
I’m sure Holmgren had his reasons for not providing that endorsement – maybe he wanted to see how the team responded to their coach down the stretch before making the final determination – as is his right.
But the final straw was a report out of Canada citing “team sources” that the coach was going to be fired. Too many times anymore sources in stories seem to be a little less reliable than they once were, and that’s what got Holmgren fired up.
It ultimately was this simple: the Flyers played much better hockey down the stretch then they did to start the season.
Over the final 22 games the Flyers were 12-8-2. Imagining a full 82-game schedule, If they would have kept up that pace over another 34 games (19-12-3) they would have finished with 90 points. There’s no guarantee that a 90-point season would have earned a playoff berth, as that is usually right on the cusp of the playoffs, but maybe it does – are we talking about firing the coach then? Not at all. So, some perspective was needed.
“We didn’t perform to the level we needed to perform,” Holmgren said. “I’m not pointing at any individual or any system. We just didn’t perform. “
And there was a lot about that performance – or lack thereof on a consistent basis – that was discussed as the team broke up for the summer Sunday.
And I will endeavor to address each issue in depth here over the next several days.
We’ll look at individual players, units, position, depth, etc. We’ve got plenty of time to do so. And we’ll start later today, so be sure to check back in this space frequently.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37