PHILADELPHIA – Following the loss to St. Louis, I posted a blog about how the Flyers have been playing as we approach the playoffs and in the process, I used the term “elite” to describe them as a team.
I stand by the use of that adjective even if it caused some consternation on the Interwebs.
I guess the reasoning is there is no true definition for “elite.” And who’s to say what “elite” really is in the NHL from season to season? Is it the top four teams in the league? Is it anyone who has a strong chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals? Is it the highest scoring team? Is it the team with the best defense?
There are a lot of variables. And to be honest, I didn’t really think about what the parameters were for my usage of the word. The reason being, having watched as much hockey as I have this season, I was just under the impression that the Flyers are one of the three best teams in the East, have a chance to reach the Finals with the way they are playing (I don’t just say that lightly either, even if they are a longer shot than some other teams) and have shown it by playing strong, if not exceptional hockey, against the other top teams in the league.
But, I was put to task by some fans who felt that I was using the word in far too cavalier a manner. After all, how could I consider a team who hasn’t clinched a playoff spot, who is in third place in their division, and, until recently had a negative goal differential for the season, an elite squad?
It’s a fair question.
It probably wouldn’t be asked if I used the word to describe Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles or Colorado, but a fair question nonetheless.
So, I hit the books.
Here are some things that I think can be mixed as ingredients for an elite team:
-A record of 35-17-8 in the last 60 games. Only five teams are better.
-A 6-2-2 record in the last 10 games against Pittsburgh (twice), Chicago, Dallas, Toronto, Boston and St. Louis (twice) all playoff teams (except Toronto now, but they were when the stretch started).
-One of only 10 teams in the NHL to have a .500 or better points percentage against the teams with the top eight records in the league (as listed above).
-Have a chance to defeat 28 of 29 possible opponents in one season (they lost both to Anaheim. Still have Boston, Tampa Bay and Carolina on deck, whom they haven’t defeated. They beat everyone else at least once).
-They have the best power play on the road in the NHL (25.0 percent) and rank in the top 10 overall. Meanwhile, their penalty kill has been lights out for some time now and ranks fifth overall and second-best on the road. Special Teams are huge in the playoffs, and the Flyers are among the best in both categories.
-After scoring just 25 goals in their first 15 games, the Flyers have averaged 3.13 goals per game in the last 60. That would rank 4th in the NHL over the whole season.
-They are never out of a game: They are tied for second in the NHL for wins when trailing after two periods (7) and they set a franchise record and lead the NHL in comebacks when trailing at any point in the third period (11).
-They have sustained success when statistical analysis says they shouldn’t. That’s a reflection on the immeasurable statistics – like a team-oriented focus, determination, fortitude and heart.
List those eight factors about any team anonymously and any hockey person would say, “that’s a darn good club right there.”
But say it about the Flyers – a team that was dreadful in the season’s first month, who no one believed in, who carried along for much of the season completely under the radar because of their rough start – and instead there’s still a “prove it” mentality.
I get it. I understand it. We’ve been down this road before and have seen it end in heartbreak, so the reluctance to buy in is a form of self defense.
Well, there’s no promise that it won’t end the same way this time around either. But couldn’t you say that almost any year for any team? Only one can win. It’s not easy to take home the championship. It’s why it’s said the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports.
But, there’s a chance that it won’t end that way either. There are people out there – smart people – watching how the Flyers are playing, and have been playing for some time – and see them as a dangerous team in the playoffs – as dangerous as Boston, or Pittsburgh or even the best of the West.
And when people see that and say that, there’s a new category that the Flyers have to be placed in. No longer are they just a team happy to be dancing in playoff April. They are more than that. They are a team in serious pursuit of something greater because they believe and others believe they can get there.
You have a name for that category? Feel free to call it whatever you will. I’m not much of a wordsmith, so I’ll stick with “elite.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers