Flyers – A Jekyll and Hide Story

Tim Panaccio wrote an article in the Inquirer today that was dead-right in my opinion regarding the Flyers current state of affairs. Here is the article:

Inconsistency creates a tale of two teams

By Tim Panaccio

Inquirer Staff Writer

They are perhaps the best example of a split team personality that exists in hockey.

Not even Dr. Phil could analyze which of the Flyers’ personalities is genuine.

Are the Flyers the club that ripped off 10 wins in 11 games to start the month of January? Or are they the comatose zombies of the last two weeks, who have lost a season-high four games in succession?

Long-suffering Flyers fans have come to expect this franchise’s annual late-winter slump. It’s a major reason that many general managers and coaches don’t like the Flyers’ playoff chances. Their inability to start what they finish has become commonplace.

In grading the Flyers, you have to consider the overall picture and not a two-week window.

The Flyers had three days during the all-star break to reflect on where they are and where they’re headed. Tonight, they meet the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y. Will their approach be anger or continued apathy?

Here is a report card on the season so far.

Coach. Hitchcock has given Philadelphia something this team hasn’t had since Fred Shero – a reason to believe. There’s a comprehensive, defensive system that allows the Flyers a chance to earn a point every game. Hitchcock knows how to make adjustments on the fly and is a master chess player. If the Flyers don’t win another Stanley Cup, it won’t be because they didn’t have the right guy behind the bench. It’ll be because the coach didn’t have the right players to complete the job. Grade: A.

Forwards. As a group, they are underachieving in goal production. Among the Cup contenders, the Flyers’ total of 122 goals is woefully short. Yet it’s partially a by-product of Hitchcock’s system that insists on putting defensive responsibility first and foremost before attacking with the puck.

The trade that brought Michal Handzus from Phoenix for Brian Boucher has been a boon. He’s an excellent checking center who has 15 goals, even though he has had to adjust to a variety of wingers because of team injuries. His line with Donald Brashear and Radovan Somik is the team’s most consistent unit, often drawing the top defensive assignment.

LeClair? Because of his right shoulder injury, no one knows what might have been. No one knows if he will have any impact down the stretch, either. You can only hope there are some goals left in his Sher-Wood stick. Jeremy Roenick’s 16 goals and 34 points are tops, but it’s his leadership on the ice that stands out. Here’s a No. 1 center who has played six games in succession with the same linemates only twice all season and hasn’t carped. Think Jaromir Jagr would stand for that?

Keith Primeau has been an enigma. He usually follows a poor season, like last year’s, with an uplifting one. He’s on course for 25 goals, but his point total (24) is terrible. Mark Recchi is not a 30-goal guy anymore, but can still set others up. His willingness to take on a project player like Pavel Brendl, whose work ethic has been inconsistent, shows he’s smart enough to know how he can help the team even when he’s not scoring.

Gagne has been a huge letdown. Maybe he thought it would be too easy after 33 goals last season. Gagne has been injured three times and needs to toughen up mentally on how he handles injuries. Williams, done for the season with left knee surgery, likes to play a fancy game that gets under Hitchcock’s skin, yet his potential is worth the aggravation. Some suspect he will be used as trade bait down the line.

Marty Murray was a defensive gem last season, but he’s been a minus player in eight of the last 10 games and has been ineffective. The biggest problem up front is that the Flyers have too many similar role players – Murray, Andre Savage, Todd Fedoruk, Joe Sacco, Jamie Wright and now Eric Chouinard. General manager Bob Clarke has made a series of minor deals to increase overall depth, but not overall quality, and certainly not scoring. Grade: B-minus.

Defense. Hitchcock was right about Eric Desjardins needing a structured system to get himself straightened out. Desjardins has been the team’s best defenseman for two months now.

Eric Weinrich, who, like Desjardins, is among the league leaders in plus/minus, has been steady. Dennis Seidenberg has an NHL shot. It is admirable how he goes up the ice without flinching after making a mistake. Kim Johnsson, who had 41 points last season, has been a disappointment with just three goals and a plus-6 rating. Where is his offensive game?

Chris Therien has played steadily with different partners. Marcus Ragnarsson hasn’t done anything to justify the trade that brought him here for Dan McGillis, and he missed 12 games with a back injury. At least one of these veterans will be gone next season to make room for Joni Pitkanen, assuming the Flyers sign the Finnish prospect, who was last summer’s first-round draft pick.

Chris McAllister hasn’t cut it on the blue line, but his $600,000 salary forced Hitchcock to play him until Clarke sent him to the Phantoms for reconditioning. Jim Vandermeer and Bruno St. Jacques deserve a chance to be playing in the NHL right now. Overall, the Flyers’ defense is better in front of the net, better on transition, and much better on the breakout. Grade: B-plus.

Goaltending. Few people in hockey believe the Flyers can win with Roman Cechmanek. And the loss to the Devils is exactly why. He’s either right on his game or way off. Nearly all season, Cechmanek has been among the league’s goaltending leaders. But he’s inconsistent, and that has the whole organization concerned. Robert Esche has been very good as a backup.

Don’t whine about the goaltending. That problem needed solving years ago, and Cechmanek had a better season than any of the free agents out there last summer.

The Flyers’ tandem is strong in goal. Yet the perception exists that in the playoffs, the Flyers’ goaltending is incapable of making that critical stop in a one-goal game. And that’s what wins Cups. Grade: B-minus.

Special teams. There’s no logical explanation for why a team with a $53 million payroll does not have a power play ranked better than 28th in the league. It’s a disgrace. This was why Craig Hartsburg was hired as an assistant coach; it’s his puzzle to solve. Shot selection is a problem, and the players are pressing because they are thinking instead of reacting.

The power play sizzled, then tanked. And while the penalty killing has improved, it still ranks in the bottom third, far below the team’s capability. The Flyers won’t go deep into the playoffs unless their special teams improve significantly. Grade: F.

Management/ownership. Clarke hasn’t made the tough decision on what to do with McAllister, nor has he given Hitchcock a forward who can truly make a difference. Part of the fault lies with Comcast-Spectacor and chairman Ed Snider for not allocating more money. Snider’s admission that the Flyers can’t take on any significant salary is both honest and disturbing. The Flyers have three quality players out of action and are slipping behind in the standings. Snider, who used to be a constant presence at the games, is less involved with the team than he once was and has become an absentee owner on many nights. Yo, Ed! It’s time to get back into the game.Grade: C-plus.