Just Keep Swimming

If only we could play the Hurricanes every night.

Results this week: Flyers 5, Hurricanes 1; Lightning 3, Flyers 1; Panthers 2, Flyers 1 (SO)

Current record: 11-14-6, 28 points

Record at this point last year: 13-15-3, 29 points

Upcoming schedule: Dec 20 at Leafs, Dec 21 at Jets, Dec 23 at Wild

For how badly the Hurricanes played, maybe there IS a team we should beat.  We’ll have to see in subsequent meetings if this happens again, or if that was just a good night for us and a bad night for them.  The Flyers followed that victory with an unconvincing loss to Tampa Bay, where Steven Stamkos punished the Flyers for giving him space in which to operate, and then a shootout loss to a Panthers team which had to be one of the most boring hockey games I’ve watched since the trap-era Devils.

The word for this team is “mediocre”, which is defined as “of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate”.  And frankly, calling them mediocre is a compliment some nights.

The big question being kicked around is this: are the Flyers tanking?

First, let’s look at the team itself: they’re doing the best they can.  We’re not seeing bad body language or half-hearted effort, just inconsistent play as a whole.  Some of the players they have to lean on are not as good as they used to be too, especially on the blue line.  Remember how good Coburn was during the Finals run?  That’s gone.  Nick Grossmann is at his best when he’s standing in a shooting lane and bad if he has to skate or move the puck or, you know, perform most other hockey activities.  The defense as a whole is just not very good: only one of the seven defensemen who have played more than ten games (Del Zotto) has a positive on-ice shot differential (meaning the Flyers take more shots when he’s on the ice than the opposing team).

If the players aren’t tanking, that leaves the organization as making the choice to tank this year, which leads me to my next point: we’re sitting one of our best defensemen as a healthy scratch in Del Zotto.  Why would they do that?  Is it because he could help us win games and the organization doesn’t want to win games this year?  Is it because he’s a restricted free agent after this year and the Flyers could lock him up to a club-friendly bridge contract without much fuss or an offer sheet from another club if he doesn’t play a lot?  Berube says it’s because he wanted a bigger player (Luke Schenn) back there, but would he have scratched the diminutive Kimmo Timonen to do that?  Of course not.  It makes you think, doesn’t it?  And for all this talk of “bigger players” and “size and strength”, it does make you wonder just how seriously the Flyers are taking their supposedly new-found advanced stats approach instead of just looking at a player and thinking “he’s bigger, he must be better”.  How is putting “bigger, stronger” Nick Grossmann out there for fifteen minutes a night working for you? Again, the counter argument is Kimmo Timonen; not bigger, but much better.

Why throw Vinnie Lecavalier out there after being a healthy scratch for three weeks?  Could it be to enhance his extremely-limited trade value and try to offload him?  I’m not afraid of trading Lecavalier but of what we’ll have to do in addition to get someone to take him; the collateral damage that’ll come with a potential trade is a loss of draft picks or prospects at a time where the club philosophy is to build internally with draft picks and prospects.

Why play RJ Umberger more than Pierre-Edouard Bellemare?  It feels like Umberger hasn’t won a 50/50 puck all year and we’re thirty games in; meanwhile, Bellemare is making plays like the pass he made to set up the lone goal of the game against the Panthers with Voracek.

A couple weeks ago I detailed why Craig Berube is the right coach for this team at this moment: they’re two years out and no one will care when he gets fired.  I may have missed perhaps the biggest reason; he’s a good soldier, a former Flyer and company man, and he will do what he is told.  He’s not a highly-paid coach from whom they demand results, he’s loyal and willing to do things good for the organization instead of his own best interests or the best immediate interests of the team.  We previously detailed how multiple hands have been in contract decisions for the Flyers; it’s very plausible multiple hands (like Hextall’s) could be in personnel decisions too, and that Berube is just doing what he’s told to do and taking the rap for it.  He’s the perfect sacrificial lamb for the organization, someone who can have all the blame laid on them and cast aside when the time is right.

It’s hard to prove a disinterest in winning especially when you haven’t come out and said you’re going to do it, or been as blatant about it as the turn of the century Penguins or the Oilers of recent years.  Still, the possibility is there.  The Flyers wouldn’t dare take the route the Sixers have and be open and brazen about it; far more people attend Flyers games than Sixers games.  The Sixers are third to last in NBA attendance with an average of 14,159 people a game where the Flyers are fourth in the NHL and average 19,742 a game.  To be blatant about losing for a couple seasons would cause a loss of revenue for a team that spends to the cap every year, and while hockey is Ed Snider’s passion, it is also still a business.

Second, the Flyers tradition and recent history is different than the Sixers.  People are used to watching the Sixers lose now.  They’re numb to it.  Because of this, the Sixers have more room to play with; that’s how they can get away with this and not start a riot.  Fans are not numb to watching the Flyers lose, and all you have to do is go onto social media to see proof of it.  Flyers fans expect this team to at least reach the playoffs no matter how bad things get.  We as a fanbase are so used to our team kicking ass and making noise in the league that even when the evidence is in front of our face that it’s not going to happen, we still expect it.  It’s ingrained in us, and that’s good and bad; it’s good because it holds the organization to a higher standard, but it’s bad because it hinders what could be a potentially great rebuild by demanding the team stay competitive while the rebuild takes place.

Any tanking effort would have to be carried off in a stealthy manner.  I’m not saying for sure it’s happening, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.

Other thoughts:

-Bellemare watch: loving that gorgeous assist to Voracek that tied the game last night!

-Watching Jake Voracek skate around guys with the puck may be my favorite thing about this team now.  Dude moves like he’s got the puck on a string.  It’s Jagr-esque.

-I feel worse for Steve Mason than any other Flyer.  The man puts serious work in every night, stands on his head for this wretch of a team, and they either play bad defense in front of him, don’t score him any goals, or both.

-The Panthers remind me of the trap-era Devils; they’ve now played 21 1-goal games.  They choke the air out of your team in the neutral zone, like the Devils, and they have a better-than-average goalie back there in Luongo, like the Devils.  It’s ugly hockey, but they’re still winning with it, and that’s all that matters.

-What’s with the late whistles for stuff like offsides?  How is letting the play go on for three or four seconds beyond the illegal zone entry good for anyone?  God forbid someone gets hurt in that delay too, or there will be hell to pay.

-The Flyers take way too many stupid icing penalties.  There’s a happy medium between failing to clear the zone and clearing the zone for icing they just haven’t found.

-Couturier and Read look revived recently, don’t they?  Too bad they’re carrying RJ Umberger’s carcass around on that line.

-Long term, I know in my heart trading Hartnell for Umberger was a wise move.  Right now though it’s painful to watch RJ fumble around with the puck like a schoolboy in the backseat trying to remove a bra for the first time.  “I think it’s locked…”

-We miss the net too much too.  Don’t people practice shooting on their own anymore?  Is it too much to ask to put a shot on a gaping net and force an out-of-position goalie to make an outstanding save or allow the goal?  Ugh, let’s just move on.

-I like the Winter Classic unis.  I do.  I think they should have gone back to the black uni though.  Those things inspired fear; we had some great years in them.  I don’t ask for much, but please go back to them?

-Finally, we had an odd moment late in the game when Giroux appeared to bite the shoulder of Erik Gudbranson’s jersey and pull at it, which promptly spawned this and this, easing the pain of this dreadful game.

The Flyers are done playing at home this year with a massive road trip coming up.  Be on the lookout for something that may not be the typical article late next week!

Let’s go Flyers!

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