What a difference a year makes. Think back to the Philadelphia Flyers of one year ago. The Flyers were one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. The goaltending tandem of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki were getting the job done between the pipes. John Stevens was behind the bench helping prepare his team to get hot at the right time. And Jeff Carter was near the top of the NHL’s goal scoring leader board. What a difference a year makes—where everything has been flipped on its head and people in Flipadelphia have been left trying to figure out what the hell happened.
No one exemplifies the comparison between the past and the present like #1 Center Jeff Carter. Last season, Carter finished the season with 46 goals—that’s more than anyone NOT named Alexander Ovechkin. He finally started to fully realize the potential that made him the #11 pick in 2003 (one of the best drafts in recent memory).
The 2008-09 season saw Carter become a sniper that could score from all over the ice. And he did. He could blow slapshots past helpless goaltenders. He could deke goaltenders out of position with highlight reel moves. He could use his size and strength to throw defensemen out of the way while he attacked the net. Something had changed last season that we see with young players all the time. It looked like he had turned a corner in his career development. It looked like the light came on. Maybe someone turned the light off.
This season, he only has 12 goals and hasn’t missed a game. It’s all how you look at it—because even though he’s THAT far behind his pace from last season, he’s STILL the 2nd leading scorer on the Flyers. 28 goals is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also nowhere near the league’s elite like he was last season.
Like the rest of the team, Carter has rarely had the chance to play with the same guys on both wings all season. As stable as Scott Hartnell has been on his right wing, the left side has been a revolving door of talent. The winger du jour is Daniel Briere—yet I hesitate to even mention that because it’ll probably change by the time this is posted. That’s probably not the one thing that Carter wanted his old and new coach to have in common.
Just like the Flyers and their fans have higher expectations for Carter this season, the opponents are also aware of what they’re dealing with this season. As he took the league by storm last season, this year the opposing coaches are looking to take him and his linemmates out of the game. Its one thing for a player to score when they are the team’s 2nd or 3rd option—but it’s quite another when the opponent is game planning to stop you every game. Welcome to Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell’s world.
By no means am I saying that Jeff Carter is the reason for Philadelphia’s slow start. His struggles have mirrored the Flyers problems as a whole. Just like Carter has struggled to replicate last season’s success, the Philadelphia Flyers are on pace to fall well short of all expectations. They are currently 29th in the NHL with only 32 points in 35 games. They are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games—which includes some horrific performances with two separate coaches.
The Flyers struggles beg the question: “What’s wrong?” Their goal differential is minus 8; which isn’t good but certainly doesn’t sound like a team that is near the basement in the league. They are slightly below average in both overall goals for (20th) and goals against (21st). Their power play is above average at 20.7% (which translates to 10th in the league).
We have to dig a little deeper to find the Flyers problems. Are they just losing the close games? Their 5-5 record in one-goal games says NO. Are they a victim of the “loser point” in shootouts? Their 2-1 record says NO to that as well.
To find the problems with the Flyers, we have to compare this year’s version to last year’s. Even with the addition of Chris Pronger, Philadelphia is 26th in the league in penalty kill (77.5%). But that’s not the only time the opposition can score. After giving up only one shorthanded goal all of last season, the Flyers have already surrendered 6 shorties this season.
The shorthanded goals give us a glimpse into the major problem for the Flyers this season. When the opposition scores a shorthanded goal, it takes momentum away more than anything else in hockey. Emotion might be the biggest problem for the Broad Street Bullies this season. Not just emotion with Daniel Carcillo and Ian Laperriere dropping the gloves—but emotional swings within a game that Claude Giroux, Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter try to deal with. It’s the kind of mental fortitude that Mike Knuble had for the team last season—a resilience that the Flyers haven’t had all season. Look at their record and you can see that “bouncing back from adversity” hasn’t been on their agenda.
On Saturday, the Flyers came out completely flat against their in-division rival New York Rangers. Their effort was so porous to start the game that head coach Peter Laviolette call a timeout in the 1st period. He wasn’t trying to get rest or slow the Rangers momentum. No, he was forced to call a timeout so Flyers could get their shit together.
“I would have thought we would’ve ripped the hinges off the gate tonight to get out on the ice. I can’t think of one reason why we would come out flat, but we did.” –Peter Laviolette after 2-1 loss to Rangers (Philly.com)
Last night was a microcosm of how bad it’s gotten for the Flyers. I don’t want to take anything away from the Panthers, but a couple of weeks ago they were sitting in 13th in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers went into Philadelphia, physically took the play to the Flyers and ended up winning 4-1. In a game that meant something.
What do you do if you’re the Flyers management? The standard response to a team that plays without the necessary emotion is to change coaches. But what happens when that doesn’t work? They’ve already given John Stevens the boot and they’re as bad now as they’ve been all season.
Do you make a trade? There are two problems—first, they’re up against the salary cap. Without some of their current salaries being traded away, the Flyers have about $170,000 left under the salary cap (the league minimum is $500,000). Secondly, it seems like everyone has a huge salary and no-movement clauses. In alphabetically order: Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Chris Pronger, Mike Richards and Kimmo Timonen all have no-trade clauses within their contracts.
Paul Holmgren has been in the news lately repeatedly stating that he wasn’t interested in trading his core players—but has also explained that he is actively working to make his team better. After the latest embarrassment at Wachovia Center, it sounds like Holmgren might be amending that “core players” statement. It was reported on WIP 610-AM in Philadelphia that the Flyers are in talks with the Atlanta Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk. Of course, rumors are nothing more than rumors—but desperate times call for desperate measures.
What is the asking price for the superstar sniper from Atlanta? Well, those same rumors are floating the names of Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter. Who knows if there is any truth to the rumors at all—but these talks wouldn’t even be discussed if Carter was putting up the numbers that he put up last season. Then again, they probably wouldn’t be having these talks if the Flyers were playing the way they did last season either.
All I know is that I put $20 bucks on them before the season at 18-1! Stupid Las Vegas. Stupid Sports Book. Thank God I didn’t put $20 on Jeff Carter this season.