On The Flyers And Leadership

 

Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography

Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography

As the Flyers cleaned out their lockers and gave exit interviews earlier this week, a very prominent theme in the discussion was leadership. After a season that saw the departure of both Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, players and analysts spoke about how much their leadership was missed in the locker room.

The quotes from players made things very clear: Timonen and Hartnell were dearly missed. Jakub Voracek and Steve Mason, who are both developing as leaders themselves, heavily praised the leadership of Timonen while emphasizing just how much he was missed. Craig Berube told reporters the following:

“It wasn’t good enough. It’s gotta get better. We need more guys pulling in that leadership group moving forward.”

Here’s where the Philly media has predictably taken this leadership narrative and run with it.  Let’s start with CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio. His article published yesterday was titled Leadership Void Left By Timonen Affected Flyers In Standings. Just one missing word away from being an accurate title. Here’s how the article began:

When you peel behind the numbers to figure out why a team won just 10 games on the road, won just three of 14 shootouts, won just eight of 26 games in overtime, won only three games coming from behind in the third period, sometimes the answer isn’t what you want to hear.

In the Flyers‘ case, much of it goes back to not having Kimmo Timonen’s strong, respected leadership in the dressing room.

Okay, perhaps playing on the road requires some calming and commanding voices in the locker room. I’d argue that their road record suffered because Steve Mason only played 18 road games, and didn’t provide the .937 goaltending that kept the Flyers afloat at home.

Did leadership affect their ability to fight through adversity? The Flyers were actually a better team in the third period this season, so I see no legitimacy to the that idea.

But now we’re attributing shootout records to leadership too? W h a t ?

The Flyers struggled mightily in the shootout this season, winning just 3 out of 14 skills competitions. Let’s see how they fared over the past three seasons when they were equipped with Better Leadership:

2013-14 – 3 wins, 8 losses

2012-13 – 1 win, 2 losses

2011-12 – 4 wins, 7 losses

Shocking. Leadership has no impact on shootouts in any way whatsoever. Hell, even ‘skill’ itself has a very limited impact on them over a short sample. To attribute shootout losses to a lack of leadership is nothing more than laziness.

Next up, Dave Isaac of the Courier Post had the following things to say:

It’s possible that when the Flyers traded Scott Hartnell last summer, they undervalued his leadership. When the players were asked about why there was a letdown in that area this season they pointed to the losses of Hartnell and Timonen, both of whom wore alternate captain’s A’s on their uniforms last season.

The players and coach agree that if there was a little more of that leadership in the room, particularly in second intermissions, the Flyers wouldn’t have had their worst road record since 1992 or lost so many close games or, perhaps, even wouldn’t have missed the playoffs.

Again, so close, yet so far away. The Flyers did undervalue something about Scott Hartnell, but it was his talent. Speaking frankly, the Flyers probably had their worst road record since 1992 because this was one of the worst teams they’ve had during that time period.

Would the Flyers have been a playoff team with Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen around this season? Possibly, but it would absolutely not have been because of their leadership. It would have been because of their play. Kimmo Timonen was a solid number one defenseman on a very poor defensive unit. Scott Hartnell was a 20 goal/50 point player who excelled on the power play. Players like that are not easily replaced.

It’s very easy to look at this situation and point fingers towards leadership. Two great leaders were removed, and the team suffered in their absence. What’s being overlooked here is that those two great leaders were also two of the best players on the team. That is what was most desperately missed by the Flyers this season. The biggest holes left behind by Timonen and Hartnell were on the ice, not in the locker room.

“But Scott, it’s not just reporters saying this. It’s coming from the players and the coach”

Yes, this is true. It certainly gives some legitimacy to this discussion when both players and coaches are citing a lack of leadership. However, players only have so many ways to respond when they are asked these questions. After a lost season, something has to take the blame. Rather than citing the lack of talent on their roster, players and coaches will always talk about things that can improve within the current group. In this situation, they praised the leadership of their former teammates while emphasizing the need for the current group to get better. How else would they possibly respond?

The bottom line is that if the team was more talented, we would not be having this discussion. If the Flyers added 4 good defensemen and 3 good forwards, all of whom provided no leadership and did not even have vocal chords, the current leadership group would suddenly be ‘good enough’. The absence of two good leaders did have an effect on the Flyers this season, but it wasn’t because they were good leaders. It was because they were two of the good players on a team that simply has too few.

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