(Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography)
With over half of the season gone and the Flyers still sitting about 10 points out of a playoff spot, a large portion of the fan base has become understandably frustrated with the current state of the team. Calls for Berube to be fired and calls for expensive veterans to be traded have dominated social media discussion on the Flyers for several weeks now. The success of both Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux has only added to the frustration; Nobody wants to watch two elite players play through their primes on a mediocre hockey team.
While there are clearly improvements that could be made with the current personnel, it is time for Flyers fans to accept that there are no quick fixes with this group. Poor management, mostly at the hands of Paul Holmgren, has set this team back several years. If theres one lesson to be learned from the roster moves that have been made over the past few years it is this: improving through trades and free agency is an extremely difficult and risky task that can be unsuccessful and harmful to the future. It’s time for the fan base to sit back and realize that patience is going to be vital to the process of developing a contending team in Philadelphia.
WHY THE TEAM WON’T CONTEND SOON
Despite having an above average group of forwards, the Flyers roster is not built to be competitive within the next couple years. Even with some seemingly exciting prospects in the pipeline, the defensive unit is still very far from being competent. The odds that even one defensive prospect will have a significant impact at the NHL level by next season are very thin. The odds that one of them will be a solid NHL top pairing defenseman are even thinner. It should always be kept in mind that while there are some exciting blueliners in the system, there are no guarantees when it comes to defensive prospects, especially ones who were low scorers at the junior level. Generously assuming that the Flyers will have 2 or 3 defensive prospects pan out as successful NHL level players, it will still be at least 2 years before they are ready to make an impact.
It also should be noted that one or even two of their current best defensemen might not be around next season. A Mark Streit trade almost seems like a no-brainer at this point. He is 37 years old and carries significant value to a team in contention. The Flyers have traded away both their 2nd and 3rd round picks for the 2015 draft, and could really use the 1st or multiple 2nd rounders that Streit could fetch them. While Braydon Coburn could still be useful a few years down the road, he is now reaching the downside of his career and could bring a significant return via trade.
Picture the Flyers already poor defensive unit playing without Streit and/or Coburn next season. Woof.
Barring something extraordinary, that is more-or-less what we’re looking at. A couple prospects could potentially serve in limited roles. Small free agency pick-ups and changes in usage could certainly make a difference, but the core of the unit will not be good for at least another season after this one.
WHY THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES
The last two years of Paul Holmgren’s tenure as General Manager should serve as a long, painful reminder that trying to build a contender through blockbuster trades and high profile free agent signings rarely ever ends well.
There are two main ideas that should dictate the personnel decisions over the next couple seasons:
1) With the right package in return, be open to trading aging players who still have value but also won’t be part of a contender in Philadelphia
2) Fill in the holes with cheap, short, low-risk free agency moves as we wait for prospects to develop
The importance of developing through the draft has been emphasized over and over and over again. Ron Hextall seems committed to this long term approach. While it’s frustrating to have a bad team that might not improve in the near future, management cannot afford to lose sight of this idea. Giroux, Voracek and our current core of forwards will still be extremely useful in 2-3 seasons. Let’s not mortgage the future to try and turn an 85 point team into a 90 point team.
FIRING THE COACH NOW WON’T HELP
The most frequent recipient of criticism on the Flyers social media scene this year has most definitely been Craig Berube. I have absolutely been one of the people criticizing both his usage and lineup decisions. I do not think that he is a good coach. His approach to defensive play is a huge concern, and I don’t want him coaching this team come October next season.
With that said, removing him right now will not turn this current group into a playoff team. No, the team has not stopped responding to Berube. They are just not very good at hockey. Firing him now would not only change very little in terms of results for this season, but could detract from the process of choosing the right guy to move forward with. Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey summed up this idea very well here.
It has been surprising to me how many people have been completely closed to the idea of letting Berube finish this season out. A large number of fans and even analysts have been acting as if Berube is the biggest reason for the struggles of the 2014-15 Flyers. Others who have been a voice of reason during many of these discussions have taken a huge amount of flack for it.
People love the idea that this group is simply a coaching change away from being a playoff team. It is much easier to simply blame Berube for all of the Flyers’ shortcomings than it is to come to the cold realization that this team is way more than just one move away from being a contender again. It’s always easier to direct anger towards one party for the failures of an organization, especially when that party could be removed from the picture at any time.
If you want to direct anger towards any singular entity, direct it towards Paul Holmgren. Yes, Berube is frustrating, but Holmgren is very clearly the man who is responsible for this group being where it is right now. To think that this group would be a true contender without Berube at the helm is simply a lazy way to look at things.
So, Flyers fans, have some patience here. Grab a few bottles of bourbon. Be ready to cheer for this team on some nights but be ready to laugh at their incompetence on others. There are no quick fixes for this group, and expecting those quick fixes will only lead to inevitable disappointment.