Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Flyers Have Become the Old Red Sox

Remember the Boston Red Sox, before Theo Epstein came along to snap them out of it? They never had enough pitching. They never had enough defense. They never had enough speed. And they never had enough hitters who could make contact and hit to all fields.

But they ignored these needs.  They always went for the big righthanded slugger who could jack the ball over the Green Monster. Usually an older one. And said sluggers usually struck out too much and were liabilities in the field (especially before the DH came along). Until Theo came along, they never, ever learned:

1936 Jimmie Foxx
1943 Al Simmons
1944 "Indian Bob" Johnson
1946 Rudy York
1948 Vern Stephens
1952 George Kell
1954 Jackie Jensen
1959 Vic Wertz -- didn't need Willie Mays to stop him anymore
1960 Bobby Thomson -- no "Shot heard 'round the world" for Boston
1963 Dick Stuart -- "Dr. Strangeglove"
1967 Ken Harrelson
1973 Orlando Cepeda
1980 Tony Perez
1981 Joe Rudi
1993 Andre Dawson
1995 Dave Hollins
1995 Tuffy Rhodes
1995 Mark Whiten -- "Hard-Hittin'" no more
1996 Kevin Mitchell
1996 Mike Stanley
1999 Butch Huskey
2000 Gary Gaetti

Most of these guys were really good ballplayers at some point.  But by the time the Sox got them, they were, with few exceptions, injured and/or past their prime, and having that nice close left field wall didn't help them or their new team.

Finally, in 2003, Epstein started following the advice of former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee: Build your team around your field's furthest point, not its closest.  So he got hitters capable of hitting to the deep center and right-center field at Fenway Park, and these players were better on defense as well.  True, they had big sluggers, especially Manny Ramirez.  But their best hitters were mostly lefties: David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon.  (Ironically, Theo got rid of Nomar Garciaparra, who seemed to be the right kind of guy, but the conflict between him and Sox management had gotten too bad.)

Now, I have maintained that the Red Sox' 2004 and 2007 World Championships should be disqualified, or at least asterisked.  But the fact that they did win those World Series after finally following the key advice provides a lesson.  If "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result," what do you call being told over and over again what the problem is, and ignoring it and doing the same something else over and over again, and expecting a different result?


The Philadelphia Flyers have followed a similar pattern.

Since Bernie Parent, in the days before hockey goaltenders had the kind of helmets they have now, took a puck to the eye in 1979, to prematurely end a great career that included two Stanley Cups, they've never had a goalie who was good enough.

Parent was replaced by Pete Peeters, who got slammed by the New York Islanders in the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals.  Peeters would later prove that the Flyers weren't the problem, he was, as he also got raked in the Playoffs for the Boston Bruins.

In 1985, the Flyers reached the Finals again, only to be beaten by the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers.  No shame in that.  They had Pelle Lindbergh, just 26 years old, and he seemed to be the sweetest thing to come out of Sweden since the female half of ABBA.  (Not to me.  I hated ABBA.  Every single song of theirs.) But on November 11, 1985, Lindbergh decided to drink and drive on the way home from a party in South Jersey, and crashed his car.  He was dead.

He was replaced by Ron Hextall.  The Flyers lost to the Oilers again in the 1987 Finals, but Hextall put on a show in Game 6 that got him the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP -- a rare occurrence of a player on the team that loses the Finals getting it.  Lots of people -- especially Hextall himself -- thought he was good enough, but as our own Claude Lemieux (in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals) and many others proved, he wasn't.  In the 1997 Finals, the Flyers got swept by the Detroit Red Wings, and it didn't matter whether Hextall or Garth Snow was in the net.  A fan at Joe Louis Arena held up a sign:


It's worth noting that, in 1986 and '87, Hextall's backup was former Islanders and Devils goalie, now Devils broadcasting star, Glenn "Chico" Resch.  He was not the answer in South Philly, any more than he was in East Rutherford.

Speak of the Devils.  Twice, the Flyers picked up 1988 Devils Playoff hero Sean Burke.  Neither time did it work.  (And that wording may be the most poetic thing about Flyer goaltending since Parent.)

John Vanbiesbrouck, who became surplus to requirements at Madison Square Garden once the Rangers got Mike Richter, is one of the few players to have played for the Rangers, the Islanders, the Devils and the Flyers.  He gave the Flyers 2 decent seasons as a backup, and wasn't even all that bad in the 1999 Playoffs, but the Flyers didn't give him much help.

Brian Boucher looked like the answer.  He was fantastic in both the regular season and the Playoffs in 1999-2000, the year Eric Lindros and now-GM Bobby Clarke, the 2 most talented players in Flyer history, feuded all season long.  The Flyers might well have won the Cup, if not for the Devils' miracle comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals.  In 2002, Boucher had an unbelievable scoreless streak in the Playoffs.  But then he got hurt, and he was never the same.

Roman Cechmanek, who succeeded Boucher, was brilliant in the regular season from 2000 to 2003.  But, again, he had trouble getting it done in the Playoffs.  (Although, to be fair, in 2002 he had a goals-against average of 1.85, and still had a 1-3 record, so it wasn't his fault that time.)

Antii Niittymaki got a lot of good notice, but only played in one Playoffs for the Flyers, and the Finnish netminder was finished.

Martin Biron looked like the answer.  But in 2008, he lost more games and allowed more goals than any Playoff goalie.  He was a Flyer for one more year, and then it was au revoir.

Ray Emery was good for the Ottawa Senators.  He was not good for the Flyers.

Now, they have Russian Ilya Bryzgalov in goal.  Bryz is good in the regular season.  In the Playoffs, not so much.


The whole hockey world knows the Flyers need a goalie.  And a better defense.

So what do they do? They sign Vincent Lecavalier, a former All-Star for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  He's 33, a center, and hasn't had an especially good season in 3 years.

Go after an aging attacker, when they really need a stopper in the net? They've done this before:

1981 Darryl Sittler
1982 Ron Sutter
1983 Rich Sutter (twin brother of the preceding)
1994 Craig MacTavish
1995 Dale Hawerchuk
1995 Joel Otto
1997 Dave Babych
1999 Rick Tocchet (much better the first time they had him)
1999 Keith Primeau
1999 Gino Odjick
2000 Kevin Stevens
2001 Jeremy Roenick
2001 Adam Oates
2002 Tony Amonte
2005 Peter Forsberg
2005 Mike Knuble
2005 Petr Nedved
2006 Geoff Sanderson
2009 Chris Pronger (defenseman but I'm counting him)
2011 Jaromir Jagr
2012 Ruslan Fedotenko (much better the first time they had him)

All of them had been stars.  Some of them are, or will be, in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  None of them addressed the Flyers' greatest need: Defense, especially in goal.

Seventy-five, never again? Well, let's do the math: It took the Red Sox 86 years, so...

+  86

Philadelphia Flyers, 2061 Stanley Cup Champions? And not before?

Hello, you're on WIP.

1 comment:

Bruce Springsteen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.