It has been 50 years since the formation of the Philadelphia Flyers. In this series, we look back at the proud history of a team that has become synonymous with Philadelphia.
2011 to 2016: Another decline, another rebuild.
The Flyers came out and had a much better regular season in 2010-11 then they did in 2009-10, finishing with 103 points. They played the Buffalo Sabers in the first round and won in six games. Even with that being said though, their goaltending was still shaky as coach Peter Laviolette had a revolving door in net. He started rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 1 and considering it was his very first playoff game, he played fairly well.
The Flyers lost Game 1 of the series but, instead of sticking with Bobrovsky and allowing him to bounce back, Laviolette pulled the plug on him and went with veteran Brian Boucher. It would signal the end of Bobrovsky’s career in Philadelphia. The goaltending carousel continued all the way up to the sixth and final game where Laviolette even reverted back to Michael Leighton. Leighton was an unmitigated disaster in Game 6 for the Flyers, giving up two dreadful goals. The Flyers eventually came back and won the game in OT to clinch the series. Things were starting to unravel for Philadelphia though. They got thoroughly dominated in the next round, getting swept by the Boston Bruins. After the series was over, owner Ed Snider came out, just like he had after the Flyers had gotten bludgeoned by the Blues after their second season in the league, and said, “never again will we lose a series because of goaltending”. There was no doubt the Flyers would be adding a goalie in the offseason.
There were other problems with the Flyers that were bubbling to the surface. It was no secret that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter enjoyed the night life. It was a source of irritation for Flyers management too. They felt that both players weren’t fully committed to hockey. There was also the feeling that the Flyers had gone as far as they were going to go with Carter and Richards being the core of the team, so you knew changes were coming.
And come they did. The Flyers signed free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal. They traded Richards to the L.A. Kings for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds and they traded Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jake Voracek and the eighth overall pick in the draft which turned out to be Sean Couturier. They also went on to trade goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for a third-round pick and signed veteran winger Jaromir Jagr.
So the Flyers entered the 2011-12 season with a whole new feel. They had added what they hoped was a capable goaltender while at the same time adding an infusion of youth with the additions of Schenn, Couturier, Simmonds and Voracek. The season couldn’t have started any better. The Flyers shut out the Bruins in Boston 3-0 and finished the regular season with 103 points and as the number five seed in the East, setting up another matchup with the Penguins.
The series with the Penguins was one for the ages. As hard-hitting, hate-filled a series as you would ever want to see. It featured a 9-6 final in Game 2 where Flyers rookie Sean Couturier netted a hat trick. Couturier was instrumental in shutting down Pittsburgh’s big guns Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It was also a series that featured Penguins winger Chris Neal and Malkin taking cheap shot after cheap shot during the series with the only punishment being Neal receiving a one game suspension.
Game 6 of the series might of been Claude Giroux‘s finest moment as a Flyer. He begged and pleaded with Laviolette to give him the first shift of the game, which he did. Giroux came out, laid a thunderous hit on the Penguins Sidney Crosby to the delight of the Philadelphia crowd and then seconds later scored the first goal of the game. Philadelphia went on to win the game and the series.
In the next round, the Flyers won Game 1 in OT against the Devils but then were outclassed by New Jersey the rest of the series, losing in 5 games. The Flyers had been eliminated in the playoffs but there did seem to be some hope on the horizon. The team seemed to have a young core of players in Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Couturier, Schenn and van Riemsdyk to build around.
That promise never came to fruition though. The Flyers stumbled in 2012-13, failing to qualify for the playoffs. It was the moves made by Philadelphia after this that really led to their downfall and has put them in the position they are in today: a team that has missed the playoffs two out of the last three years and looks to be headed for three out of the last four. Even the one year they did make it in 2013-14 in my opinion was a mirage. The Flyers just happened to get hot at the right time and squeaked in. The club tried to fool themselves into thinking they were close because they took the eventual Stanley Cup finalist to seven games but the series wasn’t really that close. Philadelphia’s goaltending was the only thing that kept the series competitive.
In what I thought was a desperate, shortsighted move, and I said it at the time as well, the Flyers signed two veteran free agents to long term contracts. They signed Vinny Lecavalier, a guy who played a position the Flyers were already deep at with Giroux, Schenn, Couturier, and Max Talbot to a five-year deal and they signed veteran defenseman Mark Streit to a four-year deal. They had also traded one of their young forwards who was supposed to be one of their building blocks for the future, James van Riemsdyk, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn.
Instead of building though the draft and allowing the young players to develop, Philadelphia went for the quick fix. They also left themselves no wiggle room in terms of making trades or signing free agents because by adding Streit and Lecavalier, the Flyers had no room under the salary cap and wouldn’t for years because both Lecavalier and Streit were signed to long-term deals.
Changes and the future
This seemed to signal the end for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. The league was heading in a different direction and needed some new blood in the GM’s chair. In stepped Ron Hextall. Hextall had worked under Kings GM Dean Lombardi as the assistant GM while the Kings were building a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012. His style as a GM vs Paul Holmgren’s is a complete polar opposite. Holmgren was all about the quick fix and making the big splash in the trade and free agent markets whereas Hextall is very methodical and patient. He is all about building through the draft and allowing the Flyers young players develop in the minor leagues.
Although the current Flyers team seems to be floundering through what looks like is going to be yet another season with no playoffs, the Flyers do have a young corps on the current team to build around in Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere and the future is as bright for this organization as it has ever been. The cupboard is stacked with prospects such as Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and only figures to get deeper with a few more drafts under Hextall.
So there you have it ladies and gentleman. Fifty years of Flyers history. Some good, some bad, all of it interesting. Here’s hoping that someday soon, the most passionate fans in hockey get rewarded for their patience with a Stanley Cup.