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I can confirm that the #Flyers just became a playoff team.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) July 2, 2013
Ya gotta believe.
But it seems that when a team makes the news for something undesirable in the NHL these days, they stay there for quite some time, and such is the case with the hapless Philadelphia Flyers.
Nearly a full week at this point, after the mortifying incident of a team pushed too far by its own embarrassing badness, there are still autopsies being done, promises to Do Something being made.
The good news, apparently, is that the horrifying and indefensible Ray Emery attack on Braden Holtby prompted a decent amount of introspection. Not, strangely, about whether this is the kind of thing we want happening in the National Hockey League in 2013, but rather about why the Flyers are so bad in general. Which is one way of getting to the root of the problem: If Philadelphia weren't getting its lunch handed to it in so thorough and embarrassing a manner by the Capitals in that game, then Emery never tries to beat Holtby to death.
Among those making such promises to get to the bottom of this, or rather hoping that positive affirmations will come true (not really the same thing) is Claude Giroux, who has been actively terrible this season. A lot is being made about his whopping zero goals this season, which puts him behind goalscoring giants such as Cory Sarich, Matt Gilroy, Tim Jackman, Cam Janssen, and of course Mike Smith. Obviously, given that his points per game over the last two seasons is 1.13, the current situation is untenable.
Things are so bad, in fact, that they've led Sarah Baicker of Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia to wonder aloud (here and here) whether all the pressure of wearing the captain's C is getting to him, which would have been unthinkable in September, when Giroux was coming off two straight point-a-game seasons and was in the not so distant past still being hailed — by wrong people — as the best player in the world.
The idea that Giroux would in any way benefit from being stripped of the C for reasons similar to Lecavalier's youthful inexperience is of course ludicrous. Lecavalier, the aging negative-possession center who's now coincidentally an accomplice in the Flyers' downfall because Paul Holmgren is bad at his job, was 20 when he was named Bolts captain. Giroux was 24 when Philly foisted the mantle upon him. He's not in over his head all of a sudden. He looked very good last year even in the absence of Jaromir Jagr and with Scott Hartnell crashing to earth so hard — just like everyone reasonable, and therefore not Holmgren, said he would — he created an extinction event.
(Hartnell, by the way, had himself one point, a power play goal against Carolina, in the first 10 games of the season and is currently earning $4.75 million against the cap, as he will for each of the following five seasons. More money well spent.)
Even his refusal to talk to the media is no sign of anything other than frustration, and who can blame him? He's now being labeled as not being a “good captain” because he refused to talk to the media after his team was again shut out, as though that's always the job. He can call all the players-only meetings he likes, but this is so far beyond him not being a good captain that anyone now pointing out how bad his upcoming contract is (pretty bad!) or saying he should be handling things differently, as though he's the problem here, is being intentionally obtuse about the real issues.
But no, Giroux swears on a stack of JM Barrie novels that the real reason the Flyers are dying is that no one is clapping hard enough in the dressing room. The Flyers don't believe they're a good team right now (and P.S.: They're right) and that's the real problem here. And at least everyone in the room now believes in that mantra. Taking the advice of Tug McGraw, and for lack of anything better to do with their time at the moment, that's what the Flyers are now trying with all their hearts to do.
The problem is it's not going to work.
It's not, as some seem to be suggesting in a roundabout way, a situation of the team going the way of the captain. Giroux was superb last season even as the team took on water at an alarming rate. That he's not scored in 20 straight regular-season games isn't, really, the issue.
That led Holmgren to make significant changes including buying out Ilya Bryzgalov, as if goaltending were the problem. It was a problem, sure, but more symptomatic of the team's larger issues related to roster construction than the root cause of all the team's ills. Of course, Holmgren's inability to get an actual good goaltender (with all apologies to Steve Mason's .932 save percentage in 18 games since arriving in Philly) this summer, and rather settle on a 1a/1b rotation of this quality did little to help root out what he clearly believed to be the problem, but maybe he was just making a point about his low opinion of Bryzgalov.
Just based upon the makeup of the defense alone, this was a team that was always going to fail in its attempts to be any good at all. It's a frankly bizarre mix of elder statesmen who used to be good in the way that the salad dressing at the back of your fridge was also good seven years ago when you first bought it (Kimmo Timonen, Mark Streit, Hal Gill), guys in their late 20s who never wound up being as good as anyone would have hoped (Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Nicklas Grossmann), and overwhelmed youngsters (Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon). Add in the fact that their bottom-six forwards are and were always going to be a disaster, and the fact that we're looking at a very bad Flyers team.
The Flyers' woes almost — but don't quite — begin and end with how awful their team defense is. At five-on-five and with the score close, they're 22nd in the league in corsi-for percentage (47.7 percent), and 26th in shots allowed per 60 minutes (35.1). That's awful, and things would be one hell of a lot worse if they weren't seventh in save percentage (.938). That's absurdly high, of course, and it's probably going to come down.
Maybe it reaches something of an equilibrium with the team's 24th-ranked shooting percentage (6.1 percent). Even still, that sustainable midpoint still leaves them in the red in a lot of ways, and in the end doesn't help much, if at all. Certainly, none of it is enough to rescue a team that is, at this point, already six points out of a playoff spot.
And in the face of all this, all that poor, put-upon Craig Berube can do for himself is to continually shuffle lines in the hopes that someone eventually scores two goals in a game and the hangman's noose stops tightening around his neck for a minute. The fact that he's rearranging deck chairs on a Titanic that's already broken in half, the stern of which is standing at nearly a 90-degree angle and sliding into icy black water at an increasingly-alarming rate. The band plays on, but Peter Laviolette was frankly lucky to get to a lifeboat when he did.
The thing that should be most troubling about it, though, is that the Flyers are paying a ridiculous amount of money to do whatever this season is. They are one of nine teams that, according to CapGeek, have no money to spend against the cap whatsoever. They are one of nine teams in the league to hold this designation, but they and Carolina (another woefully bad team guilty of overspending to no particular end) are the only two currently not holding onto a playoff spot, or indeed even close to doing so.
In fact, in terms of the amount of dollars spent towards the cap per standings point so far this season (including bonuses and money for guys on the LTIR), they're spending more than everyone besides Buffalo. Prior to Thursday's games, the Flyers were spending more than $7.46 million for each of their nine points in the standings (Buffalo was at a little less than $8.14 million). League average is about $4.07 million per point.
You can say there's a lot of time to make up ground, but as Elliotte Friedman pointed out a few weeks ago, teams that are more than four points out of a playoff spot as of Nov. 1 need Herculean efforts to make it at all.
The Flyers seem a team incapable of doing that even if everything in the league turns on its ear. They have just nine points from their first 14 games. That gives them very little time to get back into the playoff picture at all, despite the fact that most of the little kiddies in Flyerland aren't done eating their Halloween candy.
Prior to last night's game, they had 68 remaining in the season, and yet Sports Club Stats already gave them only an 8.3 percent chance to make the playoffs; that is, if 1,000 NHL seasons started exactly as this one did, the Flyers would only make the playoffs 83 times. Only four teams (Winnipeg, Florida, Edmonton, and Buffalo) were worse off.
But don't tell Captain Giroux that. He thinks, because he's apparently a serviceable captain, that this is a good team. Well-built and capable of competing for the Stanley Cup.
So please, the next time he loses a tooth, don't anyone tell him who's really leaving the dollar under his pillow.