The Philadelphia Flyers now have a long off season to think about what went wrong, and what could have been. It will certainly differ from the feeling the Flyers felt after last seasons loss in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Last season the feeling was the Flyers simply ran out of gas, and were beaten by a better Blackhawks team.
The ending to this season has an entirely different feel all together.
This season ends with a lot more questions than answers. The most popular question has to be, “How did this happen?” How did a team that spent 57 days in first place, get swept in the semi-finals, in a series they were never really in?
We all have eyes, we can see what looked like an unmotivated, ill-prepared, and heartless team take the ice for the majority of their series with the Bruins. This wasn’t a question of which team was better. Yes, the Bruins played tremendous hockey, and deserved to win. However, we all know this was not the same Flyers team from a few months ago that seemed destined for another Cup run.
Claude Giroux said after the completion of the series that he felt the Flyers didn’t play with a strong enough effort. He seemed to back off that statement, rephrasing it to sound as if he himself wasn’t sure if the reason was that simple. Perhaps Giroux came to the realization at just that moment, that he was right.
Maybe it took the final nail to be in the Flyers coffin, for them to realize what they had been denying, all along. Their own “moment of clarity.”
Effort was the main culprit in the Flyers early exit, and it spread like a disease through the team. The start of the spread began a few months ago. When the Flyers struggled toward the end of the season, and were never really able to get back to their early season form. They struggled to get back on the same page as a team, and the effort began to diminish.
We can go with all the cliche’s we want, they weren’t healthy, their goaltending wasn’t strong, blah, blah, blah. Those excuses aren’t relevant after a series that saw the Flyers be totally dominated and dispatched in four games.
Now, on the Flyers inter-web and on the bar stools of your local pub, the finger-pointing has begun.No matter who the finger is pointed at, you can probably make an argument. Though, the most popular judgments have been made towards captain Mike Richards, GM Paul Holmgren and even head coach Peter Laviolette.
I criticized captain Mike Richards, deservedly, before Game 4 about his seemingly “invisible” performance during the series. He bounced back a bit in Game 4, playing a fairly solid game. Though, why wait until Game 4? I hate to knock Richie, he gets enough unfair criticism thrown his way, but the “C” on your chest means something, bud. I’ve never questioned Richards’ leadership qualities before, but they were desperately needed in this series, and they were noticeably absent.
Few on the Flyers showed up this series, but Richards is the captain, and whether he likes it or not, it all falls on him. Being the captain means you have a responsibility to lead, and not sneak out the back room to avoid the media after a loss.
Though, that’s only what we get to see. We’re not in the locker room, we aren’t on the bench. Whose to say Richards’ message simply wasn’t getting through? Or the troops just wouldn’t respond?
Fans claim Holmgren didn’t do what it took to bring in a proven goaltender. Nothing could be further from the truth, they knew the writing was on the wall, and they tried to make the necessary adjustments. All the way back on draft day, they acquired the rights to Evgeni Nabokov, which didn’t work out. They inquired about Tim Thomas, who was coming off of an injury and a season where he performed poorly. Not to mention, Thomas is due a substantial amount of money, it was simply too risky. They undoubtedly inquired about goaltenders at the trade deadline, however, at the time it didn’t seem worth trading away a guy like Jeff Carter or Claude Giroux. Instead, he did the next best thing, and beefed up the defense. A core that many claimed was the deepest in the NHL. In the end, they were broken down by injuries, and certainly showed their age by the time the Bruins got their hands on them.
Peter Laviolette’s one mistake may have been bringing Michael Leighton back into the goaltending fold late in the series against Buffalo. Goaltending was certainly a problem, but it was magnified by the carousel that ensued. Other than that, Laviolette was trying anything to get the team going, whether it was changing up line combinations or doing his best to motivate this Flyers team.
Bottom line, the blame goes from top to bottom. And it all goes back to their late season struggles. It showed their warts as a team, and perhaps their warts as individuals.
Now, the Flyers have an entire off season to find those warts, remove them, and put this season in the rear-view.