The NHL managed to start its postseason Tuesday night without any help from the Flyers for just the second time in the last 18 seasons.
Everyone has a different theory as to why the local hockey team was so flatly mediocre this year, but almost all agree the problems were most apparent when both teams had five skaters on the ice. Unless the NHL significantly alters its rules, that will continue to put the Flyers at a severe disadvantage if not corrected.
It seems that the organization itself is a little mystified with what went wrong. Here's how you tell: The coach isn't even being fired.
In the past, when all else failed, or when anything at all failed, management usually took the approach that it must be the coach's fault. What else could it be? That helps explain why the Flyers have had 11 head coaches and only three general managers since 1990.
Peter Laviolette isn't taking the fall for this one, however. He'll be back for 2013-14, according to GM Paul Holmgren, becoming the first head coach to hold the job for all or part of five consecutive seasons since Fred Shero. Yes, that would be 35 years ago.
Laviolette and Holmgren will be on the hot seat next season, though. At least, we assume that to be true. Team founder Ed Snider has been unusually quiet about the team's disappointing season, which he must have heard about by now.
If the Flyers miss the playoffs again, there will be changes. The last time the team strung together bad years - a five-season stretch from 1989 to 1994 in which fifth place in the division was the highest finish - the organization tried four coaches and two GMs before climbing out of it. Holmgren was one of the coaches, so he definitely knows the drill.
"We didn't perform to a level that we needed to perform," Holmgren said Sunday when the team broke for the offseason. "I'm not pointing at any individual or any system. We didn't get the job done."
There are some handy excuses, or reasons, for the 23-22-3 year, and one of them can be found in those exact numbers. With just 48 games squeezed in after the lockout ended, the Flyers didn't have enough time to really recover from a terrible start and didn't have enough practice time to fully integrate some changes Laviolette wanted in both his offensive and defensive systems.
They came out of the gate with six losses in their first eight games, and the coach had to put his foot on the gas and keep it there, burning up goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with 22 straight starts because it took management until late in the going to get a reasonable backup. Injuries on the defensive end didn't help - Nick Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros, and Braydon Coburn missed a combined 70 games - and the puck seemed to stick around the Flyers' net way too long. Bryzgalov got a little better at distributing it, but Laviolette's vision of "layered" defense usually just lay there.
"Our 'D' zone was trying to be like a couple of other teams in our division. We're not used to that system," winger Scott Hartnell told reporters. "We were an attack-oriented team. It seemed like . . . everyone was standing still . . . and we couldn't get much going from the defensive zone."
That's an exacta of finger-pointing right there, putting the blame on the system and its implementation as well as on the other end of the ice. He might be right, too, but in other years just that much locker room dissension was enough to create a real stir. Not this time.
"I think sometimes players tend to overthink these things," Holmgren said calmly.
From his chair, despite what he says publicly, the general manager might see a team on which the talent was badly overrated. Claude Giroux was their only point-per-game offensive player, and some of the younger players who were expected to blossom skated backward instead. The defense was a mess, but even when healthy, it's nothing that special.
Because it is always the easiest thing to talk about, even in a year when the guy isn't quirky, what to do with the goaltender is the hot topic. Bryzgalov was fine in goal and moderately entertaining away from it, but there is the real question of whether his teammates are always waiting for him to flip out or drop trou or something weird. Also as always, nothing but the success or failure of the entire organization relies on coming up with the right answer.
After a season like this, we know that someone's not coming back and Bryzgalov is as good a guess as any, which should please the detractors who precisely record his grammatical missteps to belittle him.
Bryz is an easy target - it comes with the mask here - but he wasn't the problem this season. Unfortunately for the Flyers, no one is really sure what was.
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