Sunday, August 26, 2007

Filling the Holes in Swiss Cheese - Part One


There are many reasons why the Flyers regressed into the horrible team that was iced before the reversal began in mid-season this past year. It actually started before the Lockout took place... Clarke, sensing the great change on the horizon, decided to hold off on re-signing all his UFAs with the exception of Keith Primeau. Keith had decided to buck the NHLPA and forgo Free Agency, and a possible jackpot contract in order to take a lower, longer contract to stay with the Flyers.

Clarke felt that he should wait and see what the market would be before he could determine what to offer his FAs... He did however make low ball offers to the likes of Zhamnov, and a couple others, which were quickly and flatly refused. He sat down with Mark Recchi and honestly told him that the Flyers wanted him back but could not make an honest offer until he knew what the 'rules' would be in the new CBA. Recchi in turn told Clarke that he wanted to retire as a Flyer and in the area, BUT he had to do what he had to do... for himself and for his family -- quite understandable -- Pittsburgh offered him a sweet contract that he could not refuse; a main piece of the core of the Flyers was now gone.

Going into the Lockout the Flyers had a nice team that got within one goal of a winnable Stanley Cup Finals seat and they looked like a team that would be a force in the future... As we all are aware, the Lockout killed the following season and many players contracts were then to expire.

Meanwhile, the Flyers AHL affiliate, The Phantoms, had a nice year and won the Calder Cup. They were manned with many Flyers prospects and young players unaffected by the Lockout... Prior to that Clarke had figured that some prospects would push the Flyers for spots, now he believed that he could man his team with many young and inexpensive players that would fit well in a capped league as the NHL had now become; a miscalculation on his part.

Coming out of the Lockout Clarke quickly signed what he believed to be the top defensive duo that would anchor the D for the better part of the decade; Mike Rathje and Derien Hatcher, then Coach Hitchcock's captain in his Dallas Cup winning team. Clarke was counting on the usual occurrence of the NHL only calling the obstruction penalties at the beginning of the season... and then allowing the game to be played as it had been before. Rathje and Hatcher together would be monsters in a defense under those circumstances... Along with stud prospect and a past third overall pick, Joni Pitkanen, a puck carrying D-man who played the pre-Lockout year, and returning mobile D-men Eric Desjardins and Kim Johnsson, the Flyers were well set on the blue line... Or so it seemed.

Then Clarke got the phone call of a lifetime... Peter Forsberg's agent called to inform Clarke that his client had decided to sign with the Flyers. Clarke was under the assumption that he had been done with his post-lockout major moves, so he had to scramble to make moves to free up cap space in order that they may sign him. The major move was to ask Roenick if he was willing be moved in order that they may release enough money for Foppa... JR, being the team player that he was, agreed to be traded to Los Angeles-- he said that Forsberg was the best player in the World, and that he would trade himself to sign him... if he was faced with the decision (paraphrased) -- Clarke sweetened the pot with LA and tossed in a pick for them taking the salary dump.

Clarke struck fast and hard and many hockey pundits were hailing him for the moves, and many had placed them among the favorites to win the Cup... The Flyers had a good goalie going into the Lockout in Robert Esche, and Antero Niittymaki, the Calder Cup MVP, coming up... Keith Primeau returning as captain after a career playoff... the defense I have mentioned above, and Gagne back at wing after a breakout playoff... Also signed along with Forsberg was Mike Knuble a late blooming stud and Turner Stevenson, a mainstay with the Devils Cup teams... Can't miss prospects Jeff Carter and Michael 'Captain Canada' Richards, who was targeted as the future captain of the Flyers, were being counted on to step right in.

The future look bright... Then things started to fall apart; their captain went down, with a career ending final concussion, and only got nine games in during the season. The uncertainty would not play itself out through the entire season and into the next one. Also, the officials threw a curve ball and held tight in making obstruction calls throughout the entire season, thus hindering the big two D-men's usefulness... By mid-season, after the All star break that found the Flyers with the most points in the NHL, the bottom fell out and injuries began to take a huge toll... Not the least of which was the constant visits to the Injured Reserve List by superstar, Peter Forsberg... A concussion put an end to Kim Johnsson's Flyers career and his season, and Eric Desjardins' injuries made him unavailable for most of the second half of the season and the playoffs. Stevenson was also hurt most of the season and ended up being of no at all, finally being bout out at season's end... Niittymaki was felled by injury also and the team tailed off through the end of the season and flopped greatly in the playoffs.

This all set the table for the total collapse that was to be last year.

Part Two will analyze the initial disaster of a start in 2006-07 and the beginning of the pull out from the tailspin.


Eggshmeg said...

I look forward to part 2 FF!

Avsfan19 said...

What Egg said. lol

Eggshmeg said...

I enjoyed how he actually went back to the pre-lockout era to trace how this collapse happened, he brought up some great points that I wasn't aware of. Great job FF!

ForeverFlyer16 said...

Yeah... and just wait until you read the next installment that shows the bad moves that didn't right the ship going into last season... and then the great moves that set the ship on the right course.

I suppose that much is not known to those who do not follow the Fly-Guys on a daily basis... I will attempt to bring you up to speed with a crash course.

Garfield512 said...

Great analysis FF ... wasn't aware of most of this stuff as I don't follow the Flyers closely. Seems that you guys have made some good moves this year and should be a team to reckon with.

ForeverFlyer16 said...

Hi, Garf... Yeah, the Fly-Guys revamped the team well in a retool rather than rebuild manner; it shouldn't take too long to get back to respectabilty and then a shot at the Cup.

I'll detail it more in the next part... Thanks for the props.