Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
The conclusion to the 2010-11 season did not end the way that anyone in Philadelphia would have hoped. Coming off of a Finals appearance last June, the Flyers amassed the third-best record in the NHL this season, and many believed this would be the year that Lord Stanley would return to Broad Street.
But alas, the 2010-11 season came and went without a title just like the 36 seasons before it and rather than enjoying a celebration of epic proportions, the Flyers faithful are left with nothing more than speculation. Speculation about next season, speculation about which players will be staying, speculation about which ones will be going, and speculation about who the Flyers will be bringing in to guard the net.
And that is exactly what has occurred since the Boston Bruins effortlessly swept the Flyers out of the rinks and onto the golf links…endless speculation. Although the Flyers may need a true number one goalie, that shouldn’t cause the organization to rid themselves of key players. This team is on the cusp of something special, and while some may believe that a major shake up is necessary, the truth may be that the pieces are already there and just need to be allowed to fall into place.
It has been made very clear that fans want the Flyers to go out and get a legitimate number one goaltender. Even team owner Ed Snider has addressed the topic. Rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovosky began the year on fire, but burned out before the postseason, leaving the masses wondering if he can really handle the job at this stage of his career.
Brian Boucher is an unrestricted free agent who played fairly consistently this season, but soft goals in the playoffs have left many looking at greener pastures, pastures that don’t include the aging veteran.
But is goaltending really the reason that the Flyers are watching their TV’s instead of playing on them?
The loss of Chris Pronger has largely been credited as the reason for the Flyers' decline. Based on the numbers, it seems clear that this was certainly the case. The most telling statistic? Ice time. Pronger takes up a lot of ice time, which means he handles more responsibility than others. This also means that if he is on the ice, someone else is off of it and resting. It’s easy to focus upon goals, assists, and plus/minus rating, but to truly understand where the fall of this team originated, ice time averages are a good place to start.
In the 2010 run to the Cup, the Flyers largely played a four man d-core that saw Pronger and partner Matt Carle playing in excess of 29 minutes per game. The organization actively tried to reinforce this unit so that they would no longer have to rely so heavily upon four guys. Defensemen Dan Hamhuis and goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco were individuals that the Flyers actively tried to bring into the organization. After all three men turned the team down, they went out and acquired Andrej Meszaros and free agent Sean O’Donnell to try and solidify their defensive unit.
Because the team couldn’t find a goaltender via free agency, the plan was to have a deep positional team with average goaltending. The depth of the offense was supposed to provide a large amount of goals and the defense was supposed to compensate for the lack of superstar talent in net. This strategy worked for the majority of the season, right until March rolled around.
At the beginning of the year, Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, and Kimmo Timonen averaged around 22 minutes of ice time per game. Braydon Coburn averaged 20 minutes and Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros averaged around 18 minutes per game.
By March 8th, the end of Pronger’s regular season, Carle, Coburn, and Timonen all had to increase their minutes to around 24 per game. Andrej Meszaros jumped all the way up to around 26 minutes per game and while every one else was increasing their ice time, Sean O’Donnell dropped all the way down to 13 minutes per game.
The 2010-11 Flyers were constructed with the philosophy that they would roll a full six-man defense in order to avoid unbalanced ice time averages. With the injury to Chris Pronger and the decline of Sean O’Donnell, the team once again went into the postseason with only four trusted defensemen. At times this team looked tired, fatigued, and uninterested. Can all of that be attributed to playing too many minutes? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly didn’t hurt.
With Chris Pronger’s future in the air and Kimmo Timonen’s career winding to an end, this team’s defense is no longer the powerhouse that it was in 2010. Considering how tight the salary cap is, as well as how many young, talented defensemen are in the Flyers’ system, it doesn’t seem to make sense for the club to go out and try to re-create a stacked defensive unit.
This is precisely why going out and finding a goalie makes the most sense.
That being said, it is important to realize that this team has consistently improved over the last five years. To blow up the team now in order to get a big name goaltender is just plain silly. Plenty of teams in the post-lockout NHL have proven that consistent goaltending can be just as, if not more productive, than a big name superstar. Look no further than Henrik Lundqvist in New York and Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay.
Lundqvist is a perennial Vezina trophy finalist and Roloson is a 41-year-old journeyman catching fire late in his career. Even though Lundqvist is consistently in contention for individual awards he has never even come close to competing for a Stanley Cup. Roloson is on the verge of his second appearance as a starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup finals, after just a single appearance in the 2004 All-Star game as his major NHL accolade.
Just because a goaltender has an established name does not mean that he will be able to push the Flyers over the edge and into a parade on Broad Street. Considering that the Flyers haven’t had a “number one” kind of guy in so long, it’s easy to say that that's the reason why the team hasn’t won a championship. Keep in mind, even if it’s easy to say, that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just ask Curtis Joseph and Ron Hextall if their names ever helped them win cups.
Would it hurt to have a big name number one? No, but it’s important to remember that big name number ones also come with big number contracts . The Flyers goaltending may not have been the strongest element of the 2010-11 team, but they are not the only reason that the team’s season finished on May 6th.
The biggest mistake that this organization can make going into 2011 would be to overreact this offseason. Regardless of the disappointing postseason results, this team is among the best in the NHL. Getting a goalie just to get a goalie won’t fix any thing, and certainly won’t help if they have to give up too much to get him. Players with the talent of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter don’t grow on trees. If the Flyers make the mistake of trading either of those players away, it would be a mistake that would undoubtedly come back to haunt them.
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