The Philadelphia Flyers are bad at hockey. That is not breaking news. The team has had two 10+ game losing streaks already, and, by the looks of it, fancies a third. Still, it is a bit surreal how comfortable the city has become with the reality that the Flyers stink. Neither Julius Erving nor Allen Iverson managed to make basketball Philadelphia’s preferred winter sport during their respective illustrious careers; it turns out the Flyers would eventually do it for them through sheer force of their ineptitude. The Flyers are a nonfactor, background noise, too irrelevant to even be a disgrace. It is a sad state, but a deserved one. The Flyers have been content with being mediocre for too long. Maybe, now that they STINK in capital letters, they will at long last change the way they do business.
For the better part of their existence, the Flyers were second only to the Eagles in Philadelphia’s sports hierarchy. The first week of October was a massive deal, and with each postseason came a legitimate chance at Stanley Cup glory. That trophy would take trips down Broad Street in 1974 and again in 1975, but five subsequent trips to the finals during the 20th century meant that its return always seemed to be just around the corner. With the onset of the 2000s, that all changed. Winning a playoff series turned from the bare minimum to a major accomplishment, and a potential parade has faded further and further from view. Now, there is a feeling that the Flyers’ decades-long slow death is nearing its end.
The Flyers began to rot in earnest when some combination of Bob Clarke’s ego and a pair of concussing hits from Darius Kasparitus and Scott Stevens ended Eric Lindros’s time in Philadelphia. Lindros was the team’s last true superstar, their last real chance at the Cup. The organization always managed to hide away that bitter reality in one way or another. It usually did so with half-baked championship pretenders or false saviors. Under the direction of Clarke and later Paul Holmgren, there were plenty of both.
The early 2000s saw hodgepodges of stars from other cities like Jeremy Roenick and Mark Recchi take the Orange and Black deep enough into the playoffs to placate the fans. They never had the horses to win, though, and, despite acquiring the husk of Hall of Fame center Peter Forsberg, the Flyers would finish dead last by 2006-2007. Some measure of pride would return to the team in the latter part of the decade. Two-way forward Mike Richards emerged as a fiery leader, and the team traded for all-time great defenseman Chris Pronger. The duo would lead a title charge that fell short on Michael Leighton’s near post in 2009-2010 before Richards’s off-ice reputation and Pronger’s health ended their respective Flyers’ careers.
For most organizations, the banishment of one captain (Richards) and the abrupt retirement of his successor (Pronger) would scream “rebuild” in giant neon letters. Not the Flyers. No, the Flyers had 2006 1st rounder and general blue-chipper Claude Giroux. Giroux was a stud, seemingly a surefire future Hart Trophy winner. Instead of gathering a young, potential-laden roster centered around the French Canadian, Paul Holmgren, and Ron Hextall after him, would surround Giroux with a rotating cast of overpaid veterans with the impossible directive of actually winning anything. Thanks to his obvious talent, Giroux had unwittingly given the Flyers license to continue to pretend they were a Stanley Cup contender. Years of making the playoffs every other season surrounded by names like Ilya Bryzgalov, Andrew MacDonald, and James van Riemsdyk seemingly took their toll on Giroux. He never quite clicked in the postseason, and now, 15 meaningless years later, he will leave to pursue his championship dreams elsewhere.
What the Flyers are left with is another fraudulent roster, assembled this time by Chuck Fletcher, a mismatched jumble of ill-fitting parts that were never going to build a winner. Switch out Mike Knuble for Kevin Hayes and Mark Streit for Ryan Ellis, but the team is the same. The post-Lindros Flyers have always been a mix of players that are almost good enough, gathered to support a core that does not exist. They limp into the playoffs with their “any given series” attitude and inevitably watch the second round from home. Maybe, with this latest humiliation, the Flyers can finally try to build something new. The alternative is just too pathetic.
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