PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Flyers have failed to win a Stanley Cup since 1975.
But they’re at least in the hunt.
Not this year. Not after the Flyers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and only the second time since 1995.
Any off-season shakeups needed to mould the Flyers back into a contender won’t include changing the coach.
Peter Laviolette has another chance to win the Cup with the Flyers, and will return for his fifth season with a chance to prove this was a one-year blip and not the start of downward spiral for the franchise.
“We’re not in the playoffs, so we all underperformed,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Sunday. “Players, coaches, myself. And we’ve got to get better. I’m not unhappy with the coaches. I think they did a good job under the circumstances. But we’re sitting here today talking and the playoffs are going to start in two days and we’re not in them, so that’s not good.”
The Flyers went 23-22-3 and were 10th in the Eastern Conference with 49 points. After a slow start, Laviolette’s performance was under scrutiny for most of the lockout-shortened season. The Flyers defence was decimated by injuries and overall inconsistent play doomed the team.
Holmgren made it clear he still believed Laviolette was the right coach and that enough talented players are in place—like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek—to make a quick return to the post-season.
“I think Peter is a strong motivator,” Holmgren said. “I think he’s a strong tactician and I expect him to lead our team back into the playoffs next year.”
Laviolette, who spoke to the media before Holmgren, was short on specifics on how the Flyers would again become conference contenders. Regaining their health and improving their depth would help. Braydon Coburn, Bruno Gervais, Nick Grossmann, Kent Huskins, Andrej Meszaros and Kimmo Timonen all lost significant time with injuries, forcing the team to turn to minor-league call-ups down the stretch to fill their spots.
“Certainly, this is not where we wanted to be,” Laviolette said. “This is not the outcome that we were looking for. I think when things like this happen, certainly I feel responsible. I’m the head coach of this team. It’s an uneasy feeling right now to be out of the playoffs when the expectation is to be in the playoffs.”
Before the season opener, owner Ed Snider was asked if he had any area of concern entering this season. He was firm in his assessment: “No.”
Turned out, there was reason to worry.
A year after he was named an All-Star, Scott Hartnell missed a month with a foot injury and scored only eight goals. Danny Briere scored six goals in only 34 games. Sean Couturier, who had a hat trick in a playoff game last year, scored only four goals in 46 games and was invisible most nights. Giroux went from last season’s league MVP candidate to a 13-goal scorer who failed to rally his teammates in his first season as team captain.
“The lockout probably had a factor in it,” Hartnell said. “You sit around for a few months and get disheartened and frustrated and your workouts aren’t great. I think a lot of guys can say that.”
Well, every team was locked out, and 16 of them are in the playoffs.
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who started 22 straight games in one stretch, took the tired route of criticizing the media.
“You guys are just here to blame someone,” Bryzgalov said. “Never look yourself in the mirror, huh? You’re always good, never make the mistakes, your articles are always perfect. But in reality what have you done for this city?”
Much like Bryzgalov, no writer has ever won a Stanley Cup with the Flyers.
Bryzgalov still has seven years and $34.5 million left on his original nine-year deal, meaning the Flyers could use one of their amnesty buyouts on him.
With a hefty $6.5 million salary cap hit and declining production, Briere knows the Flyers could use one of their two amnesty buyouts on him.
One of the top playoff performers in franchise history, Briere was limited this season because of a broken wrist and concussion. While he understands the cold reality of the situation, Briere, who has a no-trade clause, does not want to leave the Flyers.
“I hope not. At this point, it’s out of my control,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, but I certainly hope I’ll still be here. I’ve said it all along. My family’s here, my kids are here, this is my first choice, this is where I want to be. But I also understand it’s a business, so we’ll see what happens with that.”
Holmgren said he had yet to talk to Briere about his future. As for Bryzgalov, Holmgren simply called 19 wins and a shutout a good year.
Too many good years. Not enough great ones.
Still, Holmgren remained optimistic about the future.
“I still like our team,” Holmgren said. “I think when we’re healthy, we still have a good team. We had a lot of unhealthy players at times last year. And I think we’ll be better next year. We’ll look around, obviously make ourselves better and see what we can come up with.”
Freelance writer Dave Zeitlin contributed from Voorhees, N.J.