The Flyers need a culture change -- but it's not the one you're thinking of

The Flyers need a culture change -- but it's not the one you're thinking of

The Flyers have a culture problem.

But it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of. It isn’t the “Broad Street Bully” culture that has the cap-strapped Flyers at 4-9-1 and sinking in an awful Metropolitan Division. It also isn’t their seemingly endless management nepotism, though that doesn’t help.

It’s the big money culture that has to go.

The Flyers’ problem stems from their inability to adapt to the cyclical nature of the salary cap era. Before the hard cap was introduced in 2005-06, the Flyers were known as a heavy spending team that bought their way through downturns, threw money at issues and “went for it” every year by trading young talent for veterans.

The league changed but the Flyers didn’t.

Living year-to-year pressed hard against the cap, the Flyers still shun development in favor of spending. And it’s that archaic premise has them in quite a jam both financially and on the ice, sitting as one of the league’s worst teams with one of its highest payrolls.

This money-slinging culture problem is especially apparent on the Flyers’ blue line, which is slow, old and outrageously expensive for ranking 16th in goals-against per game. In fact, the Flyers (without Chris Pronger’s $4.941 million) easily lead the league in defense spending at over $28 million.

But where did the Flyers go wrong? It’s in their team-building strategy.

The same ‘buy competitiveness’ philosophy that helped the Flyers through the late 90’s and early 00’s, is what compelled general manager Paul Holmgren to trade the 27th overall pick in 2008 for defender Steve Eminger.

Instead of trying to find the next Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers re-signed the 38-year-old to a one-year contract for $6 million. Instead of replacing unrestricted free-agent Matt Carle with inexpensive production from within, the Flyers signed 35-year old Mark Streit at $21-million for four years.

Yet it isn’t just impulse buying that has the Flyers in a bind -- it’s their long-time disinterest in creating inexpensive options. There is no PK Subban, Ryan Ellis, Jonas Brodin or Jacob Trouba waiting to step in or step up into a major role. The team’s brightest defensive star is 24-year-old Luke Schenn, who has been relegated to the press box for the last two games as a healthy scratch.

Currently, the Flyers are the only team in the NHL to not have a drafted player on their defensive roster. They have just one homegrown player (signed first entry-level contract and played first NHL game with the same club) -- college free agent Erik Gustafsson, who is sharing popcorn with Schenn.

In comparison, the Chicago Blackhawks have three homegrown defensemen. Both the Boston Bruins and LA Kings have four. All three have won the Stanley Cup in recent years and all three spend less on defense than the Flyers.

Although you can point at the Flyers’ broken and inept AHL pipeline for their inability to transform below-average talents into inexpensive and serviceable NHL players, acquiring, drafting and developing high caliber defensemen has not been a priority for this club. They simply don’t feed the pipeline with quality talent.

Since 2004, the Flyers made 70 draft selections. Only 23 were defensemen and only two, over that 10 year span, were picked with the team’s first pick -- Luca Sbisa, 2008 and Sam Morin, 2013. Including those two, the Flyers only selected a defensemen in the third round or higher 10 times.

Of the 23 defensemen picked, only five have played with the Flyers -- Oskars Bartulis, Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Oliver Lauridsen and Luca Sbisa. Led by Bartulis’ 66 games, this group has combined for a total of 175 games played in a Flyers jersey.

Out of 10 years of drafting and 23 picks, the Flyers received a little over two full seasons worth of return. Only Bourdon and Lauridsen are still with the organization, now playing with the Adirondack Phantoms.

When analyzing the Flyers’ many issues, it’s not Jay Rosehill, Zac Rinaldo or the bully culture that caused this mess -- it’s another out-of-date mentality. It’s the small-picture, big money, run-and-gun spending philosophy that has doomed these Flyers.

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers at Bucks
3:30 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (12-26) look to get back in the win column when they face the Milwaukee Bucks (20-19) at the Bradley Center in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Let's take a closer look at Monday afternoon's matchup:

1. Back on the Embiid express
The Sixers have started to show flashes of coming together and finally turning the corner on their massive rebuild. However, they are nowhere near the point that they can remove the biggest piece of the puzzle and still expect to win games.

The Sixers found that out again on Saturday night, as they were pummeled during the second half of a 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards with Joel Embiid sidelined for rest.

The team didn't want to use the rookie phenom's absence as an excuse, but it was clear his presence was missed.

“We didn’t have that extra oomph,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. “Obviously, the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that’s the challenge. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Embiid and his 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game will be back in the lineup against the Bucks.

2. Freak of nature
The Sixers won't be the only squad with a star in the making on the court Monday afternoon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown plenty of potential since he was selected by the Bucks 15th overall in the 2013 draft (Anthony Bennett, who was recently released by the Brooklyn Nets, was taken No. 1 overall that year, for those of you keeping track at home). But the man known as "The Greek Freak" has taken his game to new heights this season.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in addition to 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season - all career highs. He's also coming off a 33-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in the Bucks' 111-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

With Antetokounmpo playing point guard full time now and the Bucks' starting five boasting players all above 6-foot-7, it's hard to determine how the Sixers will match up on defense. Whatever the plan is to slow down "The Greek Freak," it will have to be a total team effort.

3. Protect the paint
All of that size and athleticism for the Bucks is a big reason they attack the rim so much. Milwaukee is tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead in points in the paint with 50.6 per game.

The Sixers were dominated on the low block for 54 points by the Wizards on Saturday with Embiid out. For the season, they rank 14th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.3 a night.

One thing that might help the Sixers is their shot blocking. They swat 5.6 shots a game (sixth in the NBA), which could deter some of those romps to the rim by the Bucks.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Khris Middleton (hamstring) is out for the Bucks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 of their last 14 games to the Bucks.

• Ersan Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks (see story on his return to Milwaukee). This will mark the fourth time he has faced his former team.

• Jabari Parker, selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft right before Embiid, has emerged this season with 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

The Sixers will get Joel Embiid back in the lineup when they meet the Bucks on Monday afternoon in Milwaukee, but they'll be without their starting point guard.

T.J. McConnell will miss Monday's game with a sprained right wrist suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Wizards in D.C., the Sixers announced Monday morning.

McConnell reportedly did not travel with the team to Milwaukee and is back home in Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old McConnell has been a presence this season for a Sixers team that desperately needed something from the point guard spot. In 38 games this season, McConnell has averaged 4.8 points, 5.8 points and 4.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night in an average of 22.3 minutes a game.

The highlight of McConnell's season, of course, came last week when he nailed the game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Sixers a 98-97 victory over the Knicks.

Sergio Rodriguez is expected to start in McConnell's place Monday against the Bucks.