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.