The Philadelphia Flyers and the Eventual Melancholy of Consistency

The Philadelphia Flyers and the Eventual Melancholy of Consistency

The following is a guest post from Ryan of Flyers Goal Scored By fame. The FGSB guys had a fantastic and original blog for years, but decided to call it quits this season. Part of the story is that blogging in addition to a day job and all of life's other demands is more challenging every year you do it. But the other part is more complicated and gets to the root of being a fan in this day and age, in this case, a Flyers fan. Ryan's words:

This was always going to be the day of our last post anyway. That it can
appear on such a prestigious website, well, that just brings a love
spot to my pants.

Our little blog that you probably never heard
of started in the Fall of 2007, to absolutely no fanfare. After 4 full
seasons of developing a love/hate relationship with the organization,
the writers, the fans, and Chris Therien we announced, to possibly less
fanfare, that the 2011-12 season would be our final foray into the
treacherous yet predictable world of hockey blogging.

As it turns out, we couldn't even make it that far, disappearing in
the middle of the night during a long stretch of W-L-W-L-W in November.
Maybe December. Who knows.

We rode the typical blog Change Curve -
new and energetic, growing and entitled, too good for the game, burnt
out and lost at sea.

During those five years the Flyers have taken a similar ride.

When
we set sail on this Italian cruise ship in 2007 the addition of Danny
Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, and Marty Biron gave Flyers fans
reason for cautious optimism. We had just been molested by someone we
trusted - a close uncle or a distant parent - and Fin Tutuola wasn't
there to tell us everything was going to be ok. We were skeptical - of
the Curse of Billy Penn, of losing the NHL Draft Lottery, of rooting for
a team that finished so far in last place that they had packed the
finish line up in a truck before we even got there. But John Stevens
coached the crew - led up front by the future of the franchise, the
Bobby Clarke of the new millennium, Mike Richards, and Jeff "I'm going
to score 40 one day" Carter, and in the back by the gritty Jason Smith,
the surprising Randy Jones and Braydon Coburn - to a 95 point season.
Lupul scored the Game 7 overtime winner, Umberger single-handedly
Klumped the Canadiens, and then with our defense depleted, the Penguins
made us the star of their prison movie in the Conference Finals.

THE CONFERENCE FINALS!!

And despite a 0-3-3 start the next
season under new captain Mike Richards, we finished with 99 points. The
Phillies won the World Series and a new sense of true optimism swept the
city. The Flyers got their act together after Brad Lidge and Carlos
Ruiz awkwardly knee-hugged just in front the CBP's pitcher's mound, and
of course Scottie Upshall cried when he left. Not only was he leaving
his besties, but he was leaving a team that was obviously snow-balling
into a Stanley Cup champ. Jeff Carter got his 46 goals. Vets like Simon
Gagne and Mike Knuble did exactly what they were expected to do, and a
faster and younger defense had been carved out of traffic cones Jason
Smith and Derian Hatcher. We were on our way. Until the Penguins got us
again. First round. Shhhhhh. What time do we tee off tomorrow?

But no worries, right? Last in the league to the Conference Finals
to a better regular season with a playoff blip on the radar? That
happens - you lose hard-fought playoff series when you're not supposed
to. Overall, the season was a success. Please proceed to the off-season
like any other team. Draft some kids. Have a rookie camp. See you in
September for training camp.

Hold Up, heeeyyyyy (RIP Nate Dog) Oh. Oh, okay. The Flyers drafted
Chris Pronger. Wait? Wait what?!? Is that a good thing? I thought he was
too old. To be drafted for sure but even to still be effective in the
league. I've heard a lot about him but he hasn't been in the East since
he was a Whaler and I only really know the Whalers from NHL '94 and
Mitchell & Ness gear. Are we going to win the Cup? We're going to
win the Cup! We're going to win the Cup!

Please fast forward your DVR until you reach December 5, 2009. Who
is that guy on the bench where John Stevens usually stands? Why did
Daniel Carcillo break that guy's face? Why are we losing to the Caps
8-2? I thought Pronger was going to win us the Cup. Why is everyone
sucking. Why does Pronger have the third most points on our team? Please
call your parents and ask if you can come to my Captain Controversy
Party! Richards can't handle it! Oh wait. Bouch made the save. We're the
7th seed! Wow, did we just mirk the Devils on a DANIEL CARCILLO
overtime goal! Who is this Leino guy? Did we just make history and come
back from a 0-3 deficit to beat the Bruins!! There's no way Richards
scored that goal. The was the best shift ever by a Flyer. Did we just
bend Carey Price over our knee and spank him to win the East!?! Grab
that trophy, Mike! Fuck superstition. We are the TEAM OF DESTN…ah shit
you JVR, I mean Patrick Kane. Asshole.

Still though. Pronger = Cup Finals. I was never good at math, but
that's something I can understand. Now if we could ever get a goalie…ah
forget about that. We're so good we don't need one.

2010-2011 is
it, baby. Mike Richards is the best captain in the NHL. This is his
team. This Giroux kid is pretty good too. No one is killing it this
season but we sure are winning a hell of a lot of games. And bam. There
it is. 106 points and 2nd in the conference. One point from winning the
entire conference. This guy can coach. This team can play. These goalies
can do what you need. Dry Island, Wet Island - who cares. We are headed
back to the Cup Finals and this this year we're going to…You know what
Boston? You sure know how to hold a grudge, sweeping us like that. It's
rude is what it is. Grow up. We at least let you play 7 games last year.
Ya jerks.

Ok but next season it all comes together. Our kids are growing into
vets. We have Pronger, Kimmo, Coburn, Carle, and Mesz on the back-end
and who knows what we'll add this off-season.

Ring, ring.

"Oh
hey Fran, Are you kidding! We got Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, Jakub
Voracek, Max Talbot, JAROMIR JAGR, a 1st rounder and Ilya Bryzgalov!!
Why don't they just hand over the Cup now? Wait what? Ha, yeah right.
There's no way. You're not kidding? Holy shit."

- - - -

If I'm being honest, I don't even know what this
season was. We had great rookies. Jagr was fun for a time. Bryzgalov was
a roller coaster. We finished with 103 points but did you ever think
"this is the team that's going to win it all?" No, you shouldn't have
anyway. At most maybe "this team could do something." Giroux emerged
into a superstar but on the flip side we lost Pronger, possibly to spend
the rest of his career in the front office. Without Pronger this team
is carnival side show - and you have no idea what to expect. Ever.

We had 457 rookies play this year - many in significant roles that
might be better filled by a Dowdian veteran. Without Pronger our defense
has been exposed. Kimmo is still a stud, but an aging stud. He's
incredible but he's not Lidstrom. These past few years were really the
club's opportunity to take advantage of all his skill. Now he's quickly
turning into the sexy woodshop teacher all the young ladies dream of
seeing on their schedule. Not old but not young. He's an overworked
Portuguese Water Dog.

The future is no clearer than it has ever been. They'll talk about
the rookies. They'll talk about Simmonds', Hartnell's, Talbot's, and
Giroux's career years. They'll talk, they'll talk, they'll talk. But
this might be the over-arching problem with trying to win every year,
from the perspective of a General Manager. We have a huge gap of talent.
So many young kids that are good in their own right and then so many
old dudes that are past their prime or nearing that point. Where is our
true core? Where is our compass?

The truth is that I'm tired of caring this much, and Billy Beane was
right about losing the last game of the season. I'll be there rooting
for the Flyers in my own way, but no longer climbing into bed on a
Thursday night thinking "why did I just waste 3 hours." No longer
staying in on a beautiful Saturday afternoon because "the boys are on."
It's not that I don't have the time, it's not that I don't have the
energy. It's that the opportunity cost is too high when I can read the
box score and watch the highlights any time I want. It's a different
world, Denise Huxtable.

The thing is that they're just going to go out there and do it again
next season. There will be some new faces and some old. Some new
storylines (ha, yeah right), some new rules, some new banners, renewed
optimism.

But at the same time everything will be the same. There will be
injuries, suspensions, FA signings, a draft, trades, the Flyers will
win, lose and participate in shootouts. Their record will be 22-0-1 when
entering the 3rd period with the lead. They'll be 28-13 at home.
Whatever on the road. They'll go to Carolina. There will be fights,
goals, beautiful passes, horse shit penalties. This will all happen for 8
months. And then they'll come out and look, honest to God, like your
kid's Pee-wee team playing against the Selects and not even able to
break out of their own zone. Or they'll win the Cup and I'll celebrate
with everyone else. And then get up and go to work the next day. Just
like the day before.

Still a fan, still love the sport, but I just don't really care what
they do anymore. Not specifically anyway. Not in the "no no no no he's
our # 4 defenseman" kind of way. Hope to catch some games live next
year, but not as many as years before. And I'll definitely not feel like
any less of a fan when I have to text a friend or ask my buddy at the
bar "who is that No. 42 guy?"

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

The end of an era has arrived for the Phillies.

Ryan Howard burst on the scene like a comet ablaze and powered his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in just a half-season in 2005. A year later, he had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history when he clubbed a team-record 58 homers and added 149 RBIs in winning the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player award. He was the big bat — or Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel so aptly dubbed him — in the middle of the lineup for a club that won five NL East titles, two NL pennants and a World Series over a five-year run of success that ended on that October night in 2011 when Howard himself fell to the ground in pain and clutched his left ankle as his Achilles tendon exploded on the final swing of the season.

From his seat at Citizens Bank Park, John Middleton watched Howard go down that night and he knew.

Middleton had joined the Phillies ownership group in 1994 and seen his stake in the team rise to nearly 48 percent as the club was rising to the level of baseball elite. He felt elation on the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, disappointment on the night they lost the World Series in 2009 and frustration when the team suffered postseason failures in 2010 and 2011.

Howard’s crumbling to the ground on that October night in 2011 came to symbolize the end of the Phillies’ great run. A mighty man had been felled by injury. A mighty team had been brought down.

“They all gnaw at me,” Middleton said of the postseason failures that followed 2008 in a recent interview with CSN Philadelphia. “The opportunity to do something extraordinarily special is rare. And when it presents itself, you need to be able to take advantage of it as much as you possibly can.

“That said, I think '11 was the hardest for me.”

The Phillies won a club-record 102 games that year, but did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs and haven’t been back since.

Middleton, still in ass-kickin’ physical condition at 61, was a wrestler in college. He’d seen injuries. He’d had injuries. As soon as he saw Howard go down, he knew it was an Achilles injury and he knew it was bad. Deep down inside, he just knew that great Phillies team would never be the same, that the run was over.

“When Ryan went down with the Achilles injury at the end of that game, I knew he was going to be out for 2012 and you didn't really know when he was going to be back and how well he would come back,” Middleton said.

Howard’s injury coincided with injuries to Chase Utley and Roy Halladay.

“That was just too many people to lose,” Middleton said.

Middleton has stepped out of the background and taken a more up-front role with the club over the past two years. He was a leader in making the decision to move away from past glory and commit to a full rebuild two years ago, and he remains committed to it today.

The reconstruction of the Phillies has coincided with the deconstruction of the club that won all those games and titles from 2007-2011. Hamels, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Werth, Halladay, Lee and others are gone. All that remains is Howard and his time in red pinstripes will come to an end after this final weekend series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

While the failure to do something “extraordinarily special” — i.e., win multiple World Series — still gnaws at Middleton, he will remember the good times that Howard provided.

There were lots of them.

“This wasn't just a guy who was good or very good, this was an elite player,” Middleton said.

Howard has not been an elite player since the Achilles injury. There were times in recent seasons when his union with the club became uncomfortable. He was mentioned in trade rumors, but the fact is there wasn’t much interest in him from other teams. He went from being a full-time player and a star to being a part-time player.

Middleton appreciates the way Howard handled things as his role diminished.

“I think he’s a wonderful human being,” Middleton said. “He's been a terrific player and an even better person. I really will miss him when he's gone.

“Ryan made it easy because he was the consummate teammate. And not only for the other 24, 25 guys on the roster, but for his coaches, for the front office, for the owners. This guy has just been fabulous about it.”

In April 2010, a year and a half before Howard would have been a free agent, the Phillies gave him a five-year, $125 million contract extension. The idea was to lock up a key, productive player and gain some cost certainty. Critics said the Phillies acted too early and they were proven right when Howard blew out his Achilles before the extension even officially kicked in.

Middleton was not the architect of that extension. Former club president David Montgomery and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. were at the helm then. Both have stood by the decision and pointed to Howard’s productivity — he averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs from 2006 to through 2011 — as a reason the deal made sense. Both have acknowledged that injuries can change everything in a blink of an eye and, in this case, one did.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Middleton said. “Had you asked a question and had a crystal ball and knew Ryan was going to have an Achilles injury in October of ‘11 and that would probably limit his effectiveness going forward … that's one question.”

Middleton rattled off some of Howard’s accomplishments: The top 10 finishes in the MVP voting, including the win, the fastest player to 100 and 250 home runs in baseball history …

“This guy was a truly terrific player,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, there's been a strategic move on the part of teams to identify young talent and lock it up early. Ryan's contract was just that. We were trying to identify young talent and lock it up before it hit free agency. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. And in large part, it didn't work out because he had that crippling injury in 2011.”

Howard was still healthy in 2009. In fact, he hit 45 homers and led the NL with 141 RBIs that year. He was the MVP of the NLCS but struggled badly in the World Series against the Yankees, going 4 for 23 with 13 strikeouts.

The performance crushed Howard.

After the Phillies lost Game 6 in Yankee Stadium, Middleton stood outside the clubhouse and wondered if he should go in and comfort the disappointed players.

He finally did and a story that will forever link him and Ryan Howard was born.

Yes, the “I want my (bleeping) trophy back” story is true.

“Completely true,” Middleton said with a laugh.

“We have to go back to that night. Losing the World Series is excruciatingly painful. As great as they have to be to get to the World Series, when you lose, it's just crushing. It really is. I don't know any other word for it.

“So I went into the locker room, obviously very emotional, and there's tons of media around, and I'm trying to talk to each player quietly and privately. I'm trying to thank them for their contribution to the year. I'm trying to get them focused for the offseason and 2010 because I thought we had a great opportunity in 2010. And I look around, and I see Ryan kind of sitting in front of his locker, slumped over with his head in his hands.

“This is my opportunity to go up to Ryan and talk to him without anyone around so I did that. I knelt down beside him and we were talking about the season, the postseason, just a very emotional moment for the two of us and it became more emotional as we talked.

“And at the end, I said, ‘Ryan, I want my … trophy back.’"

The Phillies are still looking to get that trophy back.

Ryan Howard will not be on the team when they finally do.

But he was a big reason they got one in the first place and in a town that loves winners, well, that should not be forgotten as he heads out the door.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.