Unsustainable! Four Takeaways from the Paul Holmgren Interview and the Flyers last two losses to the Capitals and Devils

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the Eagles hysteria – and believe me, as someone who remembers not one, but both Eagles Super Bowl appearances, both Phillies World Series wins, the last Sixers title as well as their 2001 run to the Finals and five Flyers defeats in the Stanley Cup Finals, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that this is the craziest this city has ever been for a sports team – I’m going to do something different and keep this Flyers post short.

After all, you don’t care THAT much about hockey this weekend, do you?

Anyway, since my one-on-one with Paul Holmgren (and a couple commenters got on us for calling it exclusive. It was, in fact, exclusive because, as President, he doesn’t speak all that often with the media. He did when he was GM, but that was four years ago. If the interview was with Ron Hextall, it wouldn’t be exclusive. But, it was with Holmgren… so it was.) the Flyers have gone on to lose back-to-back games to Washington and New Jersey, both in regulation, and are now on a three-game losing skid and, for the first time all season, have gone three consecutive games without garnering at least one point.

It’s not a good time to do that, especially considering two of those losses came against Division rivals, and both of those game were winnable and had blown leads.

But I don’t really want to get into specifics from the game like we do with most of these takeaway pieces.

No, instead, I want to offer some general takeaways from my interview with Paul and a couple of general items from the last two games.

So let’s hit it:

1. Do I believe Paul Holmgren?

In two words, I do. I respect the hell out of Paul. I know a lot of people got on him about how he handled things as general manager. Overpaying players, signing the wrong guys, and basically putting the Flyers into salary cap hell.

Most of those arguments are valid, however it’s hard to come down on him really hard when there was a directive from ownership to win at all costs – which was the unenviable task he faced in a salary cap world.

And when Paul realized Ron Hextall had a progressive plan to get the Flyers out of the doldrums of not being good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup, but that it would take a few years to implement, Holmgren had the foresight to see it as a smart approach, and took it to Ed Snider and offered to step into a new role and let Ron take it from there.

When he was GM, Paul was always as honest as he could be publicly, and completely honest privately, so there’s no reason to doubt what he told me is true.

He does believe Hextall and Dave Hakstol are doing a good job. He does believe the team is good enough to sustain playing the way they have for the better part of two months and it can carry them to the playoffs.

He does believe in allowing players to develop at their own pace, even if that means stints in the AHL while placeholders are getting time in the NHL.

He believes all those things. He believes the Flyers are on track to do what the Penguins have done in recent years. He believes the Flyers will again be one of the best teams in hockey for an extended period of time.

And, he’s not fibbing when he says the coaches spend a lot of time working with young players – on ice at practice, off ice in the video room, and everywhere in between.

So yes, I believe him wholeheartedly.

But do I agree with him?

2. Not entirely, no

I understand the need for younger players – like Travis Sanheim –  to test the NHL water before having to really learn how to swim with the big league current.

I get why young players are held more accountable than veterans for their mistakes. I know that drives fans over the edge, but in the long-term, it’s better for the team. Fans forget that Claude Giroux didn’t start averaging 20 minutes of ice time until his fourth year in the league.

And if that’s an extreme example, fine. Let’s find a defensive comparative for Sanheim.

With the exception of Aaron Ekblad, who was the No. 1 overall pick by Florida in the 2014 draft class, no other defenseman has really gotten much more of a chance than Sanheim. Yeah, there are some with a few more games, but none with overwhelmingly better results that comes from playing in the NHL.

Only six defensemen from the 2013 draft have played more than a season’s worth of games. There’s only five from the 2015 draft class.

You have to go back to the 2012 draft before you get a good number of defensemen (21 total) who have played more than a season’s worth of NHL games… now almost six years later.

So developing defensemen in the NHL is a process for sure.

But, I guess all 30 teams are wrong to be handling their young defensemen this way and Flyers fans are right because the analytics say so.

So, I’m on board with that process.

What I’m not on board with is continuing to stand pat and not addressing your roster with external help of some kind. This is where I take issue with Ron’s plan.

If you want to be a playoff team – and by all indications, that’s what the Flyers want to be, since everyone in the organization is talking about it – then you have to build your team in such a way that the playoffs are attainable.

Right now, the third pairing of Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning is a disaster. Manning has been on the ice for six of the past 10 goals allowed. Before last night’s game in New Jersey, Gudas hadn’t taken a penalty in more than two months. On one hand, that’s good. On the other hand, it’s indicative of the fact that he’s not playing his style of hockey. His blocks are down. His hits are down. His positioning is off. That suspension really got to him.

As such, the Flyers can’t win with this third pairing.

Which opens the door for the fans screaming for prospects like Sanheim and Philippe Myers.

But what is often misunderstood is that players on the NHL roster of a playoff team and players that need to develop are mutually exclusive from one another.

Sure, call those guys up. Play them. You likely aren’t making the playoffs in that case. Are you good with that? Or would you rather they continue to develop and are bigger pieces in the next year or two, when the real window of opportunity for the team is opening?

Some fans just don’t get it though. I had a lengthy argument on Twitter with a guy who said this:

I guess it’s lucky to win not one, but two Stanley Cups. Every city should be so lucky.

This guy went on to insist that only quantifiable stats are the true measure of hockey success and failure.

So, I offered some quantifiable facts:

I put this exchange in here because unfortunately, this guy isn’t some lone nut. There are a lot of people out there who believe the same things he does – that what the analytics say is the arc of the covenant. It’s the holy grail.

Please. It’s not. There’s so much more to this in every sport – not just hockey. These stats are good. They’re a strong measure, but they aren’t always right.

Now see, I got off on a tangent… where was I….

Oh yeah… so rather than immediately re-insert Sanheim into the lineup or call up another kid who isn’t ready for prime time, Hextall is just rolling with Gudas and Manning.

And I get you have to do that for a little bit, but if you want to make the playoffs, make a move. For Pete’s sake Ron, believe that someone else can come in here and help this roster. And heaven forbid you trade a precious draft pick or long-off prospect to help win now.

I’m not asking him to gut the farm system. But at some point, you have to go for it – and this Flyers team is on the brink of being a playoff team, so why not go for it? Especially in a season when the Conference is experiencing a down year.

Get into the dance and see what happens. We’ve all seen it before. Crazier things have happened.

Now I’m going to be a hypocrite.

I don’t agree with Holmgren that the level of success (prior to the All-Star Break) that the Flyers were experiencing is sustainable. I’m sorry. I just don’t.

Can they play hard, and stay in almost every game and have a chance at points? Sure.

Can they keep winning more than 70% of the remaining games? Highly unlikely. I mean, they’ve dropped three in a row. They’d have to win their next seven just to stay on the pre-Tampa loss pace. And then they’d have to do it over and over again twice more.

It’s too much to expect.

So, it’s going to be a dog fight. With a lot of ups and downs. It’s just that these Flyers need more ups.

3. The goalie situation

Brian Elliott was the only Flyer who practiced Friday – and practiced by himself, which means he’s close to returning, but probably not in time for tomorrow afternoon’s game.

Which means we’ll likely see Michael Neuvirth in goal.

I’d rather not at this point.

And not because I don’t think Neuvirth is a better NHL goalie than Alex Lyon. He is. No question. I just think Neuvirth has worn out his welcome. The guy is always hurt. Or sick. He’s forever making excuses – as he did when he was pulled after an awful outing against his former team in Washington Wednesday.

At least Lyon, who should have had the game-winning goal last night for New Jersey, which likely would have garnered the Flyers at least a point, seems to care. He seems to compete. He takes responsibility. The cameras caught him watching the replay on the ice and you could see he was frustrated with himself. He knew what he did wrong. He immediately apologized to Shayne Gostisbehere on the ice. I’m sure he took the blame in the room afterwards. He fielded every question and took responsibility for it afterward.

I’d rather that guy play five or six times the rest of the season and let Elliott get the other 20-something starts once he returns (probably Tuesday in Carolina).

It would be a boost in the locker room for sure, as Lyon is incredibly well-liked.

And it would rid the Flyers of an enigma.

4. The Penalty Kill

At some point, the Flyers just have to tear up whatever they are doing and try something completely different. Give the opposition a totally different look. It can’t be worse than they’ve been since the new year.

In the past 13 games they’ve allowed at least one power play goal against nine times. Their PK percentage in those games is an embarrassing 63.9%. They are now tied for the second worst PK in the entire NHL (73.9%) ahead of only Edmonton (71.17%).

The defensemen aren’t physical enough in front. The forwards are too passive – especially on the second unit. They’re just trying to get in the way and not take away the puck. You can’t do that. Go get it. If you give up a goal as a result of effort, fine. That’s better than standing around as you get scored on.

Also, a couple of kills that come from pressuring the puck builds momentum and confidence. Neither exists right now for the Flyers PK.

 

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