It usually takes a notable effort or a dubious distinction, combined with a perfect storm of circumstances, for the Philadelphia Flyers to elbow their way into the Philadelphia sports media spotlight. Most of the professional pens in this city are busy documenting the exploits of the Eagles, with the Phillies and the 76ers following behind in whatever order the sports schedule demands. Meanwhile, the radio hosts on the FM dial tend to be more comfortable discussing which wide receiver prospect the Eagles should target in the draft than quibbling about Flyers coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup decisions.
The hockey club in Philadelphia plays the fourth fiddle in this town, and the number of people interested in their music, though sizable, is small relative to the other acts on the stage.
However, an eight-game winning streak for the Orange and Black has commanded the city’s attention. It doesn’t hurt that the Eagles are on hiatus, the Phillies are in Clearwater, and the Sixers look to be headed in no particular direction. Now, like a teenager who recently discovered his dad’s Talking Heads record in the garage and realizes his old man might have a point when he says the music back in his day was better, those previously indifferent to the Flyers want in on the fun.
And, as a committed Flyers fan myself, I say welcome them all aboard the bandwagon. There’s plenty of room on the slopes for The Coggin Toboggan. If the heavy hitters in the media market are willing to devote some time on their radio programs or dedicate column space to the Flyers, embrace it. Bask in the attention your team is receiving not for your sake, but for the sake of the players who have earned it during their stellar run. They deserve to break through the barrier of a niche audience and into the mainstream.
There is no need to police who does and does not have a license to speak about the Flyers. Some assessments are more valuable than others, of course, and we can resolve to let the marketplace of ideas determine which opinions carry more weight than others.
With the way the internet has democratized the sports conversation, there are so many outlets for informed Flyers talk. As someone who watches the Flyers regularly, I prefer Crossing Broad’s in-house podcast offering: Snow the Goalie. Anthony and Russ provide excellent insights and analysis, and the resulting respect they’ve garnered by owning their beat has enabled them to secure interviews with Paul Holmgren, Ron Hextall, Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee (twice), and Vigneault, among others.
There are other options for rabid Flyers fans, of course. Broad Street Hockey provides extensive coverage of the team, while I find anything Bill Meltzer writes to be worth reading. Jason Myrtetus, a former Fanatic radio host whom the Flyers recently scooped up on the waiver wire, has been producing his own hockey-centric podcast since 2017.
Given all of these choices, why fixate on the takes of a certain radio host whose frame of reference for hockey dates back to the Legion of Doom era? It would be like lending credence to a political pundit who drones on about the effect of Reagan Democrats in an election taking place in 2020.
There are tons of quality delis in Philadelphia that will make you a decent hoagie. You don’t need to buy a sandwich at Subway.
Yet, for the sports fan with a casual interest in the Flyers, the radio or newspaper might be his or her window into the team. No, they probably don’t own a Rod Brind’Amour jersey or understand how Corsi is calculated, but you ought to open the tent for them nonetheless.
I want more Eagles fans in the Delaware Valley appreciating the skills of Ivan Provorov and Konecny than spending time obsessing over the merits of NFL draft prospects who may or may not realize their potential. I would like more Phillies fans accustomed to the slow burn of a baseball season to experience the agony and the ecstasy of watching playoff hockey on TV or, even better, taking in the postseason in person. In terms of moment-to-moment excitement, no sporting event I’ve witnessed compares.
And I want 76ers fans who invested an inordinate amount of time Trusting the Process to have their faith rejuvenated by enjoying the culmination of a successful, multi-year rebuild of an organization.
Of course, the Flyers took a bit of a different approach compared to their Wells Fargo Center co-tenants. Rather than tear their franchise down to the studs, Flyers executives worked to strengthen the organization’s foundation while retaining the services of organizational cornerstones like Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Draft capital was deliberately invested along the blue line and in between the pipes. Of the six defensemen currently in the lineup, four are homegrown talents: Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Robert Hagg, and Provorov. A fifth, the enigmatic Shayne Gostisbehere, is serving as the team’s reserve defender. After years of struggling with inconsistent goaltending, the Flyers seem to have found a long-term solution in Carter Hart.
Talented but limited players like Brayden Schenn, who had no issues scoring on the top power play unit but struggled to carry his own line or play well in his own end of the ice, were dealt for draft assets. The Schenn trade netted two first round picks, one of which was expended on promising forward prospect Morgan Frost.
A fan base that had been conditioned for years to expect the Flyers to be perennial contenders instead experienced a sustained period of mediocrity. The Flyers found themselves often flirting along the fringes of the top half of the standings, but never truly presented a threat to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice since the unexpected and thrilling run to the Final in the summer of 2010. There were playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012, both of which were doomed by horrendous goaltending. The Flyers returned to the postseason in 2014 and 2016; this time, their bids were buoyed by outstanding play from their netminders. Michal Neuvirth in particular stood on his head in 2016, pushing to six games a series in which the Orange and Black mustered a total of 6 goals for the entire round. In 2018, the Flyers were shown the door in the first round of the postseason again by their cross-state rivals in Pittsburgh.
It has been a slow, sometimes painful decade, but there has been progress in the Flyers’ process. Over time, the organization has positioned itself to rely less on expensive veteran defensemen who were not particularly strong on the puck (sorry, Andrew MacDonald). Instead, the back end is anchored by blue chip prospects who specialize in getting the puck out of the zone with precision passes and joining the forwards to create odd-man rushes. Speed kills in today’s NHL, and the once plodding Flyers have it in abundance throughout their lineup.
The depth of the forwards corps has enabled Vigneault to employ all four of his lines, and any one of them has proven capable of putting pucks in the back of the net. If Giroux and Voracek aren’t clicking or the team isn’t getting sufficient power play opportunities, the offense will not necessarily go dormant as it had in years past.
In today’s salary cap world, the formerly spendthrift Flyers have attempted to deploy their financial capital judiciously. Their decisions have not always been flashy or popular, but the Flyers’ calculated approach has yielded results. For example, the acquisition of two-way forward Kevin Hayes has simultaneously bolstered the club’s penalty killing unit and provided much-needed scoring on the second line.
When the annual seller’s market known as the NHL trade deadline came to town, the Flyers refused to make a foolish purchase. Unlike their division rivals, who made splashy acquisitions for big names for past-their-prime players like Patrick Marleau and Ilya Kovalchuck, the Flyers avoided the temptation to win the headlines and instead made choices that furthered their chances to succeed in the playoffs. The pickups of depth forwards Derek Grant and Nate Thompson have both paid dividends.
Two weeks ago, it was still an open question as to whether the Flyers would even qualify for the playoffs in the crowded Metropolitan Division. Today, the club finds itself at the top of the Metropolitan heap (or nearly so- the Capitals own the tiebreaker at the moment), and a ticket to the playoffs seems a foregone conclusion.
So hop aboard, Philly sports fans, and enjoy the ride. Who knows- maybe it will take us all the way to Broad Street.
For more Flyers coverage, check out Snow The Goalie. Follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook and Twitter. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy preview every Flyers home game pregame and recap the first and second period action during intermission breaks from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts (@AntSanPhilly @JoyOnBroad).