Flyers Need a Leadership Change Again, and Soon: Thoughts After Penguins 4, Flyers 1

Photo Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember when you were a kid, during the summer, standing in the water about waist high in Wildwood, or Sea Isle City, or Ocean City, or at the Delaware/Maryland beaches and you would wait for just the right wave to come so you could try to dive through it?

If it was just right, you would dive headfirst into its body as it crashed overhead, and pop up on the other side, slickly sliding your hair back out of your eyes like it was part of a professional photoshoot. Or, if it was too big, it would knock you backwards, and you’d end up, you stand up a little dazed and have to forcibly sneeze out the snotty salt water.

And if it was too small, that you could step right through it, you used to yell some stupid shit at the the Atlantic Ocean, like, “Come on, that’s all you got, Big Boy?”

O.K…. maybe that was just me. I was a weird kid at times.

Anyway, the point is, many a summer vacation on the beach had afternoons that were filled with a cognizance of waves, their patterns, and their veracity.

It was that long dormant skill that was dusted off Friday afternoon to measure the size of a different wave – a sound wave – at Wells Fargo Center:

It was midway through the second period of a lackluster 4-1 Flyers loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that stretched their winless streak to nine games.

It emanated from the far side of the arena from where we sit in the Press Box. It sounded like the sections in the upper level above the Zamboni tunnel so, maybe 220, 221, 221A?

Anyway, it was there. It was rhythmic and it lasted about 30 seconds, but it was noticeable.

It was probably that little wave that young Anthony would have screamed at to show more, but it was definitely a start.

Games like this simply can’t happen.

Look, we all know what the Flyers are this season, right? We get it. We understand it. But, for an organization that is trying its ass off to sell tickets, doing anything and everything it can to re-engage itself with an obviously pissed off and tuned out fan base, from its efforts to reconnect with its past, to its uber-cool Throwback Thursday promotions, to nailing it with community relations and getting things right in many public-facing events – like the return of Claude Giroux, and Hockey Fights Cancer night, and even recognizing Athletic Trainer Sal Raffa’s 1,500th game Friday despite his lawsuit against the organization (Congrats, Sal!), getting a near full house for this Black Friday game – and having it be center stage on national television, to put up an effort like that?

No wonder coach John Tortorella wanted to just give one-word answers after the game.

He likely used a lot more words, and more colorfully too, in the locker room after the second period, because the Flyers at least tried in the third period. It still wasn’t good, and Pittsburgh completely took its foot off the gas pedal at the same time, probably making it look even a little better, but getting a wake up call from the coach after 40 terrible minutes for all the world to see won’t cut it.

So, a shoe needs to drop, somewhere.

And it should be in the front office.

It was four years to the day when I was told the Flyers were going to fire Ron Hextall and not coach Dave Hakstol.

Of course, I told Russ what I heard and he kept referencing it throughout the Press Row Show (R.I.P… for now) and my reactions are priceless because I hadn’t even reported it yet:

So, it’s not like Dave Scott hasn’t done this before at this time of year either. And one has to wonder, after this Pittsburgh debacle and being on the brink of their third double-digit winless streak in a calendar year what more he needs to see.

But here’s the problem – without really being an active owner/chairman/governor/whatever title Dave has these days, and by active I mean in NHL circles, not just the business of running a company – who picks the next GM? Does he go back to the well and trot out the “Senior Advisors” to bring someone in after Fletcher flopped? Do you just hand the keys to Danny Briere and say, good luck, Kid?

That’s the extent of his hockey world.

Which is why Scott, who, if you listen to the whispers, may be approaching retirement at season’s end, if not sooner – although he recently told Philadelphia Business Journal “he’s not going anywhere,” – he may not want to have to be saddled with yet another decision of this magnitude and would rather leave it in the hands of a possible successor.

That could be equally egregious, depending on the timing.

And if he’s not going anywhere and wants to continue to helm this sunken hockey ship, then he can’t continue to spin the steering wheel blindfolded.

And while that indecision continues, the Flyers sit here, stagnant, swallowed up in a Bermuda Triangle of their own making of poor leadership, bad contracts, limited talent, and horrible luck with injuries.

It’s gotten to the point where a team leader like Kevin Hayes, who is so well-liked around the sport, is so not liked by coach John Tortorella that he’s been kicked to the wing so that Noah Cates can get a tryout at center or even bumped down to the fourth line – where he was Friday – playing with Patrick Brown and Nic Deslauriers. He lost the letter on his sweater. He’s lost his standing as a team leader, and, in a time when six forwards are out of the lineup with injury, he can’t play a prominent role, no matter how much he’d like to, on what amounts to the equivalent of an AHL offense.

“It’s tough when you are losing,” Hayes told me after the game. “You have to change something and that’s what he’s doing – trying to find combinations that will give us the best chance to win a game. I’ve been there before and I know what I mean to the team and what I’m supposed to bring. I’m going to try my hardest no matter where I am and no matter who I play with. It’s the NHL, so you’re going to play with good players no matter what. Yeah, some of them are more offensive players, some are more defensive, but I’m just going to play my game. Sometimes it works, Sometimes it doesn’t.”

That sounds like a frustrated veteran to me trying to say all the right things but not being happy about it.

And it’s a conundrum for the Flyers because his value is taking a big hit. Moving Hayes and his contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $7.1 million for this season plus three more, is likely impossible at this point.

Ditto Rasmus Ristolainen, and his five years, $5.1 million annual hit – as he’s been relegated to third pair duty for most of the year. That shiny new contract given to Travis Sanheim? Not sure Tortorella endorsed that one, because he’s not fond of Sanheim’s play – especially when the game matters most.

This doesn’t even get into contracts that are eating away the future on LTIR like Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier and the curious case of Cam Atkinson.

It’s frankly a mess. Not one that anyone would really want to clean up. How can you? Trade Ivan Provorov, or Travis Konecny as really the only players of significant value on your team? That might net some future assets but it only puts the Flyers further away from being relevant again.

They’re back at it tonight in New York against the Islanders, where the streak will likely hit 10 games. Then they play them again Tuesday, where odds favor it being 11 games. Then it’s Tampa (12), New Jersey (13) and the defending Cup champs in Colorado who, on Dec. 5, could extend this winless streak to a franchise record 14 games).

This is not why you hired Tortorella.

So, something has to change. Again. Soon.

Because the waves are going to get bigger and stronger as this continues to not work. And despite all the changes that have happened, it’s the ones that haven’t that continue to be the persistent problem.

Time to shoot the snotty salt water out again and give it another go.

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