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March 26, 2015

Snider, Hextall see Flyers trying to rebuild through the middle

Instead of bottoming out like the Sixers, signs point to the Flyers taking a middle approach

Flyers NHL

Over the past few days, the Daily News has been killing it (shout out to T.J. Lavin) on the important subject of how the Flyers will attempt to right the ship moving forward. First, Sam Donnellon got Ed Snider on the record giving a de facto State of the Union address. Next, Frank Seravalli followed up with a column, after a win over the Chicago Blackhawks that was really a loss (the speech on the bus that Gloria gives to Billy in "White Men Can't Jump" can provide further clarification), which included some of Ron Hextall's thoughts on how the Flyers will approach the next few seasons.

In both instances, the Flyers higher-ups believed their team, which is currently battling for ping-pong balls in the all-important Connor McDavid lottery, is closer to contending than the two writers think. And that's all what really matters, because Seravalli and Donnellon aren't the ones calling the shots. 

Will the 82-year-old Snider force Hextall to make any signings that won't look wise five years down the line or could the Flyers try to make the playoffs without inking any bad deals

Is the strategy prudent, though? Or, should the Flyers should adopt a rebuilding plan closer to the one their co-tenants at the Wells Fargo Center have been at for almost two years now? The structures of the NHL and NBA aren't an apples to apples comparison, but as Seravalli noted, the Penguins, Kings, and Blackhawks, franchises who have been the type or perennial contender the Flyers aspire to become, all were really, really bad before they became really, really good. Hinkie on Ice, coming to an arena near you!

Imagine the NHL landscape as a mountain with the Stanley Cup resting on top of its peak. The Flyers clearly don't think they need to spend a couple of years chilling at base camp and stocking up on supplies like Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles did. It should be noted that just like in hoops, a full teardown isn't a foolproof plan: Teams like Buffalo, Florida, Edmonton, and the New York Islanders (though they're on the right track now) spent prolonged periods in the league's basement. Here's what Snider told Donnellon:

"It's not like we don't have pieces. Now the question is, do we want those pieces to just die on the vine? And go for a long-range plan? And eventually they're gone? Who's going to replace them?”

Well for one, a better team if such a plan is pulled off correctly. It's a valid question that Snider brings up, though. He continued:

"So there's a question of potential trades, free-agent signings, draft picks surprising you. I don't like to give the impression that, 'Hey, we aren't going to win.' It's Ron's job to analyze why. Why did this same team that made the playoffs fall?”

The implied characterization of simply making the playoffs as a success is worrisome. While the 2014-15 Flyers failed, last year wasn't exactly a success, either. Whether you looked at some of the advanced stats or used the good ol' eye test, either would be sufficient in judging the Flyers' 2013-14 season: They were pretty fortunate to make the playoffs, and once they got there, the Rangers dominated long portions of that seven-game series. The Flyers were quite a ways from Stanley Cup contender, and the subtraction of their aging cornerstone blueliner (who suited up for Chicago last night) was the only domino that needed to fall for them to fall into the lottery. Changing the coach will not solve all of this team's woes, even if that very well may be a step worth taking.

Let's get back to Snider's vine analogy. He's correct in saying that the Flyers have pieces, specifically a couple of top-line forwards and a fairly young goaltender who was outstanding this season despite constantly battling injuries. You can also throw Wayne Simmonds in that mix, even if much of his value comes on special teams. Bottoming out would involve trading at least a couple of those four players, and it's understandable why Snider/Hextall wouldn't want to part with them. Giroux and Voracek might not be Toews and Kane, but they're very good.

There's a difference between "not blowing it up" and what the Flyers have done recently. The worry is whether the organization will make any short-sighted decisions in an attempt to bolster their secondary scoring and talent-bereft defensive corps (until the likes of Sanheim-Morin-Ghostisbehere are ready for primetime) at the expense of the future. Will the 82-year-old Snider force Hextall to make any signings that won't look wise five years down the line or could the Flyers try to make the playoffs without inking any bad deals? The latter is easier said than done. For now, the general manager told Seravalli that rebuilding while remaining competitive isn't any more difficult than bottoming out:

"Not if you have the right assets," Hextall said. "We have a lot of good players. We're going to keep as many picks as possible and we're also going to try to get better every day, whether that's through trades or free agency. That's what pro sports is all about. There's not going to be a massive turnover. We're a better team than the way we've performed."

Refusing to trade your stars is one thing, but actively trying to win a Stanley Cup via the 2010 route ("Anything can happen once you make the playoffs!") is another. The Flyers are going to try to pull off a difficult balancing act, which very well might turn out to be the right move as long as they keep the right perspective. After reading Snider and Hextall's comments, that remains to be seen.