The wisdom of the Philadelphia Flyers’ stubborn goalie philosophy

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As a hockey fan, if you had to choose between consistent (but less brilliant) success or a mixture of dynamic highs and depressing lows, what would you prefer? This might be a generalization, but I’d bet many casual fans would prefer choice B while most hardcore fans would be happier with the first option.

Ultimately, if you believe that a team can have a great season even if they don’t win it all, then the Philadelphia Flyers rank as one of the most well-run franchises in sports, let alone hockey.

Year after year, people casually bury the team’s front office for failing to put an elite goalie between the pipes. Yet if you take a sober look at their near-constant track record of success, you’d come to a humbling conclusion.

Maybe these guys know what they are doing, after all.

Just take a look at the team’s accomplishments since they last won a Stanley Cup during the 1974-75 season.

  • Sure, they didn’t end up winning it all, but the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals on six different occasions since 75, including 2010.
  • They’ve come close plenty of other times, too. They made the Eastern Conference finals five more times and made two losing semifinals appearances in the era when that was the final round before the SCF.
  • They’ve made the playoffs in all but six seasons since 1975. The Flyers missed the playoffs five straight times from 1989-90 to 1993-94 and one other time in that anomaly season in 2006-07. In other words, Philadelphia’s been irrelevant for one half-decade and one weird season since ’75. There aren’t many (if any) teams in sports that can match their consistency.

At least one “reason to believe” per decade

You can’t just claim that the Flyers’ highest moments were Broad Street Bullies overflow, even if the franchise leans toward physical players. In fact, Philly fans have had a reason to think that their team might win a Cup in every decade since the ’70s Bullies.

Ron Hextall in the 1980s: Anyone who says the Flyers ignored the Bernie Parent element to their success probably slept through Hextall’s innovative, angry days. He won a Conn Smythe in defeat and changed the way goalies move the puck. Hextall even fit in with the team’s rough-and-tumble motif as he was the meanest goalie this side of Billy Smith.

The Legion of Doom line in the mid/late 90’s: Concussions issues leave some “What if?” questions about Eric Lindros, but he still spearheaded a line that received the last great nickname. He also won a Hart Trophy and helped them make the Cup finals, even though they were handled easily by the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeremy Roenick/Keith Primeau in the early ’00s: They didn’t have a long run of excellence, but came within a Game 7 loss of reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. The team also showed some promise with Peter Forsberg, but not to the same level.

Current era: They made the conference finals in 2008 (losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins) and obviously lost to the Blackhawks in the finals last year.

Conclusions

Now, I’m not saying that goaltending hasn’t been a problem in Philadelphia. Instead, I’m hypothesizing that the Flyers recognize that the position is among the most unpredictable in sports, preferring to surround them with great draft picks and strong free agent acquisitions.

It’s not like throwing a bunch of money at a goalie guarantees playoff success, either. The Minnesota Wild spent $7 million on two goalies in 2010-11 and didn’t even make the postseason. The Red Wings moved from paying goalies big money to saving in that area once the salary cap was instituted and they haven’t missed a beat.

Deep down, the Flyers brass would love to have more stability in that area and there have been some curious decisions here and there (especially in this year’s playoffs). But if you think that this team is poorly managed, then you’re ignoring decades of success.