For Ed Snider, founder of the Flyers, this offseason has a different feel than last year.
Even though the Flyers were eliminated in the second round for the second straight season, Snider is much more optimistic about the team's direction.
"To me, every year we want to win the Cup, so if we don't win the Cup, it's an unsuccessful year," said Snider in a phone interview Tuesday from his mansion in Santa Barbara, Calif., just prior to playing in a tennis match. "Having said that, I'm really, really happy with an awful lot that happened during the course of season and even in the playoffs."
Snider praised the deals that sent Mike Richards and Jeff Carter packing, said he loved the Flyers' young nucleus, and added he thought the team would have won the Cup if defensemen Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros had been healthy. He hinted that the Flyers would make a move for a defenseman (Nashville free-agent Ryan Suter?) and said goalie Ilya Bryzgalov "wasn't prepared for Philadelphia fans" but that "without question" he was happy he signed him.
The Flyers played 12 rookies during the season, including seven in the playoffs. Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Marc-Andre Bourdon were among the top rookies.
"Having all these young players – and the fact the coach gave them important roles to play under pressure – was invaluable for their future and our future," said Snider, 79, chairman of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor.
Snider predicted Couturier, 19, would be a "future star. We saw how well he can play defensively, but he's really noted for his offensive skills, too. So when he gets more ice time and a more important role than just playing defense, I think we're going to see a guy that is going to be right behind (Claude) Giroux, as far as our young players are concerned."
A year ago, a frustrated Snider said he would "never again" go through another goalie-carousel season, and the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal.
Asked to evaluate Bryzgalov's season, Snider called it a "mixed bag. It went from shaky at times to spectacular at times. The Bryz we saw in March" – the goalie was named the league's player of the month – "I hope will be the Bryz that we see consistently in the future. I think he wasn't prepared for Philadelphia fans and the microscope that he's under. I think we're tougher on goalies maybe than any other team in the league. I think our fans are frustrated, and rightfully so, for the goaltending carousel that we've had through the years. It's the problem of management, not of Bryzgalov. We blew it and we created the situation (in the past). I watch the playoffs and regular season games, and ALL goalies let in bad goals, but when a goalie in Philadelphia lets in a bad goal, it's like a disaster.
"Look at the playoffs two years ago when we played New Jersey. (Marty) Brodeur looked like he was through. And we beat New Jersey in five games, and even the games we played against New Jersey this year, Brodeur looked shaky at times, but he was good enough to win. In Philly, if that would happen, they would be booing our goalie even if we were ahead. And it's tough. I would hope they will be more patient with the goalie, but like I said, the frustration isn't the cause of their fault; it's our fault for what we've created. Then Bryzgalov stepped into that. I don't think he was prepared for it, and he's a very sensitive kid. Even though he jokes around, he's extremely sensitive and it affected him. But you can see how he can play. He was voted the best player in the league in March, and it's a great accomplishment."
The high-scoring opening round against the Penguins had a negative effect on the team, Snider said.
"I thought the Pittsburgh series was one of wildest I've ever seen, but by the same token, I don't think it prepared us very well for New Jersey," said Snider, whose Flyers lost in the conference semifinals, four games to one, to the Devils. "It was a wide-open series against Pittsburgh, and I think our kids maybe thought it would be wide open (against New Jersey) and weren't prepared to play the way you have to play in the playoffs. I don't blame that on the coach at all. We're talking about young players under pressure that just couldn't handle it. I don't think it's a terrible thing. I think it's a learning experience, so I think it's a good plus for the future, also.
"We had tremendous success with all the young players and I'm very excited about the future of our team."
As for offseason moves, Snider said "you can't replace a Pronger, but maybe you can make some moves that help offset the loss of Pronger." He said he believed GM Paul Holmgren "has to focus on the defense first."
Snider noted that Holmgren had already made one move in that direction by acquiring Nick Grossmann late in the season, and he said he hoped the Flyers could resign Matt Carle, a prospective free agent.
Snider said he was happy for Richards and Carter, whose Kings open the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday in New Jersey, and "I hope they win the Cup. They're nice guys. They did a lot of great things for us, but they're part of the puzzle over there. They would have made no difference as far as I'm concerned as far as what we did this year. We got great value in return, and I don't think we would have gone any further with Richards and Carter. They're part of a mix in L.A. and they don't have the kind of pressure they had on them here. I think that's good for L.A. and it's good for us, because I'm very happy with what we got in return."
Snider, though disappointed the Flyers haven't won a Cup since 1975, said he "would like to feel we're giving the fans a return on their investment by the fact in the last three years we've been to the Finals once and been to the second round twice. It's a pretty good accomplishment. It's not our goal and it certainly doesn't satisfy me, but I feel we're always in the hunt and always doing everything we can to win the Cup.
"Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn't happen. The competition is doing the exact same thing, and they either do it better than us, or they get through the season without injuries to their key players. It's a difficult thing. I honestly think if Pronger and Meszaros had been healthy in the playoffs, we would have won the whole thing. I don't like to cry about injuries, but you just can't lose a Pronger and replace him. And then on top of that, you lose Meszaros and Bourdon" and have Kimmo Timonen, Carle and Grossmann banged up during the post-season.