Snider: Flyers can compete for Cup next year
Ed Snider says the main pieces are in place and that some 'little pieces' are needed over the summer.
AS THE FLYERS assembled for their annual team photo yesterday, Ed Snider found a seat next to Claude Giroux, one of the "two superstars" he would later say played for his current team. Jakub Voracek was the other one, he said, adding that Wayne Simmonds and Steve Mason were "outstanding."
As for you other fellas? Well, when I asked him how he now felt about a team he was pretty juiced about just a few weeks ago, he said this:
"I feel like Ron [Hextall, the general manager] has a lot of work to do."
I feel that way, too. But here's where we differ. I think that work will take years.
Ed's thinking it might take the summer.
"It's not like we don't have pieces," he said as we chatted after the photo shoot. "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?
"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?
"These are the same guys, minus [Scott] Hartnell, who made the playoffs last year. Who did extremely well."
They are not the same guys, though, starting with Kimmo Timonen's absence all season, the recurring injuries to Braydon Coburn before he was traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline, and the repeated absences of both goaltenders, especially Mason, for long critical stretches, requiring the call-ups of both their AHL goaltenders during the season.
And when Snider said it was Hextall's job to figure out why, my first thought was that Craig Berube might want to get his resume in order. Because one of the other reasons they are not the same guys is the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their no-nonsense coach.
Chief came in preaching incessant hard work to an embarrassed and receptive team last season and it listened. But if I am reading Ed correctly, Berube will probably go out with an equally embarrassed team that once again seems to need, if not a new message, a new messenger.
The new coach, if there is one, will inherit many of this team's old problems: underperforming and overpaid veterans like Vinny Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald; younger, doubt-riddled talents such as Sean Couturier, and a whole lot of support players whose descriptions range from mildly surprising to mostly disappointing.
They also need defensemen. Maybe not a complete set of six, but pretty close, and at least one with the potential to be among the league's elite. Their best chance of that is finding one among the slew of d-men in their minor league system now, or with one of their seven first-half picks in the upcoming draft.
Either way, that recipe takes time.
To me, it was impressive that this team did make the playoffs last season, even with Coburn and Timonen. That it took the Rangers to seven games had more to do with New York's inefficiency - the Rangers dominated long stretches of games in that series - than it did with the Flyers moving closer to elite.
And both Berube and Hextall said that at the time.
But elapsed time sometimes dilutes such memories. And so Snider's review of the end of 2014 is that "we did fairly well in the playoffs even though we were eliminated in the first round. It's the same team."
And when I told him I thought that team actually overachieved just to get there last year, he said, "I don't. It's the same team, even with a couple of additional pieces. Now Ron, for the very first time, can see what those little pieces are, what little things we may need to take us a little bit further than we were this year.
"I mean, for us to give up now and say we're not a playoff team and we've got to be patient and all that kind of thing, sends the wrong message, I think. To the guys who are here, to our fans, to everybody."
Ah, yes, there's the rub. Ed's half-full approach may be fueled by the memory of half-empty buildings - or the fear of them. He's also, at age 82, still one of the most hopeful and emotional fans this town will ever know. Anyone who saw how happy he was in the locker room when the Flyers were a few points from a playoff position a few weeks ago can attest to that.
So he can be forgiven for wanting more in less time. What can't be forgiven is if that leads to the same type of short-term decision-making from which Hextall is trying to dig out.
"That's not my method of operation," Snider said. "There are times GMs do things and I cringe. But the bottom line is that Ron has come in and his attitude is that we have to be patient with the kids and so forth. But I don't think we've ever really been impatient with the kids. It's a question that he wanted to establish his philosophy. Which I respect."
And so the obvious question from that: Can you do both? Develop your future while competing for a Cup now?
"Sure, we can do both. We don't have to rely on kids to come in and make us a good team . . . Anything can happen once you get into the playoffs. Goalie gets real hot. Have you been watching Ottawa? A goalie who had no pedigree whatsoever [Andrew Hammond] is taking them into the playoffs.
"I mean, who would have thought we would have gotten into the finals [in 2010] when we got into the playoffs in a shootout? Once you get in the playoffs. you never know what's going to happen."
I told him that did not sound like the philosophy Hextall put forward when hired, when he spoke of trying to build a team capable of competing among the league's elite, year after year.
"You don't say when you've got Giroux, and you've got Voracek, and you've got Mason and you've got the kind of pieces like Simmons that we have, that, 'Hey, you've got to be patient, we might make the playoffs in 2 or 3 years,' " he said. "[Bleep] that."
"We've got to make sure our message gets through properly. Patience is great with the kids. But patience isn't great with the team we have on the ice."
So I thanked him for his time, and we began to part. And then he moved close for this:
"What I'm saying to you, the final message is: I'm not sure Ron is being interpreted correctly. Patience with kids, draft picks - they're not our answer today. So he's being patient, bringing them along. And, sometimes, a kid surprises you."
Like Giroux did once. And that's the other final message: His second coming, or maybe even a slew of them among those farmhands and picks, can't come soon enough for a owner who has seen a lot of heartache and hockey, and not a lot of Cups.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon