Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Flyers get a hollow victory

Win over playoff-bound Blackhawks only hurts Flyers in the draft lottery.

WHEN IT was over, the Wells Fargo Center scoreboard stated the Flyers beat the Blackhawks, 4-1, providing the slightest revenge from the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

The "Orange and the Black" roared over the sound system as the Flyers congratulated each other, with most of the 19,831 walking out into the South Philadelphia night happy.

Kimmo Timonen's return was about the only thing worth cheering. Because in the grand scheme of the franchise, the Flyers lost last night.

That's what the Blackhawks should have taught the Flyers, even if Patrick Kane - the prize of the 2007 NHL draft lottery - was not on the ice.

With another two points in an utterly meaningless late March contest, the Flyers only increased the odds they'll be picking at No. 8 this June in South Florida. They are now three points clear of 24th-place New Jersey with just seven games to play.

As it stands, the Flyers are likely to have a 6 percent lot of the pingpong balls in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Sliding just two spots to No. 6 would add a few more balls to the lottery, adding up to a 7.5 percent chance.

In 2007, the Flyers finished with the worst record in the league. The reward was supposed to be Kane, with a one-in-four shot to nab him at No. 1 overall.

Chicago won that lottery with just an 8.1 percent chance, nearly the same odds the Flyers could finish with if they lost just a few more games this season. The Flyers ended up with James van Riemsdyk that year; the Blackhawks have two Stanley Cups and advanced to at least the NHL's final four in four of the past six seasons.

The Flyers won last night and improved to 9-1-4 in their last 14 games against Stanley Cup playoff teams because they've become the team that is easy to overlook.

"It's frustrating. Very frustrating," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "You'd rather have it this way than the other way. You know there's more there than we're giving some nights because nights like this prove it.

"You've got to be real. Look at the other team. I don't think they're having their best game, so you've got to keep things in perspective. But yeah, we've played our best hockey against the better teams."

Rather than base his position moving forward on how the Flyers look on their worst nights, Hextall chooses to believe his team is closer to how it looks on its best.

Watching the Blackhawks, who curb-stomped the Flyers in Chicago earlier this season, they should instead be a model for the Flyers to follow to get this proud club back on track. With all due respect to Los Angeles, where Hextall won a Cup and cut his teeth under Dean Lombardi, Chicago is the model franchise on how to build a team.

Instead, as Flyers chairman Ed Snider reiterated yesterday in colleague Sam Donnellon's column in the Daily News, this team does not have the patience to bottom out for a few years. Snider does not have the stomach to be the Sixers, subscribing instead to the "anything can happen" theory should the Flyers squeak into the playoffs.

The Flyers have tried that approach for the past six or seven seasons. Since falling to the Blackhawks in 2010, they will now have missed that playoff mark twice in the last three seasons, plus a first-round and two second-round exits.

"If you look at Chicago or LA or Pittsburgh, it was built from the bottom and it took a long time," Hextall said. "We're not them because we're not; when I went to LA, we were a bad team. We were starting from the ground floor. We're not starting from the ground floor [now]. In a perfect world, yeah, you want to draft and develop your own players. You want the bulk of your team to be so-called 'homegrown.' "

Sure, the Blackhawks bottomed out. Kane and Jonathan Toews were the payoff in back-to-back drafts. But last night, the Hawks had 12 "homegrown'' players on their roster, including their top three defensemen and a bevy of young forwards on entry-level contracts.

The Flyers had a measly four drafted players in comparison: Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo and Nick Cousins. Everyone else was either drafted elsewhere or signed as an undrafted free agent.

Look at Chicago netminder Corey Crawford as the perfect example. He was a second-round pick in 2003 and didn't play his first full season until after Chicago won the Cup in 2010. In that span, the Flyers drafted nine goalies, who were all out of the organization by the time Crawford finally assumed his crease.

The issue is not Hextall's approach, but the pressure from above.

"There's pressure to win everywhere, whether you feel it or whatever," Hextall said. "There's pressure for all of us to win in any market. In here, yeah, it's a passionate market. But if you want to win it and stay in the fight for a number of years, you've got to draft well."

Chicago has run into salary-cap problems, like the Flyers, but has drafted and developed well enough to replace key cogs like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell.

"They've had a balance of guys and it's got to be a steady stream," Hextall said. "That's why draft picks are so valuable. Very valuable."

Hextall has been in the Flyers' organization long enough to know that - like it or not - he has certain parameters to work under with Snider. He says he agrees with Snider's comments "100 percent" and Snider has supported his plan "100 percent." The brass is all on the same page, according to Hextall.

But is it harder to do it this way? Trying to remain in the middle and competitive, rather than bottoming out like the Blackhawks, Penguins or Kings?

"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."

Slap shots

Claude Giroux scored his first even-strength goal of the season at Wells Fargo Center. His other nine even-strength goals were all on the road . . . Wayne Simmonds scored his 100th goal since joining the Flyers (284 games) . . . Defenseman Luke Schenn sat out the game with a "lower-body" injury and was still being evaluated yesterday, according to Ron Hextall . . . Vinny Lecavalier was a healthy scratch for the third straight game . . . Brayden Schenn skated on a line with Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare . . . Flyers 2014 No. 1 pick Travis Sanheim was named a first-team All-Star in the WHL's Eastern Conference.