Flyers-Avalanche observations: The good, the bad and the Phillies
We won't really know how good of a general manager Ron Hextall is until he has to make the same hard decisions Pat Gillick had to make after replacing Ed Wade as GM in 2006.
The Flyers lost, 4-1, to Colorado at home on Monday.
A few observations …
First, the good
The headiness of Travis Sanheim's game, particularly lately, is just so good to see.
Demoted, his confidence shaken last season, he took his medicine without complaint, never lashed out, and worked to get better. The Flyers' only goal Monday was scored in a way that should be taught at practice. Rather than firing it into the cluster that so often surrounds a net these days – the Flyers had 22 shots blocked Monday, 27 by the Devils on Saturday – Sanheim purposefully sent it just to the side where Nolan Patrick stood, marked by an Avs defenseman.
Patrick is a master at deflecting pucks, and he was again on Monday night. There's your Flyers future right there, folks.
Now, the bad
Two things to keep an eye on in the days ahead: Shayne Gostisbehere was clearly not himself after taking a puck to his leg early in the third period. Michael Raffl also suffered what looked like an injury to his left leg and had to be helped off the ice with 4:15 remaining in the second period.
When Jordan Weal was sent off for tripping in the first period Monday, it marked the fourth time in two games he entered the penalty box. That's no strategy to stay out of the press box. Expect to see Mikhail Vorobyev back in the lineup Thursday in Boston.
More and more, this era of Flyers hockey is reminiscent of the Phillies in the first half of the 2000s. There were good players on those teams: Bobby Abreu, Marlon Byrd, Placido Polanco, David Bell, Jim Thome. There were also young players getting a taste: Chase Utley, 24, batted .239 in 151 at-bats when the Phillies went 86-76 in 2003. Twenty-two-year-old Brett Myers won 14 games. Ryan Madson, 22, got in his first game.
They won 86 games again in 2004, 88 in 2005, 85 in 2006. By then, Utley was a lineup staple, Madson pitched in 50 games and 22-year-old Cole Hamels had joined Myers in the rotation. Oh, and some guy named Ryan Howard had replaced Thome and hit 58 home runs. From 2007 through 2011, they finished first, went to two World Series, won one in 2008.
There were also young guys from that era who never really panned out: Gavin Floyd, Scott Mathieson, even Michael Bourne, although he found some success elsewhere.
I suspect the Flyers are in the same sort of situation now. And we won't really know what kind of a general manager Ron Hextall is until he has to make the same hard decisions that Pat Gillick had to make after replacing Ed Wade as general manager after the 2005 season. He sent Thome to Chicago for Aaron Rowand, Bourne to Houston for Brad Lidge, Bobby Abreu to the Yankees for minor leaguers – a move that was ripped by the media at the time. He also had some bad deals and signings – Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia come to mind. But he was fearless.
So far, none of Hextall's trades or signings has been particularly deft. That was Wade's fatal flaw, and it is a big reason Gillick is in baseball's Hall of Fame. Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth, Jamie Moyer – all were acquired without sacrificing youth. Geoff Jenkins, Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs – all added to a team personality of grinders and overachievers without sacrificing anything.
The Flyers are still looking for their personality. And they might look very different when, or if, they finally find one.