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December 28, 2009
Driving To The Net
Winter Classic Preview – The Fall of the Flyers

by Timo Seppa

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Back when it was first announced on August 17th, the 2010 Bridgestone/NHL Winter Classic seemed like a damn sexy matchup, and that wasn’t even taking into account the inimitable venue, historic Fenway Park. On one side, you had the high-flying Boston Bruins, an Original Six team whose young guns nearly brought home the President’s Trophy last season. On the other side, you had the hard-nosed, high-octane Philadelphia Flyers, a legitimate championship contender created in the same mold as the original Broad Street Bullies. Assuredly to the satisfaction of the NHL’s brass, all signs pointed towards a display of offensive firepower worthy of a network television spotlight on New Year’s Day, based on the teams that were second (Boston’s 274 GF) and tied for third (Philadelphia’s 264 GF) in scoring last season.

All systems were go through the beginning of the season, but come mid-November, one team headed south, showing few signs thereafter of being able to put pucks in the net. For a solid month-plus, the Flyers’ offense has gone catatonic.

Philadelphia’s season has been a Jekyll and Hyde performance. The Flyers were a relatively unlucky 12-8-1 as of November 24th, having outscored their opponents 73 GF to 59 GA; for our Quarter Season report, Philadelphia’s league-best goal differential per game seemed “a portent of even better results to come”. But things went awfully wrong right about then. Knock the Flyers’ offensive output essentially in half––from an outstanding 3.48 GF per game to an anemic 1.94 GF per game––and you end up with a disappointing 5-10-1 stretch, outscored 31 GF to 50 GA, culminating in the firing of your head coach.

So if we’re to have a competitive, offensive game on New Year’s Day, it will require Philadelphia’s offense to wake from their deep winter slumber. While fans in the City of Brotherly Love might point toward the current three game winning streak as the light at the end of the tunnel, let’s not forget that it has been against the weak sisters of the East: Carolina, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders. Averaging 3 GF per game is less impressive when you realize that it’s against teams in the bottom third of the NHL defensively (allowing 3.1-3.7 GA per game each).

To see who the culprits have been in the Flyers’ slide––and there have been many––let’s look at individual Goals Versus Threshold performances before and after November 24th:

Legend:

GP – Games Played

OGVT – Offensive GVT, or Goaltending GVT for goalies

DGVT – Defensive GVT

SGVT – Shootout GVT

TGVT – Total GVT

Philadelphia Flyers - Performance before and after November 24

Name	         Pos   GP  OGVT DGVT  SGVT  TGVT   GP  OGVT  DGVT  SGVT	 TGVT
Mike Richards	 F   21.0  3.6  1.2  -0.7   4.1  16.0  1.6   0.6   0.5   2.7
Kimmo Timonen	 D   21.0  1.6  0.7   0.0   2.3  16.0  0.8   1.7   0.0   2.5
Michael Leighton G    -	     -	  -	-     -   2.7  1.2  -0.1   0.5	 1.6
Claude Giroux	 F   21.0  2.0	1.1   1.0   4.1	 16.0  1.0   0.4  -0.2	 1.3
Chris Pronger	 D   21.0  3.5	2.5   0.0   6.0	 16.0  0.3   1.0   0.0	 1.2
Braydon Coburn	 D   21.0  1.2	0.4   0.0   1.6	 15.0 -0.2   1.3   0.0	 1.1
Jeff Carter	 F   21.0  3.3	0.4  -0.2   3.5	 16.0  0.0   0.8  -0.1	 0.8
Matt Carle	 D   21.0  2.1	3.0   0.0   5.2	 16.0  0.2   0.6   0.0	 0.7
Simon Gagne	 F    9.0  0.4	0.4  -0.2   0.5	  4.0  0.4   0.2  -0.1	 0.6
Daniel Carcillo	 F   21.0  0.1	0.6   0.0   0.6	 12.0  0.1   0.4   0.0	 0.6
Blair Betts	 F   13.0 -0.2	0.6   0.0   0.5	  5.0  0.5   0.1   0.0	 0.5
Danny Briere*	 F   17.0  2.7	0.1  -0.5   2.4	 13.0 -0.3   0.3   0.3	 0.2
Danny Syvret	 D   13.0  0.0 -0.1   0.0  -0.2	  0.0  0.0   0.2   0.0	 0.2
O. Tollefsen	 D    9.0  0.1	0.0   0.0   0.2	  1.0  0.0   0.2   0.0	 0.1
Oskars Bartulis* D    7.0  0.1	0.0   0.0   0.1	 16.0  0.1  -0.1   0.0	 0.0
Jared Ross*	 F    1.0 -0.1 -0.1   0.0  -0.2	  2.0 -0.1   0.1   0.0	 0.0
David Laliberte* F    8.0  0.4	0.2   0.0   0.6	  3.0 -0.2   0.1   0.0	-0.1
Riley Cote	 F    5.0 -0.1	0.0   0.0  -0.1	  7.0 -0.3   0.1   0.0	-0.2
Andreas Nodl	 F    1.0 -0.3 -0.1   0.0  -0.3	  9.0 -0.2   0.2   0.0	-0.2
Jon Kalinski*	 F    -	     -	  -	-     -	 10.0 -0.2   0.0   0.0	-0.2
Darroll Powe	 F   19.0  0.5	0.2   0.0   0.7	  2.0 -0.5   0.3   0.0	-0.3
Scott Hartnell	 F   21.0  2.7	0.4   0.0   3.1	 16.0 -0.7   0.4   0.0	-0.3
Ryan Parent	 D   13.0  0.0	0.0   0.0   0.0	 15.0 -0.7   0.3   0.0	-0.4
Mika Pyorala*	 F   21.0 -1.0	0.5   0.5   0.0	 14.0 -0.7   0.2   0.0	-0.5
Ian Laperriere	 F   21.0 -0.5	0.4   0.0  -0.1	 16.0 -1.1   0.3   0.0	-0.8
J. van Riemsdyk* F   18.0  3.8	0.9   0.0   4.7	 16.0 -1.1   0.3   0.0	-0.8
Arron Asham	 F   14.0  0.6	0.2   0.0   0.8	 16.0 -1.0   0.0   0.0	-1.1
Brian Boucher	 G    2.5  0.6 -0.1   0.0   0.6	 11.8 -0.9   0.4  -1.1	-1.7
Ray Emery	 G   18.7  3.0	0.2   0.6   3.8	  1.4 -4.1  -0.1   0.1	-4.1
TOTAL		          30.1 13.6   0.5  44.5       -6.1  10.2  -0.1   3.4

*Rookie

Stats through 12/26

Over the first 21 games of the season, the Flyers’ skaters totaled an impressive 26.5 Offensive GVT (OGVT) and a better than expected 13.6 Defensive GVT (DGVT), while Holmgren’s roll-the-dice goaltending corps––primarily Ray Emery––held their own with 3.6 goaltending GVT. In marked contrast, the next 16 games saw the Philadelphia offense perform at a shocking, sub-replacement level of -3.8 OGVT. You’ve got that right: the Flyers might have lit the lamp as many times if they dressed the Adirondack Phantoms’ lineup instead of Carter, Briere and company. Defensive contributions remained a solid 10.2 DGVT while goaltending deteriorated to -3.2 GVT. Therefore, as units, you have your culprits for the collapse: primarily the offense, with an assist to goaltending. Defense, as a whole, is exonerated. That Philadelphia’s supposedly weakest attribute has now been their strength tells you how bad things have been, but perhaps it also speaks volumes about how good things could be if they got their talented offense back on track and threw a few bucks at goaltending for a change.

A few individuals have been playing close to expectations––Mike Richards, Kimmo Timonen, Claude Giroux, Braydon Coburn, Daniel Carcillo––islands of competence in a sea of ineptitude.

Forwards

While Richards’ production has fallen off some, his contribution of 2.7 GVT over the past 16 games is twice that of the next best forward. In contrast, Jeff Carter continues to prove that last season’s October through December hot streak is not his norm. While the 25 year old center is the subject of trade rumors, Holmgren would be crazy to sell Carter this low…unless he could con another GM into taking Daniel Briere’s contract ($7 million in 2010-11, $26 million remaining through 2014-15) with it as well. James van Riemsdyk looked like found money for the Flyers upon his callup, posting an amazing 18 points in 18 games. Unfortunately, the promising rookie may well be the poster child for Philadelphia’s offensive woes, having gone from the point per game pace to merely 2 points in 17 games. It makes you think that the kid should be given a chance to reload down in the minors.

Defensemen

Kimmo Timonen has actually improved his performance from the beginning of the season, while Braydon Coburn has also remained a steady contributor. On the flip side, it’s hard to believe that folks like us were touting ex-Duck Chris Pronger and promising young Matt Carle in early Norris trophy discussions. With Randy Jones proving his worth in Los Angeles (3.9 GVT in 18 games with the Kings) upon being waived by the Flyers, Philadelphia has been left with no other defensemen worthy of NHL ice time.

Goaltenders

From Russia, with glove: Paul Holmgren took a big chance in bringing Ray Emery back from the KHL as his starting goaltender as Razor Ray’s last NHL season saw a dismal .890 save percentage and -10.4 GVT performance. While the move looked like a stroke of genius in the early going, Emery and career backup Brian Boucher both dropped below replacement level before succumbing to injuries. The Flyers’ netminding performances should probably not be surprising to any observer, given that only 4.3% of the Philadelphia’s salary was earmarked for goaltenders – the second lowest percentage in the NHL (Based on salary info from nhlnumbers.com) With both Emery and Boucher nursing injuries, Michael Leighton can’t be seen as more than a stopgap measure. The natural move would be to bring Martin Biron back from Long Island if and when Rick DiPietro returns to health for the Isles. For now, it looks like it’ll either be Boucher or Leighton strapping on the pads on New Year’s Day.

What’s The Solution?

Aside from acquiring a better option in net, the Flyers offensive talent simply needs to start playing up to expectations. As Geoff Detweiler of Broad Street Hockey says, “They can't win if their best players on the ice aren't their best players. When the team was losing, the most noticeable Flyers on the ice were often Arron Asham, Dan Carcillo, and Ian Laperriere. No team can win when those are the best players.” That statement, and the dropoff in production of the majority of the team shown above, are indictments of the Flyers’ character. A shakeup of the roster is worth a try, though it shouldn’t involve core players; Philadelphia can certainly build around a nucleus of Richards, Carter, Giroux, van Riemsdyk, Timonen, Pronger and a few others.

Those are not short term fixes that are going to bring about the fireworks we’re all looking for on New Year’s Day. Like Commissioner Bettman, we can only cross our fingers that the spectacle will inspire the Philadelphia Flyers of the first quarter of the season show up at Fenway Park. That team––if it’s still in there somewhere––would help make for a compelling Winter Classic.

Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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