Archive for the ‘Philadelphia Flyers’ Category

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Ghosts of Phillies Past: Cole Hamels and Shane Rawley

July 15, 2011

Not much Phillies action this past week with the All-Star break giving them four days off.  Naturally, my choice of featured Phillie for this week will be one of the three pitchers named to the All-Star team.

Featured Phillie of the Week: Cole Hamels

Hamels was deservedly selected to the NL’s All-Star pitching staff.  He had an outstanding first half of the season, going 11-4 with a 2.32 ERA.  And since his disappointing first start of the season, when he was knocked around by the Mets, he has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. 

Up to this season, Hamels has had a mostly great career – highlighted by his 2008 season when he was the World Series MVP.  However, due to several factors, his 2009 season was sub par.

As I talked about here, in 2010, he seemed determined to improve himself, and by season’s end, Hamels was performing like one of the best pitchers in baseball.  That success has carried over to 2011.  The 2011 version of Hamels seems far removed from what we saw in 2009.  He now has four dependable pitches – including his awesome changeup – and the requisite mental toughness to go along with it. 

He closed out the first half in top form by shutting down the Braves in the final game before the break.  He went 8 innings, only giving up three hits and one run.  Backed by a rare offensive outburst, he was able to cruise to an easy victory.

Unfortunately, due to a Major League Baseball rule, by pitching the final game before the break, he was ineligible to appear in the All-Star Game.  Hamels was disappointed by this, saying that Tuesday was his day to throw in the bullpen anyway, so there was no reason for him not to be eligible to pitch.

Regardless, the National League was able to win without him, thanks in part to the contributions of his fellow aces Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Shane Rawley

For my Ghost of Phillies Past, I will take a look at another Phillies lefthander who once made an All-Star Game.

Shane Rawley came to the Phillies in 1984 in a trade with the Yankees.  He had experienced moderate success in the American League, and he seemed like he might be a budding star.

He fit in nicely in the Phillies rotation behind Steve Carlton, and for the next couple of seasons, as Carlton’s career trailed off, he seemed to be emerging as the team’s new ace.

In 1986, he earned a trip to the All-Star Game, and in 1987, he became the first Phillie besides Carlton to be the team’s opening day starter since 1971.

Just as it looked like he was reaching the pinnacle of his career, things went downhill quickly.  He had an amazing start to the 1987 season, but dropped off severely in the second half.  His biggest problem appeared to be lack of control, as he was annually among the league leaders in walks allowed.

The career tailspin continued in 1988 as he went a disappointing 8-16 for a last place Phillies team.

In that offseason, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for three players, most notably second baseman Tom Herr.  Sadly, the switch to the American League didn’t help turn around his career.  After a 5-12 season, Rawley’s major league career came to an end.

Final Analysis

Hamels has already had a better career than Rawley, being named to two All-Star teams and earning a World Series MVP.  He has experienced difficulty in his career and worked past it.  Now that he is entering the prime of his career, it would be shocking if he suffered a breakdown similar to Rawley’s.  I fully expect him to continue to be one of the league’s best pitchers.

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Winners and Losers from the Flyers Big Deals

June 24, 2011

The Flyers made some huge moves on Thursday, with two prominent player trades and a free agent signing.  In the process, they have performed a major renovation on the team’s roster.

It had been rumored that they were trying to trade top scorer Jeff Carter in an attempt to gain some room under the salary cap.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It was also unsurprising when the team used that newly acquired cap space on a contract for free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.  They had acquired Bryzgalov’s exclusive negotiating rights in a trade and had reportedly been close to agreeing to a deal.

The surprising move came when they traded team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings.

Considering how the team had been operating recently, the moves are somewhat confusing.

For the past few seasons, Richards and Carter have been the faces of the franchise.  Richards had been regarded as one of the top leaders in the NHL, and Carter had developed into a dangerous offensive weapon. 

And while this year’s second round loss – to the eventual champion Boston Bruins – was disappointing, the team was one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.  It wasn’t like the team hadn’t experienced any success with Richards and Carter, so it seems a bit strange to get rid of them now.

The Flyers have been in “win now” mode for the past couple of seasons.  All of their recent moves had been geared towards winning the Stanley Cup in the near future.  They have traded away many draft picks in exchange for veteran players (Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros, Kris Versteeg) who would help them immediately.

The acquisition of Bryzgalov seemed to be in step with that “win now” mentality.  The team had made it clear that they blamed their goaltending situation for this year’s defeat.  In response, they traded for the rights to Bryzgalov who they regarded as the top available goalie.  He would hopefully be the missing piece that they needed in order to finally win it all.

So why then turn around and trade two of the team’s core players in exchange for prospects and draft picks?  Wouldn’t Richards and Carter have helped them more in the next few seasons than any of the players or draft picks they received?

Trading Carter is somewhat defensible.  Bryzgalov’s new contract did not give the team much flexibility under the salary cap, so getting rid of Carter allowed them some financial breathing room.  They also had a plethora of centers with Richards, Carter, Danny Briere, and Claude Giroux, so Carter could have also been seen as expendable.  Plus, despite his regular season scoring prowess, Carter has struggled in the playoffs.

Less explainable is the trade of Richards.  While there was some talk that the team was unhappy with his play and demeanor in the locker room, he was still highly regarded throughout the league.  And once again, he was only one season removed from captaining the team to the Cup finals.  With Carter gone, they didn’t seem to need to clear any more salary, so why did they make the move?

The trades did make the team considerably younger, and it’s not like they didn’t receive anything substantial in return.  Wayne Simmonds looks like a solid third-line wing, and Jakub Voracek appears to be emerging as a scorer. 

In addition, Brayden Schenn, the prospect they received in exchange for Richards is very highly regarded.  But once again, are these players going to help the team as much as Carter and Richards would have in the next few seasons?  It is difficult to say that.

There’s the possibility that this is not the last big move the Flyers make this offseason.  Will the extra financial flexibility they gained be used to acquire another big name player? 

In the meantime, I’ll take a look at the winners and losers from all the moves as they stand now.

Loser: Jeff Carter – He had just signed a 11 year contract extension with the Flyers, and players don’t sign long-term extensions with a team unless they want to stay there.  His mistake was that the no-trade clause in his contract didn’t begin until next season.  He goes from a Cup contender to a franchise that has never even won a playoff game.

Supposedly, Carter was also a big fan of the Philly nightlife.  I’m guessing that he won’t find Columbus to be nearly that exciting.

Winner: Columbus – Not only do they get a good player, this move also served to remind people that yes, Columbus, Ohio actually has a major league sports team.  With uniforms and everything!

Winner: Mike Richards – While I’m sure it’s a blow to his ego to be shipped out, this move might be the best thing for him.  He didn’t have a great relationship with the Philadelphia media, and he might be better served in Los Angeles, where the locals aren’t quite as passionate about hockey.

Winner: Ilya Bryzgalov – He received a huge contract, and seems happy that he’ll have a chance to play on a contender.  He may not quite realize the amount of angst that Flyers fans have about the goalie position though.  If he flames out in the playoffs, he will probably receive Donovan McNabb levels of scorn from the fans.

Loser: Sergei Bobrovski – It is never a good sign for the team’s “goalie of the future” when the team acquires another goalie and signs him to an expensive contract.  If Bobrovski is going to be a starter in the NHL, it certainly doesn’t appear as if it will be with the Flyers.

Winner: Chris Pronger – Some of the negative rumors about Richards involved him being at odds with Pronger, who many outsiders felt was the real leader of the team and should have been the captain.  Pronger almost certainly will receive the captainship now, and will be the undisputed leader of the team.

Loser: Fans with Richards or Carter jerseys – Everyone knows that when you buy a player’s jersey, you’re taking a risk that the player might leave the team.  But after Richards and Carter signed their long-term deals, their jerseys seemed like a pretty safe bet.  Looks like there will be a lot of Flyers fans buying new jerseys this year.

Winner: Flyers merchandise sellers – See above.

Winner: Claude Giroux – The team seems to feel that he has superstar potential, and that with Richards and Carter gone, he will have an opportunity to show it.  Will he be able to succeed where they did not and lead the team to a championship?  We shall see.

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Look Philadelphia, it’s the Flyers!

February 10, 2011

For many Philadelphia sports fans, the Eagles take precedence over all other teams.  From the time training camp begins until the Super Bowl is complete, these fans are focused solely on football.

But now that the Eagles have been eliminated for weeks and the Super Bowl is over, football fans can now safely turn their attention to the city’s other sports teams.

They may be pleasantly surprised to discover that while the Eagles may have fallen short, a parade down Broad Street is still a possibility this year.  The Flyers are currently in first place, and they look like a real contender to bring home the city’s first Stanley Cup in 36 years.

The Flyers’ success shouldn’t really come as a surprise since they were the Eastern Conference champions last season.  But many people discounted that success because it seemed a bit fluky.

Keep in mind that the following happened on the way to the Stanley Cup finals:

  • They were in last place in December, which led to their coach getting fired.
  • They had to win a shootout in the final game of the season just to qualify for the playoffs.
  • They trailed three games to zero in their second round playoff series, and fell behind by three goals in game seven before pulling out a victory.

This season, the Flyers have shown that their playoff run was not a fluke.   They are currently leading the Eastern Conference in points, and this looks like the strongest Flyers team since the peak of the Eric Lindros era

So what happened?  How did the Flyers transform from a team that barely made the playoffs into a powerhouse Cup contender?

For one thing, there is a feeling that their young core of players has grown up a bit.  Over recent seasons, there has been some criticism of immature behavior, both on and off the ice. 

There were reports of players partying too hard at night, and not being fully dedicated to the game.  Whether or not those rumors were true, the team did seem to lack an edge.  For most of last season, the team did not appear capable of handling success.  Every time they would get on any sort of run, they would suffer a setback.  They didn’t seem to play their best until their backs were up against the wall.

Perhaps the trials of a long playoff run sparked the maturation process, as those problems don’t seem to be present this season.

The Flyers’ front office has also done an incredible job of adding quality depth to the team.  While the team may not have a superstar goal scorer like Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, they do have a number of dangerous offensive weapons, including four players with over 40 points in Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Danny Briere.

Normally teams concentrate on shutting down an opponent’s top scoring line.  But with so many good offensive players, the Flyers have spread their scoring among several lines, making it harder for opponents to neutralize them.

The biggest improvement for the team may have come on defense.  Last season, the Flyers had two excellent defensive pairings, but things got a bit shaky after that.  It often seemed like their third defensive group was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Flyers addressed this problem in the offseason with the addition of veteran defenders Andres Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell.  As a result, the defense has been solid all year with few of the third pairing breakdowns we saw last season.

So do the Flyers have what it takes to win the Cup?

As it seems is always the case with the Flyers, the biggest question mark is goaltending.

For much of the season, the team has turned to rookie goaltender Sergei “Bob” Bobrovski.  Bob started off the year on fire, and looked like an early candidate for rookie of the year.  Since that blazing start, opponents seem to have scouted him well and spotted some weaknesses.  He hasn’t played horribly, but he has looked vulnerable.

Compensating for Bobrovsky’s recent dropoff has been backup/co-starter Brian Boucher.  Despite never being a long-term starter in the NHL, Boucher has had an unexpectedly excellent season.  There is speculation that when the playoffs start, it will be Boucher in the net.

Regardless of which goalie eventually gets the call in the playoffs, there are questions about the Cup-worthiness of either.  Bob is unproven, so nobody has any clue what to expect from him in the playoffs.  And most people consider Boucher to be a career backup, not the type of goalie that carries a team to the Cup.

Then again, recent playoffs have shown that a team doesn’t need a stargoaltender to win the Cup.  You don’t necessarily need a goalie to win games for you, but it’s absolutely crucial that they don’t lose games.

Considering how strong the Flyers’ defense is, neither goalie should need to steal games for the team.  They’ll just need to make the saves that have to be made.

There are a couple of other concerns:

The Flyers’ special teams have been inconsistent all year.  Considering how deep the team is, they should be able to put out consistently strong penalty kill and power play units, but the results been somewhat uneven.

Playoff games can often hinge on a power play, so if the Flyers can’t get this sorted out, it could lead to an earlier than expected exit from the playoffs.

And while the Flyers’ scoring depth can be looked at as a strength, you also have to wonder if they have a player who can carry the team in key situations.  Players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier won Stanley Cups because they came through in big moments.

The Flyers don’t appear to have a top level player like that on the roster.  If the team hits some adversity, do they have anyone who is capable of the superlative effort necessary to pull the team through?

Of course every team has some weaknesses, and the Flyers’ problems don’t look like anything that they can not overcome.  I’d say that this team has as good a shot as anyone at winning it all.

At the very least, the team should provide some entertainment for those Eagles fans still heartbroken over their loss.

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And So Ends That

June 10, 2010

You’d think that an overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup couldn’t possibly be anticlimactic, and yet that’s how last night’s game six ended.

After the Flyers tied the game late in the third period – and just missed on several good chances to win it in regulation – the Blackhawks won it with a soft goal that pretty much nobody saw go in.  The announcers certainly didn’t and we were left with a bizzare scene where the Blackhawks began to celebrate while everyone else just kind of sat there in confusion.

So the Blackhawks are the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions, and the Flyers have now gone 35 years without hoisting the big trophy. 

It shows just how difficult it is to win a championship.  The Flyers had an incredible run, made a historic comeback, and caught a lot of breaks, and still came up two games short.

Why did they lose?  Two main reasons:

1. While both teams’ top players struggled early on in the series, the Blackhawks star players like Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien came on as the series progressed, while the Flyers got little out of Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne.

2. Once again, the Flyers were undone by a goalie letting in bad goals.  Michael Leighton played poorly throughout most of the series, and let in some killer goals.  The game winner last night was a shot that absolutely needs to be stopped.

On the other hand, while the Blackhawks Antti Niemi was not great, and he certainly didn’t carry the team to victory, but he made the saves he had to.

Looking ahead, should the Flyers proceed as if they were a team that was only two wins away from the championship?  I think that would be a huge mistake.

The Flyers’ playoff run was a bit fluky.  First, they needed to win a shootout on the final game of the season just to make the playoffs.  And then, they continued to draw teams that they matched up very well against.  Thanks to the Montreal Canadiens upsetting both the top seeded Washington Capitals and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers got easier matchups than their seed would normally dictate in each round.

And as I’ve said before, in Olympic years, the Stanley Cup playoffs tend to be much less predictable.  There are typically more upsets in an Olympic year than in others.  Can the Flyers count on the same kind of breaks next season?  Probably not.

So what do the Flyers need to do?

They first need to settle their goalie situation.  After the Canadiens series, there was talk of signing Leighton to a long term contract.  But these finals have to make them wonder if he is a Cup-winning caliber goalie, or simply a journeyman who went on a hot streak this season. 

If they don’t think Leighton is the answer, then they need to figure out where their goalie is coming from.  They tried signing Ray Emery before the season, but injuries have put his career in jeopardy.  I’m not sure any free agents are going to be any better than Leighton, and teams rarely trade away championship quality goalies.  Besides, after trading for Chris Pronger last season, the Flyers don’t have much they could offer in a trade.

Backup Brian Boucher played well at times this season, and would probably be good to bring back as a backup next season as well.  It would be foolish to count on him as a starter though.

The playoff showed that they could also use another good defenseman as well.  The top four of Pronger, Kimmo Timmomen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn are very solid.  But the coaches clearly didn’t trust guys like Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek, and their playing time decreased dramatically as the playoffs progressed.  The top four had to play longer minutes to compensate, and it is worth wondering if they didn’t wear down a bit because of it.

As for their forwards, they appear to have good depth, yet many of their players are either injury prone or streaky.  Can they count on Simon Gagne or Danny Briere to make it through a season without getting hurt?  Should they expect more than they got out of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and James Van Riemsdyk? 

If these players can stay healthy and become less volatile in their play, the Flyers could avoid the inconsistencies they showed this past season.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how the Flyers can improve themselves greatly.  The salary cap will prevent them from doing much damage in free agency, and they don’t seem to have any tradeable pieces that won’t weaken the team.

So basically, the Flyers have to hope that this year’s run wasn’t a fluke.  They have to hope that Leighton is an answer in goal, and their younger players can develop more consistency.  Or else next year at this time, we’ll be talking about how the Flyers’ Cup drought is at 36 years and counting.

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Momentum? Not in this Series

June 7, 2010

People in sports love to talk about momentum.  As in, when a team gets hot and starts doing well, they tend to continue to do well.  While there are many examples of this phenomenon throughout sports history, it certainly has not been the case in this year’s NHL Playoffs.

If momentum were a huge factor in the playoffs, then the Flyers wouldn’t have been able to come back from that 0-3 deficit against the Bruins. 

In the Finals, neither team has been able to do anything with any supposed momentum they might have.  In each game, it seems that as soon as one team scores a goal, the opponent quickly counters with one of their own. 

After winning the first two games in Chicago, the Blackhawks seemed to have a ton of momentum, and looked like they were on their way to a series sweep.  Then the games moved to Philadelphia where the Flyers were able to win the next two.  After game four in which the Flyers outplayed the Blackhawks, it looked like all of the series’ momentum had shifted to the Flyers.

That lasted right until the puck was dropped in game five in Chicago.  The Blackhawks dominated from the start of the game and earned a 7-4 victory that puts them one win away from the Stanley Cup.  It seems that while momentum may be nice to have on your side, it isn’t nearly as important as playing hard and having home ice advantage.

Does last night’s crushing defeat mean the Flyers are done for?  Definitely not.  Throughout the first five games of the series, the play in each game has had almost no correlation to the games played before and after.  We’ve seen a wide open, high scoring game one be followed by a tight, defensive game two.  The Flyers physical domination in game four was followed by a swarming Blackhawks attack in game five.

One thing that is certain is that the Flyers will have to win a game in Chicago in order to win the Cup.  Both teams have played much stronger on their home ice (and much weaker on the road) but the onus is on the Flyers to reverse that trend.  The Blackhawks can suffer a loss in game six and still have home ice in game seven to fall back on.

So here is where the Flyers stand: Game six is at home, and they need to win.  They’ve played very well at home (especially goalie Michael Leighton) so hopefully they can continue that strong play. 

And if they can win game six, then maybe momentum will be on their side, and that might be enough to carry them to victory.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

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The Holiday Weekend Goes Sour

June 1, 2010

Saturday had the potential to be among the greatest days in Philadelphia sports history. 

In Saturday night’s Phillies game, pitcher Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game.  It could be argued that it was the best pitched game ever.  It was not only just the 20th perfect game in history, but even more remarkable was that it didn’t even require many great defensive plays.  In a typical no-hitter or perfect game, you’ll see one or two amazing defensive plays made, but in Halladay’s performance, there was nothing especially worthy of the highlight reel.  Sure, Halladay was getting the benefit of a large strike zone, especially at the end, but that happens pretty much anytime a pitcher has a perfect game going in the late innings.

The Flyers had a chance to make it a historic night as they were playing the Blackhawks in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I’m guessing no city has ever had a perfect game pitched the same night as a finals victory.

The Flyers started off well as they took an early 1-0 lead.  But they could not hold the lead, nor could they hold the other two leads they had later in the game.  In fact, it appeared that no lead in this game would be safe as the teams kept trading goals.  But ultimately, the Blackhawks scored one in the third period that the Flyers could not match, and Chicago escaped with a 6-5 victory.

So much for the greatest night in Philly history.

Then again, compared to the remainder of the holiday weekend, Saturday night was a bright spot.

The Phillies baffling offensive slump continued, as they were shut out on Sunday, and then scored three late, meaningless runs on Monday.  Halladay’s performance overshadowed the fact that the Phillies were only able to score one unearned run of their own on Saturday night.

Their offensive struggles merit a blog post of their own, but the team has learned that it is hard to win games without scoring runs, and because of it, they’ve fallen into second place.

It would be up to the Flyers to redeem Monday.  They knew that if they played the same type of up-tempo game that they did in game one, their chances wouldn’t be great.  While the Flyers were able to score five goals in that game, the style of play was much better suited to the Blackhawks.  The Flyers would need to play a much tighter, defensively focused game.

And the Flyers did exactly that.  Unlike the high scoring game one, game two was a tight defensive battle until midway through the second period when the Blackhawks scored the first goal on a rebound that the Flyers’ defense wasn’t able to clear. 

Still, a one goal deficit wasn’t debilitating.  What happened next was the killer.

28 seconds after that goal, Chicago’s Ben Eager – a player not known as a great scorer – fired a long shot that somehow eluded Flyers’ goaltender Michael Leighton.

For Flyers’ fans, the goal seemed hauntingly familiar.

Over the years, a major reason why the Flyers haven’t been able to win the Stanley Cup is because their goaltenders have not come up big.  Obviously, the Flyers’ lack of Cups since 1975 can not just be blamed on the goalies, but they haven’t had a goalie play well enough to carry them to a title either.

For the most part, the Flyers goalies have  played adequately, or even “good enough to win.”  And yet, in every series that they’ve lost,  there always seemed to be one key goal – while not necessarily soft – was one that a Cup winning goalie needs to make.  No matter who the goalie has been – Hextall, Vanbiesbrouk, Boucher, etc. – they always seem to let in that one killer goal that sabatoges the team’s chances.

And typically, in the games where the Flyers goalie would give up that goal, the opposing goaltender would play extremely well.  That happened last night as Chicago’s Antti Niemi was stellar, especially in the third period.  The Flyers had many quality scoring chances, and some shots that seemed destined to be goals, and yet they couldn’t get the tying goal past Niemi.

It’s way too early to give up on the Flyers.  The teams have looked fairly even, and with the next two games at home, the Flyers can, and I think will, win them.  But that second goal just seemed way too familiar, and felt like a sign that this year they’d once again be coming up short.

I hope I’m wrong.

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Thirteen Years

May 29, 2010

The Flyers finished off the Montreal Canadiens and are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.  When I realized that it had been 13 years since they played in the finals, it surprised me.  Had it really been that long?  It didn’t seem that way, but the calendar doesn’t lie.

Looking back, that finals appearance in 1997 would end up being the pinnacle of the Eric Lindros era in Philly.  Lindros was a one-time hyped prospect who was supposed to be the next great player in the NHL.  And with a solid team around him, it looked like he would finally fulfill his supposed destiny in leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. 

But the Flyers ran into a great Detroit Red Wings team and collapsed.  It would have been one thing to have simply lost to a superior team.  But it was the way they collapsed against adversity that was especially distressing.

Every time they fell behind, they seemed to noticeably sag.  After losing the first three games of the series, Murray called the team out, saying they were choking.  They responded by playing dreadfully in game four, and lost the series in a sweep.

The team underacheived for the next few seasons.  The Lindros era finally ended in 2000 after too many concussions, too many conflicts with team management, and too many disappointing playoff performances forced the team to trade him. 

Even without Lindros, the team was never able to make it back to the Stanley Cup finals.  They seemed close at time, most notably after a loss in the Eastern Conference finals in 2004.

Unfortunately, the Flyers were unable to build off this near-miss as the next season was cancelled due to the players’ strike.  When play resumed the following year, there were also some rule changes made to promote more open play.  The Flyers’ roster was not well suited for this new style of play.  After losing in the first round of the playoffs in the first season back, the team completely collapsed in 2006-2007, finishing with the worst record in the league.

General Manager Paul Holmgren did a good job of trading some of his veteran players to spark the rebuilding process.  And the team had an influx of talented young players come up from the minor leagues such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.  Behind this new core, the team made it to the conference finals in 2008 where they fell to the Pittsburgh Penhuins – led by their young star Sidney Crosby.

After the Flyers fell to the Penguins again last season, Holmgren realized that he would need  to make some changes.  He responded by trading for defenseman Chris Pronger, recognized as one of the best defensemen in the league.  This was a clear sign that the Flyers were ready to win now.

The trade seemed like it would be a waste until the team went on its miracle run through the playoffs.  Now, for the first time in thirteen years, the Flyers are only four wins away from holding the Cup.

How long has thirteen years been?  Babies born during the Flyers’ previous finals appearance could conceivably be getting Bar Mitzvahed this weekend. 

To illustrate how long thirteen years has been, I’ll take a quick look back at the weekend of May 31, 1997 and how life was like back then:

I was down in DC for a weekend, visiting my girlfriend who was taking summer classes at The George Washington University.  We were staying in her dorm room, which did not even get cable reception.  (If you told today’s college students that their rooms wouldn’t have cable, they’d probably shudder in fear.) 

To watch the game, I had to go to my fraternity house to watch it on a big-for-its-time 40-inch screen.  High definition TVs weren’t around, so we didn’t expect great quality, so nobody really cared that much.  As long as you could see the screen, you’d be fine.  I remember that TV well, since we would sometimes have to move it around the fraternity house.  Back, then, large TVs came equipped with large cathode ray tubes and were therefore very heavy.

I got to read coverage of the game on the internet.  At the time, I thought that it was the coolest thing ever that I could actually read the Philly newspapers on an internet browser.  Of course, since I was reading the paper on a dial-up connection, each page took a few minutes to load, so the whole process took about an hour.

One big impediment to using the internet was that you had to have a phone line free.  We used to have arguments about phone lines being tied up due to people being online.  Cable connections were just about unheard of for private use, so in order to get connected, you’d have to dial-up an ISP like AOL.  How many people do you know who still use AOL?  My mother-in-law still has it, and we always ask her why.

For those of you who live in DC, here’s a good example of how things have changed.  The night before game one, I went to the movie theater at Union Station to watch The Lost World (Jurassic Park 2).  At the time, you didn’t have many options for watching movies in Washington DC.  There were a few small theaters spread throughout, but these often had small screens.  If you wanted a big screen, Union Station was pretty much your best bet.  Now, thanks to Gallery Place and Georgetown opening large theaters, Union Station is closed.

After the movie, my girlfriend and I actually walked back from Union Station to her dorm on GW’s campus.  Why did we walk?  Well, we were college students and didn’t have cars.  And taxis were expensive.  And it was a nice night out.  But the most important reason was because the Metro only ran until midnight on weekends.  So if you went to a late movie, chances are, you’d be walking home.

Later that summer, my friend Johnny came to visit.  Johnny wasn’t especially familiar with big cities, and we did that walk with him.  He was absolutely terrified.  I think he’s still a bit traumatized, even though we did stick to nicer neighborhoods. 

Although really, maybe not.  We did walk through Chinatown which wasn’t the nicest area in the city.  The MCI Center wasn’t open yet (It would open later that year), and the surrounding area hadn’t been transformed into the social center it is today.

On a bright note, Johnny did think it was awesome that we could order delivery food at 1 AM.  The big city giveth, the big city taketh away.

So obviously, things have changed quite a bit.  Hopefully, the team doesn’t go another 13 years between finals apppearances. 

Do the Flyers have a chance to succeed where they failed thirteen years ago?  Of course.  They are underdogs in this series against the Chicago Blackhawks.  But being the favored team hasn’t really helped anyone this postseason, and being an underdog certainly hasn’t hurt the Flyers so far.

I’d make a comparison between now and the last time they won the Stanley Cup in 1975, but that would be difficult to do since I wasn’t even alive then.

Go Flyers!  Bring home the Cup!