There they are, with virtually identical records, closer to the tail end of the Eastern Conference playoff race than the top: the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Two longtime division rivals. Two teams with rabid fan bases. Two teams bankrolled by owners who want desperately to win a Stanley Cup, yet whose consistent impatience kneecaps their development. Two teams that still don’t look anywhere close to being capable of beating the Boston Bruins to get out of the Eastern Conference, let alone take on one of the beasts from the West in a Cup final.
In many ways, all teams would be fortunate to have owners like Philly’s Ed Snider and the Rangers’ James Dolan. They’re not stingy when it comes to the salary cap and they’re unafraid to make changes when they deem it necessary. Unfortunately, they’re serial changers who look at rosters much like restaurants look at soup: the more variation, the better.
This season is no different for either the Flyers or Blueshirts. The former went out and threw five years and $25.5 million at Vincent Lecavalier; changed up their goaltending for the seven billionth time; fired their coach; signed former Islanders defenseman Mark Streit; traded Max Talbot for Steve Downie; and acquired ex-Isles blueliner Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline. The latter canned their coach; brought in a well-traveled super-pest (and former Flyer); dealt a once highly-regarded young d-man to Nashville; and made the biggest move at the trade deadline by consummating the Martin St-Louis/Ryan Callahan blockbuster with Tampa Bay.
Despite all those moves, neither team is a lock to make the playoffs. The Rangers and Flyers have talent and can put together hot streaks to mask the truth for a stretch of time. But many hockey people believe both teams have significant flaws that are likely to prevent them from doing any significant damage if they do qualify for the post-season. The Rangers have one more point than the Flyers, but they have a game in hand on the Blueshirts. Both could be caught and surpassed by one or more of Columbus, Detroit, New Jersey and Washington and find themselves in ninth or tenth place by season’s end.
And what do you suppose will happen if that occurs? If you supposed “more change”, good supposin’.
The crazy thing is, the Rangers and Flyers take the opposite tact with management. Snider has kept Paul Holmgren in the GM role since the fall of 2006. Dolan has given Glen Sather ultimate authority with his team since 2000. Players are blamed for everything, management for nothing.
You don’t see that with the NHL’s best franchises. Chicago and San Jose and Detroit keep their braintrust largely intact and also find ways to do the same with their on-ice talent. Think of how often Sharks GM Doug Wilson has resisted calls to break up his team’s core. Think of how many times Red Wings counterpart Ken Holland has avoided widespread changes, even in the face of fading fortunes. It’s not the headline-making thing to do, but it does lead to a better chance at winning it all.
Change in limited amounts is necessary and can be fun. Unending change is disorienting and can be poison for team cohesion.
When you build a foundation out of quick-to-assemble, easy-to-move materials, you shouldn’t be surprised when your house doesn’t hold up amid the elements.