Based on the tornado of hype that's been rolling through the Philadelphia area the last couple weeks, one presumes the Philadelphia Flyers have been pre-approved to hoist the Stanley Cup next spring.
Hate to bear bleak news, but for as well as GM Paul Holmgren has done in quickly rebuilding the franchise from the Corey Haim-like depths it sunk to this past season, the Flyers still have a ways to go before they can be deemed a genuine championship contender.
(Let's pause here for a second to give fans of the Orange & Black sufficient time to retreat to their thesaurus in search of unpleasant descriptors for me. Â“Stooge,Â” Â“goofÂ” and Â“clodÂ” are a few personal favorites.)
Allow me again to stress my full awareness of the many positive things Holmgren has done since Bob Clarke pulled the chute last fall. With due respect to the St. Louis Blues, no NHL team has made a bigger improvement over the last eight months than Philadelphia.
Now that noted good guys Daniel Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Martin Biron are on board, their team meetings will be a veritable Romper Room of rainbows n' chuckles. With Joffrey Lupul, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, they've got no shortage of talented youth. And with Scott Hartnell and Jason Smith in the lineup, teams will hate to play them more than, say, the fictional president of a fictional country hates to allow a fictional jury of fictional citizens to rightfully incarcerate his fictional vice-president's fictional chief of staff for treasonous actions that endangered the life of a fictional public servant.
Fictionally speaking, of course.
But let's tuck away the rose-colored spectacles for a second and consider some of the potential downsides that remain in Flyerville.
Firstly, Biron hasn't played more than 55 games since 2001-02 Â– and his save percentage on the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sabres last season was a rather uninspiring .899 in 19 games. Not exactly Luongonian numbers, are they?
Also: last I looked, the Flyers' defense corps still included oft-injured Denis Gauthier; oft-deked Derian Hatcher, and oft-anonymous Randy Jones. Even with the additions of Timonen and Smith, the Anaheim Ducks, they ain't. And as the Ducks proved, defense is paramount to winning the Cup.
Speaking of, let's add up all the NHL championships won by the newest additions to Philadelphia's roster:
Biron (0) + Briere (0) + Smith (0) + Hartnell = (0) + Lupul (0) = 0
Carry the zeroÂ…yup, that's zero Stanley Cups combined. Contrast that with what Philly's Atlantic Division rivals in Manhattan brought in this summer:
Scott Gomez (2) + Chris Drury (1) = well, you can do the math.
If you believe Cup experience counts for something Â– if not, go talk to the Ottawa Senators for a while Â– it's clear the Flyers' relative dearth of it has to count against them to some degree.
Certainly, there's no guarantee the Flyers won't prove me incorrect and turn into a come-from-nowhere powerhouse unit capable of shocking the hockey world the way the Carolina Hurricanes did a couple seasons back. But if you're honestly trying to say Philadelphia is more of an Eastern Conference contender than the Rangers, Penguins and Senators, I'm honestly going to tell you you're nuts.
Good on Holmgren and owner Ed Snider for not settling for the slow rebuild, for being aggressive, and for being creative with the collective bargaining agreement. Their fans should be thanking them for years to come.
Right now, though, the things the Flyers require most are a little time and space to relax and grow.
Those needs normally don't go hand-in-hand with the NHL's ultimate achievement.
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