This column is like the Philadelphia Flyers—it just sort of exists.
There’s a bit of direction with some decent paragraphs, while the rest is cobbled together like the top half of Ron Hextall’s roster.
Flyers fans are at the point where we don't even care about line combos, we just don't want kids in positions where failure is a certainty.
— Charlie O'Connor (@BSH_Charlie) March 22, 2017
I think the premise is this: Does anyone really care about the Flyers right now?
I’m not talking about this season, which ended with a pitiful loss in Winnipeg. That’s micro. I’m talking macro. Does the average Philadelphia sports fan have an appetite for ice hockey in 2017?
The running joke is that every single Flyers fan is at every single home game, which is another way of saying that ice hockey is a niche sport in Philadelphia with a small, but passionate fanbase.
I don’t know if the stereotype is entirely true. My dad was a huge Flyers fan during the Legion of Doom days, and he probably watched more hockey than basketball in the mid-’90s. The Sixers were atrocious back then, but that’s the point.
Being a Philly sports fan is cyclical. We watch our teams when they’re good and then tune out when they suck. God knows we’ve been doing a lot of the latter lately, but we’ve also suffered enough that we have a lifetime pass to get back on the bandwagon.
Still, Ice hockey is a bit of a head-scratcher in this town.
One of the problems is that we haven’t had a true superstar in a long time. I’m not talking about Claude Giroux and whether he is “elite” or just “very good.” I’m talking about the lack of a real needle-mover, a conversation starter like Joel Embiid, Carson Wentz, Allen Iverson, or Chase Utley.
Nobody on this current roster generates enough interest for the average Philly fan.
Even going back to the 2010 playoff run, did Chris Pronger or Danny Brière take over the town? Would you put Mike Richards or Jeff Carter in the same category as DeSean Jackson or Ryan Howard?
That was a really fun season, but let’s not forget the miracle that got the Flyers into the playoffs in the first place. It also happened eight years ago.
So that’s one thing, the idea that the Flyers don’t have meter-moving personalities.
I also find it interesting that the average Philadelphia sports fan seems to possess general football, basketball, and baseball knowledge, but doesn’t know much of anything about the rest of the NHL.
The typical sports radio caller can tell you that Sidney Crosby “sucks” but probably doesn’t know that Ryan Suter leads the league in plus/minus. That guy, “Mike from South Philly,” probably has a better understanding of the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Cowboys, and Boston Red Sox.
It took #Flyers fans nearly 40 seconds for the first "Crosby sucks" chant. Is everything OK Philly? I'm concerned -SK
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) March 15, 2017
Speaking of radio, the Flyers exist under an incredibly strange media umbrella. They benefit from their broadcaster, Comcast, also being their owner. On the other hand, radio partner 97.5 the Fanatic has a first-place afternoon drive host who doesn’t even like hockey.
The only reason you hear anything about the Flyers on Mike Missanelli’s show is because his producer, Jason Myrtetus, is a diehard fan.
94 WIP doesn’t talk about hockey either, but they’ve always been focused 100 percent on the Eagles with some Sixers and Phillies talk sprinkled in. WIP strategizes around football with a number of co-hosts who are former NFL players.
That’s great for explaining the difference between nickel and dime coverages, but I don’t think Ike Reese knows anything about a neutral zone trap. Jon Ritchie and Hollis Thomas have probably never heard of Mark Scheifele and Victor Hedman.
It’s a weird disparity between TV and radio coverage. You’ve also got a strong group of beat reporters and a healthy in-game media presence, which doesn’t jive with the niche thing. I’ve been a soccer writer for eight years, so I know what “niche” really means.
It’s a national thing, too. Ice hockey is waning a bit in popularity, and you don’t see much coverage from the “mainstream” sports media.
I don’t know how many millennials still watch ESPN, but my sports fandom was heavily shaped by mornings with Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen. These days, hockey coverage is a two minute segment with Barry Melrose, live from the studio that’s probably also used for college baseball.
Another thing is that there seems to be a schism among Philadelphia sports fans who like “old-school Flyers hockey,” and those who want to see some actual skating and skill on the ice.
I find the “Broad Street Bullies” thing interesting, since the Flyers haven’t had a dopey brawler on the team in quite awhile.
Anyway, it’s not to say that Scott Hartnell and Ian Laperriere didn’t have “skill,” but we’ve been mucking and grinding and dumping and chasing for the better part of 30 years now. Philadelphia needs a Vladimir Tarasenko or a Nikita Kucherov, someone flashy who can do things like this:
I know that those types of players don’t grow on trees, but I’d really like to have one on my team.
For the record, I do think the Flyers are moving in … somewhat of the right direction. They’ve drafted defensemen and loaded up on prospects.
They’re somewhere between the Sixers and Phillies, trapped in a pseudo-process or Twilight Zone type of morass.
Do you blow up the senior side of the roster? Trade Giroux? Move Voráček? Call up the young kids? Fix the cap? Can you even do any of that right now?
Sometimes I wonder if this is a job for Sam Hinkie instead of Ron Hextall.
I do have to say that I really liked the Dave Hakstol hire. He was a college coach, so isn’t he a good choice to work with young prospects and a bunch of NHL newcomers?
He’s also an outsider, which is excellent, since we were stuck with the good old boy network of Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren and retread head coaches going back to the ’80s. The makeup of the Flyers front office back then would have made a Washington lobbyist blush.
Hakstol, like his team, is generally boring, but that’s alright.
You don’t have to give us great quotes, just win some ice hockey games. Matt Rhule wasn’t a wordsmith, but he turned Temple football into a winning program, which most people thought was impossible.
Some say that lack of diversity and accessibility hurts ice hockey, and maybe that’s true.
The Flyers leading goal scorer is one of the few black men playing in the league. The NHL isn’t as Caucasian as it used to be, but the majority of players are still white Americans, Canadians, and Europeans who all had access to proper facilities and equipment while growing up.
The late Ed Snider understood that. He was always committed to introducing ice hockey to the youth of Philadelphia.
I’d also add that hockey players are generally solid guys who are good with the media. During my TV days, anchors and reporters would often tell me that the Flyers were the easiest team to work with and that they had the most friendly players and public relations staff.
Maybe there’s some relatability there. There’s a blue collar thing that the Flyers usually seem to have, while the Phillies clubhouse was filled with egos. The Flyers, more than any other team in this town, seem to mirror their fanbase.
One of my friends, who has covered the team for years, described the 2016-2017 Flyers as an “amoeba,” which I think means that they’re sort of developing, or floating around, or still in some sort of nascent growth period.
You don’t really know what the “amoeba” is going to become, but you’re kind of fascinated anyway.
There are a lot of things to be excited about, like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Sam Morin. There’s also Andrew MacDonald, Dale Weise, and a bunch of salary cap issues.
So, who knows? Maybe they figure it out soon and I’ll start watching again.
Or maybe I won’t.