While us penguins continue to wilt in the usual Northeastern Summer heat, pining for the days when a cool iceberg awaits our collectively scorched behinds, thoughts about the upcoming (and too far off) season still seep their way into our Sun-addled brains.
This is the third in a five-part series which intends to examine the ways the Flyers front office, though publicly professing to want to win the Cup by any means necessary, just ends up conducting business as usual year in and year out.
The facts are simple and impressive.
In 3,424 total regular-season games, the Orange and Black have played to 1,709 wins, 1,176 losses, 457 ties and 82 losses beyond regulation. That’s good enough for a winning percentage of .578. Add to that a home record of 1,006-469-193 and 44 non-regulation defeats for a .657 winning mark.
Over 403 playoff contests, our club has amassed a 209-194 mark. Two Stanley Cups have been claimed, in 1974 and ’75.
Attendance, as of the 2009-10 season, was 99 percent of capacity (800,966 fans for 41 home dates, an average of 19,535 for 19,537 seats). The average number of butts in the seats per game hasn’t dipped below 98 percent since 1973.
In the 45-year history of the Philadelphia Flyers, the franchise has only missed out on the postseason eight times. They have only failed to crack the .500 mark on nine occasions, but the first time (1967-68) doesn’t really count because the club managed to win the West Division in their first year of existence.
The Flyers put together impressive runs of 17 straight years (1973-89) and 11 straight years (1995-06) with playoff berths, at one point made it to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals, and have contested for the oldest and most prestigious trophy in professional sports on eight total occasions.
But simply playing beyond mid-April year in and year out can’t really be an accurate predictor of the success or prestige of an NHL franchise given the following examples:
The St. Louis Blues, who entered the NHL with the Flyers for the 1967-68 campaign, whom nobody will mistake for one of the brighter lights of the league, once put together the second-longest postseason streak in history — going 25 consecutive seasons, from 1980 to 2004, without missing the playoffs.
The Boston Bruins held the longest such run at the time, never missing out on play beyond the regular season for 29 straight seasons from 1968 through 1996.
But the closest the Blues ever got to a title run came in 1986, when they reached the Campbell Conference Finals and lost in 7 games to Calgary, and in 2001 when they fell in a 5-game Western Final to eventual champion Colorado.
After winning two Cups in ’70 and ’72, the Bruins lost their next five trips to the Finals (’74, ’77-’78, ’88, ’90) then bottomed out in a last-place finish in 1996-97 that began a dark period for the franchise.
In the Bruins’ case, they endured four last-place finishes from ’97 to ’07, only win one playoff round from ’97 through ’08, and then wound up on the wrong end of the Carolina loss in ’09 and the epic collapse against Philly in 2010 — both at home in Game 7s — before winning it all this year.
The Blues, long a second-class citizen in a baseball-mad city, are still trying to get there, tearing up the club at the roots every couple years to try and stoke interest.
No matter how fans try to convince themselves that by trying to keep up a winning facade year in and year out there’s a greater chance of winning another Cup, there’s one incontrovertable fact that’s been missed: Since 1980, EVERY SINGLE TEAM WHICH HAS WON THE STANLEY CUP (with the exception of Edmonton) ENDURED A DOWN CYCLE IN ORDER TO WIN.
That’s “cycle,” not “one miserable year that ends up costing us five years of salary-cap Hell because our general manager was forced to dig out of that hole as fast as possible so damn the consequences.”
The New York Islanders (expansion, upsets), Montreal Canadiens (down years in the early ’80s after their three-decade-long dynasty), Calgary Flames (mired in mediocrity in Atlanta, then stuck behind Edmonton), Pittsburgh Penguins (right up until the Lemieux era, and then again in the early part of this century), New York Rangers (“1940!”), New Jersey Devils (expansion, two relocations), Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques(dregs of NHL in late ’80s-early ’90s), Detroit Red Wings (futility throughout ’70s-’80s), Dallas Stars (’90s), Tampa Bay Lightning (expansion, mismanagement, multiple owners), Carolina Hurricanes (Hartford years), Anaheim Ducks (expansion), Chicago Blackhawks (outdated ownership in ’90s-’00s) and finally, the Bruins — every single one spent multiple years in a row out of the playoffs, with losing records and in some cases, the worst records in the NHL, before being able to rebuild their roster in the proper fashion.
Here’s a lesser-known site that is pretty damned accurate, one which I use regularly in my own research, that tells the tale in bold print. Check out the “franchise history” section.
So who are Ed Snider and the Philadelphia Flyers to think they’re different, so special that they can buck this trend?
Those numbers indicating butts in the seats are misleading. A generation ago, empty seats simply meant tickets unsold. Now, it means tickets sold but certain restless natives finding more excuses not to show up.
It was a serious enough issue for new team president Jay Snider in 1983 that he tried to institute cheering sections and Score-O games between periods. But winning, specifically winning in the playoffs, was the only salve.
After a franchise-defining seven-year run from 1973-80, the Flyers failed in the second round one year and lost three straight times in the first round from ’81 to ’84. It was then, if you followed the link above, that attendance started to dip. Only the mid-80s resurgence thanks to two Cup appearances turned the tide.
Even in the fallow, non-Clarke, non-playoff years at the Spectrum, it was widely noted that Philly fans showed up en masse every home game to boo their faltering heroes. I even devoted a piece last November detailing one such memorable incident.
But the past few years have been a different animal.
I only started to notice just how open and empty the lower-bowl seats were starting at the disastrous outset of the 2008-09 season, the one with the 0-6 start compounded by the Phillies winning the World Series. In a wildly-entertaining 7-6 shootout loss to San Jose on October 22, it looked as if Game 1 of the Fall Classic caused roughly one-third of the lower (and most expensive) seats to be abandoned.
Over roughly 25 more home games attended as both fan and media member through the end of last season, I’ve seen only the traditional rivals (Rangers, Devils, Bruins) on weekends draw anything close to a packed house. Even at the height of the Flyers’ ascent to the Eastern Conference lead last year, there were noticeable red seats in conspicuous patches over both levels.
How can you explain it, after merchandising is through the roof, the AT&T Pavilion is always packed, and given this long record of success?
Maybe there’s an undercurrent forming that recognizes simply winning, and hoping you get lucky one of these years, isn’t enough anymore?
In his book “Score! My 25 Years with the Broad Street Bullies,” Gene Hart once detailed several telling signs that a fan base has gotten restless with winning that fails to produce the ultimate result. That was almost 20 years ago, and he was referring to events during the glory years. Maybe he’s on to something?
The only current exception to the rule has been the Red Wings, owned by the Ilitch family and run with keen acumen by general manager Ken Holland.
After nearly two decades floundering as the Dead Things in between Gordie Howe’s retirement and Steve Yzerman’s blossoming, the Winged Wheels have not fielded a sub-.500 team since 1990-91. They have ripped off a current NHL-best 20 straight playoff berths, have reached 100 points in 11 straight years, and, oh yeah, won four Cups in an 11-year span from 1997 to 2008 while appearing in another Finals in ’09.
Sure, there have been years that the Wings have flat-out underachieved, but those missteps have been mitigated by deep playoff runs and capped off by FOUR titles.
Take a look at the Flyers’ playoff course in the last decade and it reads like a vomit-inducing jagged rollercoaster ride of constant over-and-underachieving. And yet almost every home game is announced as either a near or total sell out.
And so it is again this year, as the moves under Snider’s impatient aegis to improve the club’s fortunes entail the roster being ripped out at the roots and leaving something unknown about to sprout. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to tune in or show up to find out what happens next.
If you don’t, be careful, because you’re bound to still be counted.