In the book, Hockey Dad, Bob McKenzie discusses a concept he calls the “Hard Work Fairy”.
“I only know I have an unwavering faith that if an individual works hard enough long enough at anything, good things will happen and there will be a reward,” writes McKenzie. “But the problem with the philosophy is that every hockey player of any age or ability always thinks he’s working hard, and most of them aren’t. Not even close.”
McKenzie admits that the term is comical but the concept is a solid one. Work hard and your efforts will pay off eventually. No matter how hard you think you are working, you could probably work harder. It’s an idea that extends beyond the boundaries of the hockey rink and can be applied in everyday life.
As he continues to discuss this idea, he writes something that really touches a nerve in Philadelphia.
“…you show me a hockey player who’s on a roll, scoring goals in game after game after game, and I’ll show you a player who somewhere along the line during that hot streak allows complacency and comfort to creep into his game,” writes McKenzie. “At some point, he forgets how hard he worked to be successful and even though he may still be filling the net, he’s on borrowed time. There’s a day of reckoning coming.”
If that doesn’t sum up the Flyers’ 2011 season, what does?
At one point last season, the Flyers seemed destined to meet the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. The team had plenty of scoring depth, one of the best defenses in the league, and was getting surprisingly good goaltending from rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and veteran Brian Boucher. On paper, they were a Stanley Cup team and the only obstacle standing in their way was themselves.
After hovering at or around the top of the league standings for long enough, they ran out of the adversity needed to keep battling hard, though. Complacency and comfort crept in. The Flyers began winning games when they were being outplayed. Then, they began losing games against inferior teams. By the time the regular season came to a close, the team was fortunate to finish third overall in the league.
Then came the forgettable postseason run. It was the tipping point that lead to wholesale changes, starting with the faces of the franchise, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
It can be argued that these two undeniable talents got — and continue to get — a raw deal from the local media and were the constant subjects of undue scorn from fans but that does not mean that they were without fault.
Throughout the course of their reign in Philadelphia, the Flyers experienced some enjoyable highs and some abysmal lows. Long after the names of these players recess into the back of fans’ minds and the memories of their time in Philadelphia fade, the history books will likely paint a very different picture than the one of the improbable 2010 postseason run.
Since Richards and Carter joined the Flyers to start the post-lockout era of hockey in Philadelphia, the team accumulated a number of dubious distinctions. The 2007 season was the worst in franchise history. The team finished with 22 wins and 57 points, which set a league record for the largest point drop (45 points) in a one-year span and placed them 30th overall in the league. That same season, they set an franchise records for overall (10 games) and home (13 games) losing streaks. The 2008 season saw a repeat of the record-setting 10-game losing streak.
Streakiness and inconsistency continued to plague the Flyers each season. Such problems resulted in multiple staff and player changes. Longtime General Manager, Bobby Clarke, stepped down. Hard-nosed coach, Ken Hitchcock, was fired and replaced with the friendlier, easy-going assistant coach, John Stevens. Eventually, John Stevens was fired and replaced with the tougher, stricter Peter Laviolette. The Center City crew was systematically dismantled over the course of a few seasons.
No matter what changes were made, the inconsistencies remained — and it was never more of an issue than in the 2011 playoffs, when a lifeless Flyers team barely went through the motions and fell far short of their goal. The team was a shell of its former early-season self, more reminiscent of those ’07 and ’08 teams that fell prey to lazy habits, corner-cutting play and went through rough 10-game losing streaks than the team that, just a few months prior, was one of the most dominant teams in the league.
At this point, it was clear to the front office what needed to be done, as Richards and Carter were the two players left standing through all the run-ins with the Hard Work Fairy, from the disastrous ’07 season to the disastrous ’11 postseason.
The Flyers ran out of other options. They needed to go. The day of reckoning was coming and it was their turn on the chopping block.