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Monday, May 12, 2008

Ed Snider's Reign Of Terror Continues Unabated

I’ll start this post with a question. What do Ed Snider and Fox News have in common?

The answer is that no intelligent person believes a word coming out of either entity, and yet both really don’t care. For you see, the people that Ed Snider and Fox News lie to on a daily basis aren’t intelligent human beings. The people they lie to are their rabid fans.

The ongoing horror that is Fox News continues uninterrupted despite over 80% of the country disagreeing with them on a daily basis in George W. Bush’s United States. I’ll let the reader find a first-tier source to document those particular atrocities. For Ed Snider and the Philadelphia Flyers, look no further.

I am now and from this day forward a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I have been since 2001. I used to be a Flyers fan, but I got sick of flogging a dead horse.

The first hockey game I ever watched was the first game of the 1974 quarterfinals between the Atlanta Flames and the Flyers. I was 8 years old, and my family had just moved back to the greater Philadelphia area. I just happened to have turned on an old black and white TV that was showing the game. The Flyers won that game 4-1, skating and shooting rings around Tom Lysiak, Eric Vail, Phil Myre, Brian Hextall and the rest of the Flames. The Flyers went on to win the Stanley Cup that year and again in 1975. They’ve never won one since.

As a child and far too long into adulthood, I believed in another Stanley cup victory that never happened. Sure, they came close. They lost in the finals to the Islanders in 1980 due to a bad offside call by the ever-deplored Leon Stickle. They lost to Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers in 1987, and again to the Detroit Red Wings 10 years later. In reality, all three teams overachieved, and continued to miss the key elements that would put them over the top. Further, it can be argued that if the two teams that had won the Stanley Cup in the ‘70’s had had to face the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs in either of those years, they may never have won a cup at all. They finally did run up against the Canadiens in 1976, and were swept in the finals.

And yet, the Flyers faithful continue to pay the ever-increasing ticket prices to watch a team that last won a championship in the abbreviated Gerald Ford administration. The Flyers brass, led by aging owner and perpetual excuse dispenser Ed Snider, continue on the same outdated course that has now lasted longer on this earth than Jimi Hendrix did, and falling far short of the fireworks from the solo in “All Along The Watchtower”.

As I watched my newly-beloved Penguins take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals last night, I saw the Flyers again choose brawn over brains with the addition of Steve Downie to their lineup. On the final one of his few shifts of the evening, Downie coughed up the puck in his own zone, leading to the game-winning goal being scored by Maxime Talbot, the Penguins fourth-line center. To review, the other centers in Pittsburgh have the last names of Crosby, Malkin and Staal. All three are known for goal scoring. Max Talbot is a fourth-line center nursing a broken foot.

This type of soul-searching in the clutch has been a hallmark of the Philadelphia Flyers every time they get this deep into the playoffs over the last 20 years. While some allowances can be made for injuries on the blue line to Kimmo Timonen and, as of last night, Braydon Coburn, the Flyers continue to be the bulls in the proverbial china shop. They’re great at throwing hits and knocking things over, but the puck has to enter the other team’s net more often than your own. That is what wins hockey games.

It’s not as if the Flyers lack talent in this area, with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere in their lineup. However, the balance of their forwards are all what I like to call “Bobby Clarke types”, two way centers for whom skating is for the most part a secondary skill. This may very well be the Achilles’ Heel of the whole franchise. Every year, on draft day, when faced with the choice between a proven scorer and a plugger with an attitude, they choose the latter. They proudly assign the moniker of “a guy who plays Flyers Hockey” to whoever that poor, misguided soul might be, and they once again rise to the not-so-ethereal heights of the first circle of Hockey’s Inferno, which is forever reserved for also-rans. The irony of Daniel Briere now being a Flyer is that the Flyers could have drafted him the year he became eligible. Apparently, Briere didn’t play “Flyers Hockey” in junior, as he had the audacity to actually score points in Quebec Major Junior. The Flyers instead drafted Dainius Zubrus, a now-journeyman center and only the second Lithuanian ever to play in the NHL. Now that’s Flyers hockey.

If the ineptitude of the front office were only evident on draft day, that would be one thing. The Flyers have also been burned with free agent signings over the last decade. Veterans who were supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle for a championship populate their recent history. People like John VanBiesbrouck, Jeremy Roenick and Sami Kapanen have all arrived in Philadelphia past their expiration dates. Others that looked good on paper, like Chris Gratton, were spoiled by a series of coaches with either little to no NHL coaching experience (Bill Barber, John Stevens) or long tenures with no championships (Terry Murray, Roger Neilsen).

The reward for continuing and stubborn mediocrity has been an economic windfall for Ed Snider and the Comcast Corporation, as the con game continues between the Flyers marketing department and the fans that populate the Wachovia Center. Ed Snider is a millionaire many times over, and as a veteran of the ownership group that hired Gary Bettman, pulls a lot of strings behind the scenes in the NHL. Is it any accident that the Comcast-owned Vs. Network, the acknowledged cable home of bull riding and sport fishing, is now the official cable network of the NHL in America? Of course ESPN is the preferred home of any sport that calls itself respectable, but respectable doesn’t line Ed Snider’s pockets quite enough apparently. It is this kind of self-serving decision making that leaves the NHL behind pro football, college football, baseball, the NBA, college basketball and NASCAR in the pecking order of American sports. More people watch the NFL Draft than the Stanley Cup Finals in the United States. That borders on treasonous.

The Flyers continue to hike their ticket prices, which does not include the money shelled out by their fans for gas, food and parking. The fans, delusional as ever, in all their best Kevin Bacon regalia, bend over, get hit by the paddle and say “Thank you sir. May I have another?” WIP, the popular local sports radio station, calls Flyers fans “Stepfords” and for good reason. The Flyers are a cult like no other in professional sports. Former players that are forever referred to as “the Flyers Family” infect the front office of the Philadelphia Flyers. There are Amish families 50 miles to the West of Philadelphia that exhibit more diversity than the Flyers’ brain trust.

It’s often said that being a fan of the New York Yankees is like rooting for the House at a blackjack table. The Flyers will continue to pay exorbitant amounts of money on big name players that are past their prime, throwing bait to their free-spending fans, deceiving them into thinking that this one new player is the one to put them over the top. The Flyers follow the Yankee model, with the only difference being a lack of success on the playing surface.

As we prepare to see signs in the crowd tomorrow night at the Wachovia Center from the Flyers fans that call Sidney Crosby a crybaby, it won’t enter the minds of those 20,000 fans in attendance that the only way they’ll ever see a guy with the skill set of a Sidney Crosby in the Flyers’ lineup is by a fat contract when he’s past his prime. The Flyers model is tired, robotic and not about to change. As long as the cattle stream to Broad Street, money in hand, accepting at face value the pronouncements from on high, it will be a case of good money after bad. A little ignorance of the way things could be goes a long way.