Almost the Right Way
The Philadelphia Flyers have gone nearly as long as the Maple Leafs since winning their last Stanley Cup, but not because they are similar franchises that have stumbled in similar ways.
In fact, the unusual part about Philly being unable to win a Cup since 1975 is that, for the most part, the Flyers have tried to do it the right way.
Draft intelligently. Develop. Show loyalty to those who understand the Flyer way.
That formula has worked well enough to get the Flyers to six other Cup finals since '75, including one just three springs ago, but not to another championship.
Now, at 0-3 to start this season, head coach Peter Laviolette has been cashiered and Craig Berube named the 18th coach of the team.
It wasn't a surprise. Even before the puck dropped last week in Philly for the club's home opener against the Leafs, there was gloomy chatter that Laviolette might be in trouble.
He was. A vote of confidence from team chairman Ed Snider meant absolutely nothing, as it turns out, which is what most votes of confidence mean.
The path from that 2010 appearance in the Cup final against the Hawks to missing the playoffs last season and now this rut in the road seems, at least on the surface, to be as much about unsuccessful personnel decisions, some forced by terribly bad luck, notably the end of Chris Pronger's career.
Most damning, as it turned out, was trading away captain Mike Richards and winger Jeff Carter, with Carter ultimately joining Richards in Los Angeles where they won the Cup together.
The reasoning in Philly was that supposedly those two boys ran too hard off the ice and were incapable of leading the Flyers were they wanted to go.
Didn't seem to be a problem in L.A.
Then came the massively expensive signing of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov that blew up almost immediately in the Flyers' faces. This season, it was the decision to bring in Vinny Lecavalier after he was bought out by Tampa Bay, as though the reasons why the Lightning felt he was no longer a valuable player to them simply didn't exist.
It's like Snider and GM Paul Holmgren keep seeing a shinier jewel somewhere else and imagine it would look even prettier in Flyer orange, so pretty it would transform the rest of the team into a champion.
A constant pursuit of fool's gold, as it were.
Dealing away Richards, Carter and James van Reimsdyk has produced a forward brigade that, aside from Claude Giroux, isn't particularly scary. Uniting the Schenn brothers has not, as of yet, produced magic. So far, they are not a new century version of the Watson boys.
Still, in so many ways, it always comes back to the goaltending.
If it wasn't choosing John Vanbiesbrouck over Curtis Joseph in 1998, or signing Bryzgalov, or watching Ron Hextall and Garth Snow explode against the Red Wings in the '97 Cup final, it's been investing in Roman Cechmanek or believing Michael Leighton was more than a fluke. They didn't believe in Sergei Bobrovsky, who promptly went to Columbus and won the Vezina.
Last week, Steve Mason became the ninth opening night starter in 11 seasons for the Flyers. Constant uncertainty and unstability between the pipes has meant, perhaps, that uncertainty and instability has often crept into other parts of the Flyer lineup.
Like the old saying goes, if you don't have goaltending, you really don't have anything.
Still, as Cup finalists in '97 and 2010, and serious contenders in many other seasons over the past decade, it's not like the Flyers are doing everything wrong.
Just enough wrong to tantalize their fans, and then disappoint them.
It's not a franchise that has a losing culture, not really if you look at the facts and how the team has performed.
It's more like a team that does a lot of right things, but when it really matters, can't identify the missing piece, or pieces.