Overachieving in a Mediocre Metropolitan -- Is it a Problem? >

by Michael DeNicola

Thursday, December 05, 2013 --

Just win. 

To all sports fans, that's all they can ask for. Just get out there and plug a 'W' in the win column. It doesn't matter how it's done. The bells, the whistles, the names, who cares.... Just. Win.

However, there are fanatics out there whose vested interest is much more involved than that. For example, the outliers apply their concern on both the short- and long-term betterment of their team. And not just the team, but also the particular way it is approached from a managed perspective. 

In the NHL, general managers and chief directors of operations look to their scouting departments and the NHL Entry Draft to (re)build and stock their Club's pipeline with potential prospects. Fans gain interest in these decisions and executions on an annual, monthly, weekly and daily basis. The contingency factor lies on the outcome of the team's playing season(s). It has pretty much been that way forever, so when a dedicated fan (like you and I) consider all of these decisive peripherals in the matter, then we are led to weigh the past, present and immediate future on the same scale of success. 

The year is 2013, and we're a third of the way through the 2013-14 NHL season. So far, the Metropolitan Division has proven to be the least competitive. Jammed in this division are our Philadelphia Flyers, and after last night's amazing comeback victory in Detroit, we stand tied in 3rd place with the Rangers and Devils.

That's one Playoff spot occupied by three teams who've experienced their share of squalor in this young season. Comparing the Metro to either Western Conference division is like comparing Arby's fast food to Del Frisco's Steakhouse cuisine. 

To some fans, it is an exciting realization that success in this division isn't exactly a mountain to be climbed. And since that's the case, despite a laundry list of quandaries, the thought of the Flyers legitimately competing for a post-season berth is both thrilling and unsettling. 

Let's be real here; it's great to see our Flyers climb out of the October hole, but is this team, right now, a legitimate Cup contender? Do you see them becoming one over the remainder of the schedule?

I know, anything can happen. But again, realism should come in a heavier dose than optimism. Are the Flyers simply overachieving under the radar? No one outside the Metro is taking this division seriously, unless, of course, the sweater has a flightless bird stitched on the front. 

There's a mindset out there that believes -- for most teams in the Metropolitan -- success in this division is destined to be short-lived. All it would do is get you ousted early in the Playoffs, and you're stuck selecting in the following Draft from outside the Top 14 picks. In said theory, this mediocre division will cyclically produce mediocrity for the same teams for a considerable amount of time.

So, basically, without a chance to build from the Top 10 in the Draft, a team simply cannot develop themselves into a Cup-winning dynasty. There are some who'd rather see their team tank now, acquire the higher Draft picks in bunches, and presumably begin accomplishing the path to the almighty Stanley Cup.

I'm here to debunk that terrible mentality. 

Are my Flyers legit Cup contenders? No. In my opinion, they just aren't even close to being favorites. Is it bad that I feel that way? No, I'm just being honest with myself. But do I want them to lose so we get higher picks? Fuck that noise. 

I don't care if this division is being competed for by teams who are destined to be the 'other guys'. I am in the "Just Win" boat, and I've grabbed a paddle. 

There are exceptions to every argument, but the solution to a Championship is not solely added up by a core of homegrown players chosen strictly in the Top 10 of their respective Draft classes. 

Take a look at the Red Wings; an Original Six hockey team that emits success from its earliest days in the National Hockey League. In 2012-13, Detroit accomplished its 22nd consecutive Playoff appearance, and in that window of time they've won the Stanley Cup on four occasions (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008).

You don't see the Red Wings choosing in the Top 10 of NHL Drafts very often. In fact, the last time they did was way back in 1991 when they selected 10th Overall (RW Martin Lapointe) and they hadn't won a Cup for six more years.

So how does a franchise like Detroit keep competing and winning hardware without tanking the immediate seasons prior?

Answer: Scouting, Drafting, Development and, most importantly, Patience. 

Now let's look at the Edmonton Oilers; a franchise that painted the 1980's in their colors of copper and midnight blue. Since their last Stanley Cup victory in 1990, the Oil have selected from the Top 10 in the Draft eleven times. Since 1990, Edmonton has had a total of thirty 1st Round Draft picks; that's 21 seasons (minus the two lockouts), thirty 1st Round picks, only nine Playoff appearances and one lost Cup Finals in 2006.

In this case, according to the improvident logic, the Oilers should have manufactured at least one Stanley Cup win in 23 years. But why haven't they? They dropped the ball, but that's a different discussion altogether. It further proves that an abundance of high draft picks doesn't always guarantee glory. 

When you're talking about dynasties like Detroit, then it is all about scouting... Datsyuk (3rd round), Zetterberg (3rd round), Lidstrom (3rd round), Fedorov (4th round), I could keep going, but I won't. The difference is the contracts that are handed out, and the patience to grow players. The Flyers have never done that, so they will always be in scramble mode. Hopefully with the stock of rising/upcoming talent (Laughton, Coots, Morin, Ghost, etc.) the Flyers can move into the "franchise" mindset. Not just an NHL mindset. As time moves forward, these players are promoted and/or plugged into the active roster around a core entering its prime; Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds and (God willing) Steve Mason.

Today, defense is seemingly our biggest Achilles heel, but these past two drafts have focused around that from a long-term outlook. We're making due with the blueline we have without mortgaging core forwards to acquire added outside gambles. 

I see a direction this team may be going in, and I'm cautiously optimistic. Will making the Playoffs hurt this team? I can't say it won't, just as you can't say it will. Top 10 draft choices don't automatically put Cups on our shelf. It's dependent on the collected, proactive effort between management, scouting and coaching -- each of which will need to adopt patience.

Tanking is not the answer, and there is no reason to fear any overachievement in a lackluster Metropolitan Division. You play to win the game. 

Just win.

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Metro Standings 12052013.jpg 

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