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Why are the Flyers Always in Salary Cap Purgatory and the Penguins aren’t?

Why are the Flyers Always in Salary Cap Purgatory and the Penguins aren’t?

Why have the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks and the LA Kings dominated the Stanley Cup since the beginning of the salary cap era (2006)?

These three teams have put their name on the cup eight of the last twelve times it’s been raised aloft. What do they do that the rest of the league doesn’t? They do two things really well. First, they do a really good job of evaluating talent. And not just on determining how much natural ability a player has – but also how much that is worth in a contract. Secondly, they do the best job of developing skill faster than anyone else.

To really look at this we need to do a little digression into the difference between talent and skill. Many people think they are synonymous, but they are not. The truth about talent is that some mastery of an attribute is due to a natural ability or talent but much mastery is due to acquisition of learned ability or skill through the experience of actually performing a process repeatedly in which the attribute is required.

And in the opinion of some (and these teams success evidences the truth of this) this process can be greatly accelerated. As Toronto Maple Leafs Player development coach Mike Ellis as quoted in the Burlington Eagle website describes himself:

”I am a very detailed and technical based coach and Instructor. I believe the old theory of 10,000 repetitions to master a skill can be drastically reduced through delivering a detailed progression based plan and information to the athlete. This higher level of detail helps the athlete to absorb the information with more focus.”

So what does this all have to do with the Flyers vs. the Pens? The Pens have developed players with decent talent quickly. This gives them player-years on the rookie contracts of their prospects, instead of having to take gambles on the first big contracts for their players. Matt Murray, Olli Maatta and Bryan Rust are ooh soo cap friendly players. They’ve been made productive at the NHL level in a year and a half. So they can go after a Phil Kessel.

The Flyers let their players sit in the minors for three years, then sign them to 4-5 million a year contracts before they know if they have developed skills for the NHL (see Matt Read, Andy MacDonald). Or they pay big bucks for mediocre results (see Couts, Schenn, Ghost)

The successful clubs pay real attention to all levels of their player development, the AHL, the ECHL, Juniors and the Euro leagues. It’s not just “send them to the minors and see if they become something.” On that track, either they won’t develop the skills they need to succeed at the Show or they will be high priced when they do. Schenn and Gostisbehere are the latest entries in that book.

The latest episode in this Philly tragedy is the acquisition by Comcast/Spectacor of the old Alaska Aces to put in Portland Maine with Danny Briere in charge. I love Briere as a player, but when did he become a development coach? When will players go to Reading, and When to Portland? Oh, I forgot, all true prospects sit in the stands in Allentown, eating through their rookie contract, while Flyers management searches through all of hockeydom for old overpriced friends to fill third and fourth line slots and be the fifth and sixth defensemen. These are “good character guys”, “helpful in the locker-room”

This brings up another subject: The bottom six roles. On a lot of teams, these guys are the top six wanna-bees. On the good teams they are developed just for their checking and stifling roles and will not lose their jobs to almost-top-six players. The same is true of the checking defenders, who have their job, not because they have almost-good-enough offensive talent, but because they can neutralize the top players on the other team. I leave it to you to decide where you put the Flyers. Even their sycophant sports personalities talk in terms like “not good enough for the top line, so he’ll be a third line player”

Ah but what do I know? I am just an ignorant hockey fan who loves the game despite inconsistent refereeing, bad development, poor management judgement and just plain bad luck. I love these dedicated players who give us their all on the ice, for too few bucks and too few of our cheers.

Training camp is right around the corner.