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Billy Vargus on the Flyers already making offseason moves



I remember when the Flyers played—and lost—on New Year’s Day. I thought, “Wow, the NHL and NBC intended to showcase top teams when they scheduled their annual outdoor Winter Classic, but they got the Flyers instead.”

The Flyers had stumbled badly in December, falling to 15-20, and even though they’d managed four straight wins going into the New Year, they still had a losing record as they took the ice that day. They ended up losing the game to the Boston Bruins, 2-1. I remember that, I remember how they fired their coach, how they seemed to be lost as a team at times, how they had to win their final game of the season to make the playoffs, and how they had to go to a shootout before finally winning that game. But years from now, what I will remember is how this team of underachievers turned into overachievers, giving us such a great run to within a game or two of a Stanley Cup Championship.

And that’s the attitude of most of the Philly fans I’ve talked to since the Flyers loss in six games to Chicago. The fans were disappointed of course, that the Flyers didn’t get the Cup, but they’re philosophical about it. It was one of the most dramatic turnarounds ever by a Philly sports team. In the end, they simply lost to a better team. And there’s no doubt the Flyers will be aggressive in the off-season about trying to do whatever it takes to get back to the finals, and maybe even win it all this time. Because the Flyers are, and have always been, the best-run franchise in Philly.

True, the Phillies have been to two straight World Series. They’ve become a very well run franchise underFlyers goalie Michael Leighton is not a shoe-in to return next season. Dave Montgomery and Ruben Amaro, Jr. But we all remember before Citizens Bank Park was built how they wouldn’t spend money and tried to call themselves a small-market team, even though Philly was the largest city in America with only one baseball team. The Eagles have put together winning seasons under Andy Reid, but there’s been a certain arrogance that allowed owner Jeffrey Lurie to refer to his franchise as the “Gold Standard” even though they haven’t won a single Super Bowl. At times, the Eagles have been very aggressive in trying to address their needs, making the first and biggest splashes in free agency, such as when they signed Jevon Kearse in 2004 and Asante Samuel  in 2008. (That Kearse never played up to his previous level isn’t the point; it’s that the Eagles made a bold move.) At other times, such as last year and this, the Eagles have done almost nothing in the off-season.

The 76ers aren’t even in the discussion.

But the Flyers, under Ed Snider’s bold leadership, are never afraid to make moves that are designed to have instant impact. In fact, only a couple of weeks after their elimination, they’ve already started to re-work their roster, trading Ryan Parent  for Dan Hamhuis. It’s a gamble, because Hamhuis will become a free agent July 1st if the Flyers can’t sign him before then, but as I said, the Flyers make bold moves. And remember how the Flyers got Parent in the first place? In 2005, the Flyers went out and signed the guy who was considered the best player in the NHL, Peter Forsberg. A year later, when it became clear that Forsberg’s injuries and age had left him a much lesser player than advertised, they traded him away—getting Parent in the deal, along with Scottie Upshall.

Sometimes, the Flyers willingness to make changes has probably gone too far. I for one, thought it was a big mistake when they failed to re-sign Mike Knuble in 2009, because he was a good player, and an excellent leader. He had helped the Flyers make it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007-08. But the Flyers aren’t content to just make it to the Conference Finals, and within a year and a half, they had traded three of the players who had been most effective in that postseason: RJ Umberger, Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupol. These moves were partly because of salary cap problems, but the trade of Umberger netted Luca Sbisa, who was later packaged with Lupol and two first round draft picks to bring in Chris Pronger. Pronger, of course, ended up being a huge part of the Flyers run to the Cup Finals this year. I think the reason this year’s team underachieved so much of the first half of the season may be precisely because they had several new faces, and it took some time to jell.

Of course, it’s also true that the Flyers have continually been plagued by a recurring problem over the years--goaltending. But again, it’s not for lack of trying. They went out and signed Ray Emery last off-season, taking a gamble on a guy with past problems but great potential. And I have no doubt, they’ll do what they have to this off-season to cement the position. Michael Leighton, the third-stringer who was a Cinderella in the Conference Finals, came back to earth when the clock struck 12 and the Cup Finals began. I’m sure Flyers GM Paul Holmgren will try to find a guy to upgrade the position, and if he can’t, Leighton will get another shot.

None of this guarantees a return to the finals for the Flyers. But I’m confident the front office will do whatever they think it will take.

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Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

He can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com