By Mark Giannone (@markflagmann)
Flyers fans are in love with Gritty. NHL fans are in love with Gritty. Children love him, women want to be with him, and men want to be him. From early morning national talk shows to the monologues of just about every late-night show out there, Gritty has no doubt taken the world by storm. Since late September, when the Flyers debuted their seven-foot fun loving ball of fur, all the buzz has been about Gritty. Unfortunately for the Flyers, that’s part of their problem.
Everyone involved in the creation of Gritty more than earned their salary for the next five years . However, if the most appealing member of your organization is the mascot, your team is in bad shape.
The Flyers were once a proud organization with the most loyal fan base in the NHL. Four years of Dave Hakstol, a penalty kill that’s consistently at the bottom of the league, and a general manager who can’t see the obvious problems in front of him have taken the wind out of the fans’ sails. The most unfortunate thing about the Flyers lack of good play is that there isn’t a short of youthful talented players on their roster. During the off season, before Gritty, all the talk was about the rise of the Flyers’ farm system to one of the top two in hockey. There was excitement for players like Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny to take a big step in their young careers and become blocks of an up and coming new core for Philadelphia. Gritty only added excitement for the start of the new season and Flyers fans were poised for a season that would see their team take a step toward becoming a viable Stanley Cup contender. Then the season started.
A month into the season the Flyers were 4-7 and losing games in dramatic fashion. Fans were calling for the head of coach Dave Hakstol daily, even chanting that sentiment at home games. Through it all, the head coach and general manager insisted that what we are seeing on the ice wasn’t really happening. A 5-0-1 stretch against some of the worst teams in the NHL eased things a bit, but the short comings of the team were still apparent. After back-to-back home losses against Florida and New Jersey, they saw the team score just one goal combined, and it appears the already thin patience of the fan base may have run out.
Despite how it may seem, a lack of talent isn’t one of the Flyers problems. The rise of the young players like Patrick, Lindblom and Konecny should be a national story. The continued elite play of the league’s most underrated player Claude Giroux should be making headlines beyond Philadelphia. The surprise start to the season by Scott Laughton, a player who seemingly had no role in this league just two seasons ago, should be recognized. Unfortunately, this isn’t the dominant narrative for the Philadelphia Flyers thus far in 2018.
A seven-game stretch that saw captain Claude Giroux register eleven points and a plus-8 rating barely registered a blip on the national radar. However, one video of Gritty playing in the snow makes every major media outlet from Philly to Dubai. A poll held by the WIP afternoon show Marks and Reese asked fans who was the most recognizable Flyer and Gritty took the crown with 56% of the votes. While the votes may not have all been serious, it does show the overwhelming feelings of the fan base about the current Flyers situation.
The worst thing for a fan base to feel is apathy for the team they root for, and that’s where Philadelphia is with the Flyers. Listen to the radio, check twitter, or listen to conversations at the bar and you’ll find out quickly that the fans are fed up with the team and a lot of them just don’t care anymore. Gritty, without a doubt, generates more excitement in the fans than any player on the roster. Fans love the googley-eyed, squeaky-handed goofball as they anxiously await for his next tweet or video. But, the same can’t be said for the next Flyers game.
There are just too many issues that haven’t been addressed. The Flyers haven’t been given a fighting chance with the often injured and inconsistent goaltending tandem of Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth. Ian Laperriere’s penalty kill is, once again, one of the worst in the league. Hiring Dave Hakstol was a huge mistake, as he continues to not be able to get his team ready for games. The only thing the Flyers do consistently is start games slow with no energy, a reflection of their coach. His lineups raise more questions than garner positive results. Yet all the while he will speak at every press availability and tell fans how good the play of his team is.
No one ever expected to see the day when Philadelphia doesn’t care about the Flyers, but the life has been sucked out of the team and the fans. The Eagles won the Super Bowl in February, the Sixers acquired a top-ten player and have another already on the roster, and the Phillies are in the middle of an off-season that has them poised to acquire game changing players. The rest of Philadelphia sports franchises are on the rise, while the Flyers are quickly getting left behind. There’s nothing to get pumped for when watching a game, lacking passion in the building, no fight on the ice, and no hope that it will get better. The Flyers have become a disappointment to this city, but at least there’s Gritty.
**Credit AP Photo**