The Philadelphia Flyers currently sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings and are out of the playoff picture right now. Needless to say, things have not gone the way anybody had hoped for the orange and black.
Who is to blame for the team's 13-16-1 record? This is no easy question to answer, because a number of both internal and external factors have contributed to the disappointing 2013 season.
The season got off to a horrible start, and there are a few major factors that can be attributed to their losing the first three games of the season en route to a 2-6 start. The first is the lockout and the lack of cohesion attained prior to opening night. They clumsily stumbled out of the gate and never fully recovered.
There were no preseason games and a very limited training camp to prepare for the season. The Flyers are a very young team and the lack of preseason really seems like it has taken a toll on them. Almost all of their best players are 25 and under. Matt Read is 26, but in just his second NHL season.
Another major reason for their early-season struggles were injuries. Three of their best players went down early; Scott Hartnell, Andrej Meszaros, and Wayne Simmonds were all sidelined within the first couple weeks of the season.
Simmonds didn't end up missing too much time, but Meszaros and Hartnell were both out for over a month. This caused immediate line shuffling and a lack of veteran leadership on the ice. But even after things settled down and the season really hit its stride, the Flyers could not pull themselves together.
Claude Giroux has to assume a large part of the responsibility for the team's struggles. People may not like that, but his production has slipped a little and the Flyers have regressed as a whole.
More importantly, that is what comes with the territory now for Giroux. A first-year captain has to look around the locker room and take responsibility when the team takes a big step backwards from the previous season.
Sean Couturier is a promising young forward, but he has not been as good as we had hoped this season. He has just two goals and five assists in 28 games, and people say that he is a defensive forward who shouldn't be relied on for offense. That's fine, but his minus-11 plus/minus rating needs to improve then.
But Couturier is still just 20 years old and will learn and get better with a normal offseason this summer. On the other side of things, a few of Philadelphia's veteran forwards have not really stepped up and need to take some blame.
Max Talbot, Danny Briere, and Ruslan Fedotenko have not been as good as they needed to be when things got rocky, and it cost the team dearly. Briere has the team's worst plus/minus rating at minus-13, and Talbot has just nine points in 30 games.
A hugely important (and now somewhat forgotten) factor is the Nashville Predators matching the Flyers' offer to Shea Weber last summer. GM Paul Holmgren knew his team needed defense and he went after the biggest fish in the pond, albeit unsuccessfully.
Who Should Get the Most Blame for the Flyers Struggles?
Many fans were disappointed that there was not a good plan B, but it is hard to criticize Holmgren because there were not many relevant options. Ryan Suter had no interest in Philadelphia, and Holmgren refused to give up Brayden Schenn or Couturier in a trade.
But a chunk of the blame still has to rest on the lack of Flyers' defense. It's hard to specifically blame individual players, however, because they have put forth decent effort. Meszaros got hurt. Kimmo Timonen is just old. Nicklas Grossmann is being asked to do too much. Bruno Gervais is simply overmatched.
I've touched on it before, but the Flyers leadership really does seem to be lacking this season, and it cannot be emphasized enough that leadership is everything in hockey.
No matter which way you cut it, Giroux has not been good enough this season. Kimmo Timonen is a good leader in his own right, but is better in a complimentary role, and there just hasn't been enough pull from the top.
Peter Laviolette has to be questioned as well. He's known as a fiery coach who gets a lot out his players, but there have been many games where the team looks sloppy and effortless.
The Flyers have struggled mightily so far this season, and while there is still time to turn things around, it would be surprising if they made any type of noise should they sneak into the playoffs.
A bit of bad luck cannot be overlooked, but neither can some of the pressing issues on defense and in regards to the team's leadership.