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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Philly and Pittsburgh: A Tale of Two Hockey Cities by @ChrisRBarron

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities“

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are separated by just over 300 miles, you can make the drive in under 5 hours, but when it comes to hockey franchises the distance between the two couldn't be greater.

The Penguins are the model of stability in a league of turnover and change. The Pens chose to extend head coach Dan Bylsma, even after a disappointing Eastern Conference sweep at the hand of the Bruins, chose to bring back goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, despite his well-documented playoff struggles, and managed to lock up their young core of stars with Crosby, Malkin, Letang and James Neal all under contract. They somehow also managed to find the space under this year's lower cap to bring back key veterans like Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz (even though both could have earned more money on the open market).

The Flyers, on the other hand, are the model of chaos. They fire their head coach Peter Laviolette three games into the regular season and their owner Ed Snider claims the reason behind the dismissal was a poor performance during the preseason (also known as the games that don't actually count!). Even more bizarrely, the man responsible for jettisoning a future Vezina trophy winner - Sergei Bobrovsky, for signing head case Ilya Bryzgalov - who the Flyers bought out and are now paying to NOT play goalie for them, for trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter - both of whom hoisted Stanley Cups in LA two years ago - that guy, GM Paul Holmgren, somehow still has his job!

The Flyers have gone 38 years without hoisting the Stanley Cup, something the Penguins have done 3 times during that period. Despite a superstar center in the form of Claude Giroux, the new Flyers head coach, Craig Berube, takes over a roster that otherwise likely lacks the talent necessary to compete in the highly skilled Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers offseason moves further show just what different directions the two franchises are heading. While the Penguins have locked up young talent like Crosby (26), Malkin (27), Letang (26) and Neal (26), the Flyers chose to spend their money in the offseason locking in 33-year old Vinny Lecavalier to a 5 year/$22.5 million contract and 35-year old Mark Streit to a 4 year/$21 million contract.

The Flyers moves in the offseason are the moves you would expect from a team that thinks it is one or two pieces away from a Stanley Cup run, not the moves from a team that will fire its coach and likely install an entirely new system just 3 games into the year.

It truly is a tale of two hockey cities. Take comfort Flyers fans, it won't always be like this, maybe one day the Flyers will return to the form that saw the Penguins go 42 consecutive games from 1974 to 1989 in Philadelphia without a win. Just don't expect the change in fortune to be any time soon.

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