While Colorado Avalanche winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel (“NAK”) will now go down in NHL history as the guy who literally left his mark on the Stanley Cup during the on-ice celebration, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he became the latest in a long line of useful pieces of a championship roster that the Philadelphia Flyers let slip through their fingers.
The pain continues for the Orange and Black. Shocker.
To be fair, it’s not like Aube-Kubel was lighting up the scoresheet or is headed toward star status. But he did prove immensely useful for a loaded Avalanche team in their ultimately successful quest for the dented Cup. And it’s also worth mentioning that the tale of woe being told here is not unique to the Flyers and their fans. Guys sometimes leave one club, fit better somewhere else, and win a title. It happens. But it sure does seem to happen more to the Flyers than to other teams.
Why is that?
While acknowledging the role of luck and statistical probability, the Flyers’ ability to correctly develop and evaluate talent has been so poor for so long that it’s reached a comical level. And although I refuse to acknowledge the crowd who bellyaches about the Flyers passing over Cale Makar to draft Nolan Patrick in 2017 (get over it, nobody complained at the time), the Flyers just don’t seem to be able to get the most out of the players who actually do put on their jersey.
It seems like players always go on to greater success once they leave the Philadelphia Flyers.
For starters, you can point to the Flyers’ consistent lack of top-end talent, which then forces them to play guys like NAK higher in the lineup and in game situations to which they are ill suited. Then, when the results aren’t there, even though expectations were too high to begin with, the Flyers have largely tended to move on rather than be patient with players. The end result is a situation like this past November when the Flyers waived Aube-Kubel in order to keep players like Nate Thompson and Patrick Brown on the team. NAK was struggling, and the season hadn’t yet become the total disaster that it turned into, but it was a huge risk to try and sneak him down to the Phantoms while hoping another team didn’t claim him. Oops, another Flyers mistake.
We don’t even need to dig into ancient history like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, or trading “Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams when he was 22 years old. Every team has those kinds of deals that they end up losing ostensibly because the players they shipped out went on to become champions. And don’t even get me started about the whole Patrick Sharp thing, which still hurts even though it was eons ago.
No, these scars are more recent, with guys like Brayden Schenn becoming Cup champions after their time with the Flyers. And although the Flyers still retain some of the fruit from trading Schenn, this deal was a textbook case of the Flyers surrendering the best player at the time of the trade in the hopes that their current lineup was good enough to absorb the loss while also setting themselves up for a superior return in the future. Five years later, we’re still waiting.
Situations like Schenn’s or other recent Cup winners such as Patrick Maroon don’t necessarily tie directly in to seeing someone like NAK become a champion, but it twists the knife even deeper into the gut of the Flyers to know that they have had useful players within the organization and they just didn’t (and perhaps still don’t) possess the ability to maximize potential and ability. Heck, Ryan Hartman didn’t exactly hoist the Cup this year, but he had a fantastic season for the Minnesota Wild. I can’t remember the last time a player had a breakthrough season after being acquired by the Flyers instead of once they let him go.
And perhaps that’s the saddest part of all this, that even if the Philadelphia Flyers put a legitimate group of players in place who could compete for a championship on paper, there just seems to be some sort of permanent black cloud hanging over Broad Street that prevents any kind of success, a cloud that never seems to follow players when they go elsewhere.
I’m being dramatic, of course, because not every former Flyer goes on to greater success once they leave town. It just seems that way. I used to be mad about it, but now I just expect it and hope that things will change at some point.