“Ice hockey players can walk on water.”
The Phantoms roll into halftime of the 2016-2017 hockey season in second place in the AHL Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. Indeed they have the second-best record in the entire league, and at 26 wins are on pace to break their franchise best 49 wins from their inaugural season in Philadelphia.
So how do you grade a team like that? Who’s “passing” and who’s “failing.” What does it all mean?
I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but…
Let’s face it. I’m not qualified to go around throwing grades on hockey players. And, neither is anyone else who does it. We don’t know what the players have been asked to do–what they’re working on and how successful they really are. The statistics we have to work with are questionable. They won’t even tell us what’s injured. And, we’re talking about a “developmental league.” That’s what the AHL wants to be, right? So do we grade on performance (if we even know what that is) or do we grade on development (if we can even tell.) See what I’m saying? And it’s a really good team. But does that mean every player has a good game every night?
And what grades are you really going to give out? Are you going to drop an ‘F’ on somebody? A ‘D’? Good luck ever getting quotes from that player again. So if you’re going to only give A’s and B’s and maybe the occasional ‘C’ what does that even mean? You can say a player is playing well, or struggling, or developing, or whatever, without the egotistic exercise of putting grades on players playing a game. And those players are going to have their good games and bad–and for a wide variety of reasons–so how do you average it accurately? It’s a process of attaching an objective measure to subjective observation.
How about if we have the players review our game stories and drop some grades, huh? Or, those of us with other jobs, how about if one of the players comes out to judge how I’m doing at work. I can tell you right now, in my case, none of them are qualified.
And while we’re at it, I won’t be giving out any “stick taps” either. First of all, I don’t have a stick. Second of all, I’m probably not qualified to be tapping it on anything. Certainly not ice; I shouldn’t be anywhere near ice lest I hurt myself. And if I was going to go around tapping sticks on stuff I’d probably be upsetting somebody somehow. But, at least I’d be holding a stick, I guess.
So let’s take a look at some stuff I do feel qualified to render an opinion on–and remember, that’s what this is, an opinion based on my own experience. So, add yours in the comments below if you feel strongly enough about it to not hide it on a secret Facebook group somewhere. Golly, I’m cranky. Let me go chase some kids off my lawn, and then we’ll get down to the grades:
How can it be anything else? The quality of the hockey has been the best we’ve had yet in Allentown, and bordering on the best ever for the franchise. The players are highly skilled and fun to watch. They play a disciplined game and get high-quality shots on the goal for the most part. I can’t remember any specific games where they didn’t play hard or “just didn’t have it” per se–not for the whole game. Sometimes it’s not our night–but I don’t recall the team “taking the night off” in the effort department.
Team Construction: A-
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The Flyers did a fine job creating just what we needed to compete for a playoff spot in the AHL Atlantic. They gave us talent and depth. Proven scorers (not, “maybe he can still play but he’s been overseas for the last two years”) and veteran defencemen who can move the puck. We’re in a good spot right now, and an injury here or a call-up there isn’t going to kill us. A skilled, winning environment is just what the organization needs to develop it’s younger players, as well.
So why the minus on the ‘A’ above? We don’t have a top-flight goaltender. I like Stolie and Lyon plenty–and they’ll have their great games here and there–but neither are dominant right now. We win games by scoring goals, not by shutting teams down. Those two guys are different players and I’m not going to comment specifically on their games lest I devolve into my own rant from above. They’re both young. I’m just hoping one of them gets hot for the playoffs and that they both stay healthy and get opportunities to continue to improve.
I’m treading plenty close to my rant, here, but I think the coaching has been fine. Given the talent and depth they seem to be putting players in positions to succeed and not messing with things too much. The young prospects on the team are getting plenty of ice time, and special position coaches for defense and goaltending have been brought in to assist. In-game coaching seems appropriate to me to try to win games, and the team seems disciplined enough to keep themselves out of the penalty box for stupid SHIT (Slashing-Hooking-Interference-Tripping). The team has good leadership on the ice too, which is an important part of team construction (above).
Construction with excess veterans who have to sit in the press box, and coaching a team that leads the league in penalty minutes, have been things we’ve seen here before, you remember.
You can tell by the AHL and NHL rules that organized hockey in North America is discouraging fighting. I know, the fans (many of them) love it and it gets the place fired up. I know we have a couple guys who pack a wallop and back down from no one. There’s still a place–but it’s such a small niche that it doesn’t deserve a grade.
There is one thing to note, though. Have you noticed commercials and promotional videos for the team still contain highlights of fights? I’m not offended by it or anything–I don’t really care–just noticing the contradiction of something the league wants to discourage and a team which plays quality hockey is still marketed by fighting. Think about it.
Taking a break from the hockey for a minute, the team management has had plenty of giveaways and theme night’s thus far this season. It hasn’t been boring for those of us who come to every game. Perhaps there could be more bobbles and toys given out–but that’s the baseball side talking and I really don’t need it. And some of the theme nights are kind of annoying. But, I rarely hear folks complaining about the free stuff this season. Extra points for the Ghost bobble given the season ticket holders–a unique and special gift which looks like it will continue in future seasons.
Season Ticket Support: B
In the run up to the season I got a call and an email from my rep just to check on me. When I asked for something, he responded immediately and fixed everything. Season Ticket Holders on the Facebook group have been generally pleased with their support. There’s always room to improve, but I feel like the Phantoms were able to ameliorate some of the difficulty in communication and support that the season ticket holders were experiencing early on.
Game-Day Experience: B+
No sweaty T-Shirt guy!
Seriously, I think they’re doing fine–balancing the need to entertain the casual fans and energize all of the fans with trying to keep the evening focused on hockey. It’s a tightrope, to be sure, but I think they’re walking it quite well at this juncture.
The addition of the on-ice light show pre-game and the horns and the smoke–all good. They still need to get the audio issues resolved, and they could open more than one door on entry so that we don’t have to stand in line so long.
The new meLVin was very well received last night.
Food and Drink: D+
Ugh. Where do I start? Dan had to discard his sandwich because it was inedible. They can’t keep the Philly Pretzels warm and the Super Pretzels are cardboard. The pizza falls apart. A cheesesteak was questionable. It’s not cheap. Do better Spectra–it’s not all about the Suites and Club Seats, you know.
Game-Day Staff: B+
From the security guys to the ticket takers to the bartenders to the concession workers–I haven’t had a problem all season and most of the time everyone is cheerful and welcoming. Kudos.
So here’s to hockey, and let’s have a great second half. Let’s hope the Flyers don’t screw up our roster too much and hopefully we’ll not only make the playoffs, but make some noise once we get there. And let’s hope this is the start of a new era of Phantoms hockey where a Pennsylvania road trip means your toughest games are going to be in Allentown rather than Hershey or Wilkes Barre.
See you at the arena,