13 December 2010
I've always thought that it'd be a good idea for a newly acquired player to fight in his first home game. Even if he never did it again, even if he wasn't a fighter. I thought of it as a calculated risk that a player would probably choose to take just to let the hometown fans know that he understood what emblem he now wore on his chest, and even though he was greener to his jersey's colors than the people who packed the seats in the building, he was willing to fight for what they've believed in for decades.
Jody Shelley, a fighter, did not fight during his first preseason game in the Wells Fargo Center, nor did he fight in his first regular season game at the Wells Fargo Center. If he missed that small window to make a positive first impression on the Flyers Faithful he's done nothing to rectify it over the two months that have followed.
You've heard it a million time - Broad Street Bullies, Blue Collar, Blah.
I think Philadelphia fans are done with the pure fighter. And honestly, I think they've been done for a while. Cote, Fedoruk, even Brashear's popularity faded as his skills dulled. Philadelphians do have a certain bloodlust, but I think, especially in the wake of some playoff success, they're realizing that it doesn't have to come at the cost of dressing a less skilled line up than possible.
This can all be traced back to Dave Schultz, or more importantly, and a romanticized (strange use of the word) view of what type of player Dave Schultz was. All-time record holder for penalty minutes in one NHL Season? Yes.
20 goal scorer? Yes.
Winger who assisted on Bobby Clarke's overtime winning goal (and his second period one) in Game 2 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals, that enabled the Flyers to win the Cup at home in game 6? Yes.
It's true that Schultz was the brass knuckles on the Flyers five-fingered fist, but the entire team made up that fist. And the timing of that HBO release, the retirement of our last fighter, and the all-too-expensive acquisition of a one-faceted pugilist have fans, across the league as well as in Philadelphia, calling for a 4th liner that can play as well as contribute to team toughness.
Carcillo, Hartnell, Richards, Pronger, O'Donnell and Powe, even, hearken back to the group toughness that typified the Bullies, but now in an era when those brass knuckles just weigh you down. There will be no jumping into fights, clearing the benches (in North America), no fighting in warm-ups. There's only fighting when there wants to be fighting - when two parties agree to terms like a divorcing couple arguing over who's going to take the kids.
It's apparent that Peter Laviolette sees Nikolay Zherdev as a defensive liability. But even if he never came back to the Flyers side of the red line I'd want him in the lineup instead of Shelley. I'm sure Shelley's a tough guy, a great guy. I'm sure the other Flyers love having him in the locker room, but if the NHL truly is a business, like anyone who has anything to do with the league is always so quick to tell you it is, then why not produce a product on a nightly basis that gives you the best chance to win hockey games.
Zherdev does fit the mold of a 4th line winger. If you make your 4th line a line with an agitator/fighter, defensive center, and all-offense winger. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
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