In 30 training camps throughout North America 30 teams are skating hard, working a bit on systems, and players are trying to get used to playing with some guys they didn't even know up until last week. Young guys are vying for roster spots on the big club, but will most likely be returned to juniors or the minors for another year on the bus instead of chartered flights. Coaches and GMs are assessing their situations.
One of the funnier aspects of training camp is that about half the league has winning the Stanley Cup on the mind while other teams have more modest goals, whether spoken or unspoken, of making the playoffs or in the case of the Senators finishing over .500.
The Maple Leafs, Jets, Panthers, Islanders, Senators, Blue Jackets, Avalanche, Blues, Oilers, Stars, and Flames have absolutely no chance of running the league. This doesn't mean that the fan bases in these towns, or the players on these teams, should be any less excited than people in other cities. I mean, the NHL is back, so there's excitement enough.
Teams that are undoubtedly pushing for the hardware this year are the Caps, Bruins, Lightning, Canadiens, Red Wings, Sharks, Canucks, and Kings. Those 8 teams can all truly envision their captain holding the Cup high above his head next Spring.
Which leaves us with 11 teams that are capable of shitting the bed or going deep into the playoffs, possibly all the way like a good Meatloaf song.
In the East there are the Pens, Sabres, Rangers, Hurricanes and in the West the Ducks, Predators, Coyotes, Blackhawks, and dare I say it, Wild.
But who am I forgetting? Who is the one team that I absolutely have no idea about? Ah yes, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Whether it's Hartnell - Nylander - Nodl, Briere - Giroux - Shelley, Jagr - Talbot - Simmonds….however it shakes out, what the freak is going to happen this year? And that's why I'm more excited than the beginning of any of the previous seasons we've had this blog running - the anticipation, the wonder about this little 6 to 8 month trip we're about to take. We're just about all packed up and ready to head off.
Goaltending - Double Check
Defense -Almost ready
Offense - Uhhhh…check?
This week of preseason games will be fun. All the speculation about rookie-on-rookie action is fun and helps to pass the time, but on Thursday October 6th a referee will be standing at center ice holding a puck 2 feet above the ice. The rematch against almost the same exact team that we couldn't even earn a win against last May will be seconds from starting. They are the same team, we are not. What is going to happen?
What the hell is going to happen when that puck drops?
Seeing as 6:30 on any given game night at the Wells Fargo Center is basically a Flyers alumni reunion, and given the prevalence of alumni games at previous outdoor NHL events, one would have to assume that the still unannounced 2012 Winter Classic will have some sort of alumni component to it.
Which is why I implore you to sign this petition to convince Eric Lindros to return to Philly for whatever ballyhoo the Winter Classic creators come up with.
I'm not going to make some impassioned plea, or point out how fans in any situation rarely have all the facts, I'm just going to say that all that "stuff" happened so long ago, and was so far from the ice, that it doesn't matter. What does matter is that Big E was Philadelphia sports from 1992 through 2000, while the Eagles, Sixers, and Phillies (except for '93) all blew.
Crazy 8's. Legion of Doom. Art Ross. The guy is Philly sports in the '90's, and we're running out of opportunities to have him back.
He didn't make it back for the big, touching ceremony where Mike Richards was given the captaincy of the Flyers (remember that?) and I'm not sure when another opportunity will present itself.
He should be part of Philly folklore. He should be a guest commentator from time to time on Flyers broadcasts. He should be kissing babies dipped in Crab Fries in the WFC before games. At the very least he should be centering Johnny Vermont and Mikael Renberg during an outdoor alumni game at a Flyerstravaganza where they'll be combing the Canadian country side for former Flyers. Trent Klatt will be there.
So sign this and forward it to your friends. Or Phil Crowe's gonna come looking for you at the Winter Classic.
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Ha look at that guy's face in the first row.
Now down to business.
There's no debating that Chris Pronger will be captain of the Philadelphia Flyers for the next X years. Anyone who is even pretending that the Flyers captaincy is up for grabs is just douching you.
And without a doubt, either Kimmo Timonen or Danny Briere should wear one of the A's (our vote's for KT).
But Scott Hartnell needs to wear the other. And here's why.
First off, we can't have any more of this John-Stevens-everyone's-a-captain shit. It's confusing and it doesn't set clear roles among the team. The guys need to know who's in charge and who that guy's lieutenants are. People perform better when they understand their roles. And for both the team and Scott Hartnell to best understand their roles, and to perform, Hartnell needs to have an A stitched above his titty.
Scott Hartnell is now 29, almost a veteran. As a 29 year old and one of the longest tenured Flyers, he's in the perfect position to broker the relationship between the team's young stars and old guard - something that has seemingly been a point of tension in the past. While this team will be led by its veterans its success will have just as much to do with the play of Claude Giroux, JVR, Braydon Schenn, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn.
Hartnell, while certifiably a goofball and a guy who has trouble staying on his skates, is a leader on the ice. He 'goes to the difficult spots', he plays a physical brand, he puts up a respectable point total, and he sticks up for his teammates.
And here's the thing - Hartnell will grow with the A. He'll expand like one of those things you add water to when he's put in the Alternate/Assistant Captain role. They said it all last year, and though they may have been using it to hide something at the time, there is some truth to it. Real veterans like Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen don't need a letter sewn to their sweater to lead. A younger guy in that locker room does need the A like a hall pass, like a license to unlock the leadership he might have been holding back out of deference to the vets. Or a captain who was struggling for control.
It's not just an age thing but Hartnell is the 4th oldest Flyer forward behind Jagr(weird), Betts, and Briere. He splits the defense. He's been a Flyer longer than every forward, save Briere, and every defenseman except Kimmo and Coburn. He's in the right spot for this and he's ready.
Twitter is a great analogy for where Hartnell is in his life and with this team. He's young enough to know what it is but old enough to know he'd get himself in trouble on it. He could explain it to a veteran and then partake in the "kids these days talk." He could talk to a rookie about Biznasty's latest tweet with an honest interest.
Like it or not, ready or not, afraid or not, Scott Hartnell is the gate keeper of this Flyers team. He is the bridge between old and new, young and old. And when you peel back the clown layer he's the kind of hockey player you want representing your team, and a leader in his own right and way.
I haven't seen Sean Couturier play a shift in over 9 months. And even then, during the WJC, I didn't think to pay any attention to him specifically, for obvious reasons. That being said, he is undoubtedly too good for the QMJHL, where he had 96 points in just 58 games last season. And he is surely big enough for the NHL at 6'4 200 lbs. Youth, development, defense, strength...let's hold off on all those fall back arguments for a moment.
Because the real question we're asking here, the question Ed Snider and Flyer fans have been struggling with for years, is what kind of team do we want to be?
The Philadelphia Flyers organization's past looms over the present like a wave at Waimea Bay. Because when I ask you the purpose of an enforcer and then I follow up your response citing unpunished hits that caused injuries to Oskars Bartulis and Danny Syvret over just the past two years, where does that leave us? Great guys I'm sure, but what have Jody Shelley, Riley Cote, Ben Eager, and Todd Fedoruk accomplished over the past 5 years? All they do is fight other tough guys. If you don't have a tough guy then no one on your team has to fight the other team's tough guy. Simple as that. Let's face it, the only thing that polices the sport these days is the common bond of money.
And although they're not one-punch wonders, we have guys who will at least drop 'em in Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, and Max Talbot. Let's hide behind that 'team toughness' bullshit that other teams do and win Championships with.
Keep in mind this is coming from a fight fan who checks Drop Your Gloves every single day (multiple times) for updates, but the Flyers need to come off it already.
Inserting Jody Shelley in the lineup means two things:
- we can't have a 4th line that could actually be dangerous, and at least not a risk, in Talbot - Betts - Nodl
- Sean Couturier (or even Ben Holmstrom on the wing) is not in the lineup because Jody Shelley is
And this is the main reason I think Couturier should be cast out of the frying pan. Let's give him a shot. Let's see if we have Skinner or not even, a 1999 Simon Gagne.
In a year when we've cashed in all our Scrabble pieces when we were one letter short of spelling Stanley Cup, why not continue on this path of moves more sensible hockey minds would never have ventured down. If it appears Couturier can hang at all in training camp then why not give him a chance? What's left to lose? All expectations were cast aside on one hazy afternoon in June. If we're going for the Charlie Kelley, if we really want to be the wildcard of the NHL, why not have two rookies and Jaromir Jagr in the lineup on opening night? Why not sack the Broad Street Bullies for good?
Philadelphia's a tough town that likes its tough team. A town tough enough to wait over 35 years between Stanley Cups. What a strange idea it is to wonder if maybe being so tough has held us back.
Get used to that. Maybe not for this coming season, but right now please know that you're in the dawning era of Sean Couturier. It's like knowing The Head and the Heart when they were still playing coffee shops in Seattle. Or having tuned into It's Always Sunny for their very first episode.
A year from now some dude is going to say "Hey, you hear about this Coture kid the Flyers have?" and sure, you'll play kind of dumb and be like "Oh yeah, heard he's going to be pretty good", but on the inside you'll be enjoying the feeling of self-satisfaction and superiorty that comes with letting someone think they're cluing you in on something when they are in fact not.
So the kids are on the ice and I am once again relevant. There are the big guns you've been reading about since Richie disappeared and then there are the group of kids you should keep an eye out for, but what I've always been interested in are the kids that come out of no where, and whether they're signed or just invited to camp, you've probably never heard of them and they have absolutely no chance of making the team. Kids like Tyler Brown, Campbell Elynuik, Thomas Hyka, Sam Grist, Etienne Boutet, Jonathan Narbonne, Austin Fyten, and Simon Gronvaldt.
I don't want to give you memory overload so early in the week so let me just rub up against the key points of some of these lesser knowns who will be wearing the Flyers logo this morning.
Tyler Brown is a decent sized American wing who put up 33 points in 67 games in the OHL last season as an overager. Sounds like a future Phantom to me.
Campbell Elynuik is the son of former NHLer Pat Elynuik. He's a big, lanky undrafted left wing who turns 19 in December and had 5 points in 28 WHL games last season. He's had 20 scraps in 76 Junior games.
Toma Hyka is a smallish undrafted 18 year old from the Czech Republic who had a cup of strawberry milk up in the Czech Pro League after runnig the table in the Czech Junior league this past season.
Sam Grist is a STAY AT HOME Canadian defenseman who had 3 points and 6 fights in 56 games with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL last season. He's 6'3 200.
Etienne Boutet is interesting. Ok size, just turned 19, had 24 points and 7 fights last year in the Q. It's also worth noting that this isn't his first invite to an NHL training camp, as he was invited to camp by the Stars last year.
Jonathan Narbonne is another one of Homer's low-risk, likely low-reward invites. The kid had 15 points from the blue line last season in the Q and turns 19 this week.
Austin Fyten has done his fair share of that. HA! Kid is a big, steady 20 year old winger who averaged over a point a game last year in the WHL. He's had 15 fights over his past 3 seasons. He'll do what needs gettin' done.
And finally, Simon Gronvaldt, whose name may have been stolen from the Harry Potter books, is a Danish D man who turns 21 in 3 months. He's also a stay-at-home kind of player who is coming off his best (for a variety of reasons) season in the OHL.
For any one of these guys, making the Phantoms would be a huge accomplishment. But what they don't accomplish personally they'll help the Flyers accomplish as a team, as these renegades push the Flyers real prospects to the brink of ecstasy over the next few days.