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.
Actually that's not true. He spoke in our inbox. But he did say "yah brahs your links to all your wonderful tshirts ain't working!"
And I said "shit!"
So here it is, not even embedded or anything.
Go over there and get yourself something snazy becuzzz if you wanna be me lover you gotta get in my shirt. And pants, I guess.
That's Ryan with 55 shirts made and Fran with 4. If you're keeping score at home. Which I am.
Salary cap hits matter more to the fan than actual salary because they represent inverse opportunity cost under a salary cap system. But let's just be as dumb as possible, seeing as half of us own Mike Richards or Jeff Carter jerseys, and look at this James Van Riemsdyk "gamble."
In 2012, when JVR starts making $4.25M (Hartnell money!) there will be 65 forwards who make more than him that season in a 30 team league. Among them, Tomas Fleischman, Ville Leino, and Erik Cole, who all suck and were all signed this off-season.
I'll tell you what. If nothing drastic comes out of next year's CBA negotiations (like a giant reduction in the salary cap or players' salaries), James van Riemsdyk was going to get this kind of money even if he just maintains his 40 points a year.
And if you're Homer and the Flyers brass, and you believe in this kid like we all started to in last year's playoffs, you're laughing at the critics of this deal and you're laughing at Dave Poile and you're laughing at Dean Lombardi for the RFA predicaments they've been in this summer. If you want to shit on Paul Holmgren do it using the fact that Jody Shelley and Max Talbot will make $5.8 M over the next two seasons and just get all your laughs out. Not over the possible $400k he may have eventually overpaid a budding prospect.
But it's fun to take numbers out of context and just drop them as facts, such as the fact that JVR has 75 points in 153 career games. It's so much fun that I'd like to play too. So how about this? JVR had 21 goals in his final 58 regular season games last season. Stretch that out and it math computers into a 30 goal year over 82 games, average. For a 21 year old.
Now let's take that a little farther. The kid had 7 goals in his first 9 playoff games. So that's 28 goals in 67 games. Over the course of 82 games that math computers into a 34 goal season. For a 21 year old.
Last week I LOL'd on twitter at Wayne Fish, who wondered if JVR could have a 40 goal season in this year's The Hockey News yearbook. I was all like "Earth to Wayne, only 5 guys in the league scored 40 goals last year." But now that I've had some time to think about it, I mean, maybe he can. Maybe there's truth to him settling into the pro schedule. Maybe now that the team depends on him more he'll perform at a higher level.
When it comes down to it, the kid pushes trucks, so…maybe that's all you really need to know.
Let's do something that I'm sure Eric Lindros has done a few times since his retirement from the NHL in 2007. Let's imagine what might have been.
Say that Lindros never started this whole habit of draft-dodging and reported to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds instead of going to hide in Detroit until the OHL changed their rules to accommodate his (parents') desire to stay close to Toronto. He would have been just as great there as he was in Oshawa, and would still have gone first in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, still to the Quebec Nordiques.
"Quebec is like a beautiful little snowglobe! I want to live in the Frontenac and eat pommes frites!" Let's pretend he thought that exact thought when he heard his name called first overall, went up on that stage and actually put on the powder blue jersey, and ignored the politics or taxes or language or small market or whatever and reported to Quebec City in the fall.
And then let's imagine he was actually The Next One, just like the media dubbed him as a kid. What would the back of his Topps hockey card look like if he did follow a parrallel path to that of Gretzky's? Maybe something like this:
- I assumed Lindros played the same percentage of games as Gretzky did over his career. I know this is difficult to swallow, but imagine they brought in a McSorley for Lindros.
- I took Lindros' 1.14 points per game over his career and applied it to that amount of games, editing the numbers a bit to show an ascension and descension.
- I kissed a girl and I liked it.
So if Lindros could have stayed healthy, and could have stayed out of trouble/drama, and could have ended a similar career path to that of Gretzky's with the same points per game that he did anyway, he could have indeed been The Next One.
Who knows if the Stanley Cup would have found its way into his hands. I have to think that the way the Nordiques were Pittsburghing it with first round picks, aquiring Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, and Owen Nolan in the three drafts leading up to the Lindros draft, he would have had a great shot.
As far as personal records go, Lindros would be 8th in points all-time, 3rd in goals, 14th in assists, and 15th in penalty minutes.
So this was what was "supposed" to happen, but ultimately did not because of individual decisions that spider-webbed Lindros' life far from the path the rest of Canada had him pegged for. But I guess this is why they make movies like Jurassic Park, and Mr. Destiny:
Larry Joseph Burrows: Are you an angel or something?
Mike the Bartender at Universal Joint Bar: Not exactly, no.
Larry Joseph Burrows: Then what are you?
Mike the Bartender at Universal Joint Bar: Have you ever been faced with a decision, and you weren't sure what to do?
Larry Joseph Burrows: Yeah, sure, plenty of times.
Mike the Bartender at Universal Joint Bar: And then something inside you made you choose one direction over another?
Larry Joseph Burrows: Yeah. So?
Mike the Bartender at Universal Joint Bar: So that's me. I make the suggestions, and you make the choices. That's how destiny works, Larry - very subtly. Welcome to your new life, Larry. I hope you like it.
Noted Canadian novelist Hugh MacLennan, 1954:
Next to the Swedes and Swiss, Canadians in their daily lives are probably as self-restrained as any people in the world. By comparison, Americans sometimes seem as volatile as Latins. Yet the favorite sports of Americans are neat, precise games like baseball and college football. Baseball I dearly love, but after growing up with hockey, I find American college football as slow as an American finds a week-long cricket match; even its violence seems cold to me. But the violence of hockey is hot, and the game at its best is played by passionate men. To spectator and player alike, hockey gives the same release that liquor gives a repressed man. It is the counterpart of the Canadian self-restraint, it takes us back to the fiery blood of Gallic and Celtic ancestors who found themselves minorities in a cold, new environment and had to discipline themselves as all minorities must. But Canadians take the ferocity of their national game so much for granted that when an American visitor makes polite mention of it, they look at him in astonishment. Hockey - violent? Well, perhaps it is a little. But hockey was always like that and it doesn’t mean we're violent people.
I would make the plea that the debate over violence in hockey, in particular fighting, end but I know that will never happened. If it hasn't abated in the past 100 years, despite the cyclical nature of debate that arises every decade, why would it happen now. Unless there was a solution. Which there is.
Let the players vote on it every year.
Now, before you cast this suggestion away with most of the nonsense that is written in this space, let me ask you a question:
Why is it so preposterous that the 600 men whose vocation ice hockey is are allowed to decide whether or not fighting is an appropriate part of the game?
Is it any more ridiculous than having silver-topped old men who can't see their players' eyes past the dollar signs decide for them?
What about doctors who know fighting is "bad," but have yet to strain fighting from the rest of hockey's physical play as a cause for anything?
Or maybe the sponsors who obviously never have ulterior motives should decide?
Or the guys at the bar?
Or the millions of people at their keyboards right now?
How about politicians? Yes - joint committees from the Senate and Canadian Parliament. Eventually leading to President Bachman signing legislation that eliminates fighting from hockey because it sets a bad example. Or is found distasteful by some. After that she can address the long list of other things that would fit into that category in North America.
So how 'bout it? These are the guys taking the risk so let them decide. Every training camp the league has all its players watch the most up-to-date informational video and then cast a secret ballot. If they decide to remove fighting from the game but then realize it was a mistake they can secretly change their minds next year. Or every year.
"Well, of course no one would vote against it because they wouldn't want to appear weak in front of…." Save it. Everyone's got to quit it with the conjecture that leads to arguing both sides of everything. That's the main reason we never get anywhere. So at least we can agree to settle on this:
If you like fighting continue to watch hockey.
If you find it so offensive that you don't watch hockey then continue to not watch hockey.
If you would stop watching were fighting eliminated, then when it is, just stop.
The sad truth is that you're all wasting your breath anyway. When someone can prove, or at least convince enough other people, that it makes sense financially, fighting will be eliminated. Thousands of posts, hundreds of articles, dozens of books will be written.
Those too will only matter to the extent that they provide money to the people who stand to benefit from the decision.