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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Season Preview: @Official_OandBP The Philadelphia Flyers

Mike and Joe from have been friends of myself and the site for a few years now. I met those jabronis Joe and Mike on twitter during the 2012 bizzaro Pens and Flyers playoff series and we've been talking hockey every since. They have to be one of the most fair and unbiased Flyers fans I've ever met. They are worth a follow on @Official_OandBP. I apologized to the other guys on that site whom I do not know Tim, Nick, and Jeromy.

So, what did your team do this summer?

They did a lot by doing very little (OOOH! So philosophical). But seriously, having gone through the Holmgren Experience for almost a decade, we, as fans, were getting used to roster-flipping on a regular basis. I’m not just talking about the Jeff Carter & Mike Richards trades entirely, but rather I’m incorporating all of Paul’s tenure. This past offseason was sort of refreshing – I guess that’s easy to say since Hextall had virtually zero wiggle room under the salary cap, but he could very well have sold off a handful of roster players to relieve space. Instead, he didn’t. Ron got very patient and started filling in the cracks – mainly AHL additions – that may otherwise prove to be genius depth additions sometime down the line.

I realize he caught flack for the Hartnell-Umberger trade, but when you’re thinking time-wise, the lateral move cut a big cost in half. And right now, cap space is an incredible asset to this Club even if we’re not able to exercise it for another two League Years. The trade simultaneously thins this team’s time spent in the box. Over the past few seasons, the Flyers have grown dependent on their special teams’ success. Hartnell may have been quite the offensive & possession asset, but at the same time, he was a disciplinary liability.

(Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press/File)

I won’t pretend that this team got better offensively by welcoming RJ Umberger back under the orange umbrella. He won’t score Hartnell-points; hell, he’s not even a top-liner like Hartnell. However, our front office is hoping the difference is made-up by our annually progressing forwards: Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Then there’s always the possibility that Umberger gains better chemistry with his new Clubhouse.

Another thing this team did this Summer was operate on Craig Berube and Ron Hextall’s conditioning orders. Our men in charge told each and every returning player that he better show up to camp in top physical form. To put it another way, last Summer our boys arrived to Laviolette’s camp fat & slow. We weren’t conditioned outta the gates. Success in this League is built on speed and positive two-way play. When your man-tits create drag, you’re not going to win the transition game. With all that said, we’ll just have to wait and see how each of our players look once they return to Vorhees, NJ (our camp location for all you yinzers).

What is the biggest surprise this offseason?

This is the fan in me talking…. Vincent Lecavalier. I’ve been against this signing since the news broke last Summer (and I have the publishing to prove it). I knew EXACTLY what waited in the shadows ahead of us; first off, we had two third-year centers looking to dig their heels into permanent roles on this roster (re: Couturier, B.Schenn). I was afraid Lecavalier would cut into their growth and slow it down, or worse… force management to trade one or the other (again, re: Couturier, B.Schenn). Luckily for us it doesn’t seem like Hextall has any interest in dealing either of them. However, all my fears of Lecavalier came true in 2013-14.

· He never adjusted in a position outside the center role. And even with him pivoting a line, it was like our ship was sailing with an anchor dragging on the sea bottom.

· His performance weighed down each and every linemate’s possession metrics (re: B.Schenn, Simmonds).

· SURPRISE! Battled an injury.

· Berube was forced to hand Lecavalier sheltered minutes like he was protecting the fucking President.

Lecavalier is a nightmare. An aged, declining nightmare. And one we’ll seemingly chew on for the next four League Years. If you asked me back in June, I would have bet my mortgage that the Flyers move Lecavalier, even if it meant retaining a good chunk of his average annual value. And don’t let our boss man fool you; the Flyers are telling us they’ve wanted to keep Vincent and transform his game in our newer system. Horseshit… they just couldn’t find a chump GM to bite on that $4.5mm AAV for 1,460 more days.

In related, face-palming news: Berube announced that Lecavalier is returning to camp as a center. But I guess that’s the lesser of two evils. He sure as hell cannot man a wing position, but if he’s going to pivot a line, then my gut tells me it’ll be a scoring line. Unless Vincent comes into camp driving Dr. Emmit Brown’s DeLorean, I expect the same ol’ declining centerman to drag whichever linemates of his down with him. That’s not me being a sour pessimist; that’s my projection based off of the past four consecutive playing seasons. There’s no evidence that proves otherwise.

Len Redkoles/Getty Images

What would be one change (or more) you would have made?

You mean besides fellating one of the 29 other GM’s in exchange for taking Lecavalier?

I see where this League is going. We’re witnessing Stanley Cup success built on a structured blend of speed, finesse and possession, and depth at each. I’m not saying I would have kicked this Summer off by selling anyone and everyone, but I would have rebuilt our bottom two forward lines to reflect a complete skill unit. I want four skill lines; four combinations assembled with players who excel in speed, anticipation, discipline, and positive transition play. It seemed Hextall was on his way to doing exactly that. Even his Draft selections and free agent additions all had speed in common. But then he went ahead and re-signed Zac Rinaldo for an additional two-years – the extension becoming effective AFTER 2014-15.

Rinaldo has tremendous speed, and, admittedly, he is one of the better skaters on this team. Like, Top 3 in skating agility. No, I’m not kidding.

But Zac lacks everywhere else. His presence in the lineup negates my “four skill lines” philosophy. Our fans seem to think that we need him as an energy player; my answer to that misconception is that our bench will gain plenty of energy by scoring even-strength goals, power play goals, and staying out of the box.


Grit is one thing; effective grit in hockey, to me, is conveyed by –

· Being first on the puck

· Smart forechecking

· Encompassing an ability to transition a registered hit into an offensive play

· And being able to make wise decisions deep in our opponent’s slot – giggity.

Does any one of those bullet points sound like they’re carved on Rinaldo’s resume? Nope. But each of those facets is exactly what I want fused into every line. Rinaldo sucks the life out of each.

I don’t know what it is, but the Flyers love Rinaldo… and so do our fans. I’d like to see him – and any semblance of him – gone from our roster. He has a heart of a lion, and he puts on one hell of a fireworks show; but unfortunately that is not all it takes to win hardware.

By Christopher Szagola, US Presswire
Any players your team passed on this summer you would have liked on the team?

Yes, absolutely. One namely being David Booth. For a team operating over the salary ceiling, there was no better “low risk, high reward” type player for the Flyers than David Booth. We knew he wasn’t going to get signed long-term. We knew he’d sign for cheap. Right there, that should have caught our front office’s attention. Additionally, Booth has unbelievable scoring upside. It’s very unlikely, but Booth could surprise us all by returning to his scoring form from earlier in his career. Again, I said it’s unlikely. But at that price? His two-way play and speed are worth it alone. And I know Hextall was trying to get us faster over the Summer, as well as strengthen our transition game – mainly from the offensive to the defensive.

To me, the Leafs scored one of the best bargain free agents this Summer. And if he remains healthy (a big IF), watch out.

Who is going to be your “dark horse” break out player this year?

Simple… Matt Read, next question.

Ha! Okay, some explanation is required.

What if I told you that Matt Read is the Flyers’ best all-around player on their payroll? Would you believe me? Well, that’s precisely what I’m saying. Don’t misinterpret that with me saying he’s the team’s best player. I didn’t say that. But when we’re looking at all elements of the game, he and Giroux excel like none other in Orange & Black: Special Teams, offensive zone, defensive zone, anticipation…. Matt Read delivers everywhere and anywhere. He and Sean Couturier were linemates in 2013-14, and singlehandedly kept this team afloat at even-strength last season. No other forward pairing absorbed heavier-lifting minutes while playing against our opponents’ highest quality of competition than Matt Read and Sean Couturier.

We’re told to expect more offensive opportunity for them both in 2014-15. Considering how well they manufactured offense from very defensive situations, and considering Matt Read has a slight advantage offensively over Couturier (for now), I’m comfortable with saying Matt Read will stun the NHL crowd by tallying 70-points this upcoming season – that’s 23 more points than his career high back in his Calder year, 2011-12.

Book it.

Any rookies you see making the team?

Ron Hextall has made it clear that he will not rush any of our prospects into our 2014-15 roster. Again, the patience is refreshing. But with all due respect to Mr. Hextall, there’s one particular defenseman in our pipeline, named Robert Hagg, that will become a household name in every Metropolitan Division home tuning in.

Our 2013 2nd Round choice, there is no other prospect of ours that I’m more excited about. You’ll get your naysayers and doubters, sure, but I believe Hagg will become a Doughty-type player in this League. Having spent his last two playing seasons professionally in the Swedish league, there’s no other Flyers prospect more NHL-ready than Hagg. Even this past rookie camp, he stood out like a man among boys. He brings it all to the table; defensive responsibility, power play point specialist, he’s quick on his skates, he’s in pristine physical condition, has a rocket for a shot, has a sizable frame, and… best yet… he’s an experienced 19-year old.

Even with the signing of Del Zotto, our loss of Timonen has opened some doors and created immense opportunity for the youngens. And I don’t have to remind any of you how suspect our blueline is already. I firmly believe Robert Hagg is going to perform in camp so well that our staff will have no choice but to promote him ahead of schedule. He simply gives our defense a better chance to win.

I’ll see yinz Olli Määttä, and raise you a Robert Hagg.

What is your team’s biggest need this season?

If we’re talking personnel, then our biggest need is a #1 Defenseman, but we’re not acquiring or developing one within the coming seven-months. Instead, our biggest need this season is effective backchecking. A lot of fans throw heat on our defensive players, and even though our blueline needs a whole world of help, a proper backcheck from the forward corps goes a long, long way. For starters, you’re adding one or two more bodies (forwards) to the defensive zone quickly, which relieves some of the onus off of your defensemen. The Flyers failed in that area too much last season. We simply lacked the effort. A shitty backcheck exposes and magnifies your blueline’s weaknesses. I don’t care if we have Shea Weber, Erik Karlsson and Jonathan Quick facing the rush; if your forwards aren’t applying pressure on the backcheck, the opposing offense is gonna clean up.

Once our roster buys into Craig Berube’s 200-foot system and team defense, we should not only see more positive plays in our zone, but also more turnovers and chances propelled back up ice.

The best offense is a good defense.

I know it’s early but any trade deadline predictions?

No one. Look, I’m not trying to be a party pooper; if I thought we’d go after someone and acquire them via trade, I wouldn’t hesitate to name them. But I simply don’t see Ron Hextall trading anyone of value, regardless whether this team is struggling by the deadline or not. Again, I point towards patience. I also point towards our payroll; we have key players coming up for extensions in the next three-years, and there are even some contracts expiring within that timeframe as well. Hextall has to get surgical with the Flyers’ salary forecast, and I think adding anything that potentially disrupts that is not in his deck of cards.

But if some mid-tier rental is available and acquired, I wouldn’t be shocked. I just hope something like that doesn’t cost much (short- or long-term), and we’re legitimately in the hunt for a Playoff berth.

What are your predictions for your team this year?

On paper, we’re a borderline Playoff team. There’s no reason to lie and pump hot fanboy air up anyone’s ass. I like to believe that my mindset comes from a place of objectivity and truthfulness, and the truth is that my Flyers have a number of deadfalls that could potentially wind up costing us a spot on The Dance Floor. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we package one of our annual late-season runs and it scores us post-season placement.

Overall, I believe this team will contend. Whether we’re on the bubble for the majority of the campaign or fighting tooth & nail to keep a Wild Card, Flyers fans will see a whole load of positives glowing over a whole load of negatives.

Thanks for giving me this tremendous opportunity, Pens Initiative. I look forward to all the shit talking and backhanded compliments we’ll inevitably share throughout the upcoming season.

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