Quick, who is the longest tenured Flyer?
No, it’s Braydon Coburn, you know, the guy who is going to be the de facto No. 1 guy on the Flyers blue line this year.
Sure Timonen is still around, but at 37 he relies more on savvy and guile than peak physical performance to play the game.
Nick Grossmann? Luke Schenn? Nice players both, but neither are No. 1 guys.
So the title falls on Coburn, who will be looked upon to play big minutes and be the shut down rearguard against the best players the opposition has to throw at the Flyers every game.
And he’s ready for it, keeping an even keel.
“I think every year I put a certain amount of pressure on myself and I expect a certain level of play out of myself,” Coburn said. “But you don’t want to get caught up in a situation where you feel like you have to do more than you need to – that’s when guys get out of their comfort zone. I’ve put a lot of thought into it – about where you want to be. I think I’m an older guy here now and I’ve been part of this defense for awhile and with the young guys coming in I feel like I can be a leader for this team.”
It’s funny to hear Coburn refer to himself as an “older guy” as he is still just 27, but in terms of experience, he is certainly older, wiser and more mature than a lot of defensemen.
It is because of that and because he knows he’s going to be leaned on this season more than ever before to be the top defenseman, Coburn has been preparing himself physically.
His training regimen would make the creators of P90X sit in the corner and suck their thumb.
Six days a week Coburn goes through an extensive, 2 ½ - hour workout that includes a regimen of weights, plyometrics and a core workout that is second to none. The process is so long, that Coburn has videos saved to his iPhone to remind him what exercise comes next.
“If you look at him he’s a big guy who can skate really well – he’s one of the better skaters in the league,” said Timonen, who is recovering nicely from offseason back surgery. “It’s all about experience. You play a lot of games in a lot of rinks against a lot of different players. If you’ve got size and speed and you see the game pretty well, with experience you’re going to be a better player. That’s what it’s been for Coby. He’s going to keep getting better and better. I’ve seen this happen many times with different players – you get that experience and you get better.”
For Coburn part of that experience has been playing with some top tier defensemen in his five years with the team.
He has gleaned important aspects of how to play the position – and more importantly how to be a leader – from some of the best of their era.
“Kimmo is the player he is because he’s so smart,” Coburn said. “He knows how the game is played. He’s such a good anticipator. He’s got a great skill set. He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest guy out there, but he does all the little things right. For me I try to take my physical tools and try to add things to my game. Being out there with Kimmo I see first hand how he plays and how he work as a partner – those are things I’ve tried to add to my game through the years. The experience of playing with him is invaluable. Just to have a guy like that – and other guys – like Derian [Hatcher], Chris [Pronger] and Jason Smith has been so valuable to me. They all rubbed off on me in different ways.”
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And now entering his seventh season with the Flyers, Coburn is ready to take on more responsibility not just on the ice but in the locker room as well.
“I’ve played in a lot of different places and played a lot of games that I now think I can pass along knowledge to young guys like those guys did to me,” Coburn said. “Last year was my best year in the sense of being more vocal and being a leader. I think sometimes the best thing you can do is present yourself as a professional and really go about your business in the right way.
“Sometimes guys that are paying attention and watching - that’s what rubs off the most. I remember when I was a young guy I tried to be a sponge and look to see what guys were doing and what made them successful.”
Another thing that made them successful was a consistently optimistic outlook when it came to the teams they played on. There’s a reason Hatcher, Pronger and Smith all have their names etched on the Stanley Cup – because they believed they can win.
Coburn is no different. Despite there being public concerns with the Flyers defense heading into the new season, Coburn still looks at it as a strength.
“Last year you got a good look at some of the pieces on this team,” he said. “At the end of last season when Mez was hurt, [Marc-Andre] Bourdon was a big part of this team. People can be excited about him. He’s got a lot of elements to like in his game. He’s a big guy with a nice shot who’s not afraid to get physical.
“The other young guy – [Erik] Gustafsson – has really kind of blossomed since he first started playing pro here. He’s a guy that really moves the puck well and has a great instinct about him. I know some people compare him to Kimmo and I think that’s a really fair comparison. He’s a little guy who knows how to use his body and is a smart player out there.
“I know Bruno [Gervais] as well. I played with him through the national team programs growing up and he’s a good player who has kind of flown under the radar a little bit, but his skill set is there.”
He sure sounds like a guy ready to anchor a defense. The next step is to see if that translates on the ice. Knowing how solid and consistent Coburn is, the odds are pretty strong in his favor.
If Ilya Bryzgalov were asked to compare his first season in Philadelphia to the title of a book, he very likely would go with “Life, the Universe and Everything,” by Douglas Adams.
After all, it was a whirlwind of a first thrill ride through the corkscrew of a pressure cooker that is hockey in Philadelphia.
It is especially so for a goalie, who all too often is the forgotten man when the team wins – with the exception of a shutout or a stand-on-your-mask performance in the crease – but is the direct target of the public ire when a game goes badly.
And while that is unfair, it’s the way things are in this town, and the way they will always be – until someone not named Bernie Parent skates around the ice in goalie gear hoisting a silver chalice overhead.
And while Bryzgalov may have had a perceived rocky start to his time in Philadelphia, a closer glance at his season shows that it wasn’t as lost as it was often pointed out to be.
After all, Bryzgalov had the best goals against average [2.48] of any Flyers goalie since the lockout – when rules changes were made to increase scoring.
He also won 33 games. That tied for the most since Roman Cechmanek won 35 in 2000-01.
Oh, and he had six shutouts. That would be more than all Flyers goalies combined for in the previous two seasons and tied for the most by one Flyers goalie since Cechmanek had 10 in 2000-01.
“I don’t think last year was as bad as everyone else thinks,” said Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese. “I agree that there were some ups and downs and I think it was a big time learning experience for him coming from Anaheim and Phoenix.
“But if you look at his numbers, they weren’t too bad and he beat the team [Pittsburgh] that a lot of people thought was going to win the Stanley Cup. I know it was a wide-open series and that it was enjoyable to watch for everybody except goalies and goalie coaches. But, both of those teams can score goals – and he won the series. He took a lot of criticism, but he won the series. Then, the New Jersey series was a completely different series, and I thought he was one of our best players.”
Now a new season approaches, and yet questions remain about the Flyers defense and goaltending. And while the defensive questions are fair – after all the Flyers missed out on a couple of big time free agent acquisitions and lost two more defensemen to summer injuries – the goaltending situation is pretty much a known entity.
There’s Bryzgalov, who bears the weight of the Philadelphia hockey universe – unfairly at times - on his shoulders.
However, this is Philadelphia – and while the most scrutinized athlete in town is usually the quarterback of the football team, the hockey goalie is certainly a close second.
It’s going to be up to Bryzgalov to quell the rabble who put such an intense focus on him – and the fact that he has a lengthy and pricey contract.
“I think last year was a learning experience for all of us with Bryz,” Reese said. “It was all kind of new for us and we were trying to help him through it. Did it help? I don’t know. Did it make it worse? I don’t know.
“My focus for him [this season] is not going to be so much the off ice stuff, but rather getting his game to a point where he can be more himself. I say that because when things aren’t going so well and you’re still being funny in the press – it’s not so funny. But when things are going good, it’s all O.K. So our focus is to get Bryz playing to where he can be himself and be more consistent.”
Like he was during the month of March.
Bryzgalov had a stretch last March of 13 starts in which he went 10-2-1 with a 1.21 goals against average, a .957 save percentage and four shutouts.
It was truly a stellar run of games for a goalie.
“When I saw him have a stretch like that - I didn’t even see [Nikolai] Khabibulin have a stretch like that [in 2004 when Reese was the goalie coach in Tampa Bay and they won the Stanley Cup],” Reese said. “Khabibulin never had a stretch like those 13 games Bryz had in March.
“My point is, [Bryzgalov] can do that – we just need him to do it more consistently. Then he can be himself.”
There were other pressures than just being thrown to the lions in a hockey rabid market starving for a champion.
He had to move his family to the Philadelphia area, find schools for his children, get to know his new teammates and feel the pressure of a smart, hard-working, young goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky who was pushing him every day.
“He’s settled now,” said Reese. “He’s got a house, his kids are in school – he knows what to expect. He’s going to be much better.”
And it will help that the 23-year-old Bobrovsky will be fighting for a job in Columbus rather than Philadelphia and that Bryzgalov will be backed up by a veteran like Michael Leighton.
“Michael had some bad luck after 2010,” Reese said. “He ran into the injuries and it was hard for Michael to get back because of how Bob was playing. But what convinced us that he was good for this role was how he handled last season.
“He went down [to the Phantoms] and had a terrific attitude. He brought a calmness to the young guys and a winning attitude. A lot of guys in his situation would have said, ‘I’ll just go down there, make my money and move on.’ He didn’t do that. That carried over as to the reason we signed him. [General Manager Paul Holmgren] was really impressed with his work ethic and his attitude, and that’s why he’s back.”
It will also help Reese as a coach that both Bryzgalov and Leighton play a similar style in goal.
“We can work on similar things – beat the pass, play deeper in net, those sort of things,” Reese said. “The team won’t have to adjust one night to the next depending on what guy was going to play in net.”
It also helps that Leighton isn’t a real threat to steal the starting job from Bryzgalov.
“Bryz is going to play most of the games,” Reese said. “[Michael] is aware of that. It’s a role that he’s going to have to put the effort in and be prepared for it. It’s a job that he has to take a lot of pride in. This might be his last kick at the can. He knows that if he has a good rapport with Bryz and things go well, maybe he can get a few more years out of it.”
The Flyers have set it up for Bryzgalov to do nothing but succeed. Reese is committed to that. Leighton is committed to that. The rest of the coaches and management is committed to that.
Now, it’s up to Bryzgalov to provide the missing link.
“This year he knows what to expect,” Reese said. “He’s a big boy. The focus for me is going to be on the ice.
“He is a bona fide number one goalie in this league and he’s good enough to win the Stanley Cup. Now, will we do it? We’ll see. But he’s good enough.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @AnthonySan37
VOORHEES, N.J. – The only remnant is a 2-inch pink scar on his left wrist.
For Erik Gustafsson though, it is a reminder of just how hard it is to make it to the NHL.
With the Flyers in need of a defenseman because of various injuries last season, Gustafsson, along with fellow defensive prospects Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall were given the chance to play a good chunk of games at the NHL level for the first time.
Gustafsson and Bourdon were both impressing the Flyers brass enough that the team traded Marshall, and leaned on their other two, young, defensive prospects to fill the void at the NHL level.
It was the culmination of a lifelong pursuit for Gustafsson, who felt he was ready to stake a claim to a regular NHL spot and not let go.
At first, it appeared positive for Gustafsson. In just his fifth game of the season, he became the first Flyers rookie to post a rating of plus-6 in a game since 1984.
And while he was certainly receiving plenty of accolades for that performance – a game in which he played 23 minutes, the most amount of ice time in his young career - he was probably a bit fortunate that night, not really being involved in three of the six goals he was on the ice for, it was the last game he’d play in quite awhile.
In that memorable game, Gustafsson damaged the sheathing that protects tendons in his wrist and needed it to be repaired surgically.
He didn’t make it back to the NHL for nine weeks.
Even then, he really wasn’t himself. Taking a couple months off in the middle of a season is terrible for an athlete. It’s almost like the offseason workouts and training camp have to commence all over again.
He played another month without accumulating even one point. He only took six shots in that span.
But all the while he was taking regular, or semi-regular shifts, and gaining plenty of experience.
He played pretty continually through the end of March before taking another hiatus.
He returned in the playoffs against Pittsburgh, even scoring a goal in the series clinching game against the Pens – when he played 22:09.
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He also skated in each of the five playoff games against New Jersey, which had the Flyers feeling good about Gustafsson, 23, moving forward.
Now, after another summer of training and working on his strength and speed, Gustafsson is ready to finish what he started a season ago.
“It’s been a great summer,” he said. “I’ve had no setbacks at all. I’ve been working a little bit on strengthening the wrist, but otherwise I’ve just been working on the strength schedule (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Ryan Podell gave me and I feel like I’m in really good shape.”
Gustafsson also practiced during the summer in Sweden with Timra IK of the Swedish Elite League and is looking forward for the start of the NHL season, so he can solidify his chances of being in the NHL every day.
“I think this is the best opportunity I’ve had so far within the Flyers organization,” he said. “I think I finally found my game at the end of last year, and I hope I can carry that over and be even better this year. I want to show everyone that I deserve a spot on the roster and to get [more] playing time.”
And considering the Flyers situation on defense, which is marred with injuries, there is a chance that Gustafsson can do just that.
“He’s come along nicely,” said general manager Paul Holmgren. “His first year here he was able to get in a full season with the Phantoms and put up really good numbers as an offensive guy who played all situations and was able to pick up the tempo of the game.
“He had to get quicker and his skating needed to improve while he was adapting. I think the brief number of games that he played for the Flyers – he did a good job of containing, and that’s what stood out in our minds.
“He’s always going to have some difficulty because he’s a smaller statured guy, especially compared to some of the forwards he plays against, but if you’re smart, and you have a good stick and are competitive, you can play around those deficiencies.”
And that’s what the Flyers believe they have in Gustafsson. Good thing for them, he feels the same way.
The transformation for Scott Hartnell has been impressive.
Going from just being a run-of-the-mill hockey player to an NHL All-Star in the span of two years should not be understated. The commitment and an on-point work ethic are necessary to make such a transition.
That, of course, is magnified even more when it happens with a player who has been a professional for a decade.
It would have been easy for Hartnell to just continue on his path of complacency – of just being a guy with enough natural ability to get by, stay in the NHL and collect a paycheck.
But Hartnell wanted to make a difference. He didn’t just want to be another guy in the league. He wanted to be a reliable contributor - someone who can leave an indelible mark on the sport.
And ever since a heart-to-heart with Flyers coach Peter Laviolette early in the magical 2010 playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final, Hartnell has done just that.
And now, he’s being rewarded for his efforts.
The Flyers have signed Hartnell to a six-year contract extension today, locking up one of the game’s best power forwards through the 2018-19 season.
“We are pleased to announce that we have agreed with Scott on a multi-year extension,” said general manager Paul Holmgren in a statement. “Scott has been a very good player for us over the last five seasons and we look forward to many more good years to come.”
Hartnell agreed to a deal now rather than wait for after the new collective bargaining agreement is signed.
It guaranteed him money for a sixth year, which is something the NHL is trying to prevent as part of their negotiations. The league wants to cap contracts at a five-year maximum.
“I plan on playing all six years and playing my heart out for the city of Philadelphia, the fans and of course the bosses upstairs,” Hartnell said. “I don’t think my value would have changed much in a year… I thought about honestly waiting until the new CBA was signed so the rollback wouldn’t affect me. But if there is a rollback that will [set] a new marketplace as well. So it was six in one hand and half a dozen in a nother. I just know I love Philly and I want to be there. I’m not going to be sour about it. I’m just going to put on my skates and go out there and work hard every day.”
Since that 2010 playoff run, Hartnell has been nothing short of excellent for the Flyers.
He played a full season in 2010-11 and had a solid year with 24 goals and 25 assists for 49 points. But it was last season that he really became the All-Star caliber talent that ultimately enticed the Flyers to lock him up for practically the rest of the decade.
Hartnell, moved to the Flyers top line alongside Claude Giroux, posted career highs in goals (37) assists (30 – which matched a career best) and points (67) and was named the NHL Eastern Conference All-Star team for the first time.
It was another chat with Laviolette at the start of last season that fueled Hartnell. He had started the first five games on the fourth line and wasn’t getting power play time, but after talking to Laviolette, he was given a chance with Giroux and Jaromir Jagr and it paid major dividends.
“I love the way Lavvy coaches,” Hartnell said. “He’s an offensive-minded coach and loves guys to get it on the forecheck and guys that hit. He’s a real motivator for me. He can call you out in a particular group or in front of everyone or sit you down if you need a spanking to get going again. Hopefully we can continue that chemistry and build on bigger and better years for the Flyers.”
But it was so much more than that.
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Hartnell, who at times before his renaissance was a target of fan anger and occasional ridicule, made peace with his quirks and decided to modify his guarded public persona and put them to good use.
He began engaging the Flyers fans on social media, which immediately showed those cheering for the team that he was as personable and fun as his teammates knew him to be.
“The Flyers made a commitment to me five years ago to be a Flyer and I’ve loved every second of it,” Hartnell said. “We have a great team, a great bunch of guys, a great future and a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
He also began to play along with the fans counting how many times he fell down on the ice, turning the Twitter count into a charitable arm that exploded at the All Star game last year when #HartnellDown went viral, and made him an immensely popular player across two countries.
But, aside from his image, Hartnell also did something else that really wowed Flyers management – he became an off-ice mentor to a lot of the Flyers younger players. He took guys like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read under his wing.
That was put on full display during HBO’s 24/7 special last year when Hartnell had all three guys over his house for Christmas.
But, it was a lot more than just being a holiday host. He was a positive influence in the locker room on a team that featured seven rookies for much of the season.
In the past, every time Hartnell was questioned by the media about the possibility of waiving the no trade clause in his contract if he was asked, Hartnell always answered that he’d decline.
His constant answer was something along the lines of “I love it in Philadelphia. I love this organization. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Now, he doesn’t have to be.
The Wayne train will be rolling through Philadelphia for the next seven years.
That’s because the Flyers have signed forward Wayne Simmonds to a contract extension that will keep him as a Flyer through the 2018-19 season at a very palatable cap hit of $3.97 million.
Considering Simmonds scored 28 goals last season and finished with 49 points – both career highs – the Flyers wanted to lock him up as a key member of the young core of the team – Simmonds turns 24 a week from Sunday - as quickly as possible.
Both sides took a bit of a gamble in the deal, but that’s ultimately what makes it such a good agreement for both the Flyers and Simmonds.
“We are pleased to announce that we have agreed to a multi-year extension with Wayne Simmonds,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “Wayne plays the game with courage and honor and we believe he will continue to be a very good winger for our organization.”
The extension doesn’t kick in or affect the salary cap until the 2013-14 season. Simmonds will play the 2012-13 season on the final year of his old contract that has a salary cap hit of $1.75 million.
Simmonds has 67 goals and 75 assists for 142 points in 322 career NHL games for the Kings and Flyers.
“Philadelphia has been a great place to me,” Simmonds said. “I signed this extension because I want to help bring a SC to Philly. I just want to be another piece of the puzzle. We have a great young core in place and this is where I want to be for a long time.”
Simmonds sacrificed his remaining restricted free agency years and even a few years of possible unrestricted free agency to sign this guaranteed contract.
“A deal came up where it was smart for me to take it to be part of the Flyers organization for a substantial amount of time and I jumped on it,” Simmonds said.
“I thought I had a pretty productive season last year. I didn’t know where I stood on the contract side. Homer came to us with a contract extension and I discussed it with my agent and the three of us all thought it was a good idea.”
The gritty power forward is being paid based on his production from last year, and now with the Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk playing elsewhere, Simmonds is going to have the spotlight shine on him even more when it comes to expected offensive production.
“I don’t feel pressure but I’m going to go out there and work as hard as I can every day and continue to progress as a player,” he said. “We certainly have the talent on our team. I think I can continually improve. I’m not going to put numbers on it, but I definitely think I’m going to get better the more I play.”
Andrej Meszaros thought he had a problem with his sneaker.
Then he took a step.
“I was doing my regular summer workout,” he said. “It was near the end and I was doing some jumping drills – plyometric stuff – and I heard something snap. I thought it was my shoe. So, I looked at it and saw that it was O.K.
“I thought, ‘Hmm, that was strange,’ and then I started walking. After a few steps it started to feel real weird. Then the pain hit me and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s my leg.’ I almost threw up. I was sick right away. All that happened in a span of two minutes.”
And what took two minutes to come undone is going to take months to put back together.
Meszaros, 26, ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon. The Flyers flew him back from his home in Slovakia and had him undergo surgery to repair the injury last week.
General Manager Paul Holmgren announced that Meszaros would be sidelined indefinitely.
With an injury this severe, Meszaros doesn’t know how long he’ll be unable to play hockey. There have been comparisons to other professional athletes who have suffered similar injuries.
In Philadelphia, everyone became familiar with rehabilitating an Achilles’ injury within the past year as Philadelphia Phillies star Ryan Howard took nine months to get back into the Phillies lineup. If it were to take Meszaros that long, he wouldn’t be back until the playoffs.
However this injury is different for a hockey player than a baseball player, and in hockey, a player possibly could be back sooner.
Former Flyer Justin Williams tore his Achilles in training camp when he was with Carolina and returned in just three months without further issues.
However, New Jersey forward Travis Zajac tried coming back that quickly last year and ran into a set back and had to miss more time.
“The doctors told me that it’s tough to say because it depends on the treatment and how the body reacts,” Meszaros said. “I go see the doctor again on Aug. 20. He’ll give me a better idea then and maybe I can start doing treatment and rehab.”
Despite there being so much unknown, Meszaros is remaining optimistic. He knows he has a long road to recovery ahead of him, but at the same time is confident that it won’t be as long as a lot of people might think.
“I believe I’m going to play this year,” he said. “I don’t know how many games it will be, but I will play. I will play as many games as I can.”
In the meantime, the Flyers could be on the hunt for a replacement for Meszaros and have been kicking tires on remaining free agents and possible trade options.
However, as is Holmgren’s consistent modus operandi, he won’t make a move out of panic and instead will only do what’s best for the betterment of the team.
Meanwhile, Meszaros will be doing his own thing. And he knows rehab is going to be a somewhat lonely process – as he won’t have as much time to interact with his teammates on a daily basis.
But he’s confident that he’ll still be able to have a presence around the other players, both in and out of the locker room.
“When I played in Ottawa I was fortunate and didn’t miss a game in three seasons,” Meszaros said. “Then I had shoulder surgery in Tampa and now this. It’s tough but injuries are part of hockey. Mentally it’s hard but I’m trying to focus.
“It’s tough every time you have an injury. You go to the rink early or stay late and you feel a little left behind because you are by yourself. But I’m going to try to hang out with the other players as much as I can. We’ll see how it goes.”
If there’s a positive to come out of all of this for Meszaros, it’s that his back is feeling better.
Meszaros missed the last 20 games of the season and the first 10 playoff games after needing a procedure on his lower back.
He returned for the final playoff game against the Devils but didn’t look like himself.
“To be honest, my back is feeling pretty good now.,” he said. “I don’t feel anything uncomfortable in there. I was already working out. I had a couple moments where it was a little tight, but nothing real serious, so it’s doing really good."
When the Flyers missed out on landing Shea Weber when their offer sheet was matched last month by Nashville, general manager Paul Holmgren was able to take solace and lean on the fact that he still had a solid stable of veteran defensemen on the roster.
That stable was reduced by one Tuesday.
The Flyers announced that Andrej Meszaros, a Barry Ashbee Award winner as the Flyers best defenseman in 2010-11, underwent surgery after tearing his right Achilles tendon during a recent training session.
The Flyers are saying the injury will sideline Meszaros indefinitely. They won’t set a time table because Achilles’ tendon injuries are tricky.
Some take a lot longer than others to recover, depending on the severity of the injury.
Philadelphia fans are familiar with the injury because of how long it took Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard to return from his ruptured Achilles.
However, former Flyer Justin Williams, tore his Achilles in training camp when he played for Carolina and returned in 14 weeks.
“I think we’ll have a better idea in six weeks once we see how things are progressing,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “We‘ll see how it goes over the next six weeks.”
Meszaros averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game for the Flyers in each of the past two seasons.
In the meantime, the Flyers will have to decide whether to stay the course with young players already in their system or to pursue another NHL-tested veteran who may remain available in free agency or pursue a trade.
“We’ll see what the rest of the summer brings,” Holmgren said. “We do have some salary cap space. Having said that, we have some kids that we like who got their feet wet last year, so we’ll see.”
People who like to read between the lines can interpret that as meaning that Holmgren will look into replacing Meszaros with a veteran defenseman. However, don’t expect him to push the panic button on that front. He will only add a player if it makes sense financially and logistically for the team.
Either way, the loss of Meszaros will be felt right from the jump in training camp.
“He’s a very offensive player who is good defensively,” said Scott Hartnell. “It’s going to be tough when you lose anyone. With our best defenseman [Chris] Pronger being out, it’s going to leave us a little shorthanded.”
There have been plenty of them over the years who have stuck in the craw of many Flyers and their fans.
In the 80s it was Dale Hunter in Washington. In the 90s it was Matthew Barnaby in Buffalo. In the 2000s it was Sean Avery – wherever he played and now it’s Brad Marchand in Boston.
Smallish players who have an ability to make your skin crawl with the way they play the game on the ice – toeing the line between dirty play and merely being a pest, it is these sandpaper types whose job it is to get the opposing players off their game.
The players find them annoying. The fans have so much venom, they’d prefer that each cretin be drawn and quartered – live on the JumboTron.
But now it appears the Flyers are grooming one of their own.
That’s because their top prospect is a kid with an edge. A mouthy little guy unafraid of retribution who also has an ability to score.
Meet Nick Cousins, the next great Flyers agitator.
“I’ve watched him play a bunch of times in the last year and I really like him because he reminds me of me,” said Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere. “He’s got more skill, but we play a similar type of game where he gets under your skin and draws a lot of attention on himself and handles it well. You need that on your team.”
And there’s a chance it won’t be long until we see Cousins on the Flyers.
The odds are pretty good that Cousins, 19, will be sent back to juniors following training camp, but he’s definitely a guy the Flyers brass is going to keep an eye on as well.
Originally a third round pick by the Flyers in the 2011 draft, Cousins blossomed last season by posting 88 points for the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in just 65 games. He also added 88 penalty minutes, evidence of that two-tiered approach to his game.
“Yeah, it’s part of my game, I’m not going to hide from it,” Cousins said about being a provocateur. “It’s the way I’ve always played – ever since I was little. I like to talk a lot out there and sometimes people don’t like to hear what I have to say.”
A sheepish grin immediately followed, letting you know Cousins doesn’t just yap as an emotional reaction, but very likely in a more calculated fashion.
It is this pre-meditated approach to hockey that makes him such a high-end prospect, but it has also gotten him on the wrong end of an opponent’s fury.
Last November, while playing the Greyhounds, Cousins’ team had just completed a thrilling 4-3 win over their rival London Knights in London.
As the horn sounded, rather than celebrate with his team, Cousins shut the puck into the empty net at the other end of the ice and then raised his arms in celebration after the puck went in.
Knights defenseman Ryan Rupert didn’t take too kindly to this act of showmanship and slashed Cousins in the stomach as he skated by. It earned Rupert a 20-game suspension, but more so than that, furthered Cousins already sizeable reputation as an agitator extraordinaire.
“Nick will get under your skin,” teammate Ryan Sproul told the London Free Press. “He’s the kind of guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against.
“You talk to guys and they say they can’t stand him, but he’s our best player and we're going to stand behind him.”
It’s because of this style of game that Cousins will likely draw attention to himself once training camp opens in September.
The Flyers faithful will love his spunk and spirit, and call for him to make the team as that loveable louse.
The media will gush all over about him, clamoring for him to make the team as the needed salt to rub in to the opponent’s wounds.
And while the impatience is there for everyone – Cousins included – he knows where he stands right now.
“You just try to block all that out,” he said. “If you put too much pressure on yourself you don’t play your style of game. You can get carried away with all the media hype, but coming in here I block that stuff out and do what got me here.
“My mindset going into camp is to do what I do best and be the player I am. Work hard, play my game and go in there with nothing to lose. If they keep me, great. If they send me back to junior, I do that for another year and try again next year.”
As for the anticipation of one day making it to the big club…
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Hopefully I have a future with this organization. I want things to fast forward a little bit, but I have to be patient and the Flyers have to be patient with my development. They’re not going to rush anything, neither am I and hopefully my time will come.”
Well, that didn’t take long.
One day after general manager Paul Holmgren stated the Flyers were “moving on” after being unsuccessful with someone else’s restricted free agent, they re-signed one of their own.
Jake Voracek, 22, signed a four-year contract with the Flyers worth $17 million. The annual cap hit will be $4.25 million for the team.
"We are happy to have Jake under contract and look forward to him being a big part of our future," general manager Paul Holmgren said in a statement.
Holmgren said Wednesday that it was “only a matter of time” before Voracek signed. If there were an Olympic event for quantifying intentionally vague timetables, Holmgren would be a gold medal favorite.
All kidding aside, the signing of Voracek was important for the Flyers. Having lost Jaromir Jagr to free agency in the offseason, it was important to have his Czech countryman sign a new deal to replace the legendary winger on the Flyers top line.
Voracek, who set a career high with 18 goals in his first season with the Flyers and missed matching his career best in points by just one tally (49 points), is expected to play big minutes skating with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
“Obviously the season is long,” Voracek said. “I am very happy that the Flyers gave me an opportunity to play on a top line with [Claude Giroux] and [Scott Hartnell]. Like I said you never know what happens during the season. I just have to work hard and hopefully we are going to play great together. It is going to be up to [Peter Laviolette] what he is going to do with the lines. I am sure it is something good."
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The Flyers are hoping for something good from Voracek, who will be counted on to continue to improve from last season.
Voracek was always considered to be a top-tier prospect – which is why he was drafted with the seventh pick in the 2007 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Having missed just nine games in his four seasons in the NHL, Voracek has had three very consistent years. However the Flyers are expecting him to take the next step now that he’ll be playing with Giroux.
Part of that will mean Voracek will have to improve his shot – as he’ll be expected to better his 18-goal total.
“I always say my shot isn't bad,” he said. “I think I have a good shot and a heavy shot. My accuracy isn't as good as it could be and I miss the net a lot when I am shooting. If I can hit the net more often, I think more goals are going to go in and the more points are going to come in. We will see... I am working on it. I still have two months to work on it and we will see what happens.”
Voracek is working out again in Montreal, something he did last summer with positive results, so he’s back at it again.
All the while he’s been in touch with Jagr, who was his boyhood idol. Voracek said he was hoping Jagr would come back to Philadelphia, but understands why he picked Dallas. Voracek said that Jagr was a great influence on him in his young career.
“To be around him all year long and to watch what he does before the games, after games and during practice was something priceless,” Voracek said. “It is good where he is at right now. He obviously helped me a lot and to be around him, I thank him for that and wish him the best of luck."
Now that this move is complete, the Flyers are approximately $8.5 million below the salary cap, which leaves them a little more wiggle room to modify the roster, if necessary.
VOORHEES, N.J. – Matt Mangene could have let the frustration get to him.
Limping around at the end of the Flyers prospect camp a couple weeks ago in a walking boot, favoring a foot injury he suffered when he blocked a shot in practice, Mangene was unable to participate in either scrimmage during the last two days of camp that took place in front of standing-room-only crowds at the Virtua Skate Zone.
But, rather than let it bother him, Mangene took the injury in stride and pointed out the positives from the week – his first camp as a professional athlete.
“It was a great time,” he said. “It was my first time meeting all the guys and my first time really being a part of the Flyers organization (he did play sparingly in five games at the end of last season for the Adirondack Phantoms). It’s a great organization. They make it fun and exciting to come to the rink every day and I’m really excited to be part of it.”
So much so that Mangene, who grew up as a fan of teams whose followers generally hate Philadelphia, passed up an opportunity to play for his childhood hero to sign with the Flyers.
A native of Manorville, N.Y., which is located on Long Island and not too far from The Nassau Colesium, Mangene, 23, kept a cursory interest in the Islanders, but because of how his home team struggled, chose to root for the Boston Bruins instead. His favorite player was Bruins legend Cam Neely. It was also the first hockey jersey he ever owned.
Which made it even harder for Mangene to turn aside an offer from Neely, the President of the Bruins, who wanted to sign Mangene last March upon the conclusion of the speedy winger’s junior season at the University of Maine.
“It was really cool to meet him in person and be sitting there in his office,” Mangene said. “And while I was grateful for the Bruins interest, I just felt that coming to Philadelphia would be a better fit for me.”
So instead, he signed a two-year deal with the Flyers, and is expected to be a top six forward for the Phantoms this season – with an outside shot at procuring one of the final roster spots on the big club – if he impresses in training camp in September.
The likely scenario is Mangene becomes a guy the Flyers use as a call up when there is an injury, but he understands there is an opportunity for him to show that he can be more than that.
“My goal is to play up here (with the Flyers) and to help out the team in any way, shape or form,” Mangene said. “I wanted to start as early as I could this summer and keep working as hard as I can to get a leg up.”
Mangene is nicknamed "Red" after his grandfather Robert "Red" Mangene, a smallish halfback for Boston College in the 1940s who made his bones by being a speed back as opposed to a bruising, between the tackles type of runner.
The Flyers like Mangene’s skating ability, which has become the buzzword around the NHL in recent seasons. Speed seems to supersede any other skill set or intangible in the game in today’s game, and that’s certainly Mangene’s calling card.
Continuing a tradition began in recent years under the guidance of new director of player development Ian Laperriere, Mangene has decided to stay in the Philadelphia area for the entire summer and work out with the Flyers training staff and keep his face around the practice facility.
Mangene is sharing a condo with Tye McGinn and Brandon Manning, two other prospects, and aside from training, he hopes to get back to his roots a little bit having access to a big city – like Philadelphia – after being holed up in a small town in Maine for the past three years.
But more than anything, if he treats the time here in the summer as a time to work hard toward his goal, he might be able to make that wanted impression once camp rolls around.
“Those guys who stay, they get into better shape than the guys who go home, so maybe they look a little faster and a little stronger in training camp,” Laperriere said. “It doesn’t mean anything when compared to a veteran player – because you know the guy who has been around is going to be O.K., but looking at one young player with another, sometimes that extra work, that boost in confidence from being here all summer, that familiarity with the way things are done could put you a step or two in front of other guys of the same skill level.”
And that’s the chance Mangene is betting on right now.
To contact Anthony J. SanFilippo, email email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37