Ex-Flyers give local fans a rooting interest in playoffs

Craig Berube

If your favorite hockey team isn’t in the Stanley Cup playoffs, probably the next best rooting interest would be players and coaches who once performed for your favorite hockey team.

In the case of the Flyers, there is plenty to choose from.

Two coach-player tandems just right out at you.

In St. Louis, former Flyer forward Brayden Schenn and his coach, Craig Berube (who still maintains a residence in Bucks County), have been giving the favored Winnipeg Jets all they can handle in the opening round.

Schenn was sent packing in a 2017 trade which did net prospect Morgan Frost (a first-round draft pick) but also included the ill-fated Jori Lehtera.

Berube spent much of his 18-year playing career with the Flyers and then coached the team from 2013-15.

Meanwhile, down in Carolina, coach Rod Brind’Amour is bringing out the best in goaltender Petr Mrazek, who never really had a chance to prove himself in the City of Brotherly Love.

In fairness, Mrazek is playing much better with the Hurricanes than he ever did around here. And Brind’Amour was always considered a highly intelligent player, which helps explain why he’s accomplished what he has so quickly.

All the ‘Canes have to do is walk past the gym and see “Rod the Bod’’ working out to draw first-hand inspiration for their training regimen.

And let’s not forget perhaps the biggest surprise of all, that being what ex-Flyer goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky just pulled off with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“Bob,’’ who had never won a playoff series with the Jackets since leaving the Flyers, sure made his initial success a big one, as the Jackets swept the seemingly unbeatable Tampa Bay Lightning (a record-tying 62 wins) in four straight.

Bobrovsky showed a lot of early promise with the Flyers but was caught up in a competition with fellow Russian netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. There were people in the Flyers’ front office who apparently thought Bryzgalov had more potential.

Looking back, that obviously was a poor assessment. Bryzgalov never fulfilled that promise and the Flyers had to buy out what was left of a nine-year, $51-million contract. They will be mailing annual checks of about $1.6 million for another eight years.

Meanwhile, Bobrovsky has won the Vezina Trophy twice with the Blue Jackets and, with the possibility of becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has timed this playoff success perfectly.

There are other ex-Flyers who are standing out in this postseason as well.

Justin Williams repeatedly makes the Flyers wish they had never unloaded him and, at 37, functions at a high level as captain of the Hurricanes.

Perhaps even more impressive has been the work of ex-Flyer forward Val Filppula with the New York Islanders.

Filppula played a big part in the Islanders’ eye-opening four-game dismantling of the former two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Finn had a similar role with some great Detroit Red Wing teams but for some reason really never made a big impact in his limited time with the Flyers.

Oh, and in Nashville, keep an eye on coach Peter Laviolette (who took the Flyers to the Cup Final in ’10) and former forward Wayne Simmonds, who is playing a valuable utility role.

Yes, all this is second-guessing, a whole bunch of “what ifs.’’ But it’s sure makes for a lot of fun around the Monday morning water cooler, especially with the Flyers working on their fourth coach and third general manager in the last seven years.

>Fixing those slow starts

It’s no secret the Flyers were chasing games last season.

How about falling behind 1-0 in 50 games?

Or 2-0 in 32 of those?

The Flyers won only four of the 32 contests, so obviously something has to be done to rectify the situation.

That little matter popped up in Thursday’s press conference to introduce new coach Alain Vigneault.

Vigneault put some of the onus on the players for fixing the problem, which makes perfect sense.

“Let’s not shy away from the players’ responsibility in this,’’ he said. “It is their responsibility to get themselves in that mental state, that mental zone where you go out on the ice and you execute, you perform and you compete.

“I’m going to make sure that each and every one of our players understands his part in this. I and my staff are going to do our part as far as giving them the information that they need for the upcoming opponent and what they need to do to have success as a team against that opponent.’’

>Top potential free agents

It’s only April, so the July 1 start of the free-agent signing period seems quite a distance away.

Still, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher is already answering questions about what type of player (or position) he might be looking for, given he has a potential $15 million or so in salary cap space available.

The list of top forwards includes Columbus left wing Artemi Panarin, Buffalo center Jeff Skinner and San Jose right wing Joe Pavelski.

On defense, one name jumps out at you: Erik Karlsson, although he’s sure to come with a hefty price tag.

From this corner, we suggest the Flyers take a look at Columbus center Matt Duchene, New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee and even Williams (Carolina) if he doesn’t retire.

In goal, the Flyers already appear set with rookie Carter Hart. But remember, both Brian Elliott and Cam Talbot are free agents. There’s a good chance Fletcher will sign one of them but right now that looks like a coin flip.

Wayne Fish
About Wayne Fish 673 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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