VOORHEES, N.J. – If the Flyers are trying to get younger, why did they bring in 36-year-old free-agent defenseman Marc Staal?
Well, with veteran D-man Justin Braun calling it a career and experienced backliners Ivan Provorov and Tony DeAngelo headed for ports west and south, somebody had to be hired to serve as mentor to a lot of youth on Philadelphia’s back line.
Staal, who played for current coach John Tortorella when the two were on those contending New York Rangers teams over a decade ago, decided to give it a shot with the Flyers (one year, $1.1 million).
He’s played in the NHL a long time but he still plays at a high level. He was even one of the top defensemen on a surprise Florida Panthers team which made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
Staal and “Torts” shared a few laughs over the latest reunion when the two hit the ice at the Flyers Training Center on Thursday for the opening day of training camp.
“He said ‘I can’t believe you’re still doing laps’ and me neither,” Staal said with a grin after the morning workout. “It’s a good skate. It’s more of a mental challenge. It’s physical, too. Everyone gets through it. It’s good to get started.
“I’m just looking at it as a way I can help and be a part of something where you’re growing it. With Torts and knowing what’s expected of me, it just checks a lot of boxes for me. I’m excited to compete again and come to an organization that has a ton of history and passion. Getting back into that type of environment is exciting for me.”
The Flyers are watching closely to see if Staal can have a positive influence on a strong prospect such as Cam York, who eventually could be in a top pairing.
“The first couple weeks here I’m kind of just getting to know them (the young group),” Staal said. “Once you get into camp and games, those types of things (dialogue) come about.
“He (York) has got a lot of skill, he’s quick. His head is always up, he’s looking to make plays. I’m excited to get out and just compete with him in practice, help with any questions he has. He’s got a bright future in front of him for sure.”
In a way, Staal will kind of be an assistant coach for Tortorella.
“He holds everyone accountable,” Staal pointed out. “I’ve played for a lot of coaches, he goes about it a different way sometimes. But the message is the same: You need to compete, you need to work and work as a team for the team.”
Tortorella had good things to say about Staal as well.
“I’ve known him for so long,” the coach said. “I laughed out there on the ice after. Staal and I have been doing laps together for quite a few years going back to the Ranger days. We just looked at one another.
“He’s going to be a mentor. He’s going to be an offshoot of the coaching staff. Let’s face it, our back end – ‘Provy’ is gone, Tony is gone, “Brauner’ is gone – it’s a very young back end. Marc Staal is going to play a major role with them (kids) even if Marc isn’t playing some games during the year. As I stated to him, he’s not going to get in the way of the kids. There are going to be some nights he’s not going to play. But he’s going to be just as important those nights that he’s not playing. He’s a great pro. It’s a huge asset just to have him around the locker room.”