Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Philadelphia Flyers

Long-Term Gain From All The Pain

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
After Bob Clarke and Ken Hitchcock get through the lengthy list of surgeries involving Flyers players that would overwhelm the staff of Grey's Anatomy, they are already looking forward to next season.

Clarke expects captain Keith Primeau back. With Peter Forsberg sidelined until January with foot repairs, the Flyers will need a center of Primeau's stature. He played in just nine games this season following a concussion.

"I'm pretty sure Primeau will be back," Clarke, the Flyers' general manager, said.

Said Hitchcock, the Flyers' head coach: "Talking to Keith, he feels really good. (But) he'll have to go through training camp and get banged around in exhibition games before you can declare that he's a ready player."

While Hitchcock is still trying to get over losing to Buffalo in the opening round of the playoffs, he said, "I'm really eager for next season. A lot of it is based on our younger players. When you have six or seven really good young players, it's hard not to be excited."

When "Hitch" reviews this season, he sees it developing in stages.

"Our season started out with unbelievable promise," he said. "Then it became a season of survival. I thought, overall, our players did a heckuva job surviving. It became a season of constant adjustments. That sometimes is wearing on you."

While Hitchcock has been coaching for a long time, he is still learning.

"Looking back, one of the things that I, as a coach, should have done different was pre-prepare our team for something like that to happen," he said. "Kind of `no excuses.' I think maybe we would have handled it a little better.

"A lot of times, the media's focus is who's out, not who's in. Sometimes that became our focus a little too much. Maybe we could have done a better job of surviving it if our focus would have been who's in and not who's out."

Hitchcock believes that all the injuries sustained by the Flyers this season will have some positive effect on the team next season.

"Sometimes when you go through (all the injuries) it does make you stronger," he said. "It gave us an opportunity to really extend the responsibilities of a lot of our younger players. It (became) short-term pain for long-term gain. I think our long-term gain from this is going to be terrific."

There's no question that the Flyers have quality young players in Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger and Joni Pitkanen. However, they all went through tough times in the Buffalo series. Umberger was the only one of the four to score a goal. Richards had just one assist, Pitkanen had two assists while Carter was scoreless. Despite these disappointing stats, Hitchcock sees bright futures ahead for the players.

"I thought they really held their own (and) did an excellent job of competing," he said. "Offensively, they were challenged, like the majority of our team. (But) that experience of going through that type of playoff series will really enhance their careers.

"There's a saying in our business: one playoff game is like 20 league games. They went through six of them at a pretty high level. The coaching staff really trusted all the younger players. There's an awful good feeling coming into next year on the ability for our young players to play in any situation."

Referring to Richards and Carter, Clarke said, "They've been in big series' before. The world juniors was as high as you could get for players of that age. They were stars there. They were stars in the American Hockey League.

"This is the fastest the game has ever been played because of the lack of resistance that's allowed. That speed may have caught them a little by surprise, but they wouldn't be any more surprised than anybody else. Nobody really knew until it got going (how the games would be played)."

The Flyers clearly have a need for more speed, especially on defense. Under the new NHL rules, defensive rearguards must be paired with swift skaters.

"With a reasonably healthy lineup," Hitchcock said, "we would like to go back to the way we played in the first 40 games: a more aggressive forecheck at a much faster pace. In the second 40, we had to pull back quite a bit because of the personnel that was available to us.

"To me, the major percentage in quickness and speed is puck movement. We want to be a team that moves the puck quickly and gets into attack mode quickly. That's what we were for the first half of the season."

Said Clarke: "We've got a fair amount of speed. We need more speed on our defense. Also, we've got to change the style of game we play. The teams that are showing so much speed are ones that don't play a stop-and-go game. They just keep in motion."

That continual motion, combined with the rules that limit checking, are leading to a playing style that pleases many fans but worries Clarke.

"There's no resistance (against) a player going at a high speed," he said. "The freedom for the players to move around the ice is so great that when they're hitting, they're hitting at a really high level. If the player is against the boards, there's a chance he's going to be hurt. If he's on open ice, he's usually moving, too, so the collision becomes even worse. There's less hitting, but more violent hits.

"The thing you worry about is, how many players are they eliminating from your team by the rules? Players were trained in the way the game was played, up until this year. All of a sudden, it's a changed game and some of the players won't be able to change. There are players now that are stars, or close to being stars, that nobody wanted two years ago."

Two years ago, the Flyers were within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. This season, following the lockout, they fizzled in the first round. Both Clarke and Hitchcock know that in pro sports, the bottom line is: what have you done for us lately?

Recognizable teams missing

No one at NHL headquarters will ever say it, but they can't be happy about not having teams from Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Toronto or Montreal still involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Devoted hockey fans will watch the playoffs regardless of which teams are playing. But there aren't enough of those fans to boost television ratings.

The NHL needs general sports fans to tune in to increase the TV numbers. These fans know a little about the Flyers, Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Canadiens. However, when fans sitting in sports bars see Buffalo, Carolina or Anaheim on the TV sets, most will shrug and say, "Who are these guys?"

Mr. Stanley Cup

When your name is Stanley Cup and you're a hockey fan, good things happen.

Stanley Cup, 57, is a steel mill worker from Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. He is serving as the OLN network's ambassador during the playoffs.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing the Stanley Cup in person," the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins fan told the New York Times. "To be able to hold it would just be unbelievable."

Said his wife, Sandra, "It's true, not too many people can say they held the Stanley Cup. But I get to hold him every night."

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
View More