Monday, August 06, 2012

Treading fateful waters in the Flyers' captainsea

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Despite what Paul Holmgren said months back, Chris Pronger's career is pretty much over, and like clockwork in South Philadelphia, that means it's another go-round endlessly dissecting who should serve as Flyers captain next season.

Whoever receives the mantle, he will be the seventh person to hold the title in the eight seasons since the last lockout. If it looks like a carnival ride and moves like a carnival ride...

I can't imagine anyone who steps forward to plunge into leadership waters will do so by boldly baiting the Ancient (Maine) Mariner, instead opting to slide into the shallow end with floaties and holding their nose while slipping off the low-dive board. Neptune must have his respect, Flying P or not.

This brave soul will encounter waters rougher than the Na Pali Coast, trickier than Hell Gate, more perilous than the Aegean, all for the trouble of one little letter sewed onto their left pectoral.

Given the misfortune that has swept through the ranks over the last, um, two decades, it's important to ask why any Flyer would want to be named captain.

A quick recap of the mayhem:

Chris Pronger (2011-12): Facial injuries, concussion suffered as a result of premature return from freak accident last October derailed his career at age 38, less than a month into on-ice captaincy.

Mike Richards (2008-11): After a brilliant 2010 playoff run which apparently cemented his legacy in the Bobby Clarke mold, he was shockingly dealt to Los Angeles last June in an attempt to alter team chemistry for the better. Won Cup this past June.

Jason Smith (2007-08): Acquired by Flyers from Edmonton after their worst-ever season...performed capably in the lead role, but not re-signed after it was known that he wanted to test free agent market.

Peter Forsberg (2006-07): Less than one season into his captaincy, injuries and Philly's slump to the bottom of the standings made him perfect trade bait, landing in Nashville less than two seasons after Flyers signed him from Colorado.

Derian Hatcher (2006): Pressed into service after Keith Primeau's career was ended by repeated concussions, his last game as the C-bearer was a 7-1 home loss to Buffalo in Game 6 of the opening round. Career ended due to repeated knee injuries.

Primeau (2001-06): The end of his tenure was marked by a dominant playoff year ending abruptly (2004), the lockout (2004-05), and the wrong end of an Alexander Perezhogin hit in Montreal in October of 2005.

Eric Desjardins (2000-01): Handed the captaincy in the middle of the Lindros/Clarke mess, the transfer of the title was memorably displayed on national TV at the end of the 1999-2000 season. Gave up role a year later, citing in English and en Francais how uncomfortable the task made him.

Eric Lindros (1994-00): Given the captaincy at the tender age of 21, before his third NHL season...which was delayed 3 1/2 months due to first lockout. The ending, well, we all know that so no reason to re-hash.

Kevin Dineen (1993-94): Assumed the role as mentor to Lindros, only to see his numbers dip from 35 goals to 19, games played from 83 to 71 -- a slide which would continue for several years, into his return to Hartford.

No man (1992-93): The only time this has occurred in Flyers history. In Bill Dineen's lone full season at the controls, there was no captain named in Lindros' first NHL campaign.

Rick Tocchet (1991-92): The cream of the crop from the young kids brought along by Mike Keenan, Tocchet came off a 40-goal season ready to assume greater responsibility. But it blew up in his face as Philly slid further into oblivion, and Tocchet (with 29 points in 42 games) was dealt in February to the Penguins, going on to win the Cup that June.

Ron Sutter (1989-91): Then-head coach Holmgren wanted to pass the mantle onto the kids brought up in the Keenan era as his current team struggled, and Sutter was the logical choice -- continuing in the vein of his older brothers Brian and Darryl. But Sutter was dealt to St. Louis less than two years in, netting permanent emergency (but never full) captain Rod Brind'Amour.

Dave Poulin (1984-89): Hand-picked by Clarke at age 25, Poulin was the victim of the club's wildly inconsistent play in the 1989-90 season. He was stripped of the captaincy in December of 1989, and traded to Boston a month later -- where he made the Cup Finals that Spring.

Let's not forget how both Simon Gagne and Danny Briere practically ran in the other direction in the 2008 offseason when offered the chance to take the "C" after it was known Smith would not return. Recriminations festered, accusations bubbled to the surface, but you have to admit they were onto something.

As far as the likely candidates go, instead of a conversation on why or why not the captaincy would suit them, how about we think about what would eventually happen if these poor suckers appeared on opening night wearing that crookedest of all crooked letters:

Kimmo Timonen: Anaphylactic shock resulting from bad shrimp on a cross-country flight from St. Louis to Phoenix. Ended up in the hospital looking like Ken Griffey, Jr. from the softball-themed episode of The Simpsons.

Claude Giroux: Drowning, then freezing. He'll be knocked unconscious by the Zamboni at the WFC, then laid out between layers of the new rink, being permanently embedded beneath center ice like the dude in the NHL Center Ice commercials.

Scott Hartnell: Coma induced by malfunction of air-flow hair-cutting system. Strapped to a stretcher and laid into the slot, scores the Cup-winning goal when the puck deflects off his face and into the net.

Max Talbot: Gunned down on the streets of Detroit in a revenge killing, even though Flyers don't play there this year.

Ian Laperriere: He won the Masterton Trophy without having returned as a player, so why not? Accidentally run through the torso in a bizarre stick-sharpening incident in the locker room minutes after being named captain.

In all seriousness, another crack in the armor of this franchise is showing in embarrassing fashion. There have been complaints of a revolving door with the coaches, a goalie carousel, now what are we going to call this instability in leadership?

The Flyers haven't exactly been looking at the big picture when it comes to the captaincy, now stuck between a bumper crop of new talent too young to take the next step, and veterans who are either skating on their last legs or potential trade bait should the team not rise to expectations.

Shea Weber could have filled that void nicely, brought here in the prime of his career with contract terms long enough where getting rid of him could prove difficult. But he's "gone" back to Nashville, and never really here in the first place.

Whatever the choice, Holmgren has to tie himself to the mast and avoid at all costs the desire to dump that person at the first sign of quick reward. Otherwise, the odyssey to fill that void will be stuck on endless repeat.

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