Saturday, February 28, 2015

Timonen's NHL comeback to be a reality...but in Chicago.

After days of taking a pounding from social media over his perceived lack of initiative as Monday's trade deadline approached, Ron Hextall did something in the real world to quiet the online riot.

More importantly, he pulled off a cap-widening move which will aid whatever plans he has in the works for reshaping this claustrophobic roster in his image.

During the Friday night news dump, and just over 24 hours until his suspected return to the lineup against the New York Rangers following full clearance from multiple blood clots, Kimmo Timonen was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for two draft picks: a second-rounder in this June's draft and a conditional pick next year.

"When you can get this type of a return and put Kimmo in a spot where he's on one of the top teams, it works for both sides. If he wouldn’t have been amicable to being traded, we wouldn’t have traded him. He meant too much to this organization," said Ron Hextall upon the revelation.

Only a day earlier, Timonen publicly pronounced that he was ready to return to the lineup provided the Flyers would want him to. That might have been feasible had the club continued its surprising February run which included an 8-1-4 stretch from Jan. 20 through last weekend that pulled them within four points of struggling Boston for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

But with losses to Carolina and Toronto on the road this week killing that momentum and perhaps proving once and for all that Hextall's proclaimed faith in the lineup, it most likely will not hold through the rigors of a playoff run, he decided to cash in his biggest chip.

It's deeply ironic because Timonen hasn't played since last April 30 and no one else on the blue line is either performing well enough to draw that kind of interest or their contract is too unwieldy to lure in a sucker. Of course, things can and will change in the next 64 hours.

"This is a special player. The return is a fair return. It's fair for Chicago, it's fair for us," Hextall added.

That return removed doubts and quelled fears that Hextall might be boxed into another patchwork roster move to accommodate Timonen by getting rid of a body, say if little-used Carlo Colaiacovo were placed on waivers and taken by another team.

The Blackhawks face a long uphill climb against Western Conference foes Nashville, St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose and Vancouver without the services of star forward Patrick Kane until May. An unproven, almost 40-year-old Timonen who has been out of service for this long will surely have more value in the dressing room than out on the ice.

And Stan Bowman decided to pay a steep price for that kind of protection. A man with two Stanley Cups to his credit as an executive can't be seen as being totally played in this instance. There must be some good reason in his own grand scheme to sacrifice picks for one body.

Amazingly, Braydon Coburn remains the longest-serving member of the Flyers' defensive corps, having arrived here on February 24, 2007. Timonen will depart Philadelphia after being the second-longest served, ranking third all-time in points (270), ninth in games (519), third in assists (232) and tied for eighth in goals (38) since arriving in the Summer of 2007. He also ranks fifth among all team defensemen for most playoff points with 35.

"I want to thank the Flyers organization as well as the great flyers fans for their support over the last 8 years. It's been a great ride!" said Timonen through his Twitter account on Friday night.

Thus, there will be no Frank Bathe-like honors or Mark Howe-like heralded return in Orange and Black for the Finnish native, who was a five-time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner and three-time defending honoree (2008-09, 2012-14).

“I worked out really hard and the goal was to get into the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup,” Timonen said during a conference call. “It gets down to three-four weeks ago when the Flyers were [13] points out of the playoffs and we started having discussions.

"I couldn’t get my mind off the Blackhawks. “That team has such a good tone. I’m really excited about joining the Chicago team. Obviously, it’s a great organization, great team, great players. And it’s been a tough couple of days.  I like their game … they’re a puck possession team. And that’s my game. I like making plays. I like to hang onto it and get that first pass. That’s my game.”

According to multiple sources, Timonen is expected to join Chicago tomorrow and practice on Sunday. The Blackhawks play in Carolina on Monday. That means, to the chagrin of thousands of fans young and old, that, unless there's some element of surprise during Saturday night's game, there will be no immediate chance for the fan base to celebrate Timonen's accomplishments for their team. 

The Blackhawks do come to Philly on March 25 to complete a two-game season series.

“The only thing missing from my hockey career is a Stanley Cup,” he said. “That was the only goal for which I’d return to hockey. It wasn’t money. Nothing else was missing.”

Although Timonen did not reveal those thoughts publicly at any time as his recovery inched him closer to the ice, how difficult and sensitive a situation must it have been for the loyal warrior to work so hard to get into shape and then be told he held no more value to the franchise? Nobody would have blamed him for refusing and possibly impeding Hextall's progress.

But in a display which should put the Flyers' hierarchy on notice, it's apparently loyalty without blindness for Timonen. He obviously recognized that his returning to the ice wasn't going to salvage this season to match his one final hurdle in a distinguished North American career.

He'll be the oldest by far on Chicago's rearguard. Michal Rozsival had held that distinction at age 36, while Johnny Oduya and Duncan Keith are both north of 30. This is the role a man entering his fifth decade of life should be playing at this stage of his life -- not the Deus ex Machina for a crumbling defense on a team which can't get out of its own way.

For Hextall, even with this stroke of brilliance, he still falls lockstep into the tradition of Flyers GMs who constantly preach, in monotone, about getting the best value for the organization while finding a favored trading partner far afield from its own sphere of influence.

You don't think Timonen was coveted by the Islanders, needed by the Bruins and fussed over by Florida at one point? No fellow general manager in division or conference with a hope of maintaining playoff position would allow a deal to take place no matter the theoretical yield. Perhaps this is a step towards building up a rapport with a primary mover in the West which has apparently died with former popular trading chum Nashville.

In the end, it seems to be a rare win-win on the business end, despite some hand wringing and tears in certain quarters of the people pleasing end. But this seems to be the best we can get in South Philadelphia during this drag of a season, so let's dwell on the positives, one step towards a better future -- for the man in charge and the man in someone else's plans now.

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