By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE – It should have been the best of times for the Philadelphia Flyers – at least as far as offseasons go. They had a new general manager, albeit with old ties to the team, espousing a new and refreshing approach to building a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that was potentially going to be buoyed by the NHL entry draft being in town June 27-28.
Instead, with an “eh” draft followed by underwhelming signings at the start of free agency on July 1, it has been just a shade too boring to be the worst of times.
Case in point: The biggest story coming out of Flyerville was that Claude Giroux, the team captain, raised some maturity red flags while celebrating Canada Day (re: excuse to drink Moosehead and sing Rush songs) by “repeatedly grabbing the buttocks” of a male police officer.
Not exactly a blockbuster trade or free-agent signing of someone who can actually skate and chew gum at the same time. But deeper issues bubbled to the surface.
Last offseason, Giroux suffered a serious hand injury – one that clearly hampered his effectiveness well into the season – while golfing with teammate Jason Akeson. The incident was spun that Akeson’s heroic actions may have saved Giroux’s hand, but one wonders if it was the byproduct of more immaturity enhanced by the Moose being on the loose.
It is all supposition, and perhaps unfair to let imaginations run wild, but Giroux opened himself up to the gauntlet of perceived scenarios with his “ill-advised attempt at humor” that will now make him the “butt” of jokes in enemy rinks.
And the saddest part of the whole ordeal is that this story, which may or may not become a post-script to another season that puts him in the conversation for the Hart Trophy (MVP), is the only one that has any discussion-worthy legs from the draft until the present.
To be fair, GM Ron Hextall did reportedly go hard after the No. 1 overall pick in attempt to make a hometown splash, but one wonders if this was the case of the fat kid attempting a belly-flop in the baby pool before being flagged by the lifeguard.
Why not move up from No. 17 to somewhere in the Top 10, not No. 1, and not give up as much?
All – or nothing at all – seemed a little shortsighted in a draft that lacked the depth of last year, or next.
It still seemed like the Flyers would get a hometown bounce with the likes of Kasperi Kapanen, Alex Tuch and a pair of Russian-born snipers – Nikita Scherbak and Nikolai Goldobin – still on the board when their turn came.
Instead, in a move that has Flyer DNA all over it, they selected a tall Canadian-born defenseman – Travis Sanheim – higher than he was slotted in most scouting reports.
If they had tunnel-visioned themselves just to Sanheim, who just so happens to be distantly related to Hextall, why not trade back a few picks and pick up the fourth-rounder they didn’t have?
The tone was set for yet another draft class with more questions than a presidential press conference.
The second round pick, winger Nicholas Aube-Kubel, is saddled with a boom-or-bust tag by scouts – although the Flyers did take him about where he was rated, which is somewhat refreshing.
For the second straight year, they made up for not having a fourth-round pick by reaching in the third for defenseman Mark Friedman, who is still an upgrade over goon-in-waiting Tyrell Goulbourne (taken while Danish scoring machine Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had 50 goals and 109 points in juniors last season, was still on the board in the third round a year back).
After the vacated fourth, they finally went more international with their best value pick, Swedish winger Oskar Lindbloom, in the fifth round. They added a Russian-born center playing junior hockey on the same team as Sanheim, Radel Fazleev, in the sixth round. They then went very un-Flyeresque and an added an undersized (5-8) Swedish defenseman, Jesper Petersson, in the seventh.
The only explanation was that no one was related to someone in the front office (Nick Luuko, the son of former executive, Peter Luuko, was tabbed in the sixth round a few years ago and remains more suspect than prospect).
Who knew, at the time, that the final three picks of the draft – along with extending the contract of Brayden Schenn – would highlight an offseason lowlighted by Giroux’s Canada Day folly?
On July 1, the Flyers brought back Ray Emery to back up Steve Mason in net.
Then came July 2, which was the most active day for Hextall. Akeson, seemingly the Darren Ruf of the organization, was signed to a two-way deal, pretty much sealing his fate as the big fish in the small Lehigh Valley pond when the AHL Phantoms skate closer to home.
Tye McGinn, who should have earned a fair shot at a roster spot on a scoring line after Scott Hartnell was swapped for checking winger R.J. Umberger, was instead shipped to San Jose for the third-round pick. Journeyman defenseman Nick Schultz was brought in as the seventh defenseman to replace last year’s Ruf Award winner, Erik Gustafsson.
Before the watched-paint could dry any more, NHL/AHL bubble players Andrew Gordon and Zack Stortini were added, the latter being a notorious minor-league goon.
Somebody stop this broken record.
The following day – as Hextall continued his daily exercise of to trying to give away Vincent Lecavalier for nothing while the eating the crow known as a big portion of his onerous contract – Giroux issued his act of contrition, complete with babble about respect for police officers.
Considering that Giroux is cast in a leadership role as team captain, perhaps they would be better off keeping Lecavalier (and one has to question the wisdom of bringing back Kimmo Timonen, who should have been named captain when Giroux was, for another season at a nice price).
That was followed by news almost as exciting as adding Blair Jones and Rob Zepp (don’t bother remembering the names, unless you are planning on going to a lot of Phantoms’ games) on the first day of free agency, as the Flyers brought back Chris VandeVelde on a two-way contract.
Yes, the same guy who skated in 18 games with the Flyers last year and managed one whole assist – while getting about a half-dozen feature articles written about him because of his loose connection to Hextall.
Sounds familiar, huh?
Same old song.
When it has no beat, and you can’t dance to it, you have to call it for what it is.
The worst of times.
The column originally appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com.