Hello orange and black, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.
And don’t play dumb with the Simon and Garfunkel reference. We go back almost that far, back to the 1972-73 season, when I discovered hockey amid the vast wasteland of the Philadelphia sports landscape of the time.
As such, the Broad Street Bullies are the predominant sports team of my youth.
To this day, if I call for a takeout pizza, and they tell me I’m No. 6, I remember by saying “I’m Andre Dupont.” Heck, I’ll reveal some declassified information. Past passwords have included the likes of “MacLeish19” and “Leach27.”
I wanted to be like my heroes so badly that I became such a hockey legend on the backstreets of Northeast Philly that I was seen as a Charles Manson with a hockey stick at summer camp, where it is said that my ghost will one day find a place in the haunted Camp Arthur Rec Hall.
When I slashed some poor kid across his shoulder for accidently tripping me when I was about to pull my patented Bobby Clarke move from behind the net, I was dumbfounded by subsequent suspension – one that was mysteriously lifted before we played a rival camp – thinking I was only doing what “Hound” Kelly would have done.
Speaking of Mr. Clarke, my boyhood idol, I was floating on air when my two front teeth were knocked out playing street hockey (my quest to have diabetes, like he did, was not fulfilled until 2012).
My vocabulary was bolstered more by Gene Hart – with words like “ignominy” and sayings like “fare thee well” – than any English teacher.
That team may have skated on bloodied ice, but they walked on water so much that I have stayed along for the ride ever since.
That includes six bitter trips the finals, coaching and general manager carousels that would put a traveling carnival to shame and the dark years when Jay “Snide” Snider took the reins from his father, the late Ed.
Where is all this going?
It goes to history.
I know you better than you know yourself, a true blessing and a curse – kind of like Behn Wilson.
Just as I loathe Leon Stickle, and wonder how Game 7 would have gone had there been replay back in 1980, I spend many waking hours working through what should come next as a course is plotted away from the nuclear wasteland that Paul Holmgren turned the franchise into as general manager.
After “Homer” – among my favorites of the post-Bully era, particularly on that would-be Cup team of 1979-80 (still the best Flyers team of my lifetime, in my non-humble opinion) – Ron Hextall has made all the right moves (well, Dale Weise signing aside).
What he has done equates, in my mind, to the best save of his hockey career.
But now comes the moment of reckoning.
Hexy, and I think I have earned the right to call you that, you have an opportunity before you more golden than an open net and plenty of space for you to launch one of your patented shots toward.
But I sense trepidation.
Take it from one who has been riding these waves since you – a year older than I – were a lad in Brandon, Canada, with no allegiance to any team except whomever you were tending net for at the time.
We make our own breaks in this world, and getting the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery was not as much luck as it was an opportunity earned with your ability to bring light to darkness.
As the opportunity knocks, I wonder will if you will answer.
I wonder if you will seize the moment and accelerate the process – dare I use that term, but that’s what it is – and not worry about being semi-competitive in the interim.
There comes a time when you have to throw some of that caution to the wind and sacrifice short-term cheeseburgers for long-term surf and turf.
Sure, the easy part in the upcoming is taking whichever center – Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier – that the New Jersey Devils don’t at No. 1. There is no need to overthink this and try to parlay this pick into something more by trading back and picking up something extra, like a proven veteran or a few high-end prospects.
And I think I know you well enough to know you probably won’t.
But that is a blessing and a curse.
I know you well enough now to know you will gobble up one of the two – I am personally hoping it is the Swiss-born Hischier, who is a little more creative and more responsible, defensively, than the Jeff Carter-like Patrick – and then safely tuck him away for safekeeping in juniors and saying you don’t want to rush things by putting him in the NHL next year.
Unlike some others, I am fairly comfortable you won’t dip into the collection of top-tier defenseman prospects you have carefully curated and trade one way.
You see what I see: pairings of Samuel Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers.
I also see Patrick or Hischier with last year’s first-round pick, German Rubstov, up the middle.
While I see it by the season after next, you probably see it by the start of the next decade.
You know what, Hexy? I’m good with the patience, and not getting nudged to trade away any of the prospects you and your scouts have artfully collected. But what I’m not good with is being mired in the current purgatory of being just good enough to not be good enough.
The reality is that by the time the prospects all reach the NHL level, particularly on your timeline, the alleged “stars” of this very mediocre team will have less fuel in their tanks than a Hummer traveling on an open road through Nebraska.
Who am I talking about, while risking the hairy eyeball from fellow Flyers’ peeps?
I think you know, but I’ll come right out and say it. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier come readily to mind.
If you have to sweeten the pot, why not do so with Scott Laughton before he has as much value as a Smith-Corona typewriter in an Internet Café.
I can hear it now. Giroux’s contract and no-trade clause (or whatever the heck it is). Voracek’s contract. Couturier is still young and will wake up one day and be a two-way player on a nightly basis.
So let’s forget what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do – getting close to equal value – and doing it do the best of your ability.
If Giroux knows he’s not wanted here, why would he stay? Heck, Hexy, he might be relieved.
The reason you didn’t make the playoffs? Because, on a playoff team, Giroux is not a No. 1 center and is past his expiration date. A good team, which you are not, would love to have him as a No. 2 center. If that means selling low, and getting a late first-round pick along with a mid-round pick, so be it.
And let’s face it, he is a not a captain. That “C” on his jersey has been weighing him down ever since he jumped the line ahead of Kimmo Timonen to get in the first place.
From where I sit, on my recliner in front of the TV, it seems Wayne Simmonds is more of the leader of this team anyway.
Voracek and “Coots” still have value, enough that, in a draft that has some depth but is not going to confuse anyone with 1979 (Ray Borque, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, Brian Propp, Mike Ramsey, Paul Reinhart, etc.) or 2003 (Shea Weber, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, etc.), they could get you picks in the middle of the first round.
Maybe you then package these three mid-to-late firsts for two between picks 5 and 10 and get yourself wingers to ride shotgun with whichever center falls to No. 2.
There is Owen Tippett (6-2, 204), who possesses the best shot in the draft and netted 44 goals in juniors last year. There are two Finns, Eeli Tolvanen (a surreal quick release) and the ascending Kristian Vesalainen, who would also help ease the pain of struggling to find the twine for painfully long stretches of a season.
And speaking of Finland, this draft is loaded with the guys who led that country to the Under-18 World title.
Even though, we can’t knock the fact that we had a league-best nine players at the Under-20 World Junior Championships (where Hischier stole the show and single-handedly kept Switzerland competitive), we had not one player from Finland
That has to change. Too much talent coming out that country, as well as Sweden, right now. But I think you know that. You went with the flow of the draft last year and selected a lot of North American power forwards (including Tanner Laczynski, who represented the US) in the middle rounds.
I’m not worried about that.
Swede Oscar Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, will likely play – and play better than Chris Vandevelde or Michael Raffl – for us next season.
A round earlier in 2014, you took forward Russian Mikhail Vorobyov, who had 10 assists in seven games at the World Juniors and is considered an NHL-prospect, too.
No, unlike Holmgren, your drafts have been superb, top to bottom.
And you will do it again.
I know you will, because I know you better than you know yourself.
Therein lies the problem. Just get what you can get for players of diminishing value now, go with the kids – and also in goal, with whichever of the several prospects shows he wants the job bad enough, just like the Flyers did with you – and use the cap space to add the right veterans to guide them.
It’s not easy, but please don’t take the easy way out.
I’m counting on you.
Hometown: Gordonville, USA
This column originally appeared at Phillyphanatics.com