A Post-Season Town Hall

For the past few years the Philadelphia Flyers have hosted an evening each season at which on- and off-ice team management have been made available to season ticket holders for question and answer sessions. Usually this happens in March, before the trade deadline and the stretch run. For some reason this season the so-called “Town Hall Meeting” was held between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, on Tuesday, April 12.

As a season ticket holder I’ve always enjoyed this opportunity to interact with the people who are responsible for our game-day experience and for the construction of the Philadelphia Flyers we see on the ice. And once again, I’m sharing my notes on what was asked and answered.

Most of the attendees started with dinner, but I decided to get there a bit late and go straight to the main course.  Each session lasted about 20 minutes.

Peter Laviolette

My first stop was with head coach Peter Laviolette, who appeared to be wearing one of the orange game night ties.  Lava had some opening remarks before the questions.

First, obviously, it’s a busy time of year. But coming down the stretch, last year it was all up in the air, one of the most remarkable stories he’s ever seen in hockey. And if you do what the Flyers did, the story is supposed to end with you winning it all. It was painful for it to end the way it do.

The run to the finals led to a short summer, with many guys who played extremely hurt dealing with surgery and rehab or just rehab from injuries that ate much of their summer.  From training camp on they played on a high level, but the stretch run didn’t go the way you would want. Regardless, he’s proud of them. It’s not bad to finish third overall, second in the east, and first in the division. Would have loved to have been 20-0 in the last 20, but overall it was a good year. The team ended with the second-highest point total for a team that had been in the finals the previous season (Detroit finished with 112 after winning it all in 2008).

Right now, the team is working on the power play and getting ready for the opening of the playoffs on Thursday. It’s exciting. The 82 games were just for the right to play for the cup again.

Then he showed the video that he had created for the team for after they won the division. In the fall, at the end of training camp, there’d been a video that ended “To Be Continued 4/9/11.” This is the continuation. Laviolette said the intention was to draw a line between the season and the playoffs. It opened with plenty of scenes of team mates celebrating goals set to “I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.” Lava talked about how teams have to play for  each other. These celebrations are part of the team dynamic. Camaraderie is so important and if you love each other anything is attainable.

Then a series of good plays (and no drop passes at the blue line) shown to Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” I can imagine Mike Richards’s eyes rolling out of his head when there are running horses superimposed on the hockey images.

Then the good part came. Lava said, “Desire is the difference between average performers and champions.” On the video, there was a poem, voice overed while it scrolled. A Letter from the Stanley Cup, which the Flyers were kind enough to provide for me to reproduce here. They don’t know the source.

To Those Who Dare,

There are too many things in life that are easy to get. If you have the
means, then anything is attainable. But there are some few things in
life that can’t be bought. I am one of them.

Many say they want me but few have the courage to dream big enough to
reach that high.

I demand work ethic, character, and an unrelenting
belief that the right to touch me is worth the price you are willing to
pay in blood, sweat, and tears.

I will test you mightily. I will take you to the highest of high’s, but
only first if your resolve is strong enough on the darkest of day’s to
fight for me.

Some will ask why I do this to the men who will try to call themselves
champions; and for me the answer is simple. There is nothing in life
more meaningful than that to which you have committed your all and
rightfully earned—that dream in which you and your brothers are willing
to sacrifice, not only for yourselves, but for each other. Only then you
can have me. You can hold me high above your head and scream from the
top of your lungs in glory. I promise you no greater reward in life.

I am worth the fight. Don’t ever quit on me. Stay true. Stay strong and
above all. Be relentless.

Lord Stanley’s Cup

The video ended with “It’s Time! We Will!”

I think at this point, everyone in the room was ready to lace them up and go. Not for nothing is Laviolette successful.

Then Q&A began and rather predictably someone asked about Nikolay Zherdev. Laviolette said Nik has had at times a good year and at times they were looking for more consistency. His attitude and work ethic changed for the better after he passed unclaimed through waivers. In the playoffs, whether he plays will depend on his play. It is important, too, to have the right mix. He was told, “You will play in playoff games. You have to keep yourself in great shape and keep working.”

On shootouts, Lava said that the guys who are good in breakaways seemed to be stymied down the stretch. It’s hard to go away from Briere and Giroux even if they’ve been on a cold streak.

He sees Buffalo as having two skilled lines, a checking line, and a fourth line that can cause havoc. Miller is very good, but without knowing what his injury was and how well he was it was hard to know what to expect. He expected the Flyers to be able to score against their defense.

A season ticket holder asked about the lag down the stretch. Laviolette felt there were six to eight games played without enough determination. Did they lose steam? He doesn’t know, but there are no excuses. “When we’re not on our game it’s noticeable.” When they are playing well, they are jumping into the play, working, have a strong forecheck and cycle.

If you compare the stretch for 2010 and 2011 they are pretty much the same, although the seasons were clearly different.

As for the playoffs, Lava mentioned there are a lot of players on the team who’ve proven to be big-game players. He is confident they won’t give in and won’t quit.

When questioned about Bobrovsky, Laviolette said he was pulled four times all year. Both Bob and Bouch had terrific years. There were games in which Bob played well when the Flyers lost, for example in Buffalo when the team did not play well in front of him. Without him the Flyers would not be in first in the division or second in the conference.

The overall health of the team? Everyone but Pronger, Bartulis, and Laperriere are healthy. Walker is a Black Ace, not a roster player. Leino had it tough coming off major surgery but is expected to be excellent along with his line in the playoffs.

Locker Room Tour

Typically I don’t mention the tour, because what can you say about empty rooms of gear. But the Flyers did something very special this year. Greeting us at the locker room door was our tour guide, Ian Laperriere. As Ian has said before, he wasn’t going to get his nose fixed until he was finished playing. I’ll tell you his nose looks marvelous, so put any idea of a miracle comeback out of your mind. He clearly misses playing, but he clearly doesn’t expect to play again. One thing he shared is that winning the Yannick Dupre award was special to him because he and Yannick were junior team mates and very good friends.

On the lighter side, he said we couldn’t see it, but in the shower room there’s a really big jacuzzi. You wouldn’t want it to be small, with 23 guys you really want there to be a lot of space.

Peter Luukko and Shawn Tilger

The business guys started with a discussion of the rationalization of the ticket price increase for next season. The Flyers have been the fifteenth in the league in average ticket price, but are in the fifth largest market. Over the past six years the cap has gone up 52% but Flyers tickets went up once, 5%. The league is a gate-driven league. Ticket sales are the biggest portion of the money going into the team.

The decision was made to segment the building so that the most desirable tickets (based on sales and the resale market) are now the most expensive. Having all the seats in the lower bowl (except for row 1) continue to be the same price wouldn’t have been fair. So the center six are most expensive (and easiest to resell for the highest prices), while some seats in the upper corners where the Flyers shoot once did not change in price. (My seats, at the Flyers shoot twice end, went up $5 per game.)

In spite of all of the other things they do for the fan experience they still believe the best value they give their customers is their decision to compete.

In the Q&A Luukko was asked about potential rule changes. He believes more general managers at the most recent GM meeting were willing to discuss the idea of eliminating the instigator rule, especially since the game has opened up and you can’t really afford to goon up your roster.

Asked about Donald Fehr, “He’ll be tough.”

Philly Live is expected to open by next year this time. It will consist of various concepts all run by a single entity.

Chris Pryor and John Paddock

The Flyers’ director of player personnel and assistant GM brought video to talk about a number of young players in the Flyers system they expect to have an impact on the NHL club in future years.

Matt Read is a college free agent signed out of Bemidji State after his season ended this spring. He is special offensively, with good speed, and all around. He’s a playmaker with 13 points in just 10 games in Adirondack of the AHL at the end of the year. It looks to them like he’ll be with the Flyers in training camp.

Luke Pither was an overage junior signed from Barrie last spring. He has a lot of skill and can skate with good speed. But parts of the game he has yet to figure out. He’s expected to produce points.

Kyle Wellwood, who had a cup of coffee with the Flyers this season, has extremely good speed, is responsible, smart, and hard working. He learned a lot this season in Adirondack playing in unfamiliar situations.

Ben Holmstrom from U Mass Lowell is a character, hard working player in the mold of Blair Betts–a good faceoff guy. He’s ultracompetitive with great hockey sense, but not the most highly skilled. His team mates at Adirondack voted him team most valuable player this season. He’ll be a more defensive type to make it into the NHL.

Harry Zolnierczyk from Brown was described, “He’s a Flyer.” He plays hard, is always around the action, not a big body but a big heart.

Erik Gustafsson, who played at Northern Michigan, is not a real big guy but there is room for guys who think the game like he does. It’s all about making plays. He’s a hockey player. He was an AHL all star and on the AHL all-rookie team. He could be a Flyer as early as this fall.

Kevin Marshall is a Flyer type hack and wack to make others accountable. He’s a good defensive defenseman.

Mike Testwuide is big with good hands who just started coming into his own in the second half of the Adirondack season. He has just begun his upward curve as a pro and will for the Flyers to look at him this fall.

Zac Rinaldo has to learn to pick his spots. He’s a tough guy. Although the game is changing, you need a little of that and he can play the game two. He needs to figure out how to play within the rules.

Ben Holmstrom, Mike Testwuide, Eric Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo, Kevin Marshall, and Erik Gustafsson are Black Aces for the playoffs. Matt Read is not eligible.

Paul Holmgren

The general manager started out by saying he was still holding out hope Chris Pronger would play Thursday, it is a matter of flexion and strength in the hand. He says Chris will play in this series. He’s mean as ever and as for his readiness, he’s played 1200 NHL games, he won’t have any problems.

Although there is no roster limit after the trade deadline, until the season ends there is a cap. Now there is no cap limit. But Leighton can play only if someone gets hurt.

While the team has struggled, he doesn’t feel Bobrovsky has. He believes Bob will be a star in the NHL. Asked if Bob will be next year’s starter, he saidd “I don’t know. This year we planned to have him in the AHL and look how that turned out.”

Past three years coming to the end of the season the team was in survival mode. This year, they weren’t. He’s not happy they blew being first overall or in the conference. They didn’t handle it well and he hopes if it happens again they will handle it better. However if you’d been at practice this week you wouldn’t be concerned about their readiness for the playoffs. The regular season boulder has been lifted off their shoulders. This is what they were playing for, to get another chance at the cup.

As for the experts’ picks, “Who cares? I believe in our guys.” The focus is where it needs to be and there are big game players–Ricahrds, Giroux, Danny Briere.

Leino’s contract? Can’t do anything about it until the summer. Based on what he did last playoffs, what else can you think but that he’ll play like that this spring.

Is there any consideration being given to getting rid of the shootout? There’s been some discussion among GMs of four minutes 4 on 4 and four minutes 3 on 3. He believes there are 25 GMs opposed to the shootout. But in any poll you see 78-80% of the fans are in favor of it.

Equipment is always being discussed to reduce injuries, but he believes players themselves need to be responsible, too.

Asked about Versteeg, Holmgren said he’s liked Kris for a while. Now that the playoffs are here his role will expand. He is useful in many different situations. He has one more your under contract and then another year under Flyer control.

His late-season visit with the players was one of two to three he’ll have in any season. He’s always telling this team that he loves them. This time he told them he didn’t like them and why.

Although he likes Eric Cole, he believes that Cole will re-sign with Carolina and end up retiring a Hurricane.

He does call Gregson and Campbell from time to time but believes you get nowhere if you’re always bitching about officiating and discipline. The Flyers are no angels and we have guys who can get away with things.

Holmgren isn’t sure the Flyers are in the market for free agents, with the desire to keep the team together. Particularly if they win the cup, he wouldn’t mind keeping them all together.

He loves the Flyers centers, can’t have too many. Loves the defense. Would like to have a couple of bigger wingers. Is high on a couple of Phantoms he sees as being ready next season.

As for Richards’s play, Mike’s a smart kid. He’s not going to take the chance of being suspended with bad hits. But he’ll hit in the playoffs.

And that’s about it from the 2010-11 Flyers Town Hall Meeting. Let the playoffs begin.

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