Tonight the Flyers held their second session (the first was last Thursday) of a Season Ticket Holder special event. A fairly small group of fans (I’m not good at these estimates, but I’d be surprised if it were as many as 200), who’d reserved their spots with customer services, was welcomed to dinner (split between the Cadillac Grill and the Lexus Club) and to a series of four question and answer opportunities, with:
GM Paul Holmgren,
Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor and Director of Scouting Don Luce,
Customer Service Senior Director Cindy Stutman and Senior Manager Melissa Keeler, and
President Peter Luukko and Senior Vice President, Operations Shawn Kilger
Dinner was a nice (for arena food) buffet of mixed green and antipasto salads, bread and butter, chicken with ham and a rich buttery sauce, pasta, and a few dessert choices. I have to admit I was thinking how easily they buy good will. But the way to Flyers’ fans heads and hearts (and pocketbooks) is not through their stomachs (if it were, the regular game arena food would be more palatable).
No, the fans weren’t there for food. They were there to mine unknown facts about their Flyers.
First up for my group was GM Paul Holmgren. After taking one question from behind a table, Homer stood up and moved in front of the table. It wasn’t just a tactic to seem closer to the people, it was a symbol of his willingness to talk straight and give real information to the participants.
The first question from the group was about injuries. Why so many, not just for the Flyers but throughout the game. Holmgren said that it’s partly lack of respect. But he also thinks that it’s just a function of bigger, stronger, faster players in a confined space. He said the league has been looking at moving to a wider ice surface in new buildings. Although I wonder how much difference that would make, since there aren’t many new buildings on the horizon and so many teams are playing in relatively new buildings that will be around for a long time.
Asked about the play of Vladislav Modry since his acquisition, Holmgren said he thought he’d played well for the past three games.
Then someone (possibly a fellow hockeybuzz habitue, asked, “Why doesn’t Stevens like Kukkonen?” Holmgren quipped, “He likes him a lot better than he did a month ago,” and the group laughed. Homer explained that Kukkonen had had a very painful leg injury that caused him to struggle with his skating, and after it healed he had to wait for injury to strike someone else to have a chance to crack the lineup. He believes that when defenseman Randy Jones comes back, possibly tomorrow, that Kukkonen will not be the one to lose his spot. He thinks, at this time of year, with the coaches valuing experience, that Ryan Parent will find himself sitting.
Next came a question about whether the Flyers considered asking other players to do the off-season conditioning program that RJ Umberger had used to so effectively improve his game this season. Holmgren said a number of other players had done the same program, but that Umberger is “a machine” and is one of the hardest-working players.
A fan asked what or who was the biggest disappointment this season and Homer said he was disappointed in the lack of consistency. He said the Flyers were “the good, the bad, and the ugly, all in the same game.” He thinks sometimes there is so much skill and depth in the offense that they are “too skilled for their own good” and try to be too clever and too fine, which accounts for them being outshot and having too many turnovers.
Asked about Jeff Carter’s status and whether he would be signed Homer seemed confident the deal would be done. But he said it was very important to get it done before July 1 so that an offer sheet the Flyers couldn’t match wouldn’t be out there. He said Carter “wants to be here…loves our group of players” and “we’ll get it done.”
As for other signings, he said Carter was the priority and they’d work in order of priority. He said Umberger is arbitration eligible, so is, in effect, under contract. That Prospal would have to wait until he hit the market because the Flyers know what he was offered by Tampa Bay and laughed at. He wanted double that offer. If, when Prospal knows what the market is, he wants to talk, the Flyers would love to work something out.
Holmgren said they expect the cap to be in the area of $55 million. Someone asked about Rathje and he said that, in effect, with Rathje on the roster and injured the Flyers can respend that money over the cap, which works for him.
This may be burying the lead, but Simon Gagne is headache free and has been for a few weeks. When Holmgren was asked if he was confident Gagne would be back to play next season he said, “I am. But more important, he is.”
Of the Flyers older players he said he worries about Sami Kapanen coming in and saying he’s done. He said Sami is “a funny guy” but he didn’t mean in a bad way. Still, he’d retired before and it takes so much for him to be ready for the season because of his size that Homer worries about him wanting to play next year.
Jim Dowd, Holmgren says, has “served his purpose” and he “probably wouldn’t bring him back.” Homer would prefer a younger player in that role.
As for Mike Knuble, Holmgren thinks he has limited mileage on him for a player his age because he played in college and didn’t play a lot his first few years in the league. So he expects he’ll probably play a few more years.
On discipline in the league, Holmgren said it was “a joke” that Steve Downie got a 20 game suspension. He said at the GM meeting that Colin Campbell “wanted to crawl under the table” because the GMs are so upset with the uneven way discipline was handled.
As for younger players, Holmgren said Claude Giroux is “a good little player” who would “make it interesting” in camp next fall. Holmgren also said he would prefer for James van Riemsdyk to leave college. After UNH is finished for the year, Homer hopes to sit down with James and his family and discuss his plans. As a former college player himself, Holmgren doesn’t want to say JVR should leave school. But if asked his opinion (and he hopes JVR will ask) he’ll advise him to leave school. Homer feels he needs to play games right now and whether in juniors or the AHL he’d play more than double the number of games he can get in college.
Asked about goalie equipment, Holmgren said the GMs would go to the Players Association about proposed changes, probably to shoulder protection and gloves. He said fortunately there are more players than goalies in the NHLPA and he expected there’d be changes.
The Braydon Coburn trade was brought up as one of his most impressive moves and Holmgren said that they had brought up Coburn a number of times before. But at the time he was brought up by the Atlanta GM to Homer in a trade for Zhitnik it was in a face-to-face conversation and Homer said “I had to hide my exuberance.”
For tomorrow’s starting goalie Homer said, “I don’t know but I would guess Biron.” Asked about Stevens handling of goalies he said he thought John would do it differently now that he knows Marty better.
On Stevens as a coach, Homer thinks John is a character guy who has always been self-motivated. He’s coming to discover that not everyone is that way and still needs to learn which buttons to push for certain players. But Stevens, who gets his point across vigorously in the room, will “not embarrass his players” by going wild on the bench. And at this point, the players know him well enough that if he completely changed his personality they’d lose respect for him.
As for the value of a fiery coach? Holmgren said he played for Fred Shero and “I wondered if he was awake sometimes.”
Chris Pryor and Don Luce
Asked about patience with younger players, particularly defensemen (which I have not seen as a strength of the Flyers in the past, but I think they may be developing) Don Luce said the Flyers “would rather overcook than undercook” a player in the AHL. A young player may be physically ready long before they are mature enough to play in the NHL. There’s a huge step between playing with other boys and playing with men. If a player is brought up too early he loses confidence and it takes a long time for that to be rebuilt. Their goal is to bring a guy up when he’s ready to stay up.
As for young players in the system, they think Guenin is the only guy on the Phantoms who may be ready to move up to the Flyers full time next season. They “are counting on [Giroux] to make a big push to make the big team” next fall.
It worries me that Bob Clarke’s son has come on board as a pro scout. But I’m happy with the rest of the scouting, especially that they’ve beefed up the scouting both in Europe and pro scouting in North America.
Luukko was asked about the Danny Briere signing. He said the Flyers put out offers early on July 1 for Briere, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, and Ryan Smyth. Briere’s agent called and said they didn’t really need to go back and forth on it because Danny wanted to be a Flyer. The Flyers then contacted the agents of the other players to withdraw the offers. A couple of the agents wanted to negotiate, but the Flyers said they’d already signed Briere. The agents asked why they hadn’t been given a chance and the Flyers said they had the guy who wanted them enough to call them.
The evening ended with a tour of the Flyers areas–changing room, locker room, equipment room, coaches room, and video room. It’s amazing how small the dressing room is. And how much chewing gum they have there.