Another Housecleaning In Philadelphia

As we all know, the Philadelphia Flyers’ season came to a disappointing end with a less-than impressive two-goals-in-five-games effort against the Ottowa Senators. This inept and painful conclusion to a season that began with so much hope, promise, and expectation led not only to a public vote of no confidence/stab in the head coach’s back by three key veterans, but also to Bill Barber’s firing as well. It would turn out to be only the beginning. The next great turnover of the Philadelphia Flyers started right then and there.After the 2000-2001 season, the Flyers underwent a serious facelift following an embarassing series defeat at the hands of Dominik Hasek, Miroslav Satan, and the Buffalo Sabres. The Eric Lindros saga was still in full swing, and serious changes were in order.

The changes that did indeed take place were most welcome. Lindros was indeed sent packing, for much needed defenseman Kim Johnsson. Depth on the wings was also achieved in that deal with the arrival of Jan Hlavac and Pavel Brendl. This deal did nothing but help the club, adding three players in exchange for one man who didn’t even play for the team the previous season, and who no longer wanted to play for the team anymore. Scoring was a concern no more with the retention of 50-goal scorer John LeClair, who signed a long-term deal before free agency even began. A glaring need was identified at the center position, and the cure was to sign Jeremy Roenick before anyone else had the chance, whil also trading for Czech veteran Jiri Dopita. The defense was further strengthened by the signing of free agent veteran Eric Weinrich.

Gone were the likes of Lindros, Daymond Langkow, Andy Delmore, Dean McAmmond, Gino Odjick, Michal Sykora, and Peter White, along with Kevin Stevens and P.J. Stock (dealt in mid-season).

All of the above moves had Flyers fans salivating. Hockey prognosticators from all over expected that the Flyers were the premier team in the Eastern Conference, that they would be the ones to challenge the likes of Colorado and Detroit for Lord Stanley’s Cup. It would not happen that way.

Even with the additions of sparkplug and rough-and-tumble winger Donald Brashear and assists leader Adam Oates, the team could not pull itself together to defeat the clearly less talented, but infinitely harder working, Senators.

Fast forward to the present. Another hundred-point season has passed, and another early exit from the playoffs was levied upon the team, and another coach lost his job. But this was somehow different. There was pure unadulterated anger and embarassment involved, and it showed on the day that the players cleaned out their lockers. Three players were instrumental in the firing of Barber, and let everyone in the front office and the media know just how they felt. Goaltender Brian Boucher, center Keith Primeau, and winger Mark Recchi were all guilty of mutiny. Their comments and allegations towards their head coach (particularly Primeau’s) were so full of venom and vitriol that we were left to wonder if they had even bothered to put forth an effort on the ice. Goaltender Roman Cechmanek’s antics on the ice during game four of the Ottowa series left everyone questioning his devotion to the organization.

After the loss to Buffalo, there was no such action by any member of the team. Sure there was disappointment, but not one player came out and said that then-head coach Craig Ramsay was incompetent and lost the team. There were greater expectations of the ’01-’02 team.

With the hiring of new head coach Ken Hitchkock, changes were about due. Despite his politcally correct statements about the roster he inherited, I suspect there are players he does not want on this team, and players around the league that he covets. GM Bob Clarke also realizes that the kind of statements made by those three players are in no way welcome to the team. Clarke learned his lesson with Lindros. I would say that he has learned some Vulcan logic: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

Recent events have left myself and others wondering if another roster purge is in order, or has already begun. Yesterday, the team traded Boucher and a draft pick to Phoenix for back-up goaltender Robert Esche and center Michal Handzus. It was a good trade for the Flyers, yet one has to believe that a message was being sent, perhaps the first salvo in a series to be fired at the team’s talent.

While some may believe that the trade solidifies Roman Cechmanek’s position as the number one starter between the pipes, there is still speculation that he could be dealt. Chuck Gormley of the South Jersey Courier-Post, a knowledgeable hockey writer with some good insider information, speculates that a major deal will go down between the Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers, with Cechmanek and the disappointing Dopita headed off to Alberta in exchange for Tommy Salo and Eric Brewer. I’m not so sure of the validity of this rumor, but anything is possible, I guess.

Additionally, some believe that the arrival of Handzus spells certain doom for Dopita and Oates. While I agree that Dopita is all but out the door, I have to disagree with Oates. Instead, it could spell the end of Primeau in Philly. Rob Parent of the Delaware County Times also thinks that Primeau is next to pack his bags, so that Clarke could pursue a premier free agent, like the Devils’ Bobby Holik.

The Flyers should re-sign Oates, to at least get a better return on their investment. Holik seems to approve of the Pat Burns hiring in the Swamp, his less-than-ringing endorsement of Kevin Constantine was evident of that. Expect him to re-up with Jersey. I doubt that Clarke would make a play for Cujo or make that Edmonton deal, Checko seems to be the guy now. Whether or not he recieves locker room support remains to be seen.

Primeau and Recchi need to go. The Phoenix deal seems to spell the beginning of the end for the co-conspirators. No matter what the Flyers could possibly recieve in return for them, it would be addition by subtraction. Getting rid of their collective salaries (Primeau – $5 million, Recchi $4 million) would give the Flyers leeway enough to sign the likes of Bill Guerin, Tony Amonte, or Scott Young.

Defense also needs to be addressed. Eric Desjardins and Chris Therien should be traded, their poor play in the post-season justifies this. While Rangers and Leafs fans may pine for the services of Luke Richardson, don’t count on it. A sports radio reporter here in Philadelphia broke a story saying that Richardson has switched agents, and has told his new agent to do whatever it takes for him to remain in Philadelphia. Bruno St. Jacques will most likely join the big club next season, and another defenseman is needed via trade or free agency. I had previously suggested to MantaRay that Primeau be sent to L.A. for either Jaroslav Modry or Phillipe Boucher and a pick. Bret Hedican and Igor Kravchuk remain UFA possibilities.

The winds of change grip Philadelphia again. What started as a soft breeze will turn out to be a full-scale gale before we know it. Stay tuned.

Rob Parent article:

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=4443778&BRD=1675&PAG=461&dept_id=18170&rfi=6

Chuck Gormley article:

http://www.southjerseynews.com/flyers01/fy061302a.htm

Richardson rumor courtesy of Glen Macnow of 610 WIP.


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