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Meltzer's Musings: The Pronger Effect, Giroux, Voracek, Trades

October 20, 2013, 11:20 AM ET [202 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT



The Philadelphia Flyers would undoubtedly have a better record right now, perhaps even a .500 start through eight games, if they were scoring at even a modestly higher pace. No matter what other flaws there are to dissect, no team is going to win more than a game or two when it scores just 11 times in eight games.

Here the Flyers are eight games into the season, and their leading goal scorer is Tye McGinn (three goals). Something is going very wrong when defensemen Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn and Erik Gustafsson have accounted for three of the other eight goals the club has tallied.

There is plenty of blame to go around, up and down the lineup. Players are pressing. For instance, Matt Read has zero points to date, because he's repeatedly flubbed open shots and passes. Wayne Simmonds, who finally scored his first goal of the season on Thursday, has otherwise been a hyper-kinetic mess; running around the offensive zone, looking in vain to make positive things happen rather than simplifying things with the most direct route to the net or to the puck.

To reiterate, there is no shortage of culprits in the Flyers offensive woes. Support players like Read, Simmonds, Sean Couturier and blueline offensive triggers such as Kimmo Timonen (zero points) and Mark Streit (two assists) can certainly be doing more to help, especially in the absences of the injured Vincent Lecavalier (one goal, three points in five games) and top line left wing Scott Hartnell (zero points). McGinn has been the only one doing his part in that regard, with Brayden Schenn (two goals, five points) being the only other player in the top eight who is somewhat absolved. Even Schenn can be more consistent, however.

Ultimately, the buck has to stop with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek -- and the former just a tad more than the latter -- to be the offensive anchors of this club. The team's 1-7-0 record has a lot to do with the lack of production from the top line. It is flat out unacceptable for both players to be without a goal at this point. Likewise, for the team's top two forward playmakers to have just three assists apiece, is very worrisome.

At the end of the day, Giroux needs to be the team's best player. He's the captain, and the one who needs to be able to generate or turn momentum. Yes, he's been unlucky on a couple of shots that hit the post but the truth of the matter is that he's not creating enough scoring chances for himself or his linemates.

The one and only time this season where Giroux clearly looked to be in charge was on the play in the waning seconds of Thursday's second period that resulted in Simmonds' deflection goal on the power play. Giroux settled things down, checked the clock, and had a clear attack plan in mind. He saw what the defense was giving him and where Simmonds was stationed, made a strong move and put the puck perfectly toward the net for his teammate to deflect past Marc-Andre Fleury.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the Flyers went from looking dead in the water to being just one goal down at the second intermission. If not for that momentum-changing play, I am not sure if the Flyers would have generated the sort of pressure they did -- albeit, without getting a tying goal -- through much of the third period.

Too much gets made sometimes out of things that get said in the locker room. While sometimes a team leader can say something to get teammates in a can-do mindset, what really counts is the leadership by example on the ice.

Giroux's hand injury should be fully healed by now. However, he is still not shooting the puck often enough or with enough confidence. If there is one single player to look to when the New York Rangers come to town next week, it's got to be number 28.

That's the burden that comes with wearing the "C" and signing a long-term megabucks extension. Voracek and Lecavalier may play co-starring roles, but their name appears after Giroux's in the opening credits of this saga.

By the way, I think Giroux does deserve a little bit of recognition for trying to set a more positive defensive example for the team this year, especially at five on five. He was part of that big third-period coverage meltdown against Vancouver that turned the momentum of the game the wrong way. However, generally speaking, I think the captain has paid better attention to defensive detail in the early going of the season, and I have noticed an uptick from the team as a whole.

Unfortunately, when a team is going as badly as the Flyers, it's the big mistakes that stand out. With no margin for error because the team isn't scoring, one or two gaffes can undo 50-plus minutes worth of good work from a team.



While Flyers coach Craig Berube is understandably unhappy with the lack of production from his top line, I think you can read between the lines right now that Jakub Voracek is one player with him he's rather displeased right now.

This is just my own speculation but call it an educated guess: I would not be surprised if number 93 is one of the players who has heard his name barked out by the Chief in team critiques, either in private or in the locker room.

After Tye McGinn's stellar first games after his recall from the AHL, Voracek praised his teammate to the local beat writers for giving the top line a spark of energy. Berube's response was to question why Voracek felt he needed someone other than himself to feel energized.

In Thursday's postgame press conference, Berube was asked again about Claude Giroux's struggles. The coach did not absolve the captain (nor should he have) but quickly turned it into a general statement about how the entire line needs to be better. Well, Berube certainly wasn't talking about McGinn. Criticism of Scott Hartnell as well as Voracek and Giroux could easily be inferred in that statement, but Hartnell has been injured and out of the lineup for the last four games.

There is no question that Voracek was still affected in the first couple games of the season by the lower back injury he suffered in the preseason. However, by the fourth game of the season, he no longer looked to be laboring physically.

As a matter of fact, in the games against Florida, Phoenix and Detroit, I thought Voracek's explosive stride and creativity with the puck were starting to come back. He seemed on the brink of a breakthrough offensively -- a line rush goal here, a nifty assist there, and suddenly he finds himself with five points in two games or some similar eye-catching total.

In the last two games, however, I think there was a bit of a backslide by Voracek. He seemed to be giving into frustration and hastiness when he had the puck on his stick. I also thought that his offensive play without the puck -- finding the seams in the defense and getting to a good shooting area -- left a lot to be desired.

As with Giroux, Voracek needs to a be a driving force in getting the Flyers' offense untracked if they are to have any sort of turnaround to their horrendous start. If not, I don't care what trades the team makes or what line combinations get used. It won't work unless Voracek does his part in sparking the offense and keeping the tempo high.



One of the most frequently asked questions that I get -- and this is hardly unique to anyone involved in hockey media -- is what trades I think the Flyers will or should make.

My view on the Flyers current roster is that I like most of the individual players on the team, and think they can be effective players in their assigned roles if they had the right players with them. The problem is that the pieces as a whole may not fit together.

As a general rule, there needs to a be a blend of size and speed, grit and finesse, and offensive creativity and defensive responsibility among the forwards. The blueline corps needs the right blend of puck-movers and stay-at-home defensemen (I still think, for instance, that additional mobility and passing acumen is needed on the Flyers defense corps).

To say "this guy needs to go" or "if they could only bring in that guy" is usually oversimplifying a team's lack of success and the ease of solving the problem. The Flyers roster has bonafide NHL players up and down the lineup; I am just not sure the collective team is fast enough where it needs to be fast, and big enough where it needs to be big. Sometimes at least, it's also not gritty enough where it needs to be gritty (for instance, the third piece to a line that has Couturier and Read as two-thirds of its composition).

Also, it takes two sides to make a trade. Another team may be willing to part with a player who could help the Flyers -- and there are dozens of them around the NHL on other teams right now -- but do the Flyers have the right player to trade to help them in return without simultaneously opening a different hole in the Philadelphia lineup?

Is that a non-answer to the question of current trade possibilities? Yes, it is. But it's also a truthful answer. If I knew all the moves the team was going to make or ought to make, I wouldn't be typing this right now.

The one absolute truism I've learned about hockey over the years is that the more you know about the game, the more you realize you don't know.

That does not mean that general manager Paul Holmgren deserves a free ride for putting together a roster that failed to make the playoffs last year and is off to the league's worst start this year. Actually, what it means is that the burden is his -- not ours -- to recognize the areas that need improvement and find solutions to bring in better-fitting pieces that fit under the salary cap and do not require trading asset overpayment in the deal.

Right now, no one on the team with the exception of Steve Mason deserves to feel "safe" from a potential trade. Contractual no-trade clauses, contract lengths and/or salary cap hits complicate that for the team, of course, but in strictly hockey-trade terms, there should be a host of possibilities being considered. In my view, those possibilities should include trading off current veterans for draft pick/prospect assets if the team's struggles continue into the mid-season period.

I am not much on trade rumors. Never have been, never will be (although I realize the irony of writing for a site that is largely driven by trade/free agent rumors). My view has always been to focus on the team that it actually on the ice and when that composition changes, to worry about it then.

Realistically, I think that Holmgren and Craig Berube will get the rest of this season to get this team into the playoffs and win a round or two. If the club falls short of that, I would not be surprised if Ron Hextall is the GM come next season and he gets to pick his own coach. It's not that either man is bad at his job.

That's just how it goes in hockey, especially in a win-now market like Philly. When you lose too often, players get traded and decision-makers eventually get changed as well.


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