June 24, 2012

Square pegs in round holes.

The Philadelphia Flyers organization has always been, for lack of a better word, difficult.

They've forced players like Eric Lindros, Eric Desjardins and Mike Richards -- none of whom really fit the mold -- into the captain's role. With mostly underwhelming results.

They gave a nine-year contract to a mercurial 31-year-old goalie who'd never really won anything.

And they signed James van Riemsdyk to an extension based on a handful of good (well, dominating) games in the 2011 playoffs.

That move, in particular, seemed to be a "we helped you, now you help us" kind of arrangement. One of those long-term deals for young guys that are so popular in baseball these days, especially with teams like the Tampa Bay Rays. Lock up the talent and wait for them to take the leap.

But the 2011-2012 season is over, and James van Riemsdyk did not take that leap. Injuries kept him out of the lineup, and his occasional appearances were marred by inconsistent play.

A trade in the offseason seemed very likely, and Paul Holmgren finally pulled the trigger on an oft-rumored move to Toronto yesterday afternoon.

I'm not the biggest fan of this one; I think JVR is a very talented player with a bright future who shouldn't be blamed for a handful of nagging injuries. But he remains unproven over an 82-game season, and it's been clear for a while now that the Flyers have soured on the young winger. We all know how that goes; for better or worse, they've always been quick to correct what they feel are mistakes.

Desjardins quickly handed the captaincy over to Keith Primeau, who ended up being the team's best leader since Dave Poulin. The goaltending carousel has been turning at breakneck speeds for years now; strike out on a Cup run and find yourself out of a job. And Holmgren had no qualms about dumping Richards and Jeff Carter to the highest bidders when it was decided that the two didn't fit into the team's future. Yes, those moves helped the Los Angeles Kings win a Stanley Cup, but I don't think the organization has any regrets.

And I suspect they'll feel the same way about this JVR trade. He could certainly blossom into a superstar in Toronto, but the team was ready to move on. Plus, Luke Schenn sounds like the tough right-handed defenseman that they've long been looking for.

He's also Brayden Schenn's brother, which I think played a big role. A lot is riding on Schenn and Sean Couturier making a leap of their own, going from "talented youngsters" to "top-6 forwards" and turning the Flyers' offense into an unstoppable force. With Luke by his side -- which has already been called "a dream since we were kids" -- the expectations for Brayden are officially sky high. We all saw what Schenn is capable of in Game 1 of the Pittsburgh series. Now he'll be expected to do that on a consistent basis.

The Flyers can be stubborn, but they're also aggressive. Unlike, say, the Philadelphia Eagles, no one doubts that everything they do is aimed at winning a championship. I think Ed Snider would tear the heart out of a living man's chest if it meant his team would take home one more Cup before he died.

And maybe that means they demand too much from the Carters and Richards and van Riemsdyks and Schenns of the world. Maybe not every young forward can handle such expectations, the need to become the next Bobby Clarke or Bill Barber or Rick Tocchet or Paul Holmgren. Maybe the team is still run a little too rigidly, with its overlords a little too insistent on trying to recreate the past.

Only time will tell. But if we do end up looking back and lamenting the loss of JVR, it'll just be another example of the Philadelphia Flyers trying -- and failing -- to force a square peg into a round hole.

No comments: