Usually we wait a day or so to post our Committed Indian articles, but this is no ordinary time. Plus, by 10 pm tonight everyone will so familiar with the Flyers you won’t want to read anymore about them. So here ya go.
Maybe it’s because of the recent “Lost” series finale; maybe it’s because our 10-year high school reunions are right around the corner; or perhaps we are just looking for reasons. But we are all about coming full circle these days.
So maybe it’s fitting that the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks are meeting in the 2009-2010 Stanley Cup Finals. At first blush, you might think there is little in common between these two opposite-conference foes that play each other merely once a year. But, that is where you are wrong and we’re here to tell you why.
A deeper look at each team’s rosters shows just how intertwined these two teams are. Let’s start with the obvious and progress to the obscure:
Each team has significant homegrown talent. While everyone knows the Hawks were built primarily through the draft – Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Byfuglien, etc. – the Flyers have top-end talent from the draft, too. In 2003, they used two first round picks on Mikhail Yakubov and Pavel Vorobiev Jeff Carter (11th) and Mike Richards (24th). Their next pick that year: Colin Fraser, who they would later include in a package for then-Blackhawk captain Alexei Zhamnov.
Dale Tallon committed grand larceny when he swiped Patrick Sharp for Matt Ellison before the lockout. A former 3rd round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers, the University of Vermont product spent three seasons bouncing between the Flyers and their affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. Fortunately for Hawk fans, Sharp couldn’t stay continuously healthy in the “A” and the Flyers weren’t really in the mode to bring a young player like Sharp around. So the Flyers and Hawks agreed on a seemingly harmless swap of minor leaguers.
With no threat of being sent to the minors and the luxury of playing on a top line (even if it was on a god-awful team) Sharp responded with a 20-goal season in his first full year as a Hawk. The following season, he met Patrick Kane and the rest is history.
Ellison mustered 16 goals this past season … in the KHL.
Also, in a move that’s not quite as memorable, Tallon sent restricted free agent to-be James Vandermeer to Philadelphia in December of 2007 in return for a fourth liner winger by the name of Ben Eager. Many at the time thought it was a precursor to another move; the Tuomo Ruutu-for-Andrew Ladd swap came a couple months later. While the Flyers dealt away Vandermeer at that season’s deadline (about two months later), Eager remains a contributor on one of hockey’s better fourth lines.
Michael Leighton was once considered one-half of the Blackhawks goalie duo of the future. Way back when Chelsea Dagger was just a thought in some drunken Scot’s head and Nikolai Khabibulin was fantasizing about which groin he would injure next, Michael Leighton and Craig Anderson were given the reigns in the Hawks’ net. With neither having more than a few games experience and playing behind hot garbage, they predictably sunk like a couple of anchors.
No doubt the Hawks set Leighton’s progress back a few years and after bouncing around the league, he seems to have finally found a home in Philadelphia. He should be joined in net this series by another ex-Hawk – albeit for a brief stint – Brian Boucher.
Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards are practically clones of each other. Remember that underrated movie “Multiplicity” with Michael Keaton where he starts cloning himself? The doctor warns him that each clone he produces will be less and less like him, as if he were making copies of himself on a copy machine.
Well, if Jonathan Toews made a copy of himself, Mike Richards would be the first to pop out. Sure, they’re not exactly alike but they’re pretty damn close. Both play with equal ferocity in all three zones; they’re the leaders of their teams; and they can fill up the back of the net.
For the record, if Toews made multiple clones of himself, on the thirteenth try, Olli Jokinen would pop out wearing aviator goggles and eating pizza.
The top 2 picks of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft play for each team. You may not remember this now, but when Dale Tallon held the first overall pick in the summer of ‘07, there was a considerable push for him to draft James van Riemsdyk. Some people just need size to make them feel warm and cozy at night.
Tallon made the right decision, though, and selected the NHL-ready Kane. JVR, as he’s affectionately known, ended up going to Philadelphia with the next pick. While Kane produced instantly for a starved franchise, the Flyers have developed their prized prospect by keeping him in college for two years and, more recently, playing him on lower lines in the big leagues with the goal of not placing too much pressure on him. JVR responded with a respectable rookie campaign and a prosperous postseason including a dominating Game 7 performance against the Boston Bruins.
The bigger news at the time was how two American-born players were drafted number 1 and 2 for the first time in NHL history. A fully matured van Riemsdyk may be just what Team USA needs to beat Canada in the next Olympic go-around. Of course, that’s four years away and a completely different argument, but it’s never too early to speculate.
It’s quite possible that Chris Pronger has Joel Quenneville to thank for turning him into the defenseman he is. Before Q took over the reigns in St. Louis, Pronger was a young defenseman struggling to put his tools together. Somehow, the great Mike Keenan didn’t have the patience for such a project. Enter Q who turned a big, lumbering defenseman into the one of the quintessential defensemen of the decade.
Joel Quenneville and Peter Laviolette are two former NHL defensemen. This is kind of unfair but you’ll see our point on this one. Quenneville was a 12-year NHL veteran; Laviolette played parts of one season for the New York Rangers. Regardless, they both played the same position at the highest level and both implement a similar style.
Both coaches love to “activate” their defensemen, as the great hockey mind Ed Olczyk would tell you. Any chance their defense gets, the coaches ask that they skate the puck, jump in the play, and for God’s sake, make something happen in the offensive zone.
This type of play makes for very exciting hockey but a coach has to have the horses to play a style like this. Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, Brian Campbell, and Kimmo Timonen are more than capable of excelling in this type of strategy. You would look pretty dumb, though, if you told Matt Walker to skate with the puck and make something happen offensively. (Did we just use up our last Matt Walker joke? It’s possible.)
With all this in front of us, you don’t have to be a Bowman to realize that these two teams are, arguably, more connected than any other combination in the league. It’s only fitting they dual to the death for sport’s most sacred trophy.
Hold on to your butts.