GIROUX SCARE PROVES MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Everything seemed fine yesterday at practice, but there was a scare in early evening hours when the Flyers announced that team captain Claude Giroux would not attend a meet-and-greet event for season ticket holders because he was being evaluated by Flyers team doctors. At around 9 p.m., word came from general manager Ron Hextall that Giroux was “fine.

While the story was met by cynicism from some fans who believe that Giroux simply wanted to skip the event, it would be uncharacteristic for him to do so. Throughout his career, he has always taken on such commitments without hesitation.

The strange part of the whole situation is that Giroux did not take a maintenance day away from on-ice practice if he was feeling under the weather or nursing some sort of injury. Additionally, when general manager Ron Hextall gave an early afternoon media update on injuries, nothing was said about Giroux needing to be evaluated by doctors. It is likely whatever happened with him occurred later in the day.

The only thing I heard after the fact was that, at some point after yesterday’s practice, Flyers trainers advised Giroux to be evaluated by a doctor for an undisclosed (but presumably precautionary) reason. There was an array of speculation about the possible reason, ranging from screening for mumps or reported flu symptoms to various potential upper-body or lower-body injuries, but none of these proved to be the case.

Flyers forwards Matt Read and Zac Rinaldo took maintenance days yesterday. Rehabbing defensemen Luke Schenn (left shoulder) and Andrew MacDonald (right knee) participated in practice.

Schenn wore a gray (no-contact) sweater and MacDonald skating as a forward (orange) due to the team being short one forward even with Blair Jones participating. After practice, Hextall said that MacDonald has been upgraded to day-to-day status (he was initially not expected to play until after Thanksgiving) and that Schenn is also day-to-day.

A post-practice update will be added to today’s blog later today.

********** RAFFL SKATES AT PRACTICE

Injured Flyers left winger Michael Raffl took some skating yesterday at the Flyers practice. Afterwards, the second-year forward said that he felt better than expected. Hextall indicated in his injury update that the player remains several weeks away from being ready to return. As recently as the game against Colorado on Nov. 8, Raffl was still on crutches as he congratulated teammates on the win in the post-game locker room.

Raffl is one of the most fun players on the Flyers team with whom to hold a conversation — he loves jokes and banter — but generally becomes very serious and measured in his words once the cameras and tape recorders are turned on for formal interviews. Yesterday, per the typical nature of injury-related discussions around NHL teams, he was very reluctant to say anything about his recovery status.

However, Raffl’s sense of humor emerged when one of the beat writers jokingly asked him if he’d at least give a “one for good, two for bad” type of reply about whether his timetable might be moved up.

Raffl said with a grin, “It’s a three for I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Asked if he can garner any useful information while watching the team play during his absence, Raffl admitted that he hates watching hockey games when he’s injured and unable to participate in them. However, he added that it’s important to pay attention in order to try and stay mentally in tune with the goings on in the games.

Prior to Braydon Coburn’s return to game action earlier this month, I asked him the same question about what can be gained from watching games while rehabbing an injury. Coburn said his main observation was that the game looks remarkably different — easier, with more time for players to make decisions with the puck — than it does from ice level.

********* THE LEGION OF DOOM COMING TO TOWN

After yesterday’s practice in Voorhees, the media gathered in Bob Clarke’s office at the Skate Zone for a lengthy conference call with Eric Lindros and John LeClair, who will be inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame before Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Both retired players were relaxed and enthusiastic about the upcoming event.

During the course of the conversation, Lindros revealed that original Legion of Doom right winger Mikael Renberg will be in attendance for Thursday night’s ceremony. Renberg, now a part-time television hockey commentator in Sweden, departs for the U.S. trip tomorrow.

I have written an article on the Lindros and LeClair dual induction — and the added meaning for both men to be inducted together — for the Flyers Alumni official site.

Hopefully, the article will be posted later today or tomorrow. For now, here’s a sneak-preview excerpt:

During the mid-to-late 1990s, no line in the National Hockey League was more feared than the Philadelphia Flyers’ original “Legion of Doom” line. Created early in the 1994-95 season, it was on the broad shoulders of Eric Lindros and John LeClair — along with right wing Mikael Renberg — that the Philadelphia Flyers rocketed from a team that missed the playoffs five straight years into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

Twenty years later, Lindros and LeClair will both be honored as inductees into the Flyers Hall of Fame in a special ceremony before the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 20. As thrilled as the two are to be inducted individually, the longtime linemates agree that it means even more to enter the team Hall of Fame together.

“Absolutely,” said Lindros.”John, Mikael and I were a pretty special group. We set up one another and we certainly enjoyed playing with one another and being together on and off the ice. It really was a special group to be involved with.

“We were a pretty confident bunch. Certainly, there we some times that it didn’t turn out that way. But we’d like to think that overall we had a pretty good positive effect on the outcome of our games.”

LeClair echoed a similar sentiment.

““To me it’s great [to go in together]. Eric has been such a big part of my career and to have him right there next to me with everything is quite immense. Obviously, with what he’s done to get me to this point, to have him standing next to me is going to be a big thrill,” said LeClair.

Lindros was, in many ways, a one-of-a-kind player in NHL history. Although his career was shortened by injuries, Lindros was every bit the dominating talent the Flyers expected him to be when they acquired his rights from the Quebec Nordiques in the summer of 1992.

At the peak of his powers, the NHL had never seen anything quite like the package of brute force and finesse that Lindros brought. Even with a series of early-career knee injuries to both knees and a later series of concussions, Lindros skated well for such a big man in addition to being almost freakishly strong physically. He also a considerable mean streak

At the point Lindros was traded from the Flyers to the New York Rangers in the summer of 2001, he had compiled 659 points (290 goals, 369 assists) and 948 penalty minutes in 486 career games with the Flyers. He averaged 1.35 points per game; a pace that would have ranked him sixth all-time in NHL history had be been able to sustain that rate of production until his retirement. Counting only the Philadelphia years of Lindros’ career, only Wayne Gretzky (1.92 points per game), Mario Lemieux (1.88), Mike Bossy (1.497), Sidney Crosby (1.398) and Bobby Orr (1.393) produced points at a more prolific pace than Lindros in the history of the NHL.

After leaving Philadelphia, mounting concussion problems and other issues marked a premature decline in Lindros’ production. Combining his production with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, Lindros’ production over the remaining 274 regular season games of his career slipped to 0.75 points per game (82 goals, 124 assists, 206 points). As a result, Lindros ended up ranking 19th on the NHL’s all-time points per game list (1.138).

LeClair, meanwhile, possessed both a rocket of a slapshot and an uncanny ability to collect goals off rebounds and deflections in front of the net. Once he parked his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame in front of the net, the St. Albans, VT native was virtually impossible to budge.

For the Philadelphia portion of LeClair’s career, the forward racked up 333 goals and 643 points in 649 games. He was virtually impossible to take off the puck or move from in front of the net. Although he did not play a particularly mean game and tended to be slow to anger, it was a common sight for opposing players to be left sprawled on the ice near LeClair. He simply had to dip his shoulder and it was almost always the opponent who took a seat. LeClair was also blessed with a howitzer of a slapshot and would score about six to eight goals per season by winding up and blasting an overpowering shot past the goaltender from anywhere from the blueline to the mid-slot.

Keep in mind that the height of Lindros and LeClair’s production with the Flyers came during an era in which clutch-and-grab hockey and heavily use of neutral zone trapping systems led to annual leaguewide declines in scoring. This was also the era in which goals were disallowed for so much as an incidental skate in the crease; which meant that a player like LeClair (who scored many of his goals in close to the net) annually lost numerous would-be goals upon video review.

Both Lindros and LeClair noted that Renberg’s contributions to their success should not be overlooked, either. Although his career was affected by a series of major injuries that cut the heart out of what otherwise would have been the prime years of his career, Renberg’s combination of skill, speed and grit made him a highly effective player in his own right during the first two-and-a-half years of his career.

********* FORSBERG APOLOGIZES FOR ‘NOT BEING BETTER’ AS FLYER

At his Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech, Peter Forsberg apologized to the Flyers and Nashville Predators for “not being better” during his stints with those two teams following the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 NHL season. In reality, Forsberg was plenty effective for the Flyers after signing as unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2005 with the organization that

drafted him.

Forsberg was still among the top three to five players in the world when he joined the Flyers. Unfortunately, his health — specifically a congenital foot issue that contributed to a variety of related groin and abdominal muscle issues and eventually ended his his career — started to increasingly betray him.

It is easy to forget now that Forsberg led the NHL in scoring over the U.S. Thankgiving holiday weekend of 2005, at which time he suffered a groin pull that forced him out of the lineup and never really went away. It’s easy to forget how the line of Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble was arguably the team’s best three-man line since the Legion of Doom.

People also forget how he almost singlehandedly led the Flyers to two wins — and a third-period comeback in a Game One double overtime loss — in the playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers ultimately lost that series, and it was announced days later that Forsberg needed reconstructive foot surgery. The series loss, however, had nothing to do with Forsberg’s play being anything less than stellar despite his health.

Forsberg’s biggest mistake as a Flyer may be been to let his competitiveness and desire to help the team get in the way of original treatment plan in 2005. Initially, he was supposed to have reconstructive surgery on his right foot (the worse of the two) and then have the same procedure on his left foot. The initial timetable was for him to be out until around Christmas.

Instead, Forsberg opted to have only the right foot done and then move up his rehab timetable in order to be in the lineup — as the team’s newly named captain — for opening night of the 2006-07 season. The decision proved unwise.

“Foppa” was never able to stay in the lineup again for more than blocks of a few games at a time and his right foot gave him constant trouble no matter what was tried. In the meantime, the team suffered through the worst year in franchise history. As his foot issues remained unresolved, the fact that Forsberg’s contract was set to expire after the season became a bigger and bigger distraction.

Forsberg did not want to commit to a contract extension as long as his health issues remained a question mark. In the meantime, the team needed to know whether it needed to move forward without him or if he would be able to part of the future.

Ultimately, the last-place Flyers traded the future Hall of Famer (for a second time) as rental to the Nashville Predators. The Flyers received young forward Scottie Upshall, prospect defenseman Ryan Parent and a 2007 first-round pick. The final component ended up being the most important piece, as the pick was flipped back to Nashville after the season in exchange for Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell; impending free agents whom the Flyers immediately signed to long-term contracts.

Most of all, it is is easy to forget that the Flyers saw something special in Forsberg long before the rest of the NHL did. Revisionist history has it that the Flyers “didn’t know what they were trading” when they included Forsberg in the massive trade package it took to acquire Lindros’ rights from Quebec one year after the ultra-hyped center refused to sign with the team that took him first overall in the 1991 Draft.

That is categorically false. The Flyers knew full well that in 1992 Forsberg could become a special NHL player in the years to come. However, they also knew they would have to wait at least one more year (two as it turned out) for Forsberg to leave Sweden to play in the NHL.

Very reluctantly, they included Forsberg’s rights in the final trade package with Quebec. The Flyers had no choice but to include Forsberg because general manager Russ Farwell made both Mark Recchi and Rod Brind’Amour untouchable in any trade package discussion.

Now let’s go back to the weeks leading up to the 1991 NHL Draft. The Hockey News, which bases its Draft Preview Rankings on discussions with a cross-section of scouts from around the NHL, had Forsberg rated 25th overall. Yes, THN had 24 players rated ahead of Foppa, including the “legendary” likes of Mike Pomichter.

TNH described Forsberg as “solid second rounder who could sneak into the first round.” A scout said, “I’d compare him to Tomas Steen in terms of style, though I don’t think he’ll be as good as Steen.”

As a matter of fact, the Flyers were roundly criticized for “reaching” to take Forsberg at #6 overall in a deep Draft. They did so at the strong recommendation of the club’s chief European scout Inge Hammarström, who may have been the first person to see Forsberg as a future NHL superstar. TSN’s Bob McKenzie had a tip that Forsberg was the Flyers’ top choice, but few others believed Philly would actually take the player that early.

Over the next two years, the player exploded in his development and also added considerable muscle. He tore apart the 1992-93 World Junior Championship to a staggering extent (in seven games, Forsberg compiled a record 31 points that may never be broken) and then led the Swedes to a gold medal at the 1994 Olympics. By the point, pretty much everyone in hockey knew Forsberg was going to be a dominant NHL player when he finally came over to North America.

Forsberg’s combination of finesse, physicality, wolf-like killer instinct and supreme playmaking ability made him a can’t miss NHL star within a few years of being drafted. But few NHL teams saw that sort of upside back in 1991. Everyone knew that about Lindros, even years prior to the 1991 Draft.

Some of the same pundits who immediately pilloried Philly for drafting Forsberg so early in the 1991 Draft were hypocritically among the Greek chorus that later taunted the Flyers for dealing Forsberg’s rights to Quebec. Of course, they did not have the “foresight” to do so during the years while Lindros won a Hart Trophy, was a Hart finalist the next year and then led the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.

Their crowing in 20/20 hindsight only came later after the Lindros family had a falling out with Flyers management and the concussions piled up.

The fact that Forsberg was part of two Stanley Cup winning teams in Colorado — built largely but far from entirely because of the return from the Lindros trade — was a reflection of the fact that Colorado had superior goaltending and a better blueline than the Flyers. It had nothing to do with Lindros not being good enough to be the centerpiece of a championship team.

The Nordiques and Avalanche also had another bonafide franchise forward in Joe Sakic to form the centerpiece of their attack, along with Forsberg. I’d also hasten to add that the Nords had Mats Sundin before Forsberg got there and traded the future Hall of Famer to Toronto. The likes of Rod Brind’Amour, LeClair, Eric Desjardins and pre-injury Renberg were excellent players in their own right. However, Lindros did not have a teammate of the same once-in-a-generation caliber as himself, Sakic or Forsberg.

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