Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Laughton, Lecavalier, Flyers Alumni

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Laughton a Bright Spot in a Dark Time

It is not hard to compile a list of things that are going wrong with the Philadelphia Flyers this season. It’s a lot tougher to find things outside of Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux’s assist and point totals that are going right.

If you read Eliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts column at TSN, it is filled with things that are not pleasant to read from a Flyers standpoint because they are true based on the way the team has played for most of the season to date.

Friedman said players around the league have noted that, not only are the Flyers losing, they are also not making themselves tough to play against: this is not a physical team (with a few individual exceptions).

Since it’s also not an especially good skating team (again, with a few exceptions) or a club that sustains strong teamwide commitment to two-way play, the result is that the Flyers are losing too many game-within-the-game battles. No one is scared to go into the corners with most of the Flyers players. No one has to pay a price for venturing into the scoring areas. Opposing teams have too easy of a time breaking out of their own zone.

Perhaps the most scathing observation in Friedman’s column, which came to him from an unnamed NHL team executive: the Flyers’ most valuable trading asset right now is their 2015 first-round pick. Friedman writes (and I agree) that Ron Hextall is unlikely to trade that pick.

Friedman wrote that there are “a limited number of players” on the Flyers current roster that are of significant interest to other teams. I will add to that the leaguewide trade demands on defensemen in particular are grossly inflated, which is part of why most trades involving defensemen have defensemen coming back in return. According to Friedman, Hextall would like to make another team taking an abatross contract in addition to a desired player part of the stipulation for moving the piece of interest. That’s a tough sell right now.

Amid all the doom and gloom, however, I will add two more optimistic observations. First of all, the Flyers have played better in their last two games — with only a heartbreaking regulation loss and a shootout loss to show for it — so at least there are finally segments of games they can use as building blocks for upcoming games.

For the record, you will never see a “should the Flyers tank” blog written by me, because:

1) I find the idea of tanking completely reprehensible and contrary to everything hockey is supposed to be about,

2) No matter how good a prospect is — even a potential future franchise player — he is not going to turn around a team by himself, and

3) Strictly looking at the roster on paper, I still feel the Flyers are basically a bubble team in a flawed Eastern Conference (albeit a somewhat weaker version of last year’s bubble team that got into the playoffs and took the Rangers to seven games). With that said, the Flyers are digging themselves a deep hole and the weaknesses on the team are apparent. The aforementioned lack of a genuine identity — skating team, physical team, etc — is a big one. Craig Berube and Ron Hextall have a vision of what they want (basically a well-conditioned puck possession team with a disciplined physical edge) but that is not what the team has shown itself to be thus far.

Moving forward, 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton could be part of the solution — not the whole solution, but a nice piece of the puzzle — in forming the sort of identity the general manager and head coach would like to forge.

Even amid the Flyers recent stretch of loss upon loss, it has been a pleasure to watch Laughton in the nine games since his callup from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He only has two points — an assist apiece in each of the last two games — but he plays the game the right way. He competes hard in all three zones, keeps his feet moving and has shown the beginnings of an NHL-caliber offensive element to his game in creating scoring chances.

If Laughton keeps playing that way, he will not be going back to Allentown. While the Flyers have to figure out what to do with Vincent Lecavalier — there is no lineup spot where he has been effective in his Flyers tenure, and remaining a healthy scratch isn’t a solution — that is not Laughton’s problem. He has earned his ice time and deserves his promotion in the lineup.

*************** FLYERS ALUMNI NEWS FROM FLYERSALUMNI.ORG

* On January 15, 2015, the Flyers Alumni team will participate in the Center for Autism 3rd Annual Winter Classic benefit game in Aston, PA. Please come out to the IceWorks Skating Complex to help support this worthy cause. Related events include a silent auction and postgame meet-and-greet and autograph session with Flyers Alumni player.

* Today in Flyers History: On December 5, 1981, the Flyers skated off with a 5-2 road win in a brawl-filled tilt with the Detroit Red Wings. Over the course of the game, Paul Holmgren racked up 33 minutes worth of penalties — a fighting major, two separate 10-minute misconducts at 3:19 and 15:24 of the second period, a roughing minor, a high sticking minor, a boarding minor and a first-period hooking minor — and was still around to assist on a Ken Linseman goal in the third period! That is something that never would happen in today’s NHL.

* Speaking of Paul Holmgren, yesterday he was officially honored for his service to hockey in the USA with the Lester Patrick Award.

* Flyers Hall of Fame inductee Brian Propp will be doing public appearance on Saturday (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at the grand opening of the new Schuylkill Valley Sports in Oaks, PA, and on Sunday (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) at the Winterland Skate Rink in Glassboro, NJ (201 Rowan Blvd).

* The new monthly Flyers Alumni: Then and Now will launch on Flyersalumni.org with a massive profile of the career and post-hockey life of Legion of Doom member Mikael Renberg. Be sure to set aside some reading time for it, because its a soup-to-nuts look at his entire career from junior prospect to retired player.

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