100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Back up the Pick-Up Truck: Gaming out Flyers' Pick

The other day I made the case for Patrick Kane being the favorite to be No. 1 on NHL scouts' lists. Here's one reason that he won't be the first called in June.

The Flyers.

The Flyers' scouting philosophy can be neatly summarized by an anecdote. A few years ago a Philly scout was greeted by a friend upon his return from a European excursion, probably one of those Four Nations tournaments or somesuch, no North American squads invited. The friend asked the Philly scout how it went ... if he saw anybody he liked. The Philly scout replied: "There were no Flyers over there." The friend asked him what the Philly scout looked for in a player. The scout said: "A Flyer has to be able to stand flat-footed and sh-t in the back of a pick-up truck."

The Flyers have traditionally been the most size-obsessed franchise in recent years. Look at the moves that left others scratching their heads--the post-lock-out pick-ups of Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje. Traditionally Flyers teams have been among the biggest--if not the biggest--in the NHL. It wasn't just the Lindroses and Primeaus who were the fit--look at Zubrus who they took out of Tier II in Ontario (a 220-pounder 18-year-old who stepped right onto the first line of a team that went to the Stanley Cup finals).

Here are the Flyers' drafts.


Firsts in 01, 02, 03 ... all six-foot-three.

Okay, two points that you might make that I'll pre-empt.

Hey, the Flyers drafted a few shrimps too, look at Justin Williams, Steve Downie, Mike Richards and Claude Giroux. Yup, all true. Look, in the latter three, the Flyers have three forward prospects at 5-10 ... can't see Kane being a fit with them. Now Kane is a superior prospect to those guys at the same stage in most people's eyes but he isn't as gritty as any of them. The Pick-Up Truck Values are not an absolute--there's just a threshold for exceptions

Hey, that was Bob Clarke doing the drafting. Though the Flyers changed the name plate on the GM's office when BC went through his burn-out episode, the culture of the club hasn't changed with the installation of Paul Holmgren, a guy whose career was built on Flyers Values. The acquisition of Braydon Coburn from Atlanta (in the head-scratcher that was the Zhitnik dump) is Pick-Up Truckworthy. And though Holmgren brought in a crew for coaching, the scouting staff of old stays in place.

The Flyers seem to be reaching a critical mass of young talent. Yeah, Richards and Carter have gone backwards but there's still a lot like. A lot of scouts were lining up for Giroux last June (he'd been in Top 10s on a couple of lists) and this was a kid who was completely passed over in the OHL draft. Coburn and Parent--two Canadian junior team D-men. Yeah, there's some dead wood still, but they'll be interesting to watch over the next couple of years as these guys are phased into the line-up. (Don Luce, late of Buffalo, will work with them in transition from junior to the pros.)

The fine print ... On the phone the other day with John Ferguson Sr ... He was heading in for his fifth round of chemo ... tough run last few years, major heart surgery five years ago and now C ... the idea that hockey's tough guys are among its smartest and most decent all started with JF Sr ... I was surprised to see that his NHL career was only 500 games ... if you looked it up I think you'd be surprised by the offence he generated over the course of his career ... 29 goals in 71 games back in '69 ... weight listed at 178 but that can't be right ... his hands weigh about 20 pounds a piece ... I remember back in the day a magazine story that had George Chuvalo rating the NHL's best fighters and Fergie was at the top of it ... a great illustration if you could ever find it ... has been a longtime San Jose guy, was talking to him about scouting Cheechoo for a story I was working on ... what would a ring mean to him at this point ... I know it's hard to find a place for him in the Hall of Fame but they should have a wing for guys who would go to war with you (before a lot of the guys in the main room) ... where's the justice, Bernie Federko and Joe Mullen in, and not John Ferguson ...