The deed is done.
John Stevens has completed his annual juggling charade. This year's feature stunt: Mixing up the top three scoring lines of his hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jeff Carter, third on the NHL goal scoring list, will now be centering the first line with his old buddy Scott Hartnell on the left and Danny Briere to his right. Briere has been playing wing on the third line since his return from nagging abdominal and foot injuries.
Rising star Claude Giroux, another center/wing hybrid, will be taking faceoffs alongside veterans Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne.
Captain Mike Richards will be demoted to the third line, alongside Daniel Carcillo and Joffrey Lupul. This is the most interesting change. Lupul and Carcillo will hopefully start to play better in their own end now (Carcillo is -13 and Lupul is just a +2, despite playing with Jeff Carter).
The fourth line—Darroll Powe, Aaron Asham, and Riley Cote—remains intact. Of singular note: Asham's two goal performance against the Rangers last Saturday. Otherwise, this unit remains a reserve squad.
This coaching decision is more than a redistribution of talent. It feeds morale and can give a hockey team a new identity. Having new linemates can be an adjustment, but it is also an adjustment for a team's opponent.
The Flyers depth (six 20+ goal scorers) may now create matchup problems for other teams, if they haven't already. That is, if Briere can finally blossom on the wing and Richards can spark Carcillo back to his scoring prowess of last year, where he terrorized the league by leading in penalty minutes while scoring 13 goals.
Last year, Stevens did a little spring cleaning in the locker room by moving the player's lockers around. Players who did not know each other that well soon got to know each other better.
Things were bad about this time of year last year. After losing 10 straight games in February, the Flyers turned it around briefly, only to lose another four straight. Tensions were perhaps at their highest when R.J. Umberger and the wily veteran Jim Dowd got in a physical confrontation during a practice last March.
Despite the uncertainties, the Flyers have yet again found themselves in the playoff run going down the stretch. If you look at the Eastern Conference standings, however, where the Flyers are currently locked with Pittsburgh in points (84), lots of questions come crawling out of the closet, and they are looking all too ugly and familiar.
Randy Jones is currently sidelined with a lower-body injury, for which he is receiving cortisone shots. His return to the lineup is probable, but injuries in this region are always skeptical. We'll hope Randy doesn't follow Briere's path to rehabilitation.
Andrew Alberts is developing nicely--providing a physical presence in front of the net. The Flyers have lacked this since the departure of Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher, the latter of which spending the season on IR. He still needs to work on his shot. Too often I find myself shaking my head after an Alberts slapper.
Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle make a good defensive pair. Both are young and have shown an equal amount of defensive and offensive awareness.
Timonen, as always, displays excellent leadership, great speed and an accurate shot from the point. His major flaw is his size, and, when skating together with a rookie like Ryan Parent, he can't be expected to pick up the slack in front of the crease.
This is where a player like Ossi Vaananen is really valued...but so is having Danny Briere, I guess. We'll just have to wait and see.
Another championship for Philadelphia? This is change I can believe in.