Why Scott Hartnell's Return Marks a Big Change for Philadelphia Flyers

Dan Fremuth@@hometownphanContributor IIIMarch 5, 2013

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 20:  Scott Hartnell #19 of the Philadelphia Flyers stands on the ice during the pregame warm-up prior to playing the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on January 20, 2013 in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo won 5-2.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Imagine the Anaheim Ducks losing Corey Perry.

Or the Vancouver Canucks without Daniel Sedin.

And what if the Detroit Red Wings lost Pavel Datsyuk for any period of time?

Those would all be reasonable comparisons to what the Philadelphia Flyers had to endure with the loss of Scott Hartnell early this season.

Like all three, Hartnell was the Flyers' second-leading scorer last year and like Perry and Sedin, he was the team's leading goal scorer. And despite the team's best efforts, it is virtually impossible to replace that kind of offensive production.

Which is why, when the veteran power forward missed 16 games earlier this season with a broken foot, the Flyers struggled. A team chosen by many pundits to compete for not only the Atlantic Division title but the Eastern Conference crown as well, Philly went just 8-7-1 in Hartnell's absence and produced several setbacks (5-1 loss at Tampa Bay, 5-2 defeat at Toronto, 4-1 setback in Montreal) that seemed listless and dispassionate for a traditionally prideful Flyers group.

Without Hartnell's net front presence, the Flyers scored just 50 goals in 16 games (14 of which came in 7-1 and 7-0 blowouts of Florida and the New York Islanders respectively). What's more, the team appeared to lack hustle and determination for long stretches, which brought into question the team's leadership.

All that, however, changes with Hartnell back in the mix.

With the Regina, Saskatchewan native back in the lineup, the Flyers have leadership, physicality and a proven scoring touch all wrapped up in one surly red-haired package.

Arguably, the biggest thing Hartnell will immediately bring back to Philly is leadership.

This team still goes as captain Claude Giroux goes, and Kimmo Timonen and Danny Briere can provide steady, quiet leadership, but Hartnell will vocally and overtly stir the pot when things aren't going well. A fan favorite, he's not afraid to mix things up when they're going either well or badly.

What's more, Hartnell can help to take some of the leadership pressure off Giroux and allow one of the skilled playmakers in the game to just go out and do his thing.

In addition, the 6'2", 210-pound bruiser will bring physicality to the ice during each and every shift.

Hartnell is a prototypical power forward. He never shies away from physical contact and is fearless when it comes to going to painful areas of the ice surface. He throws one clean hit after another and his physical presence should help to free up more time and space for Giroux to work his magic.

Finally, Hartnell's proven scoring touch will help the Flyers find a more consistent offensive rhythm.

In four games since Hartnell's return, Philadelphia is 3-1 and has tallied 11 goals over the last four games. Hartnell has a goal and three points in those four games after just one assist in his first three games prior to his injury.

And the Flyers' power play that struggled so mightily earlier this season?

Well, it certainly appears to be back on track.

Philadelphia's man-advantage has scored in three of Hartnell's four games since returning and has gone an impressive 6-for-20 (30 percent) during that stretch.

Hartnell may have only registered one point among those six power play conversions, but his body presence at the top of the opposition's goal creases is causing the kind of net front chaos that turns good power plays into great ones.

Scott Hartnell continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NHL. His name isn't mentioned in the same circles as the three other elite players noted earlier, but it should be.

He provides all the positive intangibles a team could hope for and has an inherent nose for the net.

And while his value in national circles may be undervalued, it certainly isn't in Philadelphia.


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