As the 2010-2011 NHL season begins, the Flyers’ faithful are gearing up for another Stanley Cup run.
Among injuries and the threat of a goalie controversy, one player seems to be flying under the radar this year that may not be used to it: Dan Carcillo.
The Flyers’ brass avoided arbitration with the mustached agitator at the last minute, awarding him with a one-year deal at just over $1 million. The news that Carcillo and the Flyers almost went to arbitration, and more specifically that Carcillo chose to begin down that path, was far from highlighted.
To this writer, a player self-proclaimed to be a born Flyer taking the team to court was a little disheartening. But maybe that was overanalyzing the situation.
Carcillo has always been known has a loose cannon—someone who was used to losing his mental restraint—since his days with Sarnia Sting in the OHL. He has racked up well over 200 penalty minutes a season since he has come to the NHL.
But last year, his reputation took a turn for the worse.
Carcillo always had tried to goad the opponents into senseless penalties; that was his job. However, he had always done so by conventional means, i.e. roughing a guy up.
In the 2009-2010 season, Carcillo started to add illusionist to his role. He would snap his head back while being hit, feigning an elbow or stick to the head. He even flopped on the ice like a fish out of water.
All of this is on Youtube.com, and can be seen by anyone.
Don Cherry, someone who favors a tough-guy Canadian, flamed Carcillo on a national broadcast. He pointed out Carcillo’s antics in the playoffs against New Jersey and Boston, especially his grabbing of Marc Savard’s throat.
Carcillo was drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby and Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers, and the now-retired Darcy Tucker.
The comparisons were fair, as all players are known to embellish, or plain create, infractions on the ice. The mentioned players are despised by Philly fans for their lack of respect for the game—their diving acting as cardinal sins.
Flyers fans, nonetheless, came to the aide of Carcillo. They clamored that the unfair treatment the Flyers receive from the officiating was leveled by the creation of calls by Carcillo.
They responded with childhood cackles of “can’t beat them, join them!” A fanhood, once defined by their strict adherence to playing hockey the rough-and-tumble way it was designed, seemed to be saddling up to a new way of the game.
Casual fans found nothing wrong with it, and the die-hard fans clung to their one positive stat that Carcillo drew the second-most penalties in the league to explain this shift. The only rational thinking was that this Flyers team that was once doomed that year was now winning, and no fan wanted to rock the boat.
To avoid more of the same from Carcillo, the Flyers brought in tough guy Jody Shelley. Shelley was someone who could take the spotlight off of Carcillo so he could finally focus on playing hockey, and not on being the agitator, policing player he was last year.
This came as no surprise to a lot of the fans, Carcillo had always been rumored to have offensive punch, and showed a glimpse or two of it that past season. Although he played with the top lines at times, he was still far from a polished scoring winger.
He was good to crash the net, and into opponents, but he needed work on his passing and positioning. This did not deter management, though; he has the tools to improve.
With the amount of hype given to Dan Carcillo, and the expectations that go with the hype, Philly fans were excited to see Carcillo in training camp and preseason.
Carcillo fell two points shy, last year, of his career-high of 24 back in 2007-2008 with the Phoenix Coyotes. His point production, and the fact that he had undergone successful surgery to fix both a sports hernia and his hip and was finally healthy, had a lot of fans thinking that Dan Carcillo could be a scorer with grit.
The preseason started and almost ran out before Dan Carcillo finally lit the lamp. In his sixth game, and the team’s last, he registered a goal and assist in a paltry 9-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
This was all in the first half of the game. He watched the second half from the dressing room, as he was ejected for arguing with the officials after a Buffalo goal.
This was his second ejection of the preseason, and helped Carcillo lead the league in preseason penalty minutes. With 58 penalty minutes in six games (not all of which were full due to his game misconducts), it was clear Carcillo returned this year to his agitator role and had continued with his lack of discipline.
Fans would argue that this is not a bad thing, though. His antics provide energy and excitement, for the team as much as the fans.
No one can argue that. However, does that excitement hurt the chances of the Flyers winning a Cup?
I think it does.
As of right now, with veteran winger Bill Guerin being released from his tryout contract, Carcillo sits in the top three scoring lines. With his potential and popularity among teammates, coaches, and fans, this makes sense.
It is the fact that he spends much of his time in the penalty box or press box that draws concern. He averaged only about 11 minutes on ice a game last season, and a minute less in the playoffs, because of all the time spent in the box.
You can’t be on the ice when you are in the box, obviously. Peter Laviolette, the Flyers’ head coach, prefers to roll all three scoring lines evenly; this is hard to do when one of those top nine forwards is always in the box or getting kicked out.
Not only does this affect Carcillo’s ability to produce, it affects his linemates’ ability. Carcillo’s line mates will have a hard time having continued chemistry when they are constantly being given new line partners as Carcillo serves a 10-minute misconduct in the penalty box.
The Flyers win games based on their ability to roll these three scoring lines. When one of them is not producing, the wins are harder to come by.
With Carcillo continuing his unfocused, immature play, he will only hurt the Flyers' chances of winning a Cup, even if he does entertain the fans. This will be the case if Carcillo cannot accept the fact that he needs to mature into a hockey player and grow out of the agitator role.
Besides that, he needs to prove that all this hype of his offensive skill was worthy by improving on all aspects of his game. He has not proven anything yet, as the preseason has finished without him showing any offensive prowess or mental restraint.
It is obvious that the Flyers plan to win now, and aren’t holding back, and the fans have waited too long for a Cup as is.
However, the fans and management’s choice to embrace Carcillo and his small positives, despite his big negatives, seriously handicap that effort. To pile on to that, Carcillo, while appearing to embody the Broad Street Bully image, actually disgraces it by his diving and his antics.
Clarke et al. would never fake a slash to get a penalty. The Flyers, and their fans, need to sort out all the paradoxes and hypocrisies in their beloved player and decide if they are here to entertain or win, because right now he isn’t doing much of either.