For the Philadelphia Flyers, the 2011-12 offseason was not a quiet one.
The team made a big splash in the free agent and trade markets, dealing captain Mike Richards and top scorer Jeff Carter for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek and the No. 8 pick in the draft, which became Sean Couturier.
The team went on to sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr and aged rookie Matt Read in an effort to revamp the roster.
Despite all these headline-grabbing moves, the roster change that has made the biggest positive impact thus far is a surprising one, a move that had fans scratching their heads and groaning when the news came down.
Max Talbot, who many Philly fans never wanted to see in the Orange and Black, inked a five-year, $9 million contract with the Flyers in the midst of all the offseason chaos.
Now that the dust has settled, Talbot has begun to prove himself the smartest offseason acquisition the Flyers made this summer.
This offseason, the Flyers lost three players that contributed significantly on the penalty kill, as the team traded Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Darroll Powe in the process of revamping the roster.
With Claude Giroux expected to command more even-strength ice time this season, the Flyers knew that penalty killing would be a liability if the team didn’t hop on an experienced, defensively responsible forward.
Talbot had established himself as a role-player in Pittsburgh, with his biggest contributions coming on the penalty kill. He quickly found himself on top of the Flyers depth chart while shorthanded, and has not disappointed.
He has proven to the Philly faithful his ability to block shots, pressure opposing defensemen and kill valuable time in the offensive zone, important contributions for the most penalized team in hockey. No other free agent acquisition has provided the security on the kill that Talbot has.
A player like Talbot always brings intangibles; he may not top the three stars on a nightly basis, but thus far, Talbot has laced up the skates in every game the Flyers have played, and he has filled his role dutifully on all accounts.
Other newcomers, like Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Jaromir Jagr, have already experienced injuries that kept them out of games. Fresh faces like Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek have played all 20 games, but have shuffled through the lines and struggled to find chemistry with linemates.
Talbot has consistently played well on the third and fourth line and has paired up nicely with players like Read and Sean Couturier.
At season’s end, he may not have the stats that Simmonds and Voracek provide, but coach Peter Laviolette always knows what he has with Talbot, and for a coach, that trait is invaluable.
The Flyers lineup is not as clear-cut as many teams, and the team’s bottom six forwards find their complexion changing from night to night.
Talbot has not only served as a role player, but as a multi-role player. He has centered the checking line, played wing on the line and played time on the third line. Laviolette has found that the former Penguin can find himself in almost any role and play it at a high level.
As other players get hot and cold, Talbot finds himself moved around the depth chart, subjected to different fore-checking and back-checking duties. While other offseason acquisitions like Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds have relied on line chemistry and very specific roles to be productive, Tablot has thrived under any circumstance.
The more flexible Talbot is, the more he will be contributing to the team over the next five seasons.
While Talbot signed with the Flyers for five years, the team’s major investments have been in young up-and-comers like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Matt Read. The team hopes that these players, among others, will develop into responsible two-way forwards capable of playing in any situation.
Having a player like Talbot on the roster makes that development come along a little bit more easily. He has already spent time on the penalty kill with Couturier and fellow rookie Read, and has helped their development so significantly that Peter Laviolette now trusts the two youngsters to play together while the team is shorthanded.
Couturier and Read have replicated Talbot’s aggressive PK style, and all three players have scored shorthanded this season.
Once Schenn finds his way back into the lineup, expect a similar mentoring system to be put in place by Laviolette, with Talbot being a major part of it.
When the Flyers signed Talbot, they were expecting a reliable bottom-six forward whose main impact would come in the form of keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
During his time in Pittsburgh, Talbot’s highest totals in goals and points were 13 and 26, respectively. This season, Talbot has only played 20 games, but already has six goals and 11 points. That puts him on pace to break 20 goals and 40 points by season’s end, if he remains healthy.
Simply putting up numbers doesn’t capture Talbot’s value. By posing as a worthy offensive threat on the ice, not simply a forechecker, Talbot makes the third and fourth lines dangerous.
With players like Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr attracting the attention of opposing defenses, Talbot’s ability to put the puck in the net (he has scored on 23 percent of his shots) aids in baffling rival coaches. A balanced scoring attack makes Philadelphia dangerous.