VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux didn’t just go from a 102-point season to forgetting some of the most basic elements of fundamental hockey.
In the span of nine months, Sean Couturier didn’t go from a Selke finalist to rediscovering what makes a sound, solid two-way hockey player.
But you would think after listening to general manager Chuck Fletcher’s press conference Monday that some of the most basic principles of playing hockey at the highest level were being taught for the first time under Scott Gordon.
Sure, Jakub Voracek coughs up the puck too easily at times, Giroux may be coasting on a backcheck or Couturier attempts an errant pass, but these are occasional lapses — not systematic, careless mistakes that take place on a nightly basis.
The Flyers' underlying problems go way deeper than this, starting with the younger players on the team.
“I think everybody understands theories. It’s in the heat of the moment, what are you going to do?” Fletcher said. “I’m not trying to overplay this, but it’s habits. It’s building habits in practice because you revert to what you know in stressful situations. It’s more the mindset, it’s habits. We make the game difficult at times.”
The most revealing part of two days and several hours of quotes from the players, staff and front office personnel is that the Flyers, a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four of the past seven years, have developed bad habits, some really bad habits, that require a complete detoxing.
You almost wish the Flyers could start their rehabilitation with training camp on the Monday after Labor Day weekend.
“It starts with me, then it goes to the coaches, then to the leaders and the players,” Fletcher said. “It’s not just mindset, it’s actual details. It’s doing things the right way repeatedly. That’s how you gain confidence and that’s how you learn to play the right way.”
It’s the realization that while former GM Ron Hextall appeared to be more concerned over the intake of inflammatory foods in their postgame meals or who resided in the players' lounge after games, the nuts and bolts of what really mattered was being neglected under the previous regime.
“It’s not just systems. It's puck management, game management, being in the right spot, holding onto the puck offensively, making more plays offensively, retrieving pucks and winning battles,” Fletcher said. “There’s a whole host of things that go into it. We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things.
“It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.”
Fletcher just rattled off a laundry list of items that make it sound like the equivalent of teaching the golf swing to a 7-year-old picking up a club for the first time. It sounds alarming, and perhaps it should. Even Nolan Patrick mentioned he was exposed to parts of his game for the first time in his career.
“[Gordon] showed me things not many coaches have showed me,” Patrick said. "He helped me a lot with video and stuff I haven’t been shown in a while. Even things on the offensive side of things. It was pretty impressive to see the stuff he was showing me. He’s a smart mind."
The leadership group has to step up
But it can’t just be on Gordon to do the preaching or whoever the Flyers eventually tab as the next head coach.
There’s only so many times a coach can get in the ear of a younger player and repeatedly relay the same message. That’s why coaches are “tuned out” when the leadership group doesn’t reinforce the message with players who are developing bad habits or there’s a refusal of buying into a coach’s philosophy of playing the right way.
“I think it’s a question of consistency and doing the little details. We have some young players that are still learning,” Couturier said. “They’re great and they’re skilled. We’re going to have to be more consistent in doing those little things on a nightly basis. It starts from the leadership group as well. We need to be better consistently and everyone has to be pushing in the right direction.”
In doing so, it sometimes requires difficult and uncomfortable conversations.
And if the Flyers' current leadership group doesn’t feel as if it can carry out this responsibility, then it’s up to management to find those who can.
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