Character vs Identity, and The Importance of Leadership

There’s been a magic feeling in the air surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers after a huge offseason from Chuck Fletcher gave the team and fanbase alike a renewed feeling of hope after major summer shakeups. But why is there a such a good vibe around a team with vastly the same bones? It’s the quality of the new additions and the benefits they bring to the table.

One word that has been thrown around quite a bit over the last few months has been “identity”. Chuck Fletcher spent the offseason making changes to the team’s leadership group. Every player he brought in worn an “A” on his previous team and that was no coincidence, but it has gone further than a few trades on the main roster.

Look no further than his hires for the Phantoms’ coaching staff- Ian Laperriere and Jason Smith, two of the biggest badasses of their era. The brought leadership on the ice by laying their bodies on the line every night. It’s clearly a quality they want to pass on to the next generation of prospects. Start a new culture not just for now, but for years to come.

The word used most often during the Hextall era was “character”. All his draft picks were “good character guys” most of the depth players that he and Dave Hakstol both favored were “good character guys.” Yet it is hard to determine what that word means. It feels like it means that the players were leaders, but didn’t really use their voice for good. Players and staff that were complacent so Hextall could rule his kingdom unopposed. Ryan White is an example of a guy that was a very vocal depth leader both on and off the ice but Hextall didn’t keep him around, once referring to him as a “good soldier for us” before ultimately not re-signing him that summer.

One constant during the Hextall era was the complete lack of physicality throughout the system. Players with big bodies- Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Isaac Ratcliffe just to name a few, were all 6’4 or taller and rarely use it to their advantage. Was it just something they failed to adapt with at the professional level, or was it a coaching decision made by Scott Gordon at the direction of Ron Hextall? We may never know for sure but the up-and-coming players seem to have a different mindset than those over the last few years.

The most recent crop of prospects, Tyson Foerster, Wade Allison, Zayde Wisdom, Joel Farabee among others have not only the on-ice talent, but a work ethic that is unmatched, and as long as it isn’t stifled by some control freak general manager, may blossom into legitimate superstars in the not-too-distant future.

Wade Allison, who was a Hextall pick but has come up in Fletcher’s system, used the word “identity” after fighting during the prospect game against the Rangers. Laperriere echoed a similar sentiment postgame.

“I didn’t like that hit at the beginning. There’s no need for that. I thought it was a cheap hit. So I’m just standing up for my teammates. That s*** don’t fly.”

Said Allison postgame. Now ask yourself, when was the last time we heard something like that? Wayne Simmonds? Scott Hartnell?

Finding an identity for the team has been an issue in the years since the 2010 Cup run. An overall lack of direction, a lack of true leaders at any level has been cause for a lackluster product that stood no chance at being competitive. It’s no coincidence the train came off the tracks soon after Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell were all gone.

Bringing in guys who all held leadership positions with their former clubs, while removing long-time voices in the room like Jake Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere, helps insulate the veteran players left standing, and gives the youth new faces to learn from. Building a better locker room can be a case of a rising tide lifts all ships. A better team environment where players enjoy coming to work every day is a much better direction than the palpable negativity that oozed from the Philadelphia Flyers last season.

This is Philadelphia. The Broad Street Bullies may be a thing of the past but the attitude and code in which those players lived by is still well and strong. There’s an expectation when you don the orange and black that you will give your heart and soul for the betterment of the team every night. It’s a standard that has quite honestly got lost in the shuffle over the last decade or so. But Chuck Fletcher and the band of youngsters and coaches he is assembling seem to remember just where they came from, and it’s only a matter of time before “Be A Fucking Flyer” means something again.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

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