April 14, 2015
As is often the case in any sport (but especially hockey), a team’s leadership is called into question when they fail to reach expectations. After the Flyers’ disappointing season, Jake Voracek brought up the subject during exit interviews. Here’s Jake's quote, via the Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi:
"Kimmo was such a big presence in the locker room, leadership-wise," Voracek said. "Ever since I've been here, every time things didn't go well, we had a meeting about it. He always calmed things down. He would be hard on us as well sometimes, because as a team, we needed to get better. I think that's what we were missing."
Unless the lack of a steadying hand is blatantly obvious in a situation, I struggle to place a ton of value on leadership because it’s intangible. It’s difficult for me to proclaim the Flyers absolutely need something that can’t be measured, specifically because the media isn’t around for 90 percent of the team’s interactions. After all, I would probably think “The Sopranos” is a terrible show if I only watched the dream sequences.
Still, chemistry is important in hockey, maybe more so than any other of the three major sports.
When Voracek, whose voice holds a lot of weight simply because players that finish fifth in the league in points tend to be pretty important, says something, your ears tend to perk up. He is obviously someone who knows much more about the Flyers’ chemistry than anyone on the outside does.
Voracek mentioned Kimmo Timonen, who along with Chris Pronger is the major name often brought up when a current leadership void is suggested. Timonen was widely considered the team’s leader for the last few seasons, but he also doubled as an awesome two-way defenseman. Pronger will shortly be in the Hall of Fame.
If we’re being honest, these discussions often boil down to talent versus leadership. Again, I tend to look at the Flyers’ major problem as a talent-based one because it’s much easier to tell that they missed Timonen on the ice against opponents’ top lines than in the locker room after the team only managed one point in four games. That certainly doesn’t mean the team is lacking in both areas, though.
Ron Hextall talked about leadership in-depth during a video interview posted on the team’s website yesterday (3:00 mark):
“[Acquiring players in the offseason with character] will be a priority, but again, I also believe it’s in our room,” Hextall said. “To give you an example of leadership this year that kind of came to another level was Jake Voracek. Jake, there was no game or practice where I think any of us looked and said, ‘He didn’t give everything he had,’ and that’s huge. He’s one of your top players.”
Hextall also singled out Wayne Simmonds as a player whose leadership qualities improved this season. By the same token, I don’t pretend to know if that’s also true.
But if I had to guess? Once Hextall is able to upgrade the team’s overall talent level, most of the leadership issues will go away pretty fast.