ESome More Caffeine in the Flyers' Diet
By Eric Meyer, Philadelphia Correspondent
It's the latest craze in Philly. You can't get it with cream and sugar, just in orange and black. It's coffee, err...um...Coffey, Paul Coffey.
He wanted out of Hartford as soon as he got there via Detroit. So two months later, after trade negotiations that seemed like they would just never come to fruition, the man with four Stanley Cup rings, 375 career goals and 1,418 career points was finally given his wish. The two-time Norris Trophy winner, defenseman Paul Coffey was dealt to the Flyers on December 15 along with a third-round draft pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft for defenseman Kevin Haller, the Flyers' first-round pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft and the Whalers' seventh-round pick which had been previously acquired from the Whalers in exchange for then Flyer winger, Kevin Dineen.
Depsite having only eight points in 20 games with the Whalers this season, in Coffey, the Flyers get not only a great defenseman, but also a field general for the power play and a veteran player that not only knows how to win (he has four Cup rings to prove it) but a guy who has played with such greats as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, etc, etc: all players that also know how to win.
Though the price for Coffey wasn't as high as it once seemed it would be (oft rumored to be dealt to the Flyers for Chris Therien, Pat Falloon and Rod Brind'Amour/Shjon Podein), in giving up Kevin Haller and a first- and seventh-round pick the Flyers lose one of their most consistent defensemen as well as the opportunity to take part in the first round of what is thought to be one of the deepest NHL Entry Drafts in a long time.
How it came to be:
It took one trade early in the season for the rumor mill in Philadelphia to begin to pick up steam. On October 9, Coffey was dealt from the Detroit Red Wings along with Keith Primeau and a first round pick to Hartford in exchange for Brendan Shanahan and Bryan Glynn. Coffey immediately began to voice his displeasure with the deal, expressing a great interest to be dealt once again to a serious contender and out of Hartford. And of course, the Philadelphia Flyers immediately vaulted to the forefront.
The names that began to fly around: Pat Falloon, Karl Dykhuis, Shjon Podein, Rod Brind'Amour, Chris Therien, Dale Hawerchuk. On the other end, the deal which was supposed to bring Coffey to the Flyers was to have included (at one time or another) such names as Geoff Sanderson and Andrew Cassels.
In fact, until quite recently, Kevin Haller's name had never really been mentioned in the media circle as a name being considered in this deal. He had actually been rumored to be shipped to Ottawa for Radek Bonk. It just goes to show that rumors are rumors and mean nothing until something is actually done.
Trade rumors aside, despite sitting atop the Northeast Division, there has been a lot of unrest in the Hartford organization this season. The threat of a potential move has lingered in Hartford for a few seasons now and the general feel over that span of time is that Hartford is a bad place to not only watch hockey and be a fan, but also to play hockey. Paul Coffey by expressing his displeasure in Hartford was really setting no great precedent. Earlier this season, Brendan Shanahan had made it crystal clear that he did not want to play for Hartford, thus prompting the trade with the Red Wings. But just over two months after that deal was made sending Shanahan to Detroit and bringing Coffey to Hartford, the highest scoring defenseman of all time, Paul Coffey, finally got his wish with 10 days to spare before Christmas as he was finally dealt again to what he believed to be a serious contender in the Philadelphia Flyers.
The immediate impact:
So what can we expect from Paul Coffey now that he is finally a member of the Philadelphia Flyers? Well, we can expect him to fit in right away. He was traded to the Flyers on Sunday and during the week the entire Flyers team and coaching staff took the future Hall of Fame defenseman out to dinner in order to make their new teammate immediately feel at home and make him feel like he would fit in with the team.
Dinner aside, before pondering his impact, consider this amazing statistic: Paul Coffey has amassed over 1400 points in his NHL career. The leading Flyer defenseman in career points before Coffey's arrival was Petr Svoboda with 319 points in almost 800 games played. Combine all of the Flyers' defensemen: Svoboda, Therien, Dykhuis, Eric Desjardins, Kjell Samuelsson and Janne Niinimaa and you get 865 career points. That being said, look for Paul Coffey to help this team score some goals. Taking nothing away from his prowess as a pure defenseman, Paul Coffey has made a name for himself as a strong skater, a fine passer, and an expert, goal scoring marksman.
The Flyers were 7-0-1 in the eight games before the trade for Coffey, but look for him to become a leader on this team right away, especially on the power play. Before the trade the Flyers were near the bottom of the league in power-play efficiency with just 18 goals in 140 attempts, leaving them 23rd overall in the NHL. Hartford, on the other hand was third in the league with at 21.3% success rate with the man-advantage. In his first game as a Flyer, Coffey's new team went 1-for-3 on the man-advantage against the Isles, with Coffey assisting on a Lindros goal.
Now yes, the Flyers lack of power-play production with Eric Lindros injured for much of the season is not indicative of how effective it would normally be. Yet, with Coffey now in the Flyers lineup, Head Coach Terry Murray will now have the luxury of putting an experienced power-play expert out on the ice with either Eric Lindros at the point, or as was the case in his first game as a Flyer against the Islanders on December 19, pairing Coffey with rookie Janne Niinimaa.
But let's focus for a second on how Coffey's arrival will impact the Flyers defensive corp. For starters, he should have a great influence on the aforementioned, Janne Niinimaa. The youngster who was benched for many games early on in the season has begun to really come on as of late. His one goal and 14 assists, good for 15 points, ranks him second among Flyers defensemen, trailing only Eric Desjardins. It appears the Flyers and Coach Terry Murray will want Coffey not only to be a leader on this team, but to be a role model of sorts on the ice for Niinimaa in the hopes that he will help mold the youngster.
Niinimaa, who spent his boyhood idolizing Coffey, should become a better all around defenseman. Though when asked after his first game as a Flyer what Paul thought about being paired with young Janne, he told reporters that it was more of a thrill for him than for his young linemate, just having the chance to play with and help teach the young defenseman about the game, while watching him improve. And guess what? In his first game as a Flyers defenseman, one assist and one goal, the first in the NHL for Mr. Niinimaa. As for Coffey? Three assists in his first game, setting up Lindros twice in addition to Niinimaa.
Coffey's arrival also means that Terry Murray can realign his defensive pairings. Murray originally leaned towards pairing Coffey with Eric Desjardins as his top defensive combination, but then changed his mind in the hope that Paul Coffey would be able to do for Niinimaa, what he had done for Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. With Coffey paired up alongside Niinimaa, Murray can then make Desjardins and Petr Svodoba, a tandem that was utilized at various times this season, a consistent pairing. That will leave Murray the decision to make a final pairing out of Kjell Samuelsson, Chris Therien and Karl Dykhuis, with the odd man out finding himself out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. Lately, that unlucky soul has been third-year man Chris Therien. Terry Murray has chosen to scratch Therien in six of the last seven games.
Now that Coffey has arrived here in Philadelphia, it appears the wheeling and dealing might not be done just yet. Are the Flyers still worried about their defense now that one of their solid defensemen in Kevin Haller is gone? Well, heed the words of Terry Murray if you think that acquiring Paul Coffey might weaken the defense and lead to more goals allowed from the Flyers, "Let's not kid ourselves here. Paul's been in the league a number of years and he's played world class hockey. He's been against top lines pretty much his whole life. Defensive play is not a concern here."
By the way, in his first game as a Flyer, Coffey's new team pitched their third straight shutout in a row. In his second game as a Flyer, another shutout.
So it seems the Flyers have set their sights once again on Bruin winger and ex-Flyer Rick Tocchet. It was less than a month ago that the Bruins and Flyers appeared close to completing a deal that would send Tocchet to the orange and black for Dale Hawerchuk and Kevin Haller. But now that Haller is gone, it would only seem likely that the two defensemen with any sort of trade value that the Flyers could afford to part with now would be Karl Dykhuis and Chris Therien. Could a package of one of these defensemen and a Flyers forward to the Bruins in exchange for Tocchet be in the near future? Possibly.
Coffey's long-term impact:
Well, I guess you can't call one or two seasons a long-term impact. But, bet on the fact that the man who is under contract for the next two seasons will have a significant long-term effect on this team.
He's a leader who has played with other leaders, both young and old. While on Pittsburgh, his team won a Stanley Cup and his presence helped such players as Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Jaromir Jagr and Larry Murphy excel. As a member of the Red Wings with teammates Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov, his team made the Cup finals in '94-95. And of course, as a member of the Edmonton Oilers with future Hall-of-Famers Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, and "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky, his team won three Cups.
No doubt, Coffey should be able to bring some of what he brought to the five other teams he has played for in the past, in terms of leadership and strong play on the ice. And that strong play and leadership should have a great effect on the Flyers, including center Eric Lindros. In fact, until he is able to find a permanent residence in the Philadelphia area for his family, Coffey will live with teammate, Lindros.
The Flyers big gun should benefit many-fold as the season progresses with the addition of Coffey. Coming back from groin problems, in addition to his physical play, Lindros is just now beginning to come into his own by really starting to regain the scoring touch that has made one of the elite players in the NHL. Said Terry Murray after the Flyers 5-0 win over the Islanders on Eric Lindros' return to the team after his injury, "I told him this. This is the best I've seen him play since I've been here."
And of course, the biggest impact that Coffey should have, short term or long term, is giving the Flyers their best shot in many years at winning Lord Stanley's Cup. Though he may not be the final piece in the puzzle, with guys like Lindros, LeClair and Hextall already here, the Flyers may have gotten themselves the missing corner piece in Coffey.
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