Inside the Flyers: Captain Chris Pronger is setting tone in Flyers' locker room

Defenseman Chris Pronger, the Flyers' new captain, is coming back from four surgeries.
Defenseman Chris Pronger, the Flyers' new captain, is coming back from four surgeries. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 25, 2011

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, trying to rebound from four surgeries, is already in midseason form.

It has nothing to do with his surgically repaired body parts. It has everything to do with his playfully sarcastic personality.

In one corner of the Flyers locker room last week in Voorhees, Captain Snarl was telling a reporter it was the worst part of his day.

Why?

"Because I'm looking at you," he deadpanned.

Laughter echoed around the room.

About 40 feet away, new forwards Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr were cracking jokes, and chatty goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was holding court with the media, telling reporters to "have a seat" and explaining how fans have welcomed him warmly. In his thick Russian accent, Bryzgalov said that when he walks into a convenience store, he gets coffee "on the house," but that after a poor performance he expects it will be "double price."

Again, more laughter.

No one knows if it will translate to more success, but this is a much looser locker room than in recent years.

General manager Paul Holmgren, one of the men behind the daring deals that sent gifted forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter packing, noted that the Flyers gained speed and youth in those trades.

Left unsaid: Holmgren also changed the culture of the locker room.

The locker-room demeanor of Richards and Carter was distant - and apparently the Flyers worried that it may have sometimes carried onto the ice.

Danny Briere, one of the Flyers' alternate captains, called Richards and Carter "good teammates," but he acknowledged that the trades should be good for all teams involved.

Richards was sent to Flyers West, Los Angeles, for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a No. 2 draft pick in 2012, while Carter was dealt to Columbus for Jakub Voracek, a first-round pick in 2011 that turned out to be super-prospect Sean Couturier, and a third-rounder (center Nick Cousins).

"For their careers, I think it might be a good thing for them as well," said Briere, referring to Carter and Richards. "All of a sudden, the pressure is on them to start performing. I think it's good for both sides. When you look at what we got in return, it sets us up for the future. We got five young guys with a lot of upside. . . . And you watch the other moves made after that, it tells you they're still going after it this year. This organization is committed to winning."

The locker room may have a better atmosphere this year, but big questions remain about whether the Flyers sacrificed too much offense when they made the most stunning offseason makeover in franchise history. The team lost 44 percent of the goals it scored last season.

If you are scoring at home, 10 players who were with the Flyers at the end of last season are gone.

Because of all the changes, this training camp is more important than usual. For one, several jobs are up for grabs. For another, the players need time to get acquainted and form bonds.

Fact is, the chemistry this team develops - on and off the ice - may be the most important part of the preseason.

"Every year the room is different, with different personnel coming in," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I believe the room changes with that."

Laviolette said a big part of training camp is for the newcomers to mix with the leftover players and "establish relationships."

Thursday's ugly incident in London, Ontario, may have expedited the bonding. A fan threw a banana on the ice at Simmonds, one of the league's few black players.

The players, to a man, say they have Simmonds' back. This isn't how they wanted to unite - by the reprehensible actions of one knucklehead - but they are dealing professionally with what has come their way.

The Simmonds incident aside, Laviolette said the players have to "work" at becoming good teammates.

"You can't just assume they're going to be friends now," he said the other day. "You've got to work it, like your forecheck or anything else. You've got to spend time at it. You've got to have some questions. Find out who he is, what he likes to do. Go have lunch with him. Find out what his kids are doing. It takes time."

Added Laviolette, who is in his third season with the Flyers: "You've got to experience some good things. You've got to go through some bad things. The quicker you do that," the better. "They're going to get the system. They'll have a good grasp at what we're doing by [the end of] training camp. When we start to do it hard and start to do it for each other, that's when you can really become effective. I think there's a lot that needs to be done there in building a team."

 Vibrant and colorful are words Laviolette used to describe Bryzgalov.

"He's a Russian Garth Snow," a reporter told Laviolette, looking for a response.

Laviolette paused.

"I'm going to let you quote yourself on that one," he cracked.

Even the coach seems to be more jovial this year.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com, or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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