"I'd take G with me, because he'd like to coach, as well," Talbot is saying after practice, referring to Claude Giroux. "And I'd maybe have to stay with another French guy in Danny B. He'd be more like the guy behind the drills."
"I could see that," says Matt Carle. "But it would have to be a French-speaking team."
Amid all the talk of rookies, goalies and special teams, obscured in the Flyers' elimination of the Pittsburgh Penguins might have been the subcoaching roles played by a slew of savvy players, some veteran, some not. It is easy to see it in Giroux, their 24-year-old de facto captain, as he arranges and rearranges players on faceoffs, urges on teammates on the bench and on the ice. But the bigger picture, one that has emerged over the last week and particularly after Sunday's clincher, is how much players such as Talbot, Briere and even Jaromir Jagr contributed even when they weren't on the ice.
Talbot had a career season with 19 goals and 15 assists, then followed it with a clutch effort against his former team. Two of his three goals against his old team were shorthanded and he finished plus-5 for the high-scoring series.
It's the sneaky, little subtext to the signings of both former Penguins last summer. Considered a talented flake in his heyday, Jagr's brainy and at times calming influence in the Flyers' dressing room had to be at least a small surprise. As for Talbot, most fans barely raised an eyebrow when he was signed away from Pittsburgh in July. Maybe some Flyers, too.
"He's the kind of guy," says Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, "who you don't appreciate as much as you should until he's on your team."
Tuesday, I bounce around the room and ask a few players to name their top three coaching candidates on the team. Carle names Talbot, Briere and Jody Shelley. Shelley names Talbot, Kimmo Timonen and Jagr, even says he expects the 40-year-old Czech to do it someday: "He really loves the game."
Giroux had the same list as Talbot, just not in that order. "He'd be my assistant," Giroux says.
He was laughing as he said it, but he's dead serious about wanting to coach someday. It's another part of what makes him special even among superstars. The coaching ranks are filled with muckers and grinders, with backup goalies and journeyman defensemen such as Laviolette. Wayne Gretzky got behind the bench, but Bob Clarke never did; neither did Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr or even one of the greatest captains ever, Mark Messier.
Leadership does not equate to future coach. Future coaches, says Berube, are those guys who break down the game on the ice, and off it.
"I think there's guys who look in depth of what's going on," Berube says. "During a game, Max will say something to me or Lavy on the bench about the inside of the game and what he's seeing out there. He's smart that way. He's an intelligent guy. It's what makes him a good player. It's hard work, yeah, but he knows what's going on, too."
"I think it's one of the reasons I've made it this far, if I can say that," Talbot says. "Because I understand the game. I'm not the most skilled guy. But I understand the game, and I try to position myself to make plays. Try to understand what teams do."
It's also one reason Talbot can at times look like one of the fastest players on the ice even though he really isn't. His speed is above average, but his anticipation, his brain, is what often puts him ahead of the defense with the puck, or has him picking up the rebound after someone else has.
"Even in junior, I could do some of that," Talbot says. "But obviously with more experience and the more you can learn about the game, you can anticipate a little more. What player does what. What set of plays they're doing. What the tendencies are of every good player as well. When he comes down the wing, is he going to try to stickhandle you? You watch some on TV, but you get more by playing against them."
Says Berube: "In the Pittsburgh series, he knew some of the things they were going to do and he was right on about it. He's thinking all the time about the game. Not just about playing it, but the other things that go along with it."
Which, of course, is why he landed on everyone's list. Including his own.
"It's something that at the start of my career I wasn't sure I was going to do," he says. "But the more I get older and the more I learn and experience, it's something I really think I will try."
Contact Sam Donnellon at email@example.com.
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