Not exactly a new deal for the Flyers

Steve Downie. (AP Photo)
Steve Downie. (AP Photo)
Posted: November 02, 2013

Steve Downie was on a conference call late Thursday afternoon, another former Flyer back again to return the team to glory, and the way he described his playing style was sure to get the organization's old guard and the hardest of hard-core fans tingling with anticipation.

"I like to play a physical game," Downie said. "I play the game on the edge. I just like to play as hard as I can night in and night out. I'll bring my energy night in and night out and hopefully help this team win."

Lord, the Flyers make it easy sometimes. They make it so, so easy. They acquired Downie in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche, sacrificing Max Talbot and the two remaining years on his contract for a familiar face who becomes an unrestricted free agent at season's end. And a little more salary-cap space for the offseason does have some value for the Flyers. It certainly has more than whatever Downie will deliver until then.

Look, the problem here is not that Downie is a lesser player than Talbot. He isn't. The problem isn't even the timing and optics of the trade, as unflattering and as open to mockery as they are.

Though he has matured from his first stint with the Flyers, Downie still piles up penalty minutes at a faster rate than most players. He has 36 already this season. So in the midst of a 3-8 start, the Flyers and general manager Paul Holmgren have decided that the best way to right themselves is to promote former tough guy Craig Berube to head coach and trade for a tough guy in Downie. So much for a fresh, clean start. So much for a culture change.

No, the primary problem here is the Flyers' belief that a marginal move like this was worth making in the first place, that a player who brings an "edge" was what they were missing most. It's not.

The Flyers play hard. When they squandered that two-goal lead against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night, they didn't suddenly get lazy. The Ducks simply matched their intensity and overwhelmed them, because the Ducks have better players, and this trade doesn't narrow that gap enough to make a difference.

Downie has one goal in 11 games, yet Holmgren told reporters Thursday that, Talbot's conscientious defensive play notwithstanding, the Flyers needed "something to stir the pot" on offense. By that logic, perhaps Holmgren should have traded Claude Giroux.

The Flyers captain hasn't scored a goal this season, and it's easy to interpret Holmgren's quote to mean that Downie will play alongside Giroux in an attempt to "create space" for him and snap him out of his slump. After all, in 2009-10, when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Downie scored a career-high 22 goals while playing on a line with superstars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.

This theory is ludicrous. Take a look at Stamkos' and St. Louis' statistics. Take a good, long look. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, Stamkos has averaged (averaged!) 52 goals every 82 games. St. Louis - a former league MVP, a player who averages more than a point per game in the playoffs - is on track to earn induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The notion that they needed a player like Downie so they could be productive is absurd on its face. His presence didn't transform them into transcendent talents.

If anything, Downie was benefiting from Stamkos and St. Louis, not the other way around, and it's hard to imagine he'll elevate Giroux's game. He doesn't control the puck with the same skill, doesn't demand the same attention in the offensive zone, that Jaromir Jagr did when Giroux collected those 93 points in 2011-12.

Besides, if there were any validity to the idea that a player cut from Downie's mold - one who is willing to fight and intimidate to protect his team's top scorers - is essential to Giroux's success, why did Colorado trade him at all? At 10-1, its roster stocked with young, fast forwards and defensemen, the Avalanche entered Thursday with the NHL's best record.

Maybe, on a team like that, Steve Downie is an expendable part, nothing more. Here, he's the thin hope for a rise back to relevance. Here, he's the same old solution to a problem still unsolved.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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