CHICAGO - MAY 27: Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers answers reporters questions during Stanley Cup media day at the United Center on May 27, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Looking at the coverage of the Flyers Rookie Training Camp makes you wonder who sets expectations.
In case you didn't know, the Flyers started their training camp on Monday. Well, not quite - only the rookies will be practicing this week. The full team begins camp on Friday. Still, this means hockey is back, which means the media is back to writing daily stories. Unfortunately, this is not always a good thing.
Let's just get this out of the way first: I greatly respect the mainstream media. Without beat reporters like Tim Panaccio, Anthony SanFilippo, Frank Seravalli and all the rest of them covering the team, we wouldn't have as much information about the Flyers as we do. This is especially true for those who are unable to attend camp and get quotes from the rookies. In addition, they have a difficult job to do, finding a story to write everyday, then going out and getting tight-lipped insiders to give quotes about it. I don't envy their position.
With that said, two stories have emerged from this camp that really frustrate me. The first is a storyline that has been running since March. Ever since the Flyers signed Mike Testwuide out of Colorado College in March, everyone from Paul Holmgren, to the Inquirer, to CSNPhilly have written about how he might make the team out of camp. After I tried dispelling that notion earlier, my editor at Broad Street Hockey - Travis Hughes - picked up on the theme this week.
The main crux of the argument boils down to this: The Flyers now have 13 forwards signed to an NHL contract, plus Bill Guerin on a tryout. There's simply no open roster spot up for grabs on the team, but on top of that, Testwuide is an undrafted, 23-year old player who scored 31 points in the NCAA last year. In his college career, he's never scored more than 31 points in any two year period combined. But for some reason, this is a guy that everyone is talking about, hyping him up for failure.
Which is sad, really. Whoever is to blame - the Flyers, the media, or the fans - doesn't matter, but what matters is that Testwuide is being pushed into the fans psyche with unreasonable expectations. In the CSNPhilly article, both Tim Panaccio and Testwuide himself make the comparison between his game and James van Riemsdyk's. But van Riemsdyk scored as many points in his sophomore year in college (at age 19) as Testwuide scored in his junior and senior seasons combined, at ages 22 and 23.
None of this is to say that Testwuide isn't good. The point is that nobody knows how good he is, since he only had one standout year in college. But the storyline over the summer has been "Mike Testwuide Pushing for Roster Spot Out of Camp". Great story line, but it just isn't going to happen.
Alternatively, Frank Seravalli came out with an article today entitled "(Luke) Pither must prove he deserves spot in Flyers' organization". It's really not a bad article, but the general theme of the story is incredibly frustrating in terms of how his sister paper (the Inquirer) is handling the Testwuide scenario. Now, let's be clear: this is not a criticism of Seravalli. He isn't hyping up Testwuide, and he is the only one writing about Luke Pither, which he deserves credit for.
The point is that Luke Pither is a guy who will most likely slot into the Phantoms top-line pivot either immediately or shortly into the season. The Flyers have a ton of centers in the NHL (Richards, Briere, Carter, Giroux, Betts, and Powe) but the Phantoms lost their top two centers (Jonathan Matsumoto and Jared Ross) this year, leaving only Jon Kalinski and free agent acquisition Greg Moore up the middle for Adirondack. Pither plays a position of need for the Phantoms, but that's not the only reason he doesn't have to prove he deserves a spot in the organization.
As Seravalli mentions in his third sentence, Pither signed a 3-year contract in March. He is in the organization and he will have a spot in their professional ranks. But outside of that, Pither has averaged 1.51 points per game over the past two years. Alternatively, Testwuide has averaged 0.55 points per game over that same time span. Using Gabe Desjardins' AHL Equivalencies, Pither can be expected to score 52 points in an 82-game AHL season at age 21. Testwuide, two years his senior, is only expected to score 39 points in an 82-game AHL season.
Despite this, Seravalli writes about the pressure placed on Pither to impress at training camp in order to earn a spot in the organization. Maybe it was the quotes Pither gave him that shaped the story, which is fine. But the differential treatment being afforded Luke Pither and Mike Testwuide is astounding. If anybody should be feeling pressure, it is Testwuide. And that is largely because of the stories surrounding Testwuide.
Both the team and the media are placing higher expectations on Testwuide than he deserves, setting a bar so high that he will inevitably fail to clear it - at least this year. Meanwhile, Frank Seravalli seeks out the best Flyer in rookie camp - commendable, certainly - and writes a story with such low expectations for Pither that he should easily exceed them (barring injury, of course). Why does this happen? Who decides what player will get the pre-season hype, and what criteria do they use?
Honestly, I feel bad for Mike Testwuide. He has a breakout year during his final season of college which earns him a professional contract. He turns down a contract from his hometown Avalanche - where he would have had a much greater opportunity to make the NHL this year - to play in the Flyers organization. He has an uphill battle to become a successful NHL player at all, then he chooses a more difficult path to the NHL, and yet he still arrives to immediate expectations of him making the club out of camp. To do that, he would have to beat out an established NHL veteran, likely both Bill Guerin and Dan Carcillo. Oh, then he has to deal with being compared to a former 2nd overall pick.
I wish Testwuide success. But I also wish he could have flown under the radar, grown into his body, go about his work, and progress as a professional. Unfortunately, he is now expected to be a lot better than conventional wisdom suggests. Instead of muting expectations - two years ago, Testwuide only scored 9 points in 36 games - he now has to not only match the best year of his career, but he has to jump straight to the NHL (something both Andreas Nodl and James van Riemsdyk struggled to do) and improve upon his career year.
Again using Desjardins' NHL Equivalencies, Testwuide would only be expected to score 29 points in the NHL next year. Those equivalencies are based primarily on 21 and 22 year olds making the jump, since most players going straight from the NCAA to the NHL are drafted at that age and are the best players in college. That isn't Testwuide. While van Riemsdyk nailed his projection on the nose (he was expected to score 37 points and he did when taking into account the games he missed), he not only was a high draft pick, had two very successful years in college, and jumped at age 20 (his age 21 season), he didn't do it smoothly. Stories were written all year (in December, in April, and June) about his struggles and eventual benching in the Cup Finals.
The point there is that if Testwuide actually made the team, he'd realistically score fewer than 29 points (accounting for age). At best, Testwuide could replace Arron Asham's production (24 points in 72 games). But with Dan Carcillo (22 points in 76 games) and Bill Guerin (45 points in 78 games) ahead of him on the depth chart, why are we even talking about Mike Testwuide making the Flyers?
Wouldn't the mainstream media rather write about Zac Rinaldo?