Retired NHL players staying on in new roles with their former teams is one of the more common phenomena in hockey. We've just seen Derian Hatcher added to the coaching staff, which is led by a Phantoms legend in John Stevens. The Flyers' GM, Paul Holmgren, also has a long history with the team, as did his predecessor, whose number hangs from the Wachovia Center rafters. Long before he was GM though, Homer became the first former Flyer to later be named the team's head coach ('87-88).
Some fans love this about hockey, while it drives others crazy. It's probably true that at times, former players are allowed to stay past the point where it's been illustrated that they probably aren't the guys to usher in the next Stanley Cup era, mostly because team officials and fans are too thankful for the roles those men played in the last one. But even with the NHL changing rapidly, we continue to see former players in positions that may in theory be better suited for business school grads, with little sign of imminent change. It's fun though, to think of these suited, straight-faced, dollars & sense men in their former on-ice roles…
Homer has come under fire for some difficulties he's faced in the new salary cap era of the NHL, challenges that are understandable when you think about it. The Flyers and many other teams long ago decided that former players were the best evaluators of talent, chemistry, and potential—back in a time when money wasn't quite the same animal it is today. He's made some great moves since taking over, quickly turning around a team that finished in dead last place, and I have faith in him as the team's personnel architect because I am, for lack of a better word, a homer. The question we're all asking ourselves though is, were last season's difficulties against the cap the crash course that will show Holmgren the way to enlightened money management, or a preview of what we can expect at every deadline? Can he combine his eye for talent with an acumen for forward-thinking number crunching? Only time and an under-the-microscope 2009-2010 season will tell.
Until then, let's take some a few minutes on a summer day to watch a some myopic films of the player Homer was, which as you can see often included dropping the gloves.
This next one's a classic. Homer mixes it up with Marty McSorley, who was with the Pens at the time. Something tells me they didn't catch a Curtis Mayfield concert afterward.
And then we have this next little donnybrook, featuring Holmgren versus Terry O'Reilly of the Bruins, which escalates to include a cheapshot from Mike Milbury, who then reluctantly gets tied up with the Flyers' Mel Bridgman. And I mean tied up with leg locks and all.
That was Homer's second tango with O'Reilly of that particular game. This is a good history reminder though: Next time you hear a guy like Milbury take a dated (or not…) cheapshot at the Flyers, you can bet there was probably some background incident, and it wasn't pretty. And, when considering some of Homer's moves, we should also remember that he racked up 1600 PIM as a Flyer, a club record at the time. Oh, and I said "myopic" before because these clips only show Homer's role as a willing pugilist, rather than a player who could also light the lamp. In the '79-80 season, he scored 30 regular season goals, followed by 10 in the playoffs to go with 10 assists. Those were career highs, but nothing to sneeze at either.
So what are your thoughts on hockey lifers and the prominent role this trend plays in the NHL? Do you think there's no better judge than a guy who can say he's done all that and then some, or is it time for the league to take a Moneypuck approach and place accountant-types in charge of their books to gain an advantage in the off-ice salary cap game?
Thanks to the good guys over at HockeyFights.com for uploading some of these videos and so many more, and as you might imagine, Paul's wikipedia entry is an interesting read. I plugged in a few milestones here, but I encourage checking the rest out, including the time he almost died after a game but fortunately pulled through. There are a few details missing too though, like the time he had some trouble after a DUI/hit and run and ended up at the Betty Ford Clinic, which oddly enough took place a week after Chris Pronger and a group of Homer's Whalers were arrested in 1994. Again, we can see the possible historical links, like the second chances he's been willing to give, as in the case of Ray Emery.