Exclusive: Max Talbot Excited for Upcoming Season, Sees Flyers as Playoff Team
By David Strehle (@David_Strehle)
As the Philadelphia Flyers make preparations to improve upon last year’s disappointing season, forward Max Talbot is ready to embark on his third year with the club and working hard to come back from a broken leg that cut the already lockout-abbreviated 2012/13 campaign even shorter.
Following a rigorous rehab, the 29-year-old has been skating for more than a month now and says his leg is just fine.
In fact, “Great,” was the word Talbot used to describe it on Thursday via telephone. “It was a long process, three months on crutches. But as soon as I got rid of the crutches, the muscles came back fast. (The leg is) doing great.”
That’s great news as his defensive abilities and prowess on the penalty kill should be vital necessities for a Flyers club hoping to rebound from a poor campaign.
Talbot has now been on both sides of a nasty rivalry between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins and even though it was his choice to sign with Philly as a free agent, it was still somewhat of an adjustment to play for what was a bitter enemy just a few months earlier.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was kind of tough to start,” he said of his transition from Pennsylvania’s west coast hockey town to the one that resides in the east. “I think it was more of a challenge but at the same time you change teams, you hate them all like that. I played six years in Pitt(sburgh), so when I got to the Flyers that obviously changed things with them.”
Things got very interesting right off the bat against his former teammates, possibly making the adjustment a bit smoother.
“The first year the hockey gods made it so we played the Penguins in the first round, and we ended up winning,” Talbot said of the Flyers’ grueling six-game victory over Pittsburgh in the 2012 conference quarterfinal. “So that was a good turn of events.”
His offensive contributions were far above any realistic expectations during that initial regular season in Philadelphia, as he set career-high marks in goals (19), assists (15), and points (34). But the NHL decided to lock out its players prior to training camp last year, leaving them to find ways to occupy their time.
Talbot did not remain idle.
Along with fellow-Flyer and friend Bruno Gervais, he sponsored a charity hockey tournament in Quebec. Talbot then repelled off of a 20-story Philly building in another charity event, then signed to play with Finnish team Ilves in Finland’s top-tier SM-liiga.
“Hockeywise, you try to stay in shape”, explained Talbot. “You try to find the best way possible for when the season starts to be ready to play. That’s what we did in Quebec. Not only that, but we also raised over $400,000 for charity. So that was a pretty cool project. After that, going to play in Finland was to try to stay in shape. When it (the season) started, everyone was really happy and was ready to go.”
Even though his defensive play was still top notch, Talbot managed just a single goal and six points through the first 26 games last year. Midway through the schedule he suddenly caught fire, netting four goals over a nine-game stretch.
“It just happens sometimes,” he said when asked if he was able to pinpoint anything that had made a difference in offensive production. “You know, in a season there’s a lot of things that happen, and if I’m not scoring goals it doesn’t mean I’m a useless player. There’s ups and downs and it’s always nice to get on the score sheet, but I thought I was playing my role. I think my role is more defined in different aspects of the game, but when goals happen it’s always nice. It’s a bonus for me.”
After notching a goal early in a March 31 contest against the Washington Capitals, Talbot unfortunately suffered a season-ending fracture to his left leg while finishing a check on defenseman Mike Green. “Yeah, when his knee hit my leg” was how Talbot described it.
The injury came just days before the April 3 NHL trade deadline, amid speculation out of St. Louis that the Blues were making a strong push to acquire Talbot’s services.
It wasn’t the last time his name would be included in trade rumors.
Coinciding with the opening of this summer’s free agency period and the signing of center Vincent Lecavalier, another rumor surfaced via Twitter with Talbot’s name squarely in the mix. Stephane Laporte of Montreal’s LA PRESSE.CA tweeted a scenario in which the Canadiens would send forwards Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen along with young blue liner Nathan Beaulieu to Philadelphia in exchange for defenseman Braydon Coburn and forwards Talbot and Wayne Simmonds.
While the whole thing resembled something of a Montreal fan-based hope as opposed to reliable inside information with how much the deal favored the Habs, the fact that he was included was another example of how Talbot’s value is widely regarded around the league.
The native of Lemoyne, Quebec doesn’t put much stock in the hot stove fodder, noting how often the unsubstantiated rumor hype can appear from nowhere and rapidly spreads like wild fire.
“First of all, I don’t read too much into the rumors.” he said. “I think it’s something that sometimes goes fast, and can come from anywhere.”
“It doesn’t stress me out too much,” Talbot added, placing a positive outlook on what can sometimes be a difficult situation for a professional athlete. “If there’s one way to take it, I like to think about the glass half full all the time. I’m more of a positive type of guy so if my name’s out there, it’s because teams are requesting for me.”
Talbot’s versatility comes in handy as Paul Holmgren has continued with the Bobby Clarke philosophy of being extremely strong in the middle up front. “I’m a big believer in the more centers you have, the better off you’re going to be,” the GM said at a press conference to introduce newcomers Lecavalier, Ray Emery, and Mark Streit.
As training camp approaches Philadelphia has centers Claude Giroux, Lecavalier, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Adam Hall, Talbot, and likely Scott Laughton, and that game plan sees natural centers like Schenn moved to the wing.
With the club’s attempts to get youngster Couturier more third line ice time, Talbot has also played a good amount of left wing.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “It’s always easier to take a center and move him to wing than the opposite. It’s always more important being stronger in the middle, so guys can adjust to being on the wing. I’ve been playing mostly wing in the last two years in Philly. I find (having so many natural centermen) is a nice problem to have.”
The sheer depth at the position allows for organizational flexability; Holmgren with possibly using them as bargaining chips if he decides to attempt to bring in a top-two defenseman, and head coach Peter Laviolette with the ability to move his pivots to the wings as he juggles lines in hopes of finding combinations that click.
When reflecting upon Philadelphia’s non-playoff finish last year, Talbot seems pretty confident the season was nothing more than an abberation brought on by the ill-timed lockout.
“I think last year was a different kind of season, you can’t really go down and pinpoint different stuff. It’s tough to really judge a short season like that with everything that happened with the Flyers.”
Some of ‘what happened’ to the team was a ridiculous run of serious, season-ending injuries. Of course teams never like to use injuries as an excuse for failure, but the unbelievable amount of injuries to key Flyers was epidemic. This was especially true on defense, where the bulk of blue liners at season’s end were players who had been recalled from the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms.
Once again, Talbot likes to take the “glass half full” viewpoint regarding the situation.
“It may be in the long run that we’ll get the young guys stronger because they had experience in the NHL,” he said. “It (the injuries) was stuff that happened, and it’s just how you have to react in trying to keep winning games.”
The Flyers did show signs of life at different points in the year, but came up just short in a bid for a berth in the postseason. It seemed one thing that was sorely lacking was consistency, as every time it appeared the team was about to turn a corner and right the ship, the club would go on another rather lengthy losing streak.
The team had a trio of losing streaks of three contests and one of four but was unable to put together more than two wins in a row until April 3, with only 13 games and about three weeks remaining in the regular season. By that time, it was too late to salvage the campaign.
While Philly did manage a 10-5 record over their final 15 outings, four of the five losses were in succession following a four-game win streak.
“Yeah, I think it’s (consistency) important for every team,” Talbot said. “I think you have to find your game and play it. Obviously being consistent is really important for a season, you can’t have too many ups and downs. You’ve got to stay level and try to win as many games as possible.”
The club will need to avoid a start like last year. They were outscored 11-3 in dropping the first three games, on their way to a 2-6 record that got the campaign off to the worst possible beginning. Things snowballed from there as the Flyers found themselves needing to make up ground in the conference standings from the first week of the regular season forward.
Talbot believes the club will best served with a quick start in October, which would supply a foundation with which to build upon for a successful year.
“I just think that this year is about breaking camp and starting on the right foot and winning some games. We have a good team, a good group of guys, so we’ll go one game at a time.”
Other than Giroux’s recent injury to his finger while playing golf, it’s been a summer of positives regarding Philly hockey. Talbot believes the signing of Lecavalier, Streit, and Emery gives the club momentum heading into training camp.
“Well obviously their reputation, they’re all great guys,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to see Vinny a lot, and I met Ray as well. It’s his second time around in Philly. Mark Streit is known for being a great guy, as well. They’re all experienced guys, all older guys that will bring experience from different teams.”
Not to mention that both Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Streit (New York Islanders) captained their respective teams prior to inking free agent pacts with the Flyers last month. Their influence on an increasingly younger roster, as well as that of someone of an eight-year NHL veteran such as Talbot, should be invaluable.
“It’s about doing my job and bringing a lot of leadership, working hard every shift,” said Talbot as he acknowledged his role.
When asked if he views the Flyers as a better team right now than they were at the end of last season, Talbot says he likes what he sees.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “We’ve made a nice couple of moves this summer, and guys are obviously hungry. Hungrier because last year wasn’t the season we all expected. I think the guys are going to come to camp ready and excited.”
Talbot has expectations – for himself, as well as the team — for the upcoming campaign.
“You always have expectations, and I think our team shows a lot of potential,” Talbot said. “Obviously it was disappointing last season. We’re definitely a playoff type of team, we’re a team that has a lot of potential that can win any year with a talented group of guys and good players. There’s definitely expectations, and for me it’s not about numbers. I’m going to be ready for camp, ready for a big season and I’m pretty excited.”
When asked if he envisions the Flyers qualifying for the postseason this year, there was absolutely no hesitation in Talbot’s response.
“Yes”, he said decisively, “without a doubt.”