When the Flyers traded for Dan Carcillo a year ago, the book on him was that he was an out of control rebel, who often times crossed the line with regards to vicious hits, irresponsible play and just flat out dirty hockey. When he arrived in Philadelphia, Carcillo didn't do much to change those opinions.
He took dumb penalties. He played over the edge, seemingly without regard for the fact that he took his team off the cliff with him every time he did so. His reputation as a passionate yet wild, ineffective trouble maker grew as the season went on, ultimately culminating with the mother of all gaffes: dropping the gloves with Max Talbot in what would turn out to be final game of the Flyers 2008/09 season.
No, his decision to drop the gloves with Talbot wasn't the deciding factor in that Game 6, but it certainly didn't help matters either. Until that point, Carcillo never helped matters (except for maybe that one time in Game 4 where he scored a late goal and then proceeded to pump up the Wachovia Center crowd to record levels).
These characteristics followed him into the 2009/10 season as well, notoriously punctuated by his cheap shot punch to the face of Washington's Matt Bradley back in December. Carcillo was suspended four games for that incident, but since then he's turned his season and his reputation among Flyers fans around.
Of course, he had already shown glimpses of becoming a smarter hockey player before then, most notably by simply drawing more penalties than he was taking. But the Bradley incident proved that he still had an uncontrollable side that could be a severe detriment to his team and even to the sport.
That's all but gone now, however. Why might that be?
It certainly could have been the suspension, a four game sit down that would have forced Carcillo to contemplate the effects of his actions on his team. Given the fact that it wasn't Carcillo's first suspension, however, and the fact that suspensions rarely turn players into repentant saints make this scenario seem unlikely.
This should lead us to believe that it was due in part to Peter Laviolette's influence, as the Washington game was the first of his Flyers tenure. It's noted on the record several times from his days in Carolina that Laviolette has a low, low tolerance for the nonsense Carcillo displayed that night. Mike Richards forced Carcillo, who wasn't on the docket to speak to the media following that game, to trudge out into the cameras and speak about his actions.
It could have been a decree from Laviolette or Richards could have done that on his own, but either way, it's interesting that it was from that point on that Carcillo began to rein in his behavior.
Since, smart play has become a not-so-shocking staple of his game. It slowly but surely has become expected for Carcillo to draw penalties more often than he takes them, and the fights he engages in these days are often calculated, strategic endeavors instead of reckless, adrenaline-driven fits of rage.
He's even added a bit of the scoring touch, and his fine play has been appreciated by his coach in more than just words. Carcillo is a now serving on Laviolette's top line, playing with Selke-worthy captain Mike Richards and the always smooth-as-ice Simon Gagne. He compliments those two with a perfect mix of aggression and hockey sense, giving the two point producers room to work while sometimes even stepping onto the score sheet himself.
Carcillo's intelligent play came to a head on Sunday night, as he stood in and accepted abuse from Toronto's Colton Orr without retaliation. It was the perfect reaction to Orr's advances in that situation. Orr had been at Carcillo's back for about five seconds, shoving him several times as the Flyer skated toward his bench. An initial cross-check penalty had already been called on Orr and Carcillo certainly noticed.
As he reached the boards, he turned to face Orr, who then engaged him with a few shoves to the upper body. As the linesman stepped in to peel Orr off of number 13, a frustrated Orr took one final swing at Carcillo's head. Another two minute penalty for roughing was rightfully handed out to the goon who, as Carcillo pointed out post game, doesn't really have much else on which to fall back.
Here's Carcillo, speaking about Orr and the Leafs postgame:
That guy, I‘m just never going to fight him. I mean, he plays three minutes a night. He doesn’t really do anything unless somebody fights him. I kind of knew he was going to run me there and then I sucked him into a few, and luckily we scored a little bit later.
They do it every game, they're doing it every game we play them. Every whistle they're in there. I mean, that's all they've got right now. What do they have, you know? That's all they're going to do. They’re just going to try and get up under your skin and make us take penalties. And we knew that. That’s just the type of team they are right now, and we’re just not buying into it. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.
Those are the words that follow the actions of a smart hockey player. Carcillo didn't hurt his team at a time where taking a penalty would've negated a pending power play. Instead, he stood there calmly, intelligently taking the abuse from Orr, whose stupidity wound up costing the Leafs another penalty. Just the gravy on top.
Of course, in Toronto, they're not exactly viewing this under the same light.
The first period was a gong show in large part because of Colton Orr. After two regular season games and a pre-season game I think it should be very clear that Daniel Carcillo is never going to engage in fisticuffs. Flyers fans can pretend that he was just being smart but Carcillo then tried to fight Jeff Finger later in the game because he knew Orr was stapled to the bench.
First off, Carcillo made it quite clear why he's not fighting Orr: it's pointless. At the same time, to state that it's 'very clear' that Carcillo is 'never going to engage in fisticuffs' with the Leafs is pretty hilarious, considering he's done it three times since this preseason.
Meanwhile, we can just ignore the logic that says fighting a guy in a situation that would negate a power play and challenging a guy right after the opposing team has tied the game to give your team a boost is the same thing. Fighting Orr would have been unbelievably stupid, but fighting Finger to spark your team after the Leafs tie the game?
The rest of the league likely won't recognize the strides Carcillo has taken in his game. To them, he'll continue to be the worthless piece of... oh, what's the word?, that's right... chicken**** that he's been known to be his entire career. That's fine by us.
To the Flyers fans who know him best, Carcillo is rapidly becoming one of those guys who you'd hate to play against but absolutely love to play with, which might be the biggest compliment you can give a hockey player. He'll continue to become the fan favorite Paul Holmgren promised he'd become in this town when he traded for him a year ago.
Keep on hating Dan Carcillo, hockey world. He loves it.