Cross Checks: Max Talbot

Before the start of the regular season, Steve Downie was chatting with great enthusiasm about being back in NHL competition after a couple of years marked by bad luck and injury. He was on a line with Matt Duchene -- maybe the player who has made the most dramatic steps in his evolution through the first month of the regular season -- and Ryan O'Reilly.

Through 11 games for the surprising 10-1-0 Avs, Downie collected a goal and six assists. He averaged 16:43 a night in ice time, including 2:43 a night, on average, on the Avs' power play.

So it was more than a bit of a surprise that on Thursday afternoon the Avs announced they had traded Downie to Philadelphia for Maxime Talbot.

Given the growing up that Downie has done in recent years, he’ll surprise folks in Philadelphia -- the team that drafted the rough-around-the-edges winger with the 29th overall pick in 2005 and later shipped him off to Tampa. In fact, Downie may be just the tonic for a Flyers team that has sleepwalked through the first month of the season with an embarrassing 3-8-0 record heading into action Thursday.

Downie, 26, is in the final year of a deal that carries a $2.65 million cap hit and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so that was a factor in the decision to send him packing by Colorado hockey boss Joe Sakic and coach Patrick Roy.

Talbot, 29, has two more years on his deal with a cap hit of $1.75 million annually. Surely the Avs aren’t thinking about shaving a little money off the bottom line while the team is finally creating some positive buzz after years of being a nonfactor in that market. Surely ownership wouldn’t be that shortsighted.

This isn’t to suggest Talbot isn’t a useful player. In fact, he is exactly the kind of player an emerging team would covet. He was part of a Pittsburgh Penguins team that accelerated through the learning curve to advance to Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, playing inspired minutes on the third and fourth line and chipping in on the penalty kill. In 2009, Talbot scored the Cup winner in Game 7 in Detroit.

But he seems like the kind of player a team would add as a complementary player, someone to augment a lineup as opposed to swapping out a younger, more talented player like Downie.

"He’s a character player. He will help our penalty killing," Roy told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun before boarding a team flight Thursday. "It also gives us some lineup flexibility as a guy that can play both center or wing. And he’s a guy that’s performed well in the playoffs. He’s won a Stanley Cup. I really think he’s going to help us.

"We like the fact that he’s got this year plus two more seasons on his contract. That was also a factor."

Bottom line, unless there’s an unknown backstory, this one is a bit of a puzzler.

TORONTO -- The Philadelphia Flyers begin a season-long, six-game road trip Monday night, a moment in their season that will answer questions about a club that has sent mixed messages about its status in the Eastern Conference.

Are they indeed still the contenders some people believe they are? Or a team in transition that needs its youngsters to grow a bit more before taking the next step?

The next 10 days will tell the tale.

"We’ve got a six-game road trip and we haven’t had a lot of success [on the road], so this is a big road trip for us," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told ESPN.com Monday morning at Air Canada Centre.

A 5-6-1 start has given evidence to both cases, although a 3-0-1 homestand last week helped foster thoughts that things are finally coming together after some early-season hiccups.

"We had a tough start, I think for everybody," veteran Flyers forward Max Talbot said Monday morning after the pregame skate. "But the last four games have been good. We’re trying to build off that."

A 22nd-ranked offense underlines the most obvious issue at hand, although 13 goals during that four-game home stand suggested things are beginning to open up on that front.

"Yes, we started to generate more offensively than we had in the previous games, so that’s a good sign," said Holmgren. "The coaches changed a little bit how we play in our own end and it’s affected our players going on the attack, and they seem to be getting the hang of things."

A 21st-ranked power play is part of Philadelphia’s problem, and until that unit gets going -- the Flyers went 3-for-12 during the home stand -- the Flyers won’t have much leeway on the scoreboard.

"The power play isn’t producing like last year and obviously that takes away goals," said Talbot. "It’s taken a while to find a rhythm and a tempo overall. But we keep building and building, and it’s coming."

I asked a front-office source from another Eastern Conference team to size up the Flyers, and just like Philly’s record, it was a mixed-bag answer:

"They have a pretty good forecheck, good puck pressure," he said. "They can come at you at different times. Their goalie has been good. But it’s not a typical Flyers team. They’re a little bit different than they’ve usually been. They’re not as deep offensively. They rely a lot on [Claude] Giroux and [Danny] Briere. They’ve got those good, young kids like [Brayden] Schenn and [Sean] Couturier that are still making their way, and they’re going to be very good."

If and when the Flyers ever make a trade between now and April 3, my suspicion is that Holmgren will have offense in mind, whether that’s a forward or even an offensive defenseman.

Interestingly enough, the one area that has not been an issue is the one place where everyone was pointing before the season began. Ilya Bryzgalov has been just fine, thank you, his 2.27 goals-against average (11th in NHL) and .921 save percentage (12th) solid numbers indeed.

"He’s been our best player -- by far," said Holmgren. "He’s been great. He’s had a great focus. Every game, he’s been great."

Holmgren had a sense he’d be getting a more focused netminder after the player-exit meetings last spring when Bryzgalov manned up.

"He came in and said, 'I know I [screwed] up, I know I got to get better. Don’t worry, I will,'" Holmgren recalled.

Bryzgalov’s antics last season were a bit unnerving for some of his teammates. But it’s a quieter, more focused Bryz doing his thing so far, and that’s appreciated inside the dressing room.

"He’s been great," said Talbot. "He’s kept us in tight games. That’s what we’ve asked of him and he’s done his job really well. If we can get our offense going and our all-around game going, I think we can be very, very interesting."

The Flyers are a work in progress, which is like a lot of teams after a short camp and no preseason.

The key to a work in progress is to always be inching in the same direction.

"The team that you start with isn’t necessarily the team you’re going to finish with," said veteran Flyers winger Mike Knuble. "When you look at New Jersey and L.A. last year, you have to believe that anything can happen when you get in."

Talbot, Flyers gather, just in case

January, 5, 2013
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VOORHEES, N.J. -- Max Talbot barnstormed through Quebec, laced up skates in Finland and played in the Spengler Cup in Switzerland.

Looking for work because of the NHL lockout, Talbot's worldwide hockey tour at last brought him back to the one team he never wanted to leave:

The Flyers.

Talbot returned this week to Philadelphia, even as the lockout reached its 111th day with more than 625 lost games. As talks continued in the hunt for a new collective bargaining agreement, veterans Talbot, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Jody Shelley are working out at the Flyers' New Jersey training facility, so that when the call does come -- if it comes -- with the announcement of a shortened season, they'll be ready.

"It's great to be back in the facility, skating with the guys, hopefully thinking you're getting ready for the season," Talbot said Friday. "It's all or nothing now. We all hope. We're not sure."

Talbot's return wasn't because of some inside information the labor dispute was about to be settled. Rather, he bought a townhouse in Philadelphia and had some last-minute financial details to sort out.

He joined a small group of teammates and former Flyers that included Andrej Meszaros, Andreas Nodl and Brian Boucher for a light, 60-minute workout. Most of the core, with a few additions and subtractions, have been skating together since September. All of them would trade drills for coach Peter Laviolette's training camp.

The sides have one week to reach a deal on a collective bargaining agreement that would allow for a 48-game season -- the minimum the NHL has said it will play. Commissioner Gary Bettman set a Jan. 11 deadline for an agreement so the season can begin eight days later.

The NHL and the union met separately with a federal mediator on Friday and are continuing meetings Saturday.

"Hopefully, we can all put this behind us and start playing hockey," Talbot said. "But who knows?"

Talbot needed his passport as much as his stick over the last four months, teaming with Flyers defenseman Bruno Gervais to start a goodwill barnstorming tour in Quebec. His games raised more than $400,000 for various foundations and charity-based groups, mostly helping sick children.

"That was a lot of work," Talbot said. "Pretty challenging, but awesome."

From there, Talbot signed for a five-week stint with Ilves, a Finnish team, before playing with HC Fribourg-Gotteron in Switzerland in the Spengler Cup. The Spengler Cup was first held in 1923 and is the world's oldest pro hockey tournament. He was back in North America on Jan. 2.

Where he goes from here? Like everything else in the NHL these days: To be determined.

"I want to play hockey," Talbot said, adding he would likely return overseas if the NHL season is wiped out.

Talbot, and most Flyers fans, need a refresher on the team's moves following a 103-point season and a second-round loss to New Jersey in the playoffs.

The Flyers lost out on free-agent stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle left. And they traded James van Riemsdyk. The biggest offseason additions, on the other hand, were Gervais, defenseman Luke Schenn and left winger Ruslan Fedotenko.

But the lineup is far from set. General manager Paul Holmgren, after all, might have quite a bit more maneuvering ahead if the Flyers are forced to get under a slashed salary cap that could be put in place under a new labor deal.

Talbot and the rest of the scaled-back Flyers have to rent ice time at the team's practice rink and cannot dress in the Flyers' locker room. Meszaros, however, was allowed to work with team trainers because he was injured. He tore his right Achilles' tendon training in Slovakia and would not have been ready to start the season in October. Because of the lockout, Meszaros could be cleared if the puck really does drop in two weeks.

"It's still not there where I want it to be," Meszaros said. "I want to make sure it's 100 percent because I don't want to come back soon."

Only injured players would consider a mid-January NHL return, "too soon." The rest of the league, meanwhile, can't wait to get a fair deal and get back on the ice.

But the time off hasn't been completely wasted. Shelley, a 12-year veteran, joked that he's been playing "Mr. Mom."

Timonen, who had surgery in May to remove a disc fragment from his lower back, passed on a chance to return to his native Finland to play. He's been a stay-at-home dad and tagged along on road trips to watch his 13-year-old son play on a youth hockey team.

"If there's something good about the lockout, at least I've been able to get healthy and spend time with my family," he said. "It's been great. I've got to be honest, there are a lot of weekends I didn't miss hockey that much. ... I probably saw my son play now more than his whole life. It's been fun."

But it's time to get back to work.

Morning Links: Day 13 of the lockout

September, 28, 2012
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  • More than 1,200 fans watched the first game of La Tournee des Joueurs or The Players Tour on Thursday night for the charity hockey tour organized by Max Talbot and Bruno Gervais. (Montreal Gazette)
  • Dustin Byfuglien said his legal problems stemming from being charged with driving a boat while intoxicated in August 2011 were a “pain.” (Winnipeg Sun)
  • Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis surprised Midget Triple-A team the Storm on Thursday, taking part in their hour-long practice and sparking a lot of smiles. (The Vancouver Sun)
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is ready to follow in Jason Spezza’s footsteps and use his time in the AHL to boost his confidence in the NHL. (The Globe and Mail)
  • The Leafs’ Nazem Kadri says playing in the AHL gives him a leg up on the competition once the NHL lockout ends. (The Globe and Mail)
  • Senators GM Bryan Murray is happy to see some of his players getting game competition in Europe, but he can’t influence any of his players’ decisions. (Ottawa Sun)
  • Flyers winger Zac Rinaldo plans to use his time in the AHL to become a more productive player and not just a fighter. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Tanner Glass is on the ice with some of his new Penguins’ teammates four days a week, but the lockout still means he has an abbreviated time to learn his new team’s system. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
  • Luke Richardson and his wife are beginning a new chapter of their life as Luke has his first professional head coaching job with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. (Ottawa Citizen)


Camp Tour: Interview with Max Talbot

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
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The last stop of our Excellent Camp Adventure stops in Philadelphia, where ESPN.com's Scott Burnside caught up with Max Talbot. Is Talbot still getting over the transition from Pittsburgh to Philly?


You wonder if Maxime Talbot ever in a million years imagined himself saying that he just thought the Philadelphia Flyers would be the right fit for him.

The right fit?

Imagine Joe Hatfield wandering over to the McCoy family farm and saying he thought this would be a good place for him to hang out for the next eight or nine years.

Still, that's where Talbot found himself Friday, talking about winning a Cup in Philadelphia.

Somehow it just seems wrong, a crime against nature if you will.

We remember watching Talbot scrap with Daniel Carcillo in Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Philadelphia. The Flyers led 3-0 in the game and looked ready to force a seventh game back in Pittsburgh when Talbot threw down way outside his weight class with Carcillo.

He took a pounding, but the Penguins stormed back to win the game and eliminated the Flyers on home ice. Many credited Talbot's truculence as a catalyst to that win.

Later that spring, Talbot immortalized himself in Pittsburgh sports folklore by scoring both goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals as Pittsburgh upended Detroit in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena to bring home the Pens' first Cup since 1992.

The outgoing, irreverent Talbot said Friday he thought he was going to play his whole career in Pittsburgh. But the Penguins couldn't accommodate his salary demands.

Now, he's a Flyer, having signed a five-year deal worth $9 million. Go figure.

"I wanted to go with a team that had a chance to win a championship this year and maybe more than one," Talbot said.

The Talbot signing was part two of "Let's Tick Off The Penguins" day in Philadelphia.

After Jaromir Jagr had annoyed Detroit and Pittsburgh to the point that they both publicly withdrew from their courting of the enigmatic star, Jagr signed a one-year deal worth $3.3 million to become a Flyer.

Never mind the fairytale return to Pittsburgh, now Jagr will be Public Enemy No. 1 when the cross-state rivals face off against each other six times next season.

Oh well, at least he'll have company in the Flyer dressing room over in the "ex-Penguin" corner.

Hit of the Night: Chris Neil on Max Talbot

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
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Ottawa's Chris Neil put a big hit on Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot, but the Pens posted a 5-1 win on Tuesday night:


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