Matt Read, The Orange Prophet

Created 4 years 103 days ago
by Michael DeNicola

Tags: Matt Read Sean Couturier The Orange Prophet
Views: 2758

by Michael DeNicola

Friday, June 13th, 2014 --

Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds.... three big time names the Flyers faithful have fallen deeply in love with. 'The Untouchables' they're referred to as, and rightfully so. These three bring the heat game in, game out, and offer what not-so-many NHLers today can offer -- consistency. In whatever situation, in whatever stanza, these three horses are capable of taking over the game on emotionally epic levels. Crowd pleasers at home, and deflating hammers in opposing barns. The faces of YOUR Philadelphia Flyers. 

But who is that masked man? That Dark Knight? 

What symbol does Craig Berube scramble to shine into the rafters when his bench desperately needs that last line of defense? The Unspoken One. The Orange Prophet....

Matt Read has been a constant. Through the last three seasons, ever since the Richards & Carter trades, our team has taken on a new persona. Claude Giroux is no doubt our poster boy and elite player. But Matt Read has been getting better and better on a pace that is simply remarkable. And he's done it under the League's radar, so to speak.

We know Read is a badass, and there's no Flyers fan out there who doesn't have a rudimentary understanding of just how well Matt has played for Philadelphia. However, the advanced analytics brighten that fact on levels that are astounding.

Simply put, since his rookie campaign, Read has managed to keep a constant scoring pace, while annually receiving heavier workloads and defensive-responsibilities. In theory, if he's seasonally scoring the same, but his defensive duties have dramatically increased on the same timeline, then Matt has quietly become the Flyers ultimate secret weapon. One can only wonder what his points production would look like if he were given more chances in the business-end of the rink. 

I'll provide you a visual of what I'm talking about....

2011-12, Read's rookie season, 75GP, 24G, 23A

As a rookie, at even-strength, Read wasn't receiving all that many sheltered minutes, but he certainly wasn't absorbing an abundant amount of heavy-lifting minutes, either. Read wasn't facing the opposition's highest quality of competition -- in fact, judging from the graph, he was mostly skating against lower six forwards and/or bottom pairing blueliners. That's not a criticism on Read; after all, he was a rookie, and growing periods call for padded adjusting.... unless you're Sean Couturier, who was thrown to the wolves since Day 1. But Sean has always been, and will always be part of the Selke discussion. 

Back to Matt...

2012-13 (Lockout-shortened), 42GP, 11G, 13A (22-goal pace in 82-games, 47-point pace in 82-games)

As far as receiving heavier minutes against higher quality competition, no one on the Top 9 took a bigger increase in both than Matt Read from 2011-12 to 2012-13. That season is a tad sketchy, though; as you know, it was shortened to 48-games because of the labor war, and playing schedules were constricted to inner-conference only. Stats were bias and skewed as a result. Not to mention our roster was plagued with injury all season long. So, personnel issues factored as a major part in player usage. 

Despite the outer and innermore influences, Read still managed a 20+ goal, 45+ point pace. Virtually the same output he posted in his freshman year. 

2013-14, 75GP, 22G, 18A

Once again, look at the jump from 2012-13 to 2013-14; Read and Couturier took on the heaviest-lifting minutes of any Top 9 pairing. As part of the heavy-lifting, Read combated an enormous increase in quality of competition. This past season is fresh in our minds; even-strength was not a strength at all, but Matt's possession metrics managed to prosper in a role that so few NHLers can.

What's more impressive is that Read did so well throughout the League's first season of a new Conference/schedule format. The Western Conference is noticeably superior to the East, and the NHL's newest structure called for each team to play every team (at least) twice throughout the year. Matt Read and the Flyers faced organizations like St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose twice. And Read was deployed against the best's best. 

His duties got harder, his minutes were tougher, and his competition stood as the NHL Titans. And yet.... Matt Read posted 22-goals and 40-points. He managed to record this production by dominating in the trenches. He lead an offensive through a wasteland of the bones & broken sticks belonging to his opposition.

This past season, when they were clicking, the Flyers had no hotter line than their third combo -- Downie, Couturier and Read. Among a team so parched for positive two-way results, Read and his linemates quenched the transition's palette, and served as this roster's lifeblood. 

It was unadulterated hockey poetry. 

These results beg the question: Why isn't Read given an opportunity to play on one of the top two lines?

It's a warranted question, and one which demands a legitimate answer. Our second-line consisting of Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds receive sheltered minutes, facing some of the opposition's lowest quality of competition, and yet they still struggle to produce points consistently at even-strength. Wouldn't Matt Read supply that line with a level of balance? What about the forefront? Couldn't Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek use Read's sniping ability that their line is starved for?

Allow me to present my concern with promoting Matt Read...

For starters, in this era of NHL hockey, we're seeing more Clubs transition to four skill lines. The days of the goons and hardhat beasts are slowly slipping away into the history books. This League is won with complete players up & down the lineup; skaters whom carry traits of all skill levels. So the usage of "promotion" and "demotion" should follow suit, and become a thing of the past. 

When you have four complete skill lines, then combinations are no longer numbered 1 - 4. You essentially have four weapons to throw at any given resistance, any given gameday. Their usage should vary according to effectiveness on a competitive basis. For example, if the Flyers are playing Tampa Bay, one combination may be more effective than the other three, but not so much against Florida two nights later. Therefor, ice-time for the former line will fluctuate, and so on and so forth. 

So, Matt Read's presence on Lines 1 or 2 is not a promotion. All it is essentially doing is taking our best piece from our depth and leaving a gaping hole behind. Sure, Read would no doubt produce from one of the top two lines, but his presence in the middle greatly outweighs our need for his skill set up top. Simply put, we don't have ANYONE to replace Matt Read from a depth perspective. 

He and Sean Couturier have developed chemistry, both at even-strength and on the penalty kill. Those two are our newest Bert & Ernie, we just cannot break them up. This does not mean they should remain together on the third combination forever; if Ron Hextall somehow recruits/drafts and grooms a replacement(s) to.... 1. Takeover Read's heavy defensive responsibility, and 2. Play as effectively in that role as Matt Read, then we're talking about a new can of beans. 

But for the time being, the Flyers cannot feasibly afford to breakup Sean Couturier and Matt Read. That pair is the uncontested linchpin of this roster. If anything, it'd behoove this organization to strengthen that combination even more! And I believe that's precisely what we're seeing with Hextall signing European players like Michael Raffl, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, and (possibly) Jiri Sekac -- outta-towners who have mastered a two-way style of play on Olympic ice, a feat which is not so easily grasped. If you strengthen the transition and backcheck, then offensive results WILL quickly follow. 

Giroux and Voracek will score no matter what. Hartnell, Raffl, whoever.... it doesn't matter who their left-wing is right now. Frankly, we don't have the budget to worry about it. But Sean Couturier and Matt Read are rising faster than my mind could possibly comprehend. Bolster that pairing and give them the opportunities they statistically deserve, and you will discover a nuclear submarine to this orange Naval fleet. 

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