THIS CAN BE great for Jeff Carter.
This Stanley Cup run can raise his star higher. It can enhance his versatility. It can prove his toughness.
Bill Barber is holding his breath, hoping it all is so.
"He's a great addition," Barber said. "I'm just hoping he can maintain this."
Barber loves the comparison between him and Carter. Yes, Carter is a purebred center, whereas Barber slid over to the left wing upon hitting the NHL, a move that helped pave his road to the Hall of Fame, winning those Cups in 1974 and '75 with the Broad Street Bullies en route.
Barber isn't lobbying for Carter to stay on Mike Richards' right side. It's just that, coming off consecutive foot fractures, Carter and the Flyers are best served by Carter's righthanded rifle in a supporting role.
"I think Peter [Laviolette] did a great thing by putting him on the wing with Richie," Barber said. "I think that can really help him until he gets more comfortable, getting back and getting into the groove. Jeff is a bit of a sniper; he's got body size; and that righthanded shot."
Carter returned from a broken left foot, but played only six games before breaking the right one, in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs against New Jersey. He returned for Game 4 against Montreal, then scored twice in the Game 5 clincher Monday.
Barber, his own career shortened by a shredded knee in the premiracle days of orthopedic medicine, is amazed that Carter can contribute.
"Coming off an injury like that, being off that length of time, and still being effective - you've really got to compliment him," Barber said. It isn't over, he knows: "Sometimes, the bottom kind of falls out on you. Hopefully, that won't be this case at all."
Barber has seen enough to worry, and he's seen enough to hope. A former Flyers captain and the coach of the team from 2000 to 2002, Barber was player personnel director with Tampa Bay from 2002 to 2008, where he helped the Lightning win the Cup in 2004. Now, he's a Flyers scouting consultant; always, he's aware of the fine line Carter skates as the Cup finals begin tomorrow.
"It's a very sensitive area in professional sports," Barber said. "The bottom line is, you've got to look at your future, but, on the other hand, if you can come back, are you going to help your team or will you just be a body? The doctors have made some great decisions in Jeff's case."
Fred Shero made a good decision in 1972, too. Barber had no problem moving over.
"I found a comfort zone there," Barber said. "Center was a big responsibility. Wing is a pretty sweet spot to play. It's not overly complicated if you keep your game simple."
It's not complicated at all when you play with elite centers.
"Jeff's a big guy with a great shot - a righthanded shot, which is rare with that size. The experience he's getting on the right side here will only add to his game," Barber said. "If you need two lines lugging more ice time, you can put him on wing and he can play there. You need versatility in your game, and he has that."
Not now. Not limping along hallways. He isn't himself, and, said Barber, he needs to recognize that:
"He shouldn't complicate his game plan. Just get shots on net. Don't overthink. React to the game. Have fun. Enjoy the moment. Hopefully, it'll lead to him carrying the Stanley Cup around." *