Holmstrom’s loss a serious one. So now what?

Ben Holmstrom leaves the ice after a morning skate the day of the AHL Outdoor Classic in January. Photo by Tim McManus

Ben Holmstrom leaves the ice after a morning skate the day of the AHL Outdoor Classic in January.
Photo by Tim McManus

After covering the Phantoms for three years, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how they go about their business. But the organization surprised me Thursday by issuing a statement addressing Ben Holmstrom’s knee injury and upcoming surgery.

I can’t speak for the Philadelphia years, but that’s an unprecedented step since the move to Glens Falls in 2009. I can’t recall the team making any official comment on injuries, and there have been a few significant ones.

Johan Backlund, the team’s 2009-10 MVP, missed large chunks of time. Krys Kolanos — don’t laugh, he was a big AHL deal at the time — just stopped playing midway through the first season. Marc-Andre Bourdon sits right now under murky circumstances.

That the team went to the length of addressing their captain’s absence tells me two things: a) they really value him and b) it’s serious.

And good on them for doing so. Holmstrom is key to the Phantoms’ success. He’s a face-of-the-team type guy, one the Adirondack fans pay to see. They deserve to know what’s going on.

I could rail against the silliness that is hockey’s treatment of injury information, but the paranoia is so ingrained in the culture that nothing is changing.

As a beat reporter, I didn’t expect to be told chapter and verse, but it’s nice to have a framework: is this a six-day problem, or a six-month problem? I don’t see how that hurts anyone.

I guess I ended up going on a mini-rant anyway. But back to Holmstrom.

Holmstrom’s best work usually doesn’t end up in the game summary. He’s the screen in front of the net on the power play, the one taking defensive-zone draws late, and a nasty, physical presence.

This is a tough loss by any standard. It will be devastating if the lockout ends.

He’s never broken out offensively the way I thought he might, but on a Brayden Schenn-less team, they’d need him to score.

Clearly, the Flyers took a shining to Holmstrom early on, naming him captain at the start of last season in just his second year pro.

I don’t think Holmstrom particularly enjoys the media obligations that come with the captaincy, but he’s soft-spoken by nature, and it wouldn’t be an easy for anyone to be the mouthpiece for the Phantoms’ struggles the last couple of years. Whatever the case, no fan is going to care about that, nor should they. His standing is high in the locker room, where it counts.  His teammates respect him deeply.

So what happens without him?

As long as Sean Couturier — another defensive-minded center remains — it’s probably not a death blow, if a team already in last place can have such a thing.

In the short term, it likely means a chance for Matt Ford to work his way back to relevancy. Even if I admit being flat-out wrong in my exuberance for Ford before the season began, it still doesn’t account for the way Terry Murray has buried him.

On a team that doesn’t score, it’s absurd that the guy who tallied nearly 25 percent of the team’s goals during his games last season, including numerous game-winners, has only played 12 games.

It’s fascinating how the last two Phantoms coaches view Ford so differently.

Murray has said that one of the reasons for Ford’s benching is that he doesn’t offer much if he can’t play on one of the top two lines. Joe Paterson, however, often praised his all-around play.

This is what Paterson said to me about Ford in March:

“He’s been outstanding, all areas of the game,” Paterson said. “Just a good solid player: energy, high-compete level, good work ethic in practice. He pays the price, blocking shots, killing penalties. He just gives everything every single shift and he’s a good leader for us.”

How do we square those two takes? Philly fans may be more inclined to trust Murray and his NHL pedigree, but through a quarter of the season, the team has actually regressed from where it was under Paterson, who excelled in getting the most out of the talent he had.

I’d go on about the Ford subject, but there’s an article in Friday’s Saratogian that covers it in much more depth and is worth a read.

Whatever the real story is regarding Ford, it’s no mystery that Holmstrom’s injury is a serious blow.

The organization’s response tells you as much.

– Tim