When the Flyers first traded for Cam Atkinson, it was seen as a fairly even trade between two teams. Two veteran players, Atkinson from Columbus, and Jakub Voracek from Philly, were being exchanged as a way to jump start both careers and give them a change of scenery. Both had been star players that had kind of plateaued. In their first season in their new cities, both flourished and played well.
Last year, things changed for both. Atkinson was hurt and missed the entire season. Voracek got hit really hard and had to retire due to health concerns.
Part of the hope with Atkinson was that he would have an explosive season playing for his former head coach, John Tortorella. Tortorella has a reputation for being "hard" on his guys. It was also hoped that a guy like Atkinson could help bridge the gap between the coach and players and lead by example. Unfortunately, that didn't happen....last year.
Coming back from a year in which he didn't play at all, he scored eight goals in his first 15 games with four assists to match. Since then, no goals and six assists. He is a -9 on the season. In his last six games, he's taken five penalties; including a crucial one that opened the floodgates against them from the Oilers in a 5-2 loss.
Before the Flyers took on the Blue Jackets on Thursday, Tortorella announced he was sitting Atkinson and Morgan Frost. The coach explained that it wasn't a punishment. He said, "This isn't a, 'I hate you, you're never playing again' type of thing. We need to get some sort of reaction because it has been unacceptable."
Atkinson's response to the healthy scratch was perfect.
""The coaches need to hold everyone accountable, to the same standard, no matter who you are, what you've done, what you've accomplished, how old you are...That's what makes a great organization. I take full ownership,” he said. "I've been in the league a long time now. I know when I'm on the top of my game and when I'm not. He has given me opportunities to try to figure it out a little bit and ultimately that's what I need to do.""
When inserted back into the lineup against the Flames, he had three shots on goal, but no points. He'll come around at some point. He's too much of a good player to stay in a funk like this. When he snaps out of it, the Flyers will reap the rewards from it.
More importantly to the team is how he handled being benched. He manned up, took responsibility for it, owned it, and will grow from it as he takes a healthy evaluation of himself. This is in stark contrast to how a veteran player like Kevin Hayes or Tony DeAngelo responded last year. You also see how this set a good example for Frost, who roared back from his healthy scratch with a goal and assist against Calgary.
Atkinson is a great example of a consummate pro. At age 34, he probably is not going to score 35 goals like he did before, but he should still top 20. More importantly, he has the right attitude and frame of mind to lead the young Flyers into how to respond when adversity hits you in the face. For that reason, he is invaluable to this team.