Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Devils Re-Up Clarkson, Get Prepared For Free Agency

By: Tim Brennan

New Jersey took care of one of their priorities by signing right winger David Clarkson to a three year deal that reportedly will pay him $8 million over the course of the contract. Clarkson has been a staple with the franchise so it's no surprise that the Devils would keep him in the fold. Considered to be an agitator, Clarkson stumbled through the 2009-10 campaign due to two seperate leg injuries, costing him 36 games. He ended the season with 11 goals and 24 points in the remaining 46 games.

The only thing holding Clarkson back from being a true offensive force is the fact that he doesn't possess the skill set of a scorer and because of his no holds barred playing style, he tends to take too many bad penalties. Now Clarkson has 3 more years to prove that he can become a 20 goal, 50 point power forward for one of the most offense deprived teams in the league.

Now that that situation is squared away, GM Lou Lamoriello can deal with other issues of great concern. The Devils once again bowed out gracefully in the first round and there were lots of expectations of dominance in the post-season for this team, especially after the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk. But Kovalchuk's conflicting style to the Devils defense first attitude proved to be a recipe for disaster and the 27 year old Russian sniper disappointed in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Philadelphia.

Lamoriello isn't looking to change the team up by offering a huge contract to a superstar player so Kovalchuk won't be back. The Devils always make smaller moves that fly under the radar and prove to be impressive. The signings of Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond last offseason helped to fill in holes in the forward area. Niedermayer had 10 goals and 22 points in 71 games, his best output since 2005-06 while playing in Anaheim. Same goes for McAmmond, who was an ace in faceoffs and posted 17 points in 62 games, more points than he had in the previous two seasons combined. These two will play into Lamoriello's plans and it's more than likely that he will retain one, if not both, for the upcoming season.

The key issue on Lamoriello's plate is the dilemma of signing Paul Martin before he goes on the open market July 1st. Martin missed most of the season with a broken left arm and only managed to play 22 games. New Jersey's 2nd round draft choice from 2000 is reportedly set to test the free agent waters and will command plenty of attention from teams looking for a top 2 defenseman. Martin plays big minutes and is extremely mobile, one of his many strengths. There are a plethora of teams searching for a defenseman of Martin's caliber and some like Ottawa, Phoenix, Nashville and Washington might be losing a key defenseman to free agency so they might offer a contract to replace the void. Whatever happens, Lamoriello will not spend alot of money just to keep a player from being snatched away and if Martin asks for $5-6 million a season, the Devils will pass.

Other areas of concern focus on adding another scoring winger into the mix along with a stable backup for Martin Brodeur. The Devils are solid at center with Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus and now Jason Arnott filling the middle but need to try and pull a scorer towards the direction of New Jersey.

The Devils traded away two highly touted prospects this season in Niclas Bergfors and Matt Halischuk, both of which are wingers and put up great stats. Bergfors tallied 13 goals and 27 points in 54 games with the Devils before becoming part of the deal that sent Kovalchuk to New Jersey. In the 27 games in a Thrashers uniform, Bergfors picked up 17 points and impressed the coaching staff with his durability and instant chemistry with Nik Antropov.

Halischuk, while playing in Lowell of the AHL, scored 14 goals and 29 points in 47 games and joined New Jersey for 20 games, but only mustered 2 points. The Devils now have to replace those two and would be better suited getting someone with a few seasons in them, such as Phoenix's Lee Stempniak, Detroit's Jason Williams or Calgary's Chris Higgins.

Meanwhile the search for a compatible backup to suit Brodeur's needs ventures on. In the past decade, Brodeur has seen 7 different goaltenders ride the bench with the latest being Yann Danis. Although being involved in 12 games, posting a 3-2-1 record and commendable stats of a 2.06 goals against average and .923 save percentage, coach Jacques Lemaire didn't trust Danis to carry the load when Brodeur was sitting out, resulting in the small amount of games played. It's anyone's guess what new coach John MacLean has to say about this issue and whether he feels that Brodeur should be playing 65-70 games a season this late in his career.

For the betterment of the team, Lamoriello needs to make a decision about who will backup Brodeur so as to give the future Hall of Famer more rest before the playoffs. The past couple of seasons Brodeur has been started almost every game and runs out of gas at the end, resulting in poor results during the playoffs. Prospect Jeff Frazee might get a promotion due to a strong performance for Lowell in 2009-10, picking up 28 wins in what was a subpar season for the team. If they choose not to go with Frazee, then they might want to sign a veteran for the upcoming season.

The Devils should consider re-signing Mike Mottau as well, who proves that a player making slightly above minimum wage can repay his team with excellent play. His versatility makes him a hot commodity and the former Hobey Baker Award winner has great offensive instincts from the point.

Flyers Sign Michael Leighton to Two Year Pact

By: Tim Brennan

So after a prolonged search for a big named goaltender, the Flyers decided to stick with what they had this season by giving Michael Leighton a two year, $3.1 million deal today.

The Flyers had been trying to get a contract finalized with Evgeni Nabokov, who came to Philadelphia in a trade for his rights after San Jose cut off ties with the Russian netminder. Those talks hadn't gone well and both sides were at an impasse so the Flyers turned to the one guy responsible for the team making the playoffs to begin with. Leighton backstopped the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals and was in talks with general manager Paul Holmgren but the Flyers philosophy was to acquire an established number one goalie and they failed.

It beats me why Holmgren even hesitated to retain Leighton after everything that he had done to get this team from being mediocre to a Stanley Cup finalist. Leighton landed in Philadelphia mid season when Holmgren claimed him from the Carolina Hurricanes off of re-entry waivers. This move jump started a dormant Flyers team at that point, as Leighton posted a 16-5-2 record along with a goals against average of 2.48. Leighton followed those stats in the regular season with incredible numbers in the latter stages of the post season, going 8-3 with a 2.46 GAA (1st in NHL), .916 save percentage (2nd in NHL) and 3 shutouts (1st in NHL). His play was top notch, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals when he single-handedly defeated Montreal by only allowing 7 goals in 5 games, including 3 shutouts.

Leighton took a hit during the Stanley Cup Finals however because he seemed nervous in net and let in some soft goals. But when you think about it, Leighton had never played in the NHL playoffs prior to this year and it was the first time that he was considered the number one goaltender for an NHL team. That and the fact that the defense in front of him wasn't that stellar ultimately led to issues in the crease but this move is one of the few smart ones that Holmgren has made while controlling the team.

Leighton is 29 years old, an age that is considered to be a goaltender's prime, and he is only going to get better with more playing time. The Flyers need to be the opposite of the Carolina Hurricanes and give this man a chance to claim the top spot in net because Carolina didn't have any faith in him becoming an NHL goaltender and never gave him much of a chance by sticking him in the minors year after year. More than likely the Flyers brass will pursue another goaltender to push Leighton and try to settle the "crease problem". Those rumored to go head to head against Leighton in training camp are ex-Blue Chris Mason and former Flyer Antero Niittymaki, who spent this season backing up Mike Smith in Tampa before winning the starting job in the later stages.

Leighton oozes with potential and has shown this year that he can be #1 material but it will be up to management and head coach Peter Laviolette to decide who will be the starter once the season starts. What makes him such a solid goaltender is his work ethic is one of the best in the league, along with being fundamentally sound, possessing good size and a strong athletic ability. The only downfall are shots low, as he was exposed too many times in the post season five hole or along the ice especially during the Finals.

As Leighton put it, "I want a chance to start. Whether they go out and get another goalie, that doesn't change my mindset. I'm just going to go out and play my best and try to earn that spot." If that doesn't illustrate a player determined to prove everyone what he's worth than I don't know what can.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Flyers Trade Hamhuis, Acquire Nabokov; What Else Is In Store?

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers made what could have been a promising addition when they traded to get the negotiating rights to defenseman Dan Hamhuis on June 19th. After a week of talks between the Flyers management and Hamhuis, the negotiations broke down and came to a halt prior to the NHL Entry Draft. So instead of trying to work things out and feeling like all the options were no longer available, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren decided to trade Hamhuis' rights to cross state rivals Pittsburgh for a third round pick in next year's draft.

Did anyone else have the same thought of "Huh? Why would you do that?". It's interesting how this situation blew up in Holmgren's face because ever since the trade deadline, the Flyers had been trying to pluck him away from Nashville's clutches. The two sides couldn't agree to a long term deal and as a result, Hamhuis was sent packing. The strangest part of this is that Holmgren traded a player whom he felt could be a big piece to the organization to the Penguins, who play in the same division as the Flyers and face them 6 times a season. If the Penguins end up signing Hamhuis, this will look like a poor judgement call by Holmgren.

Then another deal for a player's negotiating rights was announced by Holmgren only a day after trading Hamhuis. This player would be former San Jose Shark goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who was told by the team that he wouldn't be given a contract. The Flyers would give San Jose a seventh round pick in 2011 if Nabokov was to sign with the team prior to July 1st. Many see this as a great solution to the Flyers problem in the crease but negotiations haven't worked out in Philly's favor.

Nabokov was a staple in San Jose for the last 9 seasons but gained a reputation of coming up small in important situations, mainly the playoffs. A record of 40-38 might seem okay by some standards but the fact that the Sharks have only gotten past the second round twice with him in net that's a cause for concern. His age is also problematic as the puck stopper turns 35 in the summer, which is usually when goaltenders start to break down. Nabokov averaged 44 wins the last 3 seasons which included 44 last year (2nd in the league) while also posting a .922SV% and 2.43 goals against average.

There's no doubt that Nabokov can still be a premier goalie, it's just that the best fit might not be Philadelphia. Flyers fans aren't as forgiving as Sharks fans and the intimidating crowd might be a turn off for the Russian netminder. If the Flyers were to tender him a reasonable contract, Holmgren would have to create cap space while still yet having to re-sign Michael Leighton, Braydon Coburn, Darroll Powe and Arron Asham. A trade could happen but with the rumors swirling around forwards Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell, I doubt that Holmgren will want to give up either of those players as they are deemed "too valuable to the team". His words, not mine.

To add to the goaltending issue, Flyers management offered free agent goaltender Marty Turco a preliminary offer of 3 years, $6 million but Turco turned it down.

The best case scenario for the Flyers is to re-sign Leighton, the guy who practically saved their season and put up league best numbers in the post-season. Talks have not even started between the two camps, which is a disgrace considering how valuable Leighton proved to be for the Flyers this season, posting a 16-5-2 record with the orange and the black along with a 2.48 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Leighton elevated his play during the post-season, going 8-3-3 with a 2.46 goals against average and .916 save percentage after coming back from a season ending injury. He led the post-season with that goals against average and 3 shutouts.

Three players have had complications with the Flyers and it makes you wonder why no one wants to sign with a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The goaltending situation needs to be fixed and I propose that along with bringing back Leighton, the Flyers should pursue a former player, Antero Niittymaki. "Niitty" never got a fair shake in Philadelphia, mostly playing backup behind Robert Esche and Martin Biron. It would be a great pairing of guys never given an opportunity to prove their worth and a balance on the backend that the Flyers have never seen before. The Flyers will be in the market for a defenseman that coach Peter Laviolette can trust, unlike Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek. Don't be surprised if Holmgren targets Zbynek Michalek or Shaone Morrisonn, who play a Philly type style. The right wing position on the first line is another area of concern as five different players manned that area this season without a single one creating enough chemistry with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne to make it stick.

Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 Mock NHL Draft

By: Tim Brennan

As all the teams look to bolster their futures with talented prospects in Los Angeles, we ask the question, "Who will be picked first?". The Edmonton Oilers hold the number one spot after a disastrous 2009-10 season that saw the team win only 27 regular season games. It's a toss up between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin to go #1. Both are intriguing players and whoever misses out on one will be satisfied with the other. Here's how we think this draft will go:

1. Edmonton Oilers select: Taylor Hall, LW, Windsor (OHL)
2. Boston Bruins (from Toronto) select: Tyler Seguin, C, Plymouth (OHL)
3. Florida Panthers select: Cam Fowler, D, Windsor (OHL)
4. Columbus Blue Jackets select: Brett Connolly, RW, Prince George (WHL)
5. New York Islanders select: Erik Gudbranson, D, Kingston (OHL)
6. Tampa Bay Lightning select: Nino Niederreiter, LW, Portland (WHL)
7. Carolina Hurricanes select: Brandon Gormley, D, Moncton (QMJHL)
8. Atlanta Thrashers select: Alex Burmistrov, C, Barrie (OHL)
9. Minnesota Wild select: Mikael Granlund, C, HIFK (Finland)
10. New York Rangers select: Ryan Johansen, C, Portland (WHL)
11. Dallas Stars select: Derek Forbort, D, U.S. NTDP
12. Anaheim Ducks select: Austin Watson, RW, Peterborough (OHL)
13. Phoenix Coyotes (from Calgary) select: Nick Bjugstad, C, Blaine H.S. (USA)
14. St. Louis Blues select: Jeffrey Skinner, C, Kitchener (OHL)
15. Florida Panthers (from Boston) select: Jon Merrill, D, U.S. NTDP
16. Ottawa Senators select: Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, Novosibirsk (KHL)
17. Colorado Avalanche select: Jack Campbell, G, U.S. NTDP
18. Nashville Predators select: Emerson Etem, C, Medicine Hat (WHL)
19. Los Angeles Kings select: Tyler Pitlick, C, Minnesota State (WCHA)
20. Pittsburgh Penguins select: John McFarland, C, Sudbury (OHL)
21. Detroit Red Wings select: Quinton Howden, LW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
22. Phoenix Coyotes select: Mark Pysyk, D, Edmonton (WHL)
23. Buffalo Sabres select: Jarred Tinordi, D, U.S. NTDP
24. Chicago Blackhawks (from Atlanta) select: Beau Bennett, RW, Princeton (Jr.A)
25. Vancouver Canucks select: Dylan McIlrath, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)
26. Washington Capitals select: Riley Sheahan, C, Notre Dame (CCHA)
27. Montreal Canadiens select: Kevin Hayes, LW, Noble (USHS)
28. San Jose Sharks select: Charlie Coyle, RW, South Shore (Jr.A)
29. Anaheim Ducks (from Philadelphia) select: Jaden Schwartz, C, Tri-City (USHL)
30. Chicago Blackhawks select: Justin Faulk, D, U.S. NTDP

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top 10 Draft Busts

By Eric Bancker

10. Rick DiPietro

This could be a little controversial since DiPietro still has time to turn his career and around and he hasnt been that bad either but was he worth the first overall pick in 2000? He also signed a 15 year/$67 million contract in 2006. DiPietro has only averaged 34 starts a season in his eight years in the league.

Notable players drafted in the 2000 draft. Dany Heatley (2nd), Marian Gaborik (3rd), Anton Volchenkov (21st), Ilya Bryzgalov (44th). The Islanders cross-town rival the New York Rangers drafted goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with the 205th pick in the same draft. Lundqvist averages 35 wins a season and is the only goalie in NHL history to win 30 games in each of his first five season. 35 wins a season compared to 34 games a comparison.

9. Bryan Fogarty

Fogarty drew comparisons to Bobby Orr and with a 155 point season in the OHL in 1988-1989 you could tell he was ready for a great NHL career. The Quebec Nordiques felt the same way when the drafted him with the ninth pick in 1987. Fogarty's big downfall was his addiction to alcohol, which ended up taking his life.

Notable draft picks in 1987: John LeClair (23rd), Eric Desjardins (38th), Theo Fleury (166th)

8. Rico Fata

Fata had expectations to be a go-to guy as a secondary scorer for the Flames. In his 208 junior regular season games, he scored 188 points. The second he put on a professional jersey though, it just did not fit right. Fata would struggle in the NHL and then get bounced to the AHL and then tear it up.

Notable players drafted in 1998: Nik Antropov (10th), Simon Gagne (22nd), Scott Gomez (27th), Brad Richards (64th), Pavel Datsyuk (171st)

7. Pat Falloon

The first pick in the San Jose Sharks history was less then a memorable one. Falloon was the the second pick behind Eric Lindros and although he didnt have a horrible career he didnt live up to expectations whatsoever and is considered to be one of the biggest busts in NHL history.

Notable draft picks in 1991: Scott Niedermayer (3rd), Peter Forsberg (6th), Brian Rolston (11th), Alexei Kovalev (15th)

6. Joe Murphy

Murphy was supposed to give the Red Wings a one-two punch when they drafted him in 1986. They already had a young Steve Yzerman and Murphy was brought in to make sure the Wings would be a team to reckon with. Murphy's work ethic was always a problem among the Red Wings coaching staff. He had a decent career but he was a bust for the Red Wings.

Notable players drafted in 1986: Vincent Damphousse (6th), Brian Leetch (9th), Adam Graves (22nd)

5. Patrik Stefan

In 1997 the Thrashers came to Atlanta and they needed a player that could lead them to the Stanley Cup. In 1999 they drafted Patrik Stefan and he never really was able to find his niche. He only reached 40 points two times in his career. There was also his career ending moment in January of 2007. Stefan was playing for the Dallas Stars and Stefan was on a breakaway toward the Oilers open net and instead of easily depositing the puck into the net he over skated and fell down which lead to the Oilers leading a rush back down the ice where Ales Hemsky scored with two seconds left to tie the game.

Notable players drafted in 1999: Daniel Sedin (2nd), Henrik Sedin (3rd), Martin Havlat (26th)

4.Pavel Brendl

When the Rangers drafted Brendl in 1999, which might be the biggest year for busts, they felt like they had a future big time goal scorer. Brendl only tallied 22 points in 78 games. He has since spent his time in the SEL and the KHL where he has found his comfort zone but then again Marcel Hossa has found the same comfort zone in the KHL so Im not that impressed.

Notable players drafted in 1999: Tim Connolly (5th), Martin Erat (191st)

3. Hugh Jessiman

In 2003 the Rangers made yet another bad draft choice when they went with Hugh Jessiman with the 12th overall pick. The only reason the Rangers drafted Jessiman is because he is friends with the Dolans, who own the Rangers. Jessiman is the only player drafted in the 1st round of the 2003 draft to not play a game in the NHL. Great move by the Rangers

Notable players drafted in 2003: Dustin Brown (13th), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Mike Richards (24th).

2. Brian Lawton

Lawton drew comparisons to Wayne Gretzky and he was nowhere close to being that good. Lawton's best season saw him reach 44 points and his numbers only dropped from there.

Notable players drafted in 1983: Steve Yzerman (4th), Cam Neely (9th), Dave Granger (12th).

1. Alexandre Daigle

Daigle was considered to be a future superstar and a no brainer of a pick. Daigle never lived up to the expectations. Daigle never ever lived up to his potential though he did have two 50 point seasons in his five years in the Ottawa. After being traded three times, he decided to spend two years in Hollywood to try an acting career. After that he had a half a season stint with the Penguins until Minnesota gave him a last chance.

Notable players drafted in 1993 draft: Chris Pronger (2nd), Paul Kariya (4th), Jason Arnott (7th).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tim and Eric's NHL Awards Predictions

Yet another fantastic season of NHL hockey is in the books and now it is time to look back on this season and acknowledge the players who played well all season. Out of all the finalists only one player (Duncan Keith) was able to get his hands on the most coveted award in sports which is Lord Stanley's Cup but that doesn't mean the rest of the nominees wouldn't like to walk away with a trophy for their mantles tonight.

Hart Memorial Trophy Finalists: Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Henrik Sedin
Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Ryan Miller
-The reasoning behind why the Hart Trophy is given out is to distinguish the player who is most valuable to their team. And if there was anyone who was more valuable to their team than Miller, than give me some examples. The only reason that Buffalo made it into the playoffs was because of the stellar play from Miller all season long. Miller put the team on his back, winning 41 games in the regular season (best for 4th in the league), and also posting the 2nd best save percentage and goals against average at .929 and 2.22 respectively. Miller was a huge asset to Team USA during the Olympics as well, pushing them to the gold medal game against Canada.

Eric's prediction: At first I was going to Henrik Sedin but I'm going to have to agree with my fellow writer and say Ryan Miller deserves this award more then anyone else. Miller was phenomenal all season long and he proved to be the only person that could keep the Sabres season alive. He was fantastic from start to finish and as an American you cant forget how well he played to get the underdog USA team to the gold medal game against arch-rival Canada.

Vezina Trophy Finalists: Martin Brodeur, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller
Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Ryan Miller
-As stated before, Miller was a stud in between the pipes this season and posted some great statistics this season. With a record of 41-18-8, Miller pushed his team to the Northeast Division crown with his heroics in net. Along with his second best save percentage and GAA, he made 1,948 saves (best for 3rd in NHL), and faced the 4th most shots with 2,098.

Eric's prediction: Well if we both went for Miller with the Hart then its a no brainer that we would pick him for the Vezina. Tim threw out all the stats already so theres no need to repost his numbers. Miller played great and net and should be awarded for his efforts.

James Norris Memorial Trophy Finalists: Drew Doughty, Mike Green, Duncan Keith
Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Drew Doughty
- The Norris is awarded to a defensemen who has the best all around ability on the backend. Mike Green is an offensive defenseman in nature only and shouldn't have been nominated this year. Duncan Keith is more of a defensive defenseman and although he put up some great numbers this year, he wasn't as visible offensively as the other two nominated. Doughty gets my nod for this season because it is only his 2nd year in the league and he plays like a 10 year veteran. When rushed, Doughty is calm and cool under pressure and doesn't turn over the puck as much as most defensemen his age would. His ability to use his big frame to punish opponents in the defensive zone and then stickhandle through the entire team is unparalleled. He was so impressive in his second season that when the Olympics came around, Team Canada came calling for him to play big minutes. Doughty improved his numbers from 6 goals and 27 points two seasons ago to 16 goals and 59 points last year, along with going from a -17 in 2008-09 to a plus 20 last year.

Eric's Prediction: This award annoys me, plain and simple. This award is supposed to be awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. So with that being said, why is Mike Green nominated for this award? Hes a forward that plays defense, the only other defenseman that is worse at playing defense then Green would be Marc-Andre Bergeron. I think its time to have two defensive awards, one for best offensive defenseman and one for best defensive defenseman. Duncan Keith really stepped it up offensively this year jumping from 44 points last year to 69 this year but again Keith isn't the best defensively. So with the two offensive defenseman out of the way lets move on to Drew Doughty, so much for a sophomore slump. Doughty went from 27 points in his rookie year to 59 points in his sophomore season and not only was he an offensive threat he was a big shutdown defenseman for the Kings and its one of the main reasons they were able to get into the playoffs this year. I'm going with Drew Doughty.

Calder Memorial Trophy Finalists: Matt Duchene, Jimmy Howard, Tyler Myers
Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Jimmy Howard
- No one could have expected such a horrific start to the season as the Detroit Red Wings faced. After starter Chris Osgood crumbled under the pressure early on, Howard was there to pick up the pieces and put together an impressive rookie season. He went from 1 game the year before to 63 this season, posting a 37-15-10 record with 3 shutouts. What was more impressive was his .924SV% and 2.26 GAA, best for 4th and 5th in the league respectively. The rookie helped Detroit secure a playoff position with a surge of wins after the Olympic break that were unmatched.

Eric's prediction: This is a tough award to pick a winner for, all three players were key pieces to their team making the playoffs but I think I'm going with Tyler Myers to win the Calder. Before the season not a lot of people knew who Tyler Myers was or figured that he would be a big piece to their defensive puzzle. He led all Sabres in ice time with almost 24 minutes per game. He was second on the team with an impressive plus-13 rating. Only Jochen Hecht had a better plus/minus rating plus-14. Myers was used in all situations, leading all defenseman in power play ice time and leading the entire team in shorthanded ice time.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy Finalists: Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis
Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Martin St. Louis
- Isn't everyone else sick and tired of Datsyuk winning it every year? There was no contest in this category of which player deserved it the most. St Louis has been a premiere player since the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 but he falls under the radar because of Vincent Lecavalier and now Steven Stamkos. St Louis posted great numbers on a bad team, ranking in the top ten in assists (5th with 65) and points (6th with 94). On top of that, the gentlemanly St Louis only managed 12 penalty minutes while playing an entire 82 game season. Now that right there is impressive enough. For those younger players out there, St Louis is a good example of a role model to look up to.

Eric's prediction: For a player to play as many minutes as Martin St.Louis and for him to only have six minor penalties is nothing short of amazing. St.Louis has to be one of the most underrated players in the NHL and he deserves this award.

Frank J. Selke Trophy Finalists: Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler, Jordan Staal

Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Ryan Kesler
- Known as a pest, Kesler knows how to play both sides of the puck. While posting 25 goals and 75 points, Kesler played against the opposing teams' best forwards and was in charge of shutting them down. His knack for agitating and forcing the other team to take penalties is a testament to Kesler's character. Strong in the faceoff circle, Kesler excels when he's given the chance to go face to face against the strongest opposition possible. His tremendous speed helps out his team plenty on the back check as he can catch whoever has the puck with the blink of an eye.

Eric's prediction: I'm going to have to go with Pavel Datsyuk on this one. He led the league in takeaways this year and he is always in the right place to make good defensive plays. He also has the ability to turn those defensive plays into offensive chances.

Jack Adams Award Finalists: Joe Sacco, Dave Tippett, Barry Trotz
Tim's prediction: And the winner is... Dave Tippett
- The Coyotes were in desperation mode after coach and part owner Wayne Gretzky left the team during the team's training camp. The search for a coach was underway and they were coming up blank. Finally, GM Don Maloney hired former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett to replace the best player in NHL history. The result? Immediate success. The Coyotes went from a record of 36-39-7 and 14th in the Western Conference the season before to 50-25-7 record and 4th in the West in 2009-10. The fact that everyone counted Phoenix out and predicted them to be bottom feeders this season must have sparked the Desert Dogs to prove them wrong. The impressive Coyotes pushed Detroit to 7 games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals and made names like Bryzgalov, Yandle and Stempniak into household names.

Eric's prediction: So at the beginning of the season how many of you predicted the Coyotes would have over 100 points at the end of the season. Okay, I dont think I see anyone raising their hands so Dave Tippett has to be the choice here. For him to come in only a week before the season to keep the off-ice distractions from dragging this team down they instead rose to the top of the Western Conference and shocked everyone. The real challenge for Tippett is making sure its not a fluke.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Former Devil Jason Arnott Returns Home in Trade

By: Tim Brennan

On the same day that their rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, acquired Dan Hamhuis from the Predators, the Devils reached into the Nashville pot and picked out a former player. Jason Arnott waived his no trade clause to return to New Jersey after spending the last four seasons in Nashville. The ex-Devil played parts of five seasons with the team, picking up 97 goals and 124 assists for 221 points in 302 games. Arnott is always remembered by Devils fans for his game winning goal in double overtime of Game 6 against the Dallas Stars to give New Jersey the Stanley Cup in 2000.

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has a knack for bringing back players who once played for his coveted franchise (in recent years Brian Rolston and Brendan Shanahan), so this move really isn't much of a surprise. The timing however seems a bit strange when Arnott's contract ends at the conclusion of next season, not to mention that he had served as Nashville's captain for the last three years. Now that Arnott is back in the fold, the Devils are deep at the center position joining Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus and upcoming UFA Dean McAmmond.

In exchange for Arnott, the Predators received coveted forward Matt Halischuk and a 2nd round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Halischuk split the year between New Jersey and their minor league affiliate, the Lowell Devils. He played 20 games with New Jersey, picking up 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points and impressing the team with his versatility and speed.

When commenting on the acquisition, Lamoriello explained that, "Arnott is a player who brings size, strength and experience to our hockey club". The Devils GM couldn't have put it any better as Arnott looks primed to hopefully lead the team to another Stanley Cup.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flyers Acquire Rights to Dan Hamhuis

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers made a bold move today, sending defenseman Ryan Parent to the Nashville Predators for one of the most sought after free agent defensemen this off season, Dan Hamhuis. The Predators are also throwing in a conditional 7th round pick in 2011 as a part of the deal.

The 12th overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft has compiled 32 goals and 161 points in 483 regular season games. A key member of a strong defensive corps, Hamhuis recorded 5 goals and 24 points in 78 games during the season. In their first round playoff matchup against the eventual champions in the Chicago Blackhawks, Hamhuis recorded 2 assists in 6 games while averaging 22:25 of ice time. Hamhuis' versatility is one of his strengths, as he can play in almost any situation and can match up against the opposing teams top forwards.

The Predators reacquire Parent, who was originally drafted by Nashville 18th overall in 2005 but didn't get a chance to play for the team. Parent, along with Scottie Upshall, a 1st round and 3rd round pick were sent to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg on February 15, 2007. Parent spent parts of 3 seasons between the Flyers and Philadelphia's AHL farm team, the Phantoms before being promoted to full time duty this season. While playing for the Flyers, Parent never found his groove, didn't seem to develop his game at all and was a liability on the backend. Parent posted 7 points in 102 regular season games with the orange and the black.

The Flyers have until July 1st to negotiate a contract with Hamhuis and they most certainly won't waste time. According to many, Hamhuis' stock has risen since his first couple of seasons in Nashville and it wouldn't be a shock if he commanded a salary around $4-5 million a year. If that is the case, don't be surprised if the Flyers let Braydon Coburn walk or get rid of him. With a blueline consisting of Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger, Matt Carle and Hamhuis, Coburn wouldn't fit in the fold.

It's strange that this same exact deal was brought up by Predators general manager David Poile at the trade deadline but Flyers GM Paul Holmgren abstained and decided to turn down the offer because he felt Parent was too valuable to the team. Really, that valuable? Then why is it that Parent suited up for 17 playoff games and only averaged 7:28 of ice time? And where was he in the Stanley Cup Finals? Coach Peter Laviolette only rolled his top 4 defenders because he didn't believe in his final pairing, which included Parent, who tended to turn over the puck more times than he got the puck out of the zone.

This will be a huge upgrade to the Flyers defense and is just one of possibly a few more moves for the Broad Street Bullies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flyers Fall in OT, Blackhawks Become 2010 Stanley Cup Champions

By: Tim Brennan

It's been 49 years since the Chicago Blackhawks had their name inscribed on the most coveted trophy in hockey. But droughts are bound to be broken and fortunately for fans of the Blackhawks in the time since their last Stanley Cup, they finally get to see a parade in the Windy City.

Patrick Kane's Cup clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 gave Chicago their first Stanley Cup since the days of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. Everyone, players and fans alike, had no clue what was going on when Kane went into jubilation and started celebrating when he had just kinda flung the puck towards the net. But how could that have gone in? The replay showed it sneaking past Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton low and getting stuck in the netting. After a slight delay, the Blackhawks were free to celebrate and revel in what they have accomplished this season.

The Flyers, in the meantime, were dejected but proud in what they were able to do this season after a multitude of problems during the first half of the season, resulting in the firing of head coach John Stevens. The team rose to the occasion under the new guidance of Peter Laviolette and were able to secure a playoff spot with a win on the final day of the regular season. The incredible journey continued as they ran over New Jersey in the quarterfinals, battled back and defied odds against Boston in the semifinals and burst Montreal's bubble in the conference finals before taking on Chicago.

Everything was on the line in Philadelphia for Game 6 as the Flyers looked to push the series to a final showdown in a Game 7 in Chicago while the Blackhawks wanted to claim the Cup as soon as humanly possible. Several Flyers were in need of a bounce back, most notably Chris Pronger and Mike Richards, after the previous game ended 7-4 in favor of Chicago. Pronger has been known to be able to shake off a poor performance to help propel his team to victory.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, the same Chris Pronger that showed up in Game 5 also was on the ice in Game 6 as early on, he committed two lazy penalties to give Chicago a chance. And just like that, Pronger's best friend Dustin Byfuglien scored on the second Pronger penalty, giving Chicago the lead and giving it to the Flyers fans by tapping his stick on the glass on the way by. Scott Hartnell countered however with his own powerplay tally shortly before the end of the first period with a backhand effort out in front.

Danny Briere's roof shot gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead 8 minutes into the second. Defenseman Lukas Krajicek flipped the puck to center ice landing right near Ville Leino and since Briere was unmarked, Leino slid the puck over to Briere, catching Antti Niemi by surprise for a quick strike. However, less than two minutes later, Patrick Sharp tied it up off a quick transition by the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith broke into the zone, centered to Dave Bolland who slid the puck over to Sharp before a Flyers player could touch him and Sharp's shot awkwardly squeezed through Leighton. Andrew Ladd made matters worse for the Flyers scoring a short while before the end of the period. Patrick Kane shuffled along the blueline, taking two Flyers with him before sending it to Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson's point shot was deflected by Ladd and gave Chicago a 3-2 lead heading into the final period.

The team that never says die certainly couldn't pull this one out right? The Flyers, desperately fighting for their lives, needed just one more goal to get some sort of momentum going. Up until the start of period #3, the Flyers were being outplayed, outchanced, outhustled and manhandled by the Blackhawks, with a 13-27 deficit in shots to boot. Yet the Flyers kept pushing and were still in the game, only down a goal.

Philadelphia got the boost they needed so badly when Scott Hartnell scored his second of the contest and his fifth of the series off a tip in near the front of the net. Hartnell has gone into the dirty areas and has provided the Flyers with a player who is willing to charge the net and put pucks in instead of just running into the goalie, which is his M.O. The Flyers pressed late in the period but both teams were going to need extra time to determine a winner.

Early into the extra session, Flyers forward Claude Giroux sent a couple of bouncing pucks towards the net but Niemi was able to scoop those chances up. It was only a matter of time before Chicago ended the game because they were the far superior team during this do or die matchup. Kane was the perfect player to seal Chicago's championship fate as it was he who played far better than any other Blackhawk forward during the series and playoffs.

Once again, the Flyers second line of Danny Briere, Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell were the only offensive players to put points on the board meanwhile the top line of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter turned into invisible men and couldn't muster anything worth mentioning. The Hartnell-Briere-Leino combination combined for 30 points in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the first liners Richards, Gagne and Carter only produced 6. The second line made the first line look embarrassing in the plus minus category as well, with a +15 rating for the second line to -21 for the first line.

There's no doubt that the Flyers will love to keep the second line intact after such an incredible performance in the post season. Briere had been under fire the last two years due to a lack of production for such a large salary of 8 million dollars a season. However Briere turned out to be one of the best players on the team, collecting 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points, tops on his team. Along with Briere, Ville Leino provided a much needed offensive bite from an unlikely source and became a force to be reckoned with, picking up 21 points in 19 games and led the Flyers in plus minus at +10. Hartnell reeked havoc in front of goaltenders all post season and after a slow start, poured on the points in the Finals with 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points.

The Flyers should be proud of what they accomplished this season, especially after all the injuries, personnel and coaching changes that have occurred. No one could have expected such a tremendous playoff run and an Eastern Conference championship. The team deserves credit for being a team that wouldn't let go and wouldn't succumb to anything, battling through adversity and doing what ever it took to get the job done. Although they fell two games short of a Stanley Cup victory, they certainly proved themselves to be worthy opponents, formed into a strong cohesive unit and gave Chicago a run for their money. There's always next season Flyers fans.

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup and becoming the champions for the 2009-10 season.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Some Random Thoughts Before Game 6

By: Tim Brennan

As we get set to view what will be an extremely important Game 6 for both teams involved, I offer a few pieces of information along with thoughts about what has transpired prior to this pivotal and what will be exciting battle.

-The Flyers currently hold a record of 9-1 at home in the 2010 post season. Goaltender Michael Leighton has a stunning record while playing at the Wachovia Center of 6-0. Chicago's record on the road was 7-1 prior to the Stanley Cup Finals but now sits at 7-3.

-The home teams have won each of the first 5 games in this series. There are only 3 instances in National Hockey League history when a home team has won every game in the Stanley Cup Final (1955, 1965 and 2003).

-Flyers forward Ville Leino is three points away from breaking Dino Ciccarelli's record for most points by a rookie forward, which he did in 1981 for the Minnesota North Stars. Leino has tallied 7 goals and 12 assists for 19 points, which includes 3 goals and 4 assists in the Finals.

-Staying on the topic of Leino, does anyone else agree with me that he deserves to be nominated for the Conn Smythe?

-One of the most underrated efforts during these Finals has been the strong defensive play of Dave Bolland. Bolland has been matched up against Mike Richards and has limited the Flyers captain to only 2 assists. On top of that, Bolland has added 5 points of his own and has pestered Richards to no end.

-Is it just me or do the officials have a penchant for blowing the whistle when a goaltender is down and there is a mad scramble in front of the net to get the puck? It seems like anytime the puck is loose close to the net, a referee feels the need to blow the play dead. Why? I can't wrap my head around the fact that at least 6 different times in this series alone the referees have stopped play because they lost sight of the puck when it is clearly out in the open and the goalie hasn't covered it.

-The officials continue to miss penalties in this post season. It's a little ridiculous that not one penalty call was made during Game 1 against the Flyers. The continuous cross checks, head shots and hits away from the play have piled up and the guys in stripes should pay attention. Two high sticking incidents were missed when Chicago's Brian Campbell was clipped in the face but the culprit didn't go to the box. And the worst one being Duncan Keith's high stick of Danny Briere pictured above. The high stick was so violent that it cut Briere badly and play had to be stopped as he bled all over the ice. When it's late in a game, you would think these would be automatic calls.

-Also why does it seem that the wrong Blackhawks player gets called? Three instances have appeared in this post season alone, one of which coming in Game 4 when Patrick Sharp was called for slashing. That was a phantom call because Sharp did absolutely nothing on the play but when the replay is shown, you can see Tomas Kopecky in the background whacking Chris Pronger with his stick.

-The Flyers have bounced back from a bad loss quite well this post season. Philadelphia suffered a big loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by a score of 5-3. Philly bounced back to beat the Devils 3-2 in overtime in Game 3 and would take the series in 5.

The Flyers fell behind in their semifinal series against Boston, who went up 3-0 and won Game 3 by a commanding 4-1 final. The "Bullies" were resilient in climbing back into the series and eventually winning, starting with a huge overtime victory in Game 5.

Montreal's first home game in the Conference Finals turned sour for the Flyers as they were manhandled 5-1. The team rallied together once again to beat the Canadiens in their own building with a 3-0 final in Game 4.

So Philadelphia is pretty strong coming out of a bad game so look for plenty of energy and grit from this Flyers team as they play before the faithful of the Wachovia Center.

-Chicago's big weapon during the playoffs, Jonathan Toews, has been hushed during the Finals, only posting 2 assists and gathering a minus 4 rating. Not exactly what you want from your leading scorer.

-The front page of yesterday's Chicago Tribune made a mockery of Chris Pronger, with a picture of him in a skirt and a headline that read "Chrissy Pronger". When asked about it, Pronger said, "I really don't care, I don't worry about that kind of stuff". Like this guy really needs any more motivation to take his anger out on the Blackhawks following a terrible performance in Game 5.

-Look for the Flyers to shake up the lines as Chicago did for Game 5. I wouldn't be surprised if Claude Giroux found himself on the top line with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne while Carter centered James van Riemsdyk and Arron Asham. If I was Peter Laviolette, I would demote Braydon Coburn to the third pairing and use Lukas Krajicek with Kimmo Timonen. Krajicek was a plus 2 while only playing 9 minutes in a game where Philadelphia surrendered 7 goals.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Line Changes Lead to Chicago's Huge Win over Philly in Game 5

By: Tim Brennan

Throughout the Stanley Cup Finals, the topic of matchups has come up in every conversation. The Flyers used the players they wanted to go up against Chicago's top skaters and were in control of that category, keeping the Blackhawks top three forwards to just five points in the first four games. It was only a matter of time before Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville got the idea to create different line combinations to gain an edge in the series. On Sunday night, Chicago's plan worked and pushed them ahead in the series 3 games to 2.

From the start of the game, the Flyers were on their heels defensively in panic mode. It was obvious that Chicago came into this game wanting to prove a point as they have been blasted for being outplayed by Philadelphia in the first four games. Chicago used their speed to their advantage, causing the Flyers defense to turnover the puck and instead of looking for an outlet pass, just throwing the puck up off the boards. Defense was a huge problem for Philadelphia on the night as they got lost in the shuffle, losing the player they were supposed to cover, running around in their own zone and allowing Chicago too much space to operate.

Chicago got on the board when Brent Seabrook scored a powerplay goal 12 minutes in. The shot, which deflected off of Chris Pronger, would spell bad news for the Flyers as this would be just the tip of the iceberg and was the first of many minuses on the night for Pronger. Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg added to Chicago's lead for a 3-0 advantage after one period. Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton looked shaky in between the pipes, allowing 3 goals on 13 shots and having difficulty controlling rebounds. Both goals were ones that Leighton would want back as Bolland scored from behind the net, banking it off of Leighton's leg pad and Versteeg's shot came from almost the blueline beating Leighton low to the blocker side. Although Leighton could be at fault for the goals by Bolland and Versteeg, it didn't help that the defense in front of him couldn't play man to man and limit chances by stepping up.

The Flyers offense was just as poor, with their inability to create scoring chances and no sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Another problem was the Flyers need to dump the puck in and not go after it. There were far too many times when a Flyers forward would dump the puck in and instead of going after it or pressuring the Chicago defenseman, they would fall back and allow Chicago to make the first move. This combined with Chicago's energy and physicality broke the Flyers spirits.

Whatever Peter Laviolette did in between periods to rally up his troops worked out well for the start of period number two. Scott Hartnell scored 32 seconds into the stanza when Danny Briere's keep gave Ville Leino an in close scoring chance, with a rebound laying in the crease for Hartnell to bury. From that point on, the Flyers started pouring on the scoring chances. They would take a step back however when Patrick Kane gave Chicago a 3 goal lead on a slam dunk. Andrew Ladd's initial shot was blocked by Pronger, only to come back to Ladd who found an open Kane breaking to the net to tap it in past Brian Boucher, who had replaced Leighton at the start of the period. But Philadelphia's resiliency kicked in as Kimmo Timonen answered back a minute later. A clear attempt near the cage came back to Timonen at the point, who fired it over a sprawled out Niemi with Hartnell creating a distraction in front.

Philadelphia got a few prime opportunities at changing the outcome but fell short. Both Mike Richards and Ville Leino whiffed on open net chances and Blair Betts missed a chance of his own. Richards was all alone out in front and when a pass came in from Simon Gagne, the captain one timed it but put the shot right back into the falling Antti Niemi. Leino received a crisp pass right on the blade but couldn't get a quality shot off. Betts rushed to the front of the net after a rebound from Darroll Powe's shot came flying out into the high slot but he was neutralized by a back checking Blackhawks forward before he could get a shot off.

The Flyers would fall behind again when Chicago's Dustin Byfuglien finally scored a goal in the series, this one coming on the powerplay late in the second. The man responsible for the penalty? Chris Pronger. Pronger's hook on Patrick Kane gave Byfuglien an opportunity of a lifetime as he was finally out there without Pronger covering him. Byfuglien cashed in, where else, from in front of the goaltender with Braydon Coburn missing an assignment leaving Byfuglien to tip it in without a problem. Byfuglien's urge to make a difference in this series came through in this game, as evidenced by his monstrous hit on Chris Pronger earlier in the period.

Philadelphia needed to overcome a 3 goal deficit to get back in and possibly win the game. Rookie James van Riemsdyk provided for the Flyers, scoring 6:36 into the third. The man who started the play ended up with the goal because van Riemsdyk's interception of a clear attempt from Patrick Kane set in motion his goal. "JVR" hasn't looked out of place in this series and it's confusing why Laviolette felt that Dan Carcillo was more valuable than the 21 year old New Jersey native. Chicago countered once again with a goal of their own as ex-Flyer Patrick Sharp victimized his former team for the 3rd time in this series. Chicago's 3 on 1 led by Patrick Kane entered the zone and when Chris Pronger had finally gotten back into position, Sharp let loose with a wrister that went top shelf past Boucher.

Simon Gagne tallied shortly after from a great pass by Ville Leino. Leino led the charge into the zone with Gagne rushing towards the net. Duncan Keith's stick broke so he went to body Leino and couldn't keep up while Brent Seabrook layed down to block off a passing lane. Leino sent a pass that barely went by Seabrook and right to Gagne sitting beside the goal for an easy score. And once again, Chicago would come back and counter Philly's attack with Dustin Byfuglien's second of the night and an empty netter. Byfuglien made a mockery of Pronger on the play, receiving the puck and releasing right before Pronger could stick check him. That would seal the Flyers fate in the contest with Chicago winning 7-4 and taking a 3 games to 2 series lead.

The big story coming out of Game 5 was most certainly the change of scenery for Patrick Kane and especially Dustin Byfuglien. The Flyers used Pronger to match up against Jonathan Toews, who played with new linemates Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky while Byfuglien played against mostly Braydon Coburn. The switch paid off as Byfuglien added 2 goals and 2 assists, including the game winner while nemesis Chris Pronger sat in the box. Byfuglien's linemates, Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg, contributed 5 points combined to propel their team to victory. Kane played alongside Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd, picking up a goal and an assist and generating more offense than when he was up against Pronger.

Chris Pronger was being hailed as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for this post season for all the great work he was doing shutting down opposing forwards while contributing offensively. That was not the case in Game 5 when was out on the ice for 6 of the Blackhawks 7 goals and was in the box for what ended up being the game winning goal. Pronger's -5 at game's end is one of the worst ratings he has ever had in a game during his career and there's no doubt about it that he helped out Chicago more than he did his own team. I'm not sure if he was getting comfortable to the matchups or getting in their heads by playing like a brute but he couldn't have been any worse. Byfuglien's hit on the veteran proved to be a turning point in the game and let him know that the Blackhawks aren't afraid of the towering defenseman. More than anything, a key to the Blackhawks success in this game was the targeting of Pronger and their ability to get him off of his game.

Let's recap what #20 did during each goal: Pronger screened goaltender Michael Leighton on the first goal of the game by Brent Seabrook and the puck was shot off of his stick and in. On Chicago's second goal, Pronger was wandering around aimlessly and didn't pick up anyone, allowing Bolland to bank a shot off Leighton's leg and in. The third goal happened because Pronger allowed Versteeg to enter the zone without stepping up and hitting him. A lack of taking the body led to Chicago's fourth goal in which Ladd was able to take a shot and then get the puck back to pass it to eventual goal scorer Patrick Kane. The fifth goal by Dustin Byfuglien was a result of a lazy hooking penalty taken by Chris Pronger. Pronger got caught in the offensive zone and had to rush back to stop a 3 on 1 chance, but that didn't matter because Patrick Sharp ripped a shot past Boucher anyway. Finally on the empty net goal, a studder step from Byfuglien threw Pronger off and he was able to sail it down the ice and in.

Not only was Pronger poor defensively but Braydon Coburn couldn't have made things easier for Chicago. Coburn continually set up the wrong team, turning over the puck 7 times and made poor decisions in the defensive zone. Coburn also couldn't control Byfuglien out in front of the net, allowing "Big Buff" plenty of space to create scoring chances. In a game where the Hawks put 7 past the Flyers, Kimmo Timonen and Ville Leino shined in this effort, combining for a plus 4. Timonen helped out a poor defense in this game and was one of the only defensemen that could do his part in his own zone and in the offensive zone. Unlike the other defenders, Timonen threw checks, cleared the puck when necessary, gave great breakout passes to help the forwards and was calm and collected when facing pressure from the opposing team. Leino has continued to be a force and collected 3 assists for his 2nd multi point game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Flyers seemed stunned by how Chicago came out in this game and took it to them. An energized crew dismantled Philadelphia and didn't give them a chance to even get anything going.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Another Win on Home Ice Levels the Playing Field to Two Games Apiece

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers needed to come away with a victory at the Wachovia Center so that this series would be even up heading back to Chicago. Philadelphia's willingness to do whatever it takes to win and never say die continued in this effort, as they came away with a 5-3 win. Sounds simple enough but the Flyers sure know how to make a game interesting.

The first line for the Flyers has struggled quite a bit during the Finals, with Simon Gagne picking up the only goal for this unit in Game 2. The three combined for 3 points and a dismal minus 14 rating through the first 3 games of the Stanley Cup Finals. So it was clear that this line needed to get going if they were going to make an impact at all. After causing a stir and not contributing anything for the cause, Dan Carcillo was sat in favor of James van Riemsdyk.

On the other side, Chicago went through a couple of changes as Andrew Ladd and Nick Boynton were inserted into the lineup for Adam Burish and Jordan Hendry. Coach Joel Quenneville decided to break up his two superstar players, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, so as to steer away from the Pronger-Byfuglien matchup. The Blackhawks seem to be paying more attention to matchups than anything else in this series but it was about time this move came to fruition because Kane and Toews were being tightly defended and tattooed all over the ice by Pronger and partner Matt Carle.

The Flyers felt the impact of Andrew Ladd fresh off of an injured shoulder as the gritty forward took an early penalty for interference. The Flyers failed to capitalize on the ensuing powerplay but kept the hustle going and drew another penalty 4 minutes in for high sticking. Mike Richards' hard work paid off for Philadelphia as the captain's back hander gave the Flyers an early lead. The play occurred when Niklas Hjalmarsson attempted to clear the zone when Richards lifted his stick and in one motion wrapped around the net and whipped the puck towards the cage, going five hole on Niemi. Richards' first goal of the Finals sparked the crowd and elevated his teammates.

Even though Ladd's impact was negative for the Blackhawks, the Flyers made a smart decision in putting rookie James van Riemsdyk back in the lineup. JVR and Claude Giroux combined to stickhandle through and around Blackhawks players that led to Philly's second goal. The clinic by van Riemsdyk and Giroux led to a turn around shot from the latter that hit Hjalmarsson. Another attempt to throw the puck out of harms way turned ugly as Matt Carle intercepted and fired it into the vacant net. Carle's presence offensively has been enormous for the Flyers and it was only a matter of time before he put one in the net.

The scoring wasn't over for the first period however as former Flyer Patrick Sharp added his 2nd of the series and 9th of the playoffs with a little more than a minute and a half remaining. Another defenseman fell victim to a poor clearing attempt, in this case Braydon Coburn, when the puck hit a group of players near the blueline and slid to Sharp, who blasted a slapshot from the point that knuckled past Leighton. But once again, the Flyers would take control as Claude Giroux put the Flyers up by a deuce to end the period. Kimmo Timonen made the play happen when he showed confidence with the puck and waited for space to open up and fired a pass to an unmarked Giroux for a slam dunk.

The Blackhawks were obviously trying to pick a player to go after and frustrate. The player happened to be Ville Leino, who was crushed early in the first by Brian Campbell in a violent hit that looked similar to Campbell's hit on R.J. Umberger a few years back.

The second saw no change in the score but plenty of rubber getting thrown at the goaltenders. Leighton faced 13 shots to Niemi's 10 and both played stellar. One thing to bring up about the second was what could be the worst call made during the 2010 playoffs. Patrick Sharp was called for slashing and the replay of the so called "penalty" looked like Sharp just playing hockey. The announcers for Versus, Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, were baffled by the call and were searching through everything to find it. The remaining refs should be the best in the game so how could there be a phantom call in such an important game?

Leino would have the last laugh in this one however as he notched was ended up being the game winner on a shot that bounced around like a ping pong ball. Leino cut towards the middle and used Boynton as a screen, firing it off him and Kris Versteeg past Niemi. Prior to this chance, Versteeg had an opportunity and waited to pull the trigger, resulting in a block and the puck going the other way.

A combination of bad penalties taken by Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn put Chicago back into the fold as they countered on a 5 on 3. Dave Bolland tallied when Duncan Keith fired a pass through the Flyers defenders right to Bolland at the side of the net, which was an easy tap in. Brian Campbell added to the score and narrowed it to just a one goal advantage for Philadelphia. Another strange goal in this game as Campbell's deflected off of Kimmo Timonen's stick, then the post to go past Leighton.

This situation has come up more than once this year when the Flyers have a comfortable lead and then sit back and the opposing team takes advantage to pull it even or win the game, a prime example being a home game against the Minnesota Wild on March 25 in which Philadelphia led 3-1 heading into the third and allowed two goals to bring it to overtime, where they eventually lost. The Blackhawks continued to pressure the Flyers and threw everything they could at the net. The momentum changer came with 2 minutes left when Michael Leighton came up with a huge save on a tip from Brent Seabrook in the slot. Leighton had two players in front of him and was still able to react and make the quick leg save before Mike Richards cleared it out. Jeff Carter sealed the Blackhawks fate in this one by getting the empty net goal.

Although the intensity picked up in this game, the Blackhawks haven't looked the same as they were in the beginning of the playoffs. The impact of Chris Pronger has been huge on messing up their game plan. The Blackhawks like to put traffic out in front of the opposing goaltender and Pronger hasn't allowed anyone to get close enough to create a screen. The Blackhawks also continue to struggle when the Flyers throw a lot of hits and were weakened and tired by the end of the game.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flyers Relentless in Thriller that Ends With an Overtime Victory

By: Tim Brennan

Each season, the Philadelphia Flyers have come out with a slogan that will define what they are. This year's phrase is "Relentless". The Flyers have used that as their bread and butter all season long and continue to live it up in these playoffs. And thanks to a game winning goal in overtime from Claude Giroux, the Flyers made an impact to steer away from going down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Giroux's 9th goal of the playoffs, and first point in this series, gave the Flyers new life after losing by a goal in each of the first two games. The marker will be one that Flyers fans will never forget as the passing lanes opened up for Danny Briere to send it to Matt Carle who found a wide open Giroux breaking to the net and tipped the puck in between his legs to give Philadelphia the 4-3 win only 6 minutes into the extra session. Giroux made a major impact on this series, as he collected 3 points in this game alone and was all over the ice, causing fits for the Blackhawks defenders.

Philadelphia's tenacity paid off in Game 3 due in part to an up-tempo pace that continued through the evening. The Flyers were able to win the majority of the puck battles and used speed and precision passing to catch Chicago off guard. As a result, the Flyers cashed in two powerplay goals on three attempts.

Danny Briere got the ball rolling in the first after Marian Hossa was whistled down for slashing. Briere started the play when he dangled past Duncan Keith to enter the zone and fired a quick high riser at Niemi, who blocked it down. Troy Brouwer attempted to clear the zone but Claude Giroux was able to bat the puck out of mid air and settle it down to set up Braydon Coburn for a one timer. Niemi's save on Coburn's shot kicked out to Scott Hartnell, who fell over and made an awkward pass to set up Briere backdoor. The combination of Giroux's ability to keep the puck in the zone and Hartnell's never quit attitude led to Philadelphia potting one on the man advantage.

Just when the Flyers thought they could maintain the lead for an extended period of time, it was taken away by Duncan Keith when his point shot found the net 2:49 into the second period. Patrick Kane took the puck off the boards and circled towards the middle by went untouched and found Keith wide open at the blueline, leading to the one time blast that tied the game up. Miscommunication between Matt Carle and Arron Asham led to Kane's subtle play as the Flyers stood mesmerized.

Philadelphia would get a 2-1 lead courtesy of Scott Hartnell's powerplay goal halfway through the stanza. Chris Pronger's wrist shot was deflected in the slot by Hartnell and trickled through Niemi, barely making it across the goal line as Niklas Hjalmarsson swept the puck out. After a delay for a review of the play, the official word came in that it was in fact a goal. Chicago poured on the pressure after Hartnell's goal and continued to get chances. The Blackhawks got on the board late in the second from Brent Sopel. John Madden's clean faceoff win gave Sopel an opportunity for a quick shot without any pressure and the defenseman cashed in. There's no doubt about it that Michael Leighton definitely would want that one back.

The intensity picked up in the third period, with a total of five hits in the first two minutes. The Flyers got some sustained pressure on Chicago and worked the puck around but an errant pass that was steered away by Ben Eager gave Chicago a chance to push forward and try to break the Flyers spirits. Jonathan Toews picked up the puck and found Patrick Kane breaking through the defense and the youngster gave Chicago a 3-2 lead a little over 2 minutes in on a breakaway. Kane is one of the best when it comes to breakaways so there was no way that Leighton could do anything about it. Ville Leino tied things up only 20 seconds after Kane's marker, picking up the rebound off of Jordan Hendry's accidental deflection on his own goaltender. The Flyers thought they won the game when Simon Gagne sent a wrist shot towards the net, that clanged off the post. Those in the crowd stood up and cheered and even the goal judge was fooled as the horn rang out. After a short review of Gagne's shot, it was determined that it didn't hit the inside of the post as many had suspected, but came off the face of the post. This would eventually set up Giroux's game winning goal in overtime.

Even though Giroux was the by far the player of the game, one could also give credit to the continued success of the Hartnell-Briere-Leino line and the offensive prowess of Matt Carle. The Flyers most productive line this post season combined in Game 3 for 3 goals and 2 assists along with 9 shots and Briere picked up a helper on Giroux's game winner. Matt Carle added 2 assists of his own and was more than willing to rush the puck up the ice any chance he got.

Another key factor in this game was the Flyers dominance in the faceoff circle. Prior to Game 3, Chicago had racked up 77 faceoff wins in 135 attempts, giving them a 57% in that area while Philadelphia only managed 58, which amounts to 43%. The Flyers have been getting killed all post season in faceoffs but finally turned the tides on Chicago, winning 34 of 62 attempts. Although Chicago scored a goal because of a faceoff win by John Madden, the Flyers were able to win draws in important times of the game. Faceoffs are an extremely noteworthy area when it comes to whether a team wins or loses a game, especially in the playoffs.

Flyers Lose Another Close Game, Chicago Goes Up 2-0 in Finals

By: Tim Brennan

Prior to this series, plenty of hockey experts were going on and on about how great each team was defensively and that the puck can't find its way past either of these goaltenders. They couldn't have been anymore wrong as Game 1 was a disaster for both defenses and turned into an offensive showcase. As evidence to the terrible defensive effort by the Flyers, all six defenders combined for a minus 4 rating compared to Chicago's plus 4 rating. The goaltenders didn't fare any better than the defense, allowing a combined 9 goals on 64 shots and also saw playoff hero Michael Leighton get pulled halfway through the contest. Both teams were going to look for a better defensive effort for Game 2.

In a surprise move, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette replaced rookie forward James van Riemsdyk with pest Dan Carcillo. Apparently Philadelphia needed an edge according to the coach so that change was made. Also imcompetent defender Ryan Parent was taken out of the lineup in favor of Oskars Bartulis. By the end of the night, Game 2 turned out to be the polar opposite of Game 1.

After only 4 penalties committed in Game 1, the first period of Game 2 saw five players enter the box, including Dan Carcillo. Prior to the game, NBC's coverage focused much of it's pre-game to the return of Carcillo and described the agitator as a game changer and a huge impact on this series. The Stache definently made an impact alright. Not only did he pick up a bad penalty by putting Tomas Kopecky in a head-lock, but on a hit attempt earlier in the period almost knocked out teammate Jeff Carter. Carcillo is a liability and this move made absolutely no sense from a viewers standpoint because van Riemsdyk had finally got into a groove near the end of the Bruins series and geled well with Claude Giroux and Arron Asham.

The first stanza couldn't have been any more frantic for Philadelphia as the Blackhawks controlled the period from start to finish. Chciago outshot the Flyers 9 to 3 and Philadelphia's defense was having a difficult time containing the Blackhawks speed and agility. The Flyers also looked like a shell of themselves as Chicago came out banging bodies and took every chance they could to abuse the Flyers. Another problem for the Flyers was their breakout. The defense didn't bother to look up to and pass it to the forwards but intstead would chip the puck out of the zone, practically giving it right to the Blackhawks every time. The few opportunities that Philadelphia got it out of their zone and could get some scoring chances, more times than not they opted to try and pass through 3 players instead of shooting, leading to such a low shot count.

The pace settled down in the second with both teams adopting a defensive style by stifling the opposition in the neutral zone. Even with this mindset, the teams combined for 28 shots for the period. Antti Niemi came up some big saves, one on a breakaway by Mike Richards and the other on a one timer from Arron Asham, which turned out to be a game changing save.

Shortly after Niemi's goaltending display, the Blackhawks worked the puck around in the offensive zone, creating a opportunity for Marian Hossa to get the game's first goal. Each of the Blackhawks on the ice were a pivotal part of the play as all five touched the puck and Hossa buried it past Leighton, picking up a rebound from Patrick Sharp's shot in the high slot. The Blackhawks didn't waste a minute adding to their lead when Ben Eager fired a shot over Leighton's glove hand to make it 2-0 with 2 minutes and change remaining in the second period. The fourth liner used defenseman Matt Carle to screen the shot so that Leighton wouldn't expect it. The shot was eerily similar to Patrick Sharp's goal in Game 1 when he barreled down the same side and fired it in the same exact area past Leighton.

For the third period, Philadelphia needed to come out with plenty of urgency and throw pucks to the net so as to avoid a two game deficit in the series. They answered the call in the early stages of the third as Simon Gagne got on the board with a powerplay marker keeping the game close. Chris Pronger pinched in and sent the puck to Jeff Carter who rimmed it around the boards to Mike Richards. Richards carried up the wall until he found Gagne in the high slot and Gagne blasted one that appeared to hit the Blackhawks defender and in. Once they capitalized on the extra man advantage, the Flyers barraged Niemi the rest of the night, pouring on 15 shots but ultimately ran out of time to get something past the Blackhawks netminder.

Niemi made 33 saves to give Chicago a 2 game series lead and was by far the player of the game. The Flyers threw everything they could towards the net, but Niemi covered every puck and didn't allow any rebounds. The lack of net presence contributed to Niemi being able to swallow up puck without any difficulty. The scouting report on Chicago's 2008 free agent signee is that although not a tall goaltender, Niemi makes up for that by playing wide in the net, which in other words means that he can cover the majority of the net and is incredible down low. There's a reason why Niemi de-throned Cristobal Huet to become Chicago's number 1 in net and some of that comes from the solid play he's been providing this post season.

In Game 3, look for Philadelphia to get in front of Niemi to rattle his cage and also keep tabs on the impact of each team's top line because it looks like they may break free and cause some damage in this series.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals Start Out With a Bizarre 6-5 Final for Game 1

By Tim Brennan

Who would have thought that the Philadelphia Flyers were going to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup Finals? The Blackhawks are coming off an incredible four game series sweep of the San Jose Sharks en route to the Finals and weren't slowed down by Nashville or Vancouver in the two rounds prior to the Conference Finals. Philadelphia meanwhile took care of business by dispatching Montreal in five after dismantling rival New Jersey in the quarterfinals and coming back from a 3-0 deficit against Boston to take the series in 7. So in essence this year's Stanley Cup Finals is interesting to say the least.

Matchups are always an important component to a game or series and there is no shortage of that here. The unlikely goaltending duel of Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi is the most surprising and probably the most important. Leighton posted four shutouts and was a godsend after Brian Boucher went down with a knee injury halfway through their series against the Bruins. Niemi has been just as spectacular, coming up with momentum changing saves at key times during games and has shown that he is the goalie that Chicago wants to depend on, and not Cristobal Huet.

Another matchup to keep an eye on throughout this series is the battle between Chris Pronger and Dustin Byfuglien. Each man possesses strength beyond belief and since Byfuglien's main objective is to crash the net and screen the opposing netminder, it's a guarantee that he will run into Pronger frequently. Not only that but Chicago's checking line consisting of Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky will look to shut down the Flyers' top line of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter.

Now after having said all of that, let's see how Game 1 came to such a strange outcome.

Each team came out with a lot of intensity and determination to gain the lead first and gain momentum for the rest of the game. Surprisingly Philadelphia got that lead from Ville Leino, who tallied 6:38 into the contest. The scoring wasn't done for the period as Troy Brouwer answered back only a minute after Leino's goal. Then Dave Bolland scored a shorthanded goal off a breakaway at 11:50 of the first. Scot Hartnell countered back on the powerplay at 16:37, with Danny Briere and Chris Pronger adding their second assists of the evening. Not to be outdone, Briere would score just before the buzzer sounded for the first period, giving Philadelphia a 3-2 lead going into period number 2.

Former Flyer Patrick Sharp got on the board early for Chicago in the 2nd period, blasting a high rising shot over the glove of Michael Leighton. Then finally there was some time during the period when no goals were scored up until Blair Betts' slapshot made it past Niemi 7 minutes in. Then another change in score occurred just 2 minutes after the Betts goal as Kris Versteeg scored to tie things up. Chicago would finally muster a lead as Troy Brouwer scored late in the period, which would send Leighton to the bench. The puck stopping machine that is Michael Leighton allowed 5 goals on 20 shots, which is uncharacteristic of the goaltender in these playoffs. The change in goaltenders sparked Philadelphia as Arron Asham slapped one past Niemi with a little over a minute remaining in the second. After two periods, the score was deadlocked at 5 apiece.

In the third, both teams buckled down defensively and picked up the physicality. Each team neutralized each other in the offensive zones until Tomas Kopecky added to the bizarre night. A strong forecheck by the Bolland line created an opportunity for Kopecky and he didn't miss, putting it past Boucher and giving Chicago a 6-5 lead. The Flyers frantically battled back in the final half of the period but couldn't tally in time to tie the game up one more time. Chicago drew first blood by winning Game 1 and giving themselves an advantage for Game 2.

This strange night can be summed up with a few notes of importance. The top forwards from both teams; for Chicago: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien and Philadelphia: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter; went the entire game without getting on the scoresheet and combined for a minus 16. The game winning goal came from Tomas Kopecky, who was only in the lineup because Andrew Ladd suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out of this series. Prior to this game, Kopecky was a healthy scratch for five games. Finally, Chicago didn't get a single powerplay all night but was shorthanded on four occasions, which is rare in this post season.