Blackhawks, Flyers just three years removed from NHL basement


kaneandvaughn.jpgIt’s not the only way to build a team in the post-lockout era, but it seems obvious that getting a lucky break with the NHL Draft is becoming the Express Lane to respectability. Of course, you need the lottery balls to bounce your way – and really, it doesn’t hurt if you get a high pick in the right year. After all, three out of the four Stanley Cup finalists (only Detroit got there by clever management alone) in the last two years were less than five seasons removed from being cellar dwellers.

Just three years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers had the top two picks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Oddly enough, Patrick Kane was just that close to being a member of the Flyers. Kinda mind blowing to think about that situation, right? 

Instead, the Hawks drafted Kane with the top pick and the still-developing James van Riemsdyk went No. 2 with Philadelphia. shares their productivity and career paths since that draft.

Kane turned pro immediately and blossomed alongside Toews as the poster boys for the Blackhawks’ inspiring resurgence. Kane has scored 76 goals and 154 assists in 244 regular-season games, and has playoff totals of 16 goals and 18 assists in 34 postseason games.

Van Riemsdyk took the college route at New Hampshire and completed his rookie season with 15 goals and 20 assists in the regular season and an additional 2 goals and 2 assists in 18 playoff games.

Drafting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin helped turn around the Pittsburgh Penguins while landing Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom achieved similar results for the Washington Capitals. Obviously, every draft can’t land you a superstar, but the Edmonton Oilers can look to these scenarios for positivity. Could Taylor Hall pave the way for the team to become a contender for the first time since the early-90s? It must be a tasty thought for the long-suffering fans.

It brings up the double-edged sword of “tanking” as well. Just look at the situations that teams such as the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers find themselves in. They might have nice prospects here or there, but ultimately, the teams lack the high-end talent to make up for their limited resources. (Or, in the case of the Wild, the fact that they don’t need to spend up to the cap to fill their building.)

So, on one hand, it’s stunning that the two franchises rebounded dramatically, especially with the Blackhawks. Yet it’s becoming a trend. Should other NHL teams at least ponder pulling the very taboo act of losing on purpose? Hate to open Pandora’s Box there on you, but it must be said.

Forget “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” … for some franchises, they might want to think about a little losing.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.