2010-11 NHL season preview: Philadelphia Flyers

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Thumbnail image for prongerknockshishelmetoff.jpgLast season: (41-35-6, 88 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, 7th in Eastern Conference) You probably heard the story already if you’re a big hockey fan, but it’s still pretty amazing to think about it. The Flyers went from needing a failed Olli Jokinen shootout attempt on the last day of the season to eek into the playoffs to being down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins in the second round to making it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Sure, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks was disappointing, but the Flyers exceeded just about everyone’s expectations last season.

Head coach: Peter Laviolette pulled off a very Dan Bylsma-like feat with the Flyers last season, taking over a struggling club during the season and installing a more aggressive style that propelled them to the Cup finals. He didn’t win a Cup like Bylsma, but Laviolette has a championship on his resume from his run with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flyers are in solid hands with Laviolette.

Key departures: F – Simon Gagne, G – Ray Emery, D – Ryan Parent. It’s weird to mention Emery as a “departure” since he seemingly injured himself so long ago. Gagne might be a bit injury-prone, but he’s a speedy sniper who made an impact when he returned to the Flyers during the playoffs. He’d be missed a bit more if Philly wasn’t so loaded at forward.

Key arrivals: F – Nikolai Zherdev, D – Andrej Meszaros, D – Sean O’Donnell, F – Jody Shelley. The Flyers rolled the dice with the talented but flighty Russian Zherdev. They also took on expensive and questionable defenseman Meszaros, sturdy blueliner O’Donnell and fighter Shelley. The Shelley signing would have been ridiculous if Rangers GM Glen Sather didn’t decide to one-up everyone by making Derek Boogaard rich.

leightonandboucherpals.jpgUnder pressure: Most people would say their goalies (Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher) are under the most pressure and that’s probably true. But we’ll get to them in a second.

One other person to watch is sniping center Jeff Carter, a consistent goal scorer whose performance in the playoffs left much to be desired. He’s in a contract year, so don’t be surprised if Carter leads the Flyers in points. (If he can handle the pressure, that is).

Protecting the house: Leighton and Boucher won’t go high in any fantasy hockey drafts and will be the source of plenty of derision in plenty of season previews. Leighton is struggling with back issues and doesn’t have a long track record as a starting goalie. Boucher is a journeyman goalie who is a 1b at best. Neither goalie is a likely Vezina Trophy candidate, but if they stay healthy, they might be sufficient.

Why? Because they play behind what is (on paper) the best defense in the Eastern Conference, if not the NHL. He might not be Mr. Popular, but Chris Pronger is the most intimidating blueliner in the league (sorry, he’s just a little bit nastier than Zdeno Chara). When Scott Stevens retired, Pronger took the mantle as the most sadistic defenseman on ice. Let’s not forget about the Kimmo Timonen, another great (and highly-paid) blueliner in his own right. Matt Carle benefits from Pronger’s imposing presence while Braydon Coburn is a solid companion for Timonen. Sean O’Donnell should be a solid bottom pair guy while Andrej Meszaros might make sense in a smaller role.

It might not rank alongside the Anaheim Ducks defense that included Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, but you won’t find many groups better than Philadelphia’s … especially in the East.

Top line we’d like to see: Carter-Mike Richards-Danny Briere. Richards provides the two-way play and some great leadership (not to mention plenty of skill). Carter can just focus on being a sniper while Briere would abuse teams that would have to focus on him less than his two line mates.

Oh captain, my captain: Richards can do a little bit of everything, from scoring to winning a big faceoff to killing penalties with aplomb. His leadership was challenged when the team faltered and it seemed like Pronger wore the pants in the family, but Richards justifies his position as an NHL captain quite well.

jodyshelleyfights.jpgStreet fighting man: Shelley is (probably) the biggest fighter, but this is the Broad Street Bullies we are talking about here. Throwing knuckles is a requirement in Philadelphia in the same way that employees must brew their own beer at Sam Adams. Dan Carcillo will wrack up the PIMs and keep Shelley company in the penalty box. You have to wonder if scary brain injuries might slow down last year’s leading fighter, Ian Laperriere, though.

Best-case scenario: Carter uses that expiring contract dangling carrot to score 50 goals while Briere capitalizes on his playoff points-leading run by putting up big numbers again. Philadelphia takes advantage of their considerable scoring and defensive depth to win the Atlantic Division. Pronger wins his first Conn Smythe while the Flyers prove that the ‘cheap-goalie plan- works by winning a Cup with the Leighton-Boucher duo.

Worst-case scenario: Chris Pronger shows his rapidly increasing age and goes down with a serious injury. Both Leighton and Boucher flop under the full season focus. Ville Leino and Claude Giroux end up being Fernando Pisani-level busts while the Flyers shockingly miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: The Flyers really do have a ridiculous amount of depth, especially in the forward position. Just look at that talent: Carter, Richards, Briere, Giroux, Leino, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk are all worthy contributors who could have nice years. Combine that forward depth with a very good defense and they might not need great goalies.

Make no mistake about it, though, Boucher and Leighton aren’t great goalies. These shortcomings might cost them the Atlantic Division title – I say they battle the Penguins for second place – and will keep them from winning the Cup. They should be interesting to watch, though.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, there’s a part of me that wants to say ‘5 out of 5,’ but instead I’ll go with a 4. The goal situation makes me a little timid, I’ll admit it.

Report: Maple Leafs closing in on deal with Jhonas Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs held on to Garret Sparks, signing him earlier this month to a two-way contract.

But they may not be done there, as they look to find someone to fill the role of back-up to Frederik Andersen.

On Sunday, a report from Expressen in Sweden — and put through Google Translate — began circulating that the Leafs are closing in on a deal with free agent goalie Jhonas Enroth, who turned 28 years old last month.

It’s one report and the team has not confirmed or announced anything. But it’s something to keep an eye on over the next few days.

Enroth posted a .922 save percentage last season with the L.A. Kings, appearing in only 16 games behind starter Jonathan Quick.

Signed to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million with the Kings, his playing time was a source of contention, however, because Enroth seemed to be under the impression he would play more than he did in L.A.

The back-up position in Toronto became available when the Leafs traded Jonathan Bernier to the Anaheim Ducks.

Related: UFA of the Day: Jhonas Enroth

Providence College product Schaller saw opportunity to play with Bruins, but challenges lie ahead

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 15:  Tim Schaller #59 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on January 15, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
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After spending the last three seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, Tim Schaller wasn’t going to resist the opportunity to sign with the Boston Bruins.

A product of Providence College, the now 25-year-old Schaller, a center who provides size up the middle at six-foot-two-inches and 219 pounds, signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level with the Bruins as a free agent at the beginning of July.

“We had probably about 10-12 teams calling on one day,” Schaller told the Boston Globe.

“About halfway through the phone calls, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins called. At that moment, I almost told my agent, ‘Why take another phone call? Why not just say yes to the Bruins right away?’ It’s a good opportunity to have to play in Boston. All the numbers worked out perfectly to where it was impossible to say no to them.”

The move helped to provide depth up the middle for the Bruins.

Schaller has put up decent numbers in the minors, with 43 points in 65 games with the Rochester Americans in the 2014-15 season. In 35 NHL games with Buffalo, he had two goals and five points.

However, earning a spot on the Bruins roster could be difficult.

They have centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who had off-season surgery, Ryan Spooner and the additions of Riley Nash and David Backes as free agents.

Backes can play wing in addition to center.

“Boston was a good fit,” said Schaller. “We think I’m better than the prospects, so we thought it was a good fit. Hopefully I can beat out a bunch of guys for a job.”

Being named Oilers captain would be ‘one of the greatest honors,’ says McDavid

Connor McDavid
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It began gaining momentum well before Connor McDavid even finished his rookie season, the prospect that the young phenom had what it takes to become captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

Wayne Gretzky had his say, in an interview with the National Post last season.

“I have a great deal of respect for him. In my point of view, I think he’s mature enough that he can handle it at any age,” said The Great One, the Oilers captain when that franchise was a dynasty in the 1980s.

McDavid’s highly anticipated rookie season was interrupted with a shoulder injury, but he returned to play in 45 games, with 48 points. He was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, and there was plenty of healthy debate for his case to be the top freshman in the league.

As his season continued and then ended, the talk of McDavid’s possible captaincy in Edmonton has persisted. The Oilers, who traded Taylor Hall last month, didn’t have a captain this past season.

From Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, in April:

Connor McDavid will be named as the Oilers’ captain at the age of 19 next fall, one of the items that was deduced at general manager Peter Chiarelli’s season-ending press briefing Sunday. Asked if his team would have a captain next season where this year it did not, the GM responded quickly: “I would think so, that we would have a captain next year.”

At 19 years and 286 days, Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog became the youngest player in NHL history to be named a captain.

McDavid, the first overall pick in 2015, doesn’t turn 20 years old until Jan. 13 of next year.

He’s already the face of the Oilers and perhaps soon, the NHL, too. He certainly doesn’t seem to shy away from the potential of one day being named the Oilers captain.

“Obviously. If I was ever the captain at any point I think it would be one of the greatest honors and one of the accomplishments that I would definitely take the most seriously,” McDavid told the Toronto Sun.

“I don’t want to comment on it too much, but obviously it would be an unbelievable feeling.”

Trevor Daley surprises young hockey players, firefighters with Stanley Cup visit

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Trevor Daley had his day with the Stanley Cup on Saturday, taking it through Toronto, surprising young hockey players at a local rink and firefighters at a local station.

He also held a private viewing party for family and friends inside a local bar, as per the Toronto Sun.

Daley’s post-season came to an end in the Eastern Conference Final when he suffered a broken ankle. His absence tested the depth of the Penguins blue line as the playoffs pressed on, but Pittsburgh was ultimately able to power its way to a championship.

When Sidney Crosby handed off the Stanley Cup, the first player it went to was Daley, whose mother was battling cancer.

“He had been through some different playoffs, but getting hurt at the time he did, knowing how important it was, he had told me that he went [to see] his mom in between series and stuff, she wasn’t doing well, she wanted to see him with the Cup,” said Crosby, as per Sportsnet.

“That was important to her. I think that kind of stuck with me after he told me that. We were motivated to get it for him, even though he had to watch.”

Daley’s mother passed away just over a week later.