Philadelphia Flyers v Florida Panthers

Game of the Week preview: Three reasons why the Flyers are suddenly struggling

When you play a grueling (and occasionally tedious) 82-game season, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll hit a brick wall or two. Even the most dominant Stanley Cup winners of the past stuttered a little bit during their king’s speeches.

Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers probably struggled as often as they triumphed, as the team needed a shootout win over the New York Rangers to clinch a playoff spot in the last game of the 2009-10 season. Some thought that the team might regress a bit after their red-hot run to the Stanley Cup finals, but Peter Laviolette’s deep, talented group hasn’t missed a beat.

Until now, of course.

The Flyers are a pedestrian 7-6-1 in 14 games since the All-Star break and have lost their last three games (along with four of their last five). CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio captured the “it’s better to struggle now rather than the playoffs” type-mood in the locker room, which is a sentiment that’s difficult to deny. Still, it’s also difficult to deny that they are struggling, so here are three reasons that might explain why.

1. A lack of hunger?

Look, professional sports teams always want to win. If athletes were indifferent to the idea, they’d probably be in a different field.

Still, there’s a reason why there is “bulletin board material” in sports. Sometimes you need that extra bit of motivation, something the Flyers probably lack to some degree. After all, it’s easier to win those late February/early March board battles or block that extra shot if you’re fighting for your playoff lives rather than simply trying to protect the top seed.

Philadelphia will see a desperate, but less talented team in the Rangers at 12:30 pm ET for the NBC Game of the Week. Chances are, if the Flyers match the Rangers’ intensity, the East’s first ranked team should win.

2. The Flyers’ scoring is drying up.

While the “hunger” factor is mostly subjective (and thus a hypothesis), the next two reasons are purely concrete. It’s surprising to see, but their vaunted offense is sputtering more than a bit lately.

Since their first post-All Star Game contest on February 1st, Philadelphia hasn’t scored more than three goals in a single game. It’s natural to point to goaltending when the Flyers struggle – heck, it’s a time honored tradition to blame their netminders – but what makes this team scary is their staggering offensive and defensive depth. If wave after wave of quality forwards can’t get it done, it’s not fair to fit Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky with goat horns.

3. A lack of closing strength.

The previous two points converge into their last problem: an inability to finish games strong. Ryan Bright highlights a disturbing stat during the Flyers’ last seven games: the team has been out-scored 12-3 during the third period (not counting empty netters). Call it a lack of hunger, goaltenders dropping the ball or simply a lack of punch, but that’s the kind of number that should raise a few eyebrows.

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While many will point to the Flyers’ net as their biggest source of concern, there’s only so much the team can do about that right now. Yet as the playoffs approach, the team can improve their scoring, get better in the third period and learn to match the desperation of their opponents.

After scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs last season, the Flyers could sleepwalk into the postseason this year and still be in the mix. They would be wise to avoid taking that route if they want to go deep in the tournament, though.

NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

(Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

Best of both worlds for Coyotes

Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

(H/T to the Score.)

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.

Martin Jones is still pretty ‘new’ to this

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 06:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stands in goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d have to be an awfully harsh critic not to be impressed with what Martin Jones did last season.

He “didn’t flinch” under the pressure of a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer described his efforts as some of the best championship round work of “all-time.”

His signing really made the Sharks look smart. With a strong .919 career save percentage in the regular season and a fantastic .923 playoff save percentage, the 26-year-old has succeeded more or less whenever called upon.

That brings us to the interesting part, though: there’s not a lot of tape, so to speak, on Jones as an NHL goalie.

Small sample

The 2015-16 season was just his third of NHL action, and he’s now at just 99 regular season appearances. That fantastic run of 24 playoff games makes up a significant chunk of his overall experience at the top level.

Jones has excelled when tested, but if you have any concern with him, it’s just that he’s relatively inexperienced at carrying that No. 1 workload.

He started in 65 games during the 2015-16 season, towering over his work as a Kings backup (15 appearances in 2014-15, 19 in 2013-14).

On the bright side, the Sharks have additional evidence that he’s not just a flash in the pan.

Strong numbers at each level

Looking at his AHL stats and even going as far back as his WHL days, his numbers have almost always been good to downright impressive.

It all continues the pattern of Jones looking like the real deal, but next season presents the latest test for the promising goalie.

So far, he’s passed all of them with flying colors.

What will Brent Burns’ new contract look like?

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 29:  Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at SAP Center on February 29, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

There’s only one Brent Burns, that much is clear. Both on and off the ice, there’s no one like him.

So, what do you pay a guy that’s always imitated, never duplicated?

That’s the dilemma the San Jose Sharks will be faced with in the coming weeks/months.

If you were impressed with Bruns’ 17 goals and 60 points in 2014-15, then his 27 goals and 75 points in 2015-16 was out of this world.

Over the last three seasons, not many forwards have produced as much as Burns, let alone defensemen.

Since being acquired by San Jose in 2011, Burns has hit double digit goals in all but one year (he scored nine in 30 games in 2012-13).

“You know how we feel about Brent. Phenomenal year,” GM Doug Wilson said back in June. “When we acquired him it was a big piece to acquire. There’s no doubt he’s important to us. We want him. I think he loves being here. Those conversations will take place shortly.”

Time to talk numbers…

It sounds like Burns enjoy playing in San Jose, so him taking a bit of a discount is possible. But if we look at the closest comparable…

Dustin Byfuglien, who is 31-years-old like Burns, signed a five-year $38 million contract with the Jets this winter. That comes out to an AAV of $7.6 million.

Both are big, physically imposing and have put up some great numbers in the last few years.

Over the last three seasons, Byfuglien has scored 19, 18 and 20 goals for a total of 57. Burns has scored 27, 17 and 22 for a total of 66.

That’s not a huge difference over three years, but Byfuglien wasn’t coming off a 27-goal season and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final when he signed his contract.

Although we haven’t really heard much regarding Burns’ contract demands, it wouldn’t be shocking for the final cap number to be in the 8 or 9 million range.