Reasons for the Flyers recent struggles? Laviolette takes the blame

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Times have been tough for Philadelphia lately. The once dominant team at the top of the Eastern Conference standings is now just two points ahead of Pittsburgh for the lead in the Atlantic Division and also just two points ahead of Boston for the top spot in the East overall. A four game losing streak will always help do its part to bring about the worries and fretting from the fans and media alike but coach Peter Laviolette has an idea of what’s wrong.

Laviolette says that the Flyers’ lethargic play of late is his own fault thanks to working the team too hard in practice before playing three games in four days. After yesterday’s 7-0 humbling at the hands of the rival Rangers on NBC’s Game of the Week, it’s hard to argue with Laviolette as Chuck Gormley of The Courier-Post shares from Flyers practice.

“The two games prior to [yesterday] we had energy but we got beat. The bounces that were going our way, aren’t going our way, like the shots that are going in from behind the goal line. Things didn’t click and you could have come out on the other side of those two games. We still could play better, don’t get me wrong. Yesterday they didn’t have the pop we needed. It was like we were moving slow out there.

“If I am being honest, I have to take one hundred percent responsibility for what happened yesterday. We came into the month of March and we wanted to push. We pushed hard for three days and will continue to push hard, but yesterday I think we felt the effects of that. We came in and we didn’t have the jam that we needed to play a team that had plenty of it. I think it’s an isolated [incident]. That type of game is really tough to take, and it’s one of those losses that makes you want to get sick over, but it’s one game. We need to move on. We need to get that energy back up to a really high level and prepare ourselves for the next game and not dwell on that game. There was no pop out there.”

There was no pop, there was no defensive coverage, there was no offense, and there was no goaltending. One thing the Flyers have had a lot of is the flu. Jeff Carter missed their games against Toronto and New York with sickness as have a handful of other players. Illness combined with getting worked hard at practice leads to getting demolished on the road by a team that hasn’t been able to throw the puck in the ocean, never mind in the goal.

The Flyers have played all season long without so much as a minor disturbance along the way. Now that they’re meeting adversity head on it seems to be that the sky is falling for some Flyers faithful. Provided that Laviolette is right and that some rest for his team will get their legs back under them, this will be just a bump in the road when it gets looked back upon later on. What’s changing the landscape for them is the much better play out of Boston, Pittsburgh, and Washington in the East. It’s been almost too easy for the Flyers this year, but if they can avoid cracking under the pursuit of their rivals they’ll be just fine.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.