Scott Hartnell compares next season to his first in Philadelphia

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It’s not often that a relatively successful* sports team goes through as many drastic changes as the Philadelphia Flyers did this off-season. Even in most of those cases, the reasoning is very different; most semi-successful teams rebuild on the fly due to a shortage of cash or an overabundance of players who are deemed too old to remain effective. When you consider the fact that the Flyers are spending plenty for the 2011-12 season and scuttled off two centers in their 20’s, neither of those explanations fit.

Instead, the Flyers changed things up in order to attempt to answer their goaltending problems and because they simply didn’t think that Jeff Carter and Mike Richards would carry them far enough to win a Stanley Cup. Ultimately, it seems like this team went from a group of extremes (staggering depth on offense, huge questions in net) to one that seems a lot like other NHL squads (a handful of players who need to match or exceed strong years with a highly paid goalie who could make or break their season).

Either way, things are going to be very different, but drastic changes aren’t that unusual for the Flyers franchise. Just ask Scott Hartnell, a player who came to Philadelphia after the team underwent dramatic changes in response to an abysmal 56-point season in 2006-07 and saw the team turn things around dramatically with a 95 point campaign in 07-08.

“Probably my first year in Philadelphia. I think the Flyers came off their worst season ever. They got JVR as the second overall pick, me and Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere and Jason Smith came in, so there was almost a turnaround like there is this year.”

(snip)

“It was just exciting to have that new group of guys and everyone competing for the same goal. It’s reminding me a lot of the first year I got to Philly, but instead of being the new guy I’m one of the veterans here. You have to make the new guys feel welcome. Everyone did when I first came.”

Hartnell will have to deal with some changes of his own thanks to the departure of Ville Leino, which will create a hole in a line that featured Hartnell, Leino and Danny Briere. Hartnell was productive with that combo last season, scoring 24 goals and 49 points while providing 142 PIM worth of agitation. Despite those solid numbers, the rugged winger thinks that the team will find an effective replacement for Leino.

“Danny and I love playing with each other. I think if it’s Jagr, Voracek or Simmonds that comes in on that right wing side, they’ll control the play or get pucks to Danny B. behind the net. I know where I’ll be, right in the front creating some havoc and getting some tips and shots. It’s a pretty simple recipe and Danny and I have done a good job of working together, so I’m sure someone will do a good job and come in to take right up were Ville left off.”

It shouldn’t be too hard to replace at least some of Leino’s production (19 goals and 34 assists for 53 points in 81 games played), especially if they are matched up with a creative player such as Jagr or Voracek. Voracek, in particular, possesses some qualities that make him seem like the next Leino; he’s a highly-touted player who couldn’t work things out on a Central Division team. The Flyers system might be a better fit for Voracek than what he experienced during his days with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Flyers could still be a contender next season, but if you need any more evidence that things we’ll be different, chew on this: Hartnell now ranks as one of the team’s longest standing members and will probably play a leadership role. That’s not just different, it’s downright strange.

Then again, maybe that’s just the theme of today: plans that are crazy enough that they just might work.

* They won their division and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference, something that got lost in the shuffle because of their goaltending mess during the 2011 playoffs.

Fleury celebrates Stanley Cup day as a Penguin, but admits he’s ready to move on

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Marc-Andre Fleury celebrated his day with the Stanley Cup on Saturday.

His time in Pittsburgh has already come to an official end, having been selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. He’s already said ‘thank-you’ to the fans of Pittsburgh, but the events of this weekend, in his mind it seems, close the chapter for good on this stage of his career.

“I think this was my last day as a Penguin, I would say,” Fleury told NHL.com.

“I have members of my family who had their Penguins hats who told me this was the last time those will come out. So I think after today, I can turn the page and get ready for Vegas.”

The former first overall pick captured three Stanley Cup rings with the Penguins. While he wasn’t the No. 1 goalie last year — or in the 2017 final, either — he played a significant role in Pittsburgh’s success through the first half of this year’s playoff before Matt Murray returned from injury.

He earned praise for how he handled the situation toward the end in Pittsburgh. After the final, reports surfaced he had agreed to waive his no-movement clause, which left him exposed in the expansion draft.

At age 32, he still has two more years left on his current contract, with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million. He’ll no doubt garner plenty of attention this upcoming season as the experienced starter on the Golden Knights’ roster.

But Saturday was for Fleury to enjoy one last championship won with the Penguins.

Hall urges Hischier to ‘develop at his own pace’

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The New Jersey Devils won the lottery and selected Nico Hischier first overall. With that comes even greater expectations on the player heading into their first training camp.

We’re less than two months away from the opening of training camps across the league.

But on a team that has worked this summer to bolster its offense, the addition of the 18-year-old Hischier could have an immediate impact in that department in October. Certainly, fans in New Jersey will hope so.

Taylor Hall knows all about the pressures of being taken first overall.

The Oilers selected him at that spot in 2010, but dealt him to New Jersey last summer, removing a very talented forward from their roster in order to gain something back defensively.

Devils coach John Hynes has already tried to lessen the burden on Hischier. Hall, it appears, has taken a similar approach.

“He’s just got to relax and develop at his own pace,” Hall told the Toronto Sun. “That’s not always the easiest thing to do with all the expectations people put on you for going No. 1, but I’ll help him any way I can.”

The Metropolitan Division featured four 100-plus point teams last season. New Jersey wasn’t one of them. Where the Devils need to make the most improvement in order to break back into the postseason conversation is with their offensive attack,finishing 28th in the league in total goals for last season.

Hischier should help — if not exactly next season then beyond 2017-18. The Devils also acquired Marcus Johansson from Washington and the signing of Brian Boyle should help solidify depth up the middle.

“It’s exciting times for us, bringing in the likes of Nico, Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson,” said Hall. “We’re certainly trending in the right direction.”

Habs may lean more on Montoya to keep Price refreshed

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The Montreal Canadiens committed money (a lot of money) and term to Carey Price with his contract extension at the beginning of this month.

He is the backbone for this team, for its success.

He’s also about to turn 30 years old next month, with 509 career games in the NHL, entering the league in 2007-08. For as great as he has been, the Habs may place added responsibilities on the shoulders of their back-up, a title currently held by Al Montoya.

In an interview with the Habs’ website, the club’s goaltending coach Stephane Waite said that, in his mind, the days of starting goalies playing 65 to 70 games are done. It’s too tall an order in today’s NHL.

Price has, on three occasions, breached the figures in that approximation during his career. He approached the lower end of that with 62 starts in 2016-17. Montoya, meanwhile, had 18 starts and 19 games, posting a 8-6-4 record (20 points for Montreal in the standings) and a .912 save percentage.

He was the victim of one awful game, allowing 10 goals to Columbus on Nov. 4. But seriously, the entire Habs team was awful that night, essentially leaving their No. 2 goalie out to dry in an embarrassing effort from everyone.

Beyond that, Montoya was able to put together some nice starts, including shutouts against Pittsburgh and Edmonton, two teams well-equipped with dangerous offensive talent.

“We’re not afraid to put Al in goal against any team in the league,” said Waite.

“We don’t look at who he’ll be playing, we just look at the schedule that we make at the beginning of the season. Our priority is to give Carey the right days off at the right times.”

The Habs signed Montoya to a two-year extension in January. That’s a vote of confidence in their back-up.

Maintaining that confidence with a good season would certainly help the Habs accomplish the objective of keeping Price rested and refreshed.

Rangers are ‘right on the cusp,’ says Shattenkirk

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Since missing the playoffs in 2010, the New York Rangers have made it to the Eastern Conference Final three times, and to the Stanley Cup Final once.

A championship, however, has eluded them. Instead, they’ve lost to the L.A. Kings in the final and watched their division rivals from Pittsburgh win it twice in a row, even losing to the Penguins in the first round in 2016.

This summer, however, has brought considerable change to the Blueshirts through a blockbuster trade with Arizona, buyouts and a retirement.

Derek Stepan — gone.

Dan Girardi — gone.

Kevin Klein — gone.

Antti Raanta — gone.

Oscar Lindberg — gone.

There has been substantial change on the blue line. The Rangers went after prized free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk with a four-year contract worth $26.6 million. They re-signed Brendan Smith, a late-season acquisition. They brought in Anthony DeAngelo in that deal with Arizona.

Read more: Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

No surprise here, but Shattenkirk had an optimistic outlook when describing the Rangers, a team he believes is “right on the cusp,” according to a conversation with NHL.com.

“I think we have that capability of playing with a team like that,” Shattenkirk recently told NHL.com.

“We have great goaltending (Henrik Lundqvist). Our defense is fast and we can make plays, but I also think we have a little bit of edge as well. Up front, I’m sure we’re one of the fastest teams in the League. You look at how Pittsburgh is built, and that’s the way that they’ve won. We have some great depth on our team, and I think that’s what it really comes down to at that point of the season: How deep are you?”

Their success next season may also depend on which teams rise and fall in the Metropolitan Division.

Columbus took a big step forward with a franchise record-setting season and will look to replicate that beginning in the fall. The Penguins were the Penguins, advancing past Washington and Ottawa in seven-game series despite a plethora of injuries before besting Nashville in the final. One has to wonder how much of a toll the grind of two Stanley Cups will take on that club. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy but faltered in the playoffs, ushering in change to their roster with all the unrestricted free agents — including Shattenkirk for the playoff run — they had.

Can the Islanders get back into the playoffs? Same question for the Flyers. Will Carolina, with Scott Darling in net, get the necessary upgrade at that position and take the next step toward the playoffs? What will New Jersey, with an upgraded offense in addition to Taylor Hall, be capable of when the season begins?

The number of changes to teams in the Metropolitan may be enough to shift the balance of power in that division this upcoming season. The Rangers have seemed like a team on the cusp at least three times in the last seven years.

Shattenkirk mentioned goaltending, as well, calling it great. That’s an accurate description of what Lundqvist has been for many years in New York. However, at the age of 35, he’ll need to bounce back from what was a down season for him in 2016-17.

“I think everyone’s probably all going to judge [the window] based on Lundqvist, and everyone is talking about, ‘Well, how long does he have left?'” continued Shattenkirk. “We have a lot of young players on this team, though, to counterbalance that.”