Scott Hartnell, Nathan Gerbe, Patrick Kaleta

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.

Do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

His column finishes like this:

This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

“It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.

Back to Matt: Facing elimination, Pens will start Murray

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 16:  Matt Murray #30 and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on May 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but there’s a goalie change coming in the conference final.

On Tuesday, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Matt Murray would be back in goal for tonight’s decisive Game 6 in Tampa Bay — this after Sullivan opted to park Murray in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5.

Technically speaking, Murray’s been parked since the second period of Game 4. That, of course, was the one in which he allowed four goals on 30 shots, paving the way for Fleury to enter the third with Pittsburgh down 4-0.

And that’s when things changed.

The goalie switch seemed to spark the Pens, who scored three times in the final frame to make things interesting. While that was going on, Fleury looked sharp — though not especially busy — stopping all seven shots faced, as his mates nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.

The decision was then made to start Fleury on Saturday night.

He played to mixed reviews in a 4-3 OT loss, making just 21 saves (for an .840 percentage) while appearing shaky on a number of occasions. Though he could hardly be blamed for the game-winning goal — replays showed that Jason Garrison‘s point shot deflected off Tyler Johnson‘s behind — Fleury just didn’t look right, which isn’t a shock.

It was his first start since suffering a concussion on Mar. 31.

As mentioned above, goalie changes have been a predominant storyline among the final four playoff teams. St. Louis has started both Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and the Bolts were forced to go to Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop got hurt in the series opener.

In that light, Sullivan’s questionable decision to start Fleury in Game 5 is somewhat mitigated because, hey, other teams are having goalie issues too.

It’s also worth noting Pittsburgh’s situation in goal probably has much to do with its situation on defense. There’s little coincidence the club has conceded eight goals over the last two games with Trevor Daley (broken ankle) almost entirely out of action, Olli Maata being thrown into action and Kris Letang shouldering gigantic minutes — including a whopping 31:38 in Game 4.

Related: Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise

Report: Wild parting ways with assistant coaches Wilson, Sydor

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild
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Bruce Boudreau has some staffing to take care of in Minnesota.

Per the Star-Tribune, the Wild have elected to part ways with veteran assistant coaches Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor. The report comes just weeks after GM Chuck Fletcher hired Boudreau to replace outgoing interim bench boss John Torchetti.

Wilson assisted three different coaches — Torchetti, Mike Yeo, Todd Richards — during his six years in Minnesota, and worked mostly with the club’s defensemen and penalty kill.

Sydor had been one of Yeo’s most prominent right-hand men, dating back to their time together in AHL Houston. The longtime NHL blueliner was embroiled in controversy last season after he was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving and child endangerment, eventually getting jail time for DWI.

Fletcher has reportedly given Boudreau “free reign” to fill out his coaching staff, which may include a third open position.

Per the Tribune, it’s believed another of last year’s assistants — Andre Brunette — will move from behind the bench to the front office. Prior to taking a coaching gig last season, Brunette had been working as a special assistant to Fletcher.

The other coaches from last year — Darby Hendrickson and Bob Mason — will return in their roles. Hendrickson works out of the press box while Mason is the club’s goalie coach.

Related: With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet

Report: Habs’ Holloway signing in KHL

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One of the few bright spots from Montreal’s disappointing campaign could be on his way to Russia.

Per Championat, Bud Holloway — the 28-year-old journeyman that made his storybook NHL debut with the Habs last season — has opted to join KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Holloway joined the Habs last season after four highly productive years in Europe.

In 2011, he emerged as a Swedish League star — Holloway set a record for most points in a SHL postseason (23 in 19 games) and, in his second season, became just the second player in league history to score eclipse the 70-point plateau.

In ’14-15, Holloway signed in Switzerland and continued to be a productive scorer, with 37 points in 42 games for SC Bern.

His scoring exploits translated over to the AHL, as he led St. John’s with 61 points in 70 games.

Montreal called up Holloway for his first-ever big league game in late November, and head coach Michel Therrien was effusive in his praise.

“This is a great story,” Therrien told ECHL.com. “The guy has showed a lot of resilience through his career to come back after playing a few years in Europe, and he did really well for [St. John’s].

“For him to get an opportunity to play his first game in the NHL, those are great stories and he certainly deserves to finally get a shot in the NHL because he’s had success wherever he goes.”