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.

Penguins re-sign Ruhwedel to a two-year deal

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The depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense faced the ultimate test this spring, winning a Stanley Cup despite the absence of Kris Letang.

Among those depth blueliners asked to come in and help fill the void left by injuries on defense was Chad Ruhwedel. And on Thursday, Ruhwedel re-signed with the Penguins to a two-year deal.

The Penguins announced that this new deal has an average annual value of $650,000 — a modest raise from his one-year, $575,000 deal for last season, but still certainly affordable for a Pittsburgh team that needs to get restricted free agents Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary under contract.

In his first season with the Penguins, Ruhwedel split his time between Pittsburgh and the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He scored twice with 10 points in 34 games with Pittsburgh, and then appeared in six postseason games as injuries continued to mount on the blue line.

His last game of the postseason came on May 19 versus Ottawa. He was diagnosed with a concussion, which was the result of a hit from Bobby Ryan in Game 4.

 

NHL announces 2017-18 regular season schedule

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The NHL released next year’s schedule on Thursday — one that cemented the league wouldn’t be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Games are scheduled right through the Olympic window, which runs from Feb. 9-25. You can view the entire schedule here.

Some dates of note:

• The Penguins will raise their Stanley Cup banner on opening night, Oct. 4, prior to their home date against the Blues.

• The league’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will play their first game on Oct. 6 in Dallas, and their first home game on Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

• Detroit will play its first game in Little Caesar’s Arena on Oct. 5, against the Wild.

• Ottawa and Colorado will play a pair of games in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 10 and 11.

• Ottawa and Montreal will play the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic outdoors, at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, on Dec. 16.

• The Rangers and Sabres will participate in the annual Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field.

• From Jan. 26-29, Tampa Bay will host the NHL All-Star weekend.

• On Mar. 3, Washington will host Toronto in an outdoor game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Marc-Andre Fleury, now a Golden Knight, will make his return to Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.

Jonathan Drouin, now a Montreal Canadien, will make his return to Tampa Bay on Dec. 28.

Jordan Eberle, now a New York Islander, will make his return to Edmonton on Mar. 8.

Eberle hopes to re-establish chemistry with John Tavares

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Jordan Eberle believes the trade to the New York Islanders will provide him with a fresh start — and possibly the opportunity to play alongside John Tavares.

In a blockbuster Thursday morning, the Oilers dealt Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome.

There is a history between the two talented forwards that famously dates back to the 2009 World Juniors.

Back then, the draft-eligible Tavares was expected to go No. 1 overall in a few months time. Eberle was a first-round pick from the year before. It was Tavares shoveling a backhand shot toward the net and Eberle scooping up the puck and putting it behind the Russian goalie in the final seconds of regulation to send the semifinal game into overtime.

It’s one of the iconic moments in Canadian World Juniors history.

They will be reunited with the Islanders, and potentially on the same line, in order to give Tavares a scoring winger.

“From me, you have to be confident in your ability and confident that you can be in a top-six role. I think I’ve shown in the past that I can score in this league and I’ve had previous chemistry with John,” said Eberle, who scored 20 goals and 51 points for the Oilers this past season.

“Obviously, he’s a very intelligent player and the way that he plays suits my game. Maybe, if that’s where I end up, our games suit each other well.”

Eberle goes from a team that had Connor McDavid, the 2017 Hart Trophy winner, to Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009, an Olympian, and a player with two 80-plus point seasons under his belt.

They are both, as Eberle said, generational players. But with two totally different styles on the ice.

“I think you look at their attributes as players. I think Connor, the first one that sticks out to mind, is his speed. He’s maybe one of the fastest guys with the puck and you have to be able to keep up with that,” said Eberle. “John thinks the game, maybe, better than any other player in the league.

“Each does his thing in their own way, but gets the job done. For me, it’s more of, in my mind, to get ready to the best ability that I can to get into camp and hopefully fit in.”

Welcome Jason Demers to the trade rumor mill

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Florida’s season ended on April 9. Since then, the Panthers:

— Made a coaching change from Tom Rowe to Bob Boughner

Re-instilled Dale Tallon as GM

Lost leading goalscorer Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft

Traded Reilly Smith to Las Vegas.

And they might not be done shaking things up.

Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, defenseman Jason Demers — who was left unprotected at the expansion draft — is now available for trade. The news comes just one year after Demers signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Florida in free agency, one of the biggest moves in the club’s defensive overhaul from the season prior.

The 29-year-old was a lineup fixture in Florida last year. He appeared in 81 of 82 games, scoring nine goals and 28 points while averaging 19:37 TOI.

If anything, today’s news suggests Tallon might be trying to undo the work Rowe did during his stint as GM. It was Rowe, don’t forget, that inked Smith to his five-year, $25 million deal last July. Smith went on to have a subpar year — just 15 goals and 37 points — and, in one of his final noteworthy acts as head coach, Rowe called Smith out for his lacklustre play towards the end of the season.