Flyers boast an abundance of options at center despite trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter

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The Philadelphia Flyers are known for making some strange decisions here and there, but the team’s consistent track record of making the playoffs hints at traces of genius amid their madness. As someone who enjoys watching teams walk to the beat on their own drum, it was a bit disappointing that the Flyers carved up their roster with the hope that Ilya Bryzgalov will finally answer their perennial goaltending questions, but there’s a growing sentiment that maybe Philly didn’t take such a big step back after all.

It’s easy to be ambivalent (or worse) about Jeff Carter since he’s not exactly known for his all-around play, but trading away Mike Richards puts a lot of pressure on incumbent centers such as Danny Briere and Claude Giroux to pick up the slack. Yet as CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio points out, the interesting thing is that the team still has an abundance of options at center after the Carter and Richards trades. Just take a look at some of the more prominent centers going into training camp.

High-end centers

Giroux and Briere

Checking centers

Blair Betts and Maxime Talbot

Noted prospects

Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier

Wild card

Michael Nylander

After showing impressive progress while maturing in the Los Angeles Kings’ system, it seems like Schenn is primed to make the jump to the NHL in the near future. Panaccio brings up an interesting question, though: could fellow first round pick* Couturier follow him next season?

Here’s a question for Flyer fans: The assumption is that Brayden Schenn makes the roster. But what about first-round pick Sean Couturier?

I’ve never [seen] him play in junior at Drummondville, but every Canadian writer I spoke to at the NHL Draft in June flat out predicted he would make the roster.

(snip)

Obviously, we have a crowd of centers coming into camp in a few weeks.

There’s going to be some terrific competition on a turned-upside-inside-out Flyers roster that general manager Paul Holmgren keeps saying may or may not be as good as the last two years, but is very, very different from what we’ve seen in the past.

source: Getty ImagesIf you’re going to have an excess of any type of forward, it might as well be centers. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but pivots tend to be a little more versatile and defensively responsible than wingers by the nature of their typical duties.

For one thing, it might be easier for Schenn and/or Couturier to adjust to the NHL game (and not get eaten alive by tough matchups) if they begin their careers on the wings. Once you go beyond budding star James van Riemsdyk, fading star Jaromir Jagr and wild card Jakub Voracek, the majority of the Flyers’ wingers are grittier types – although Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds can contribute some offense of their own. That being said, it might be reasonable to move one of the Flyers’ excess centers to left or right wing to maintain a high level of creativity among their scoring lines.

Top centers might struggle

While Giroux is a two-way threat with respectable faceoff numbers, I’m a bit concerned that Briere might be a liability when it comes to draws. He won a below-average 48.2 percent of the 820 faceoffs he took in 2010-11 and only won more than 50 percent in one season since joining the Flyers (50.5 percent out of 1,250 in 07-08). Briere isn’t generally regarded as a great defensive forward either, so that might be where the Flyers will miss a guy like Richards the most.

There’s even a slight reason to worry about Giroux; while he seems like the real deal, teams can shift more of their focus toward shutting down the shifty scorer now that Richards and Carter are out of the mix.

***

Philly’s future looks bright at center, especially if Schenn and Couturier fit in well whenever they fully enter Peter Laviolette’s system. My guess is that their offense won’t be as explosive as last season’s group (which topped the Eastern Conference and came in third place overall with 259 goals scored), but if they find the right formula with their new ingredients, the Flyers might just be onto something.

* – Schenn went ninth overall in 2009 while Couturier was the eighth pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Sabres confirm signing defenseman Antipin; Is his KHL teammate Lee next?

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The Buffalo Sabres announced the signing of defenseman Victor Antipin* on Thursday, confirming rumors that surfaced more than once this month.

Antipin, 24, enjoyed a solid season in the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. Even so, the signing might be interesting if it serves as an appetizer for the Sabres bringing in Antipin’s teammate from Metallurg, Chris Lee.

On one hand, Lee is 36 and couldn’t make the jump fromt he AHL to the NHL in previous opportunities (most reently with the Penguins’ farm system in 2009-10). On the other, he had an eye-popping 2016-17 season in the KHL: 65 points in 60 games as a defenseman.

Lee’s previous numbers aren’t as outrageous, but still quite good, at least form a scoring standpoint.

While Lee’s possible addition is a situation to watch, there’s some excitement about Antipin.

“Victor is a well-rounded defenseman who has played in all situations at the pro level,” Sabres GM Jason Botterill said. “His mobility and puck-moving skills make him a perfect match for what we’re hoping to build with our defense corps next season.”

Granted, there’s some debate about his ceiling.

Still, for a Sabres team that badly needs help on the blueline, this addition – or eventually these additions – could provide a nice boost.

* – The Sabres’ releases feature his name spelled “Victor.” Other outlets, including hockeydb, have it as “Viktor.”

WATCH LIVE: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

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Will it be the Ottawa Senators or Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final? We’ll find out after tonight.

Yes, it’s that time: a Game 7 to see who advances to the final round. The winner will also hold home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final.

Could Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, and the rest of the Senators pull off an upset on the road, winning the franchise’s first Game 7? Can Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins give Matt Murray a birthday present with another Game 7 win?

Find out on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Here’s what you need to know:

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (series tied 3-3)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Ottawa’s 2-1 win in Game 6

Related:

Pretty or not, Sens aim to play their game vs. Pens in Game 7

Penguins prepare for another Game 7, this time as favorites

Modern-day Senators have never won a Game 7

It’s “reasonable” to expect Schultz and Hornqvist will play Game 7

Trouble for Ducks: Lindholm and Vatanen need major shoulder surgeries, will miss months

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Not a great week for the Anaheim Ducks.

After being eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference final — the toughest loss of Ryan Kesler’s career, apparently — the Ducks broke more bad news on Friday as GM Bob Murray announced d-men Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen both require torn labrum surgery, and will be out an awfully long time.

The timeline on Lindholm is 4-5 months, while Vatanen’s recovery will extend beyond that because his injury was more serious.

Looking at the calendar, four months would run Lindholm up to the end of September, meaning he’d miss a good chunk of the preseason. If it’s five months, he could miss the first three weeks of the regular season.

Murray didn’t even put a timetable on Vatanen, only saying it would be longer.

This adds to what was already going to be a pretty stressful summer in Anaheim. As we wrote earlier, Murray has some big decisions on his hands.

Vatanen and Lindholm are huge parts of the team. Both averaged over 21 minutes per night this season, and both broke the 20-point plateau. They’re also locked in long term — Lindholm at $5.2 million annually through 2022, Vatanen at $4.8M through 2020.

If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen for the expansion draft, the defense will definitely be worth watching. Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. There are already reports that extension negotiations are going well but, after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Add it all up, and the Ducks will certainly be worth watching this offseason.

In a surprise, Blues name Steve Ott assistant coach

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Pretty wild last few days for St. Louis on the coaching front.

After gutting Mike Yeo’s staff of four assistants, then hiring hiring Darryl Sydor, the Blues went totally off the grid on Friday by announcing longtime NHLer Steve Ott would become Yeo’s new assistant.

“Steve was a competitor on the ice as a player and I expect him to bring that energy in this role,” Yeo said in a release. “He was highly respected as a player and a person among his teammates and I believe he will be a huge asset to our staff.”

The decision caught many off guard given Ott, 34, has no prior coaching experience and was playing as recently as last month, suiting up for Montreal in its opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Ott is familiar with the Blues organization, having played there for three seasons.

“I am very proud of my playing career and will devote the same work ethic to my coaching career,” said Ott. “The Blues organization is very special to me and my family and I’m excited to take the next step in my hockey career with this franchise.”

Blues GM Doug Armstrong signed Ott to a three-year deal. It’s fitting that Armstrong was the one to engineer this move, as he’s been behind unorthodox coaching moves in the past. Last summer, he defied convention by hiring Yeo as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant, with the understanding that Yeo would inherit the head man position next season.

It didn’t go exactly to plan. Armstrong fired Hitchcock in February, accelerating Yeo’s ascension.