Danny Briere, Claude Giroux

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.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.