Ilya Bryzgalov

2011-2012 season preview: Philadelphia Flyers

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2010-2011 record: 47-23-12, 106 points; 1st in Atlantic, 2nd in East

Playoffs: Defeated Buffalo 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, lost to Boston 4-0 in Eastern semifinals

After a disappointing showing in the playoffs, the Flyers cleaned house in the offseason. GM Paul Holmgren sent out captain Mike Richards and goal-hound Jeff Carter and in came Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, and Brayden Schenn. Is it the culture change this Stanley Cup challenger needed? One way or another, it’s going to be entertaining to see it play out.

Offense

So how do you replace the consistent offense of Richards and Carter? You get a future Hall of Famer back from the KHL in Jagr and bank on the emergence of James van Riemsdyk to be a premiere power forward as well as the continued improvement of Claude Giroux to make it work. Sound risky? It might be. Van Riemsdyk played like he finally figured it all out in the playoffs and now he’s got a six-year contract to fulfill those hopes. Daniel Briere is also still very capable to chip in on offense.

The Flyers will also be banking big on Schenn, who will start the season in the minors, to eventually step in as a rookie on the third line at center. Having Talbot and Wayne Simmonds joining him there will help out. The Flyers’ fourth line will mix up defensive skill and toughness with Blair Betts, Jody Shelley (eventually), Andreas Nodl, and possibly Zac Rinaldo at times.

source: Getty ImagesDefense

As Chris Pronger goes, so go the Flyers on defense. He’s the new team captain, he’s the snark, snarling, sarcastic guy in the locker room and he’s their best defenseman. Period. Having Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn to balance things out along with Matt Carle keeps the defensive corps intact from last season. Adding Andreas Lilja gives the Flyers an experienced guy back there to fill out the top six, but Lilja is not exactly a world-beater there. They’ll play hard and tough, but Pronger has to be out there for the Flyers to be Cup contenders. Nagging injuries for Pronger could be a huge disruption.

Goalies

Ilya Bryzgalov is the star No. 1 goalie the Flyers have been waiting years to have. With him locked in for the next nine years, Bryzgalov will have to be awesome to help keep the fans at bay. At the first sign of struggle, the fans will get restless because the expectations for him are sky high. Should the boo birds take hold, last season’s top goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, is there to step in. After last season’s odd cycle of Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher, having a true No. 1 will feel like a luxury for coach Peter Laviolette.

Coach

Laviolette enters his third season with the Flyers and this time it’s his most fascinating time to coach. After all the changes and all the new blood the expectations are huge. Laviolette has his hands full in trying to put it all together so the Flyers can pick up where they left off last regular season and try to recapture the playoff wins from two seasons ago. The pressure is on in a big way for Laviolette to get it done right and fast.

source: APBreakout candidate

Schenn came over in the Mike Richards deal with Los Angeles and also as the top prospect in the NHL. He got a taste of NHL action the last two seasons with the Kings but not enough to stick around full time. Now he’s going to likley soon be the man to center the third line and show that his hot-prospect status wasn’t just hype. He won’t quite have the playmakers and goal scorers around him to help boost his numbers, but he’s got a chance to be a revelation for Philly. Expect him to be in the hunt for the Calder Trophy.

Best-case scenario

Jagr recaptures some old glory (or just decides to imitate Teemu Selanne) and puts up 70 points this season. Giroux evolves and becomes the true top center on the team and follows up with a monster season centering Jagr and van Riemsdyk.  Briere puts up another 35-goal season and Schenn plays like a veteran in his first full season. Pronger leads the defense to a dominating year giving Bryzgalov all the help he needs to be one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, leading to the Flyers landing in the Stanley Cup finals.

Reality

Things could go really right for Philly or take a horrible turn, leading to them fighting just to get in the playoffs. The players are there for Philly to have a huge season and be one of the top teams. There’s a ton of offensive talent and enough guys around to play the typical snarling kind of Flyers’ hockey that makes everyone get angry. Bryzgalov will get tested outside of the typical defense-first system he played behind in Phoenix. If he adapts well, he can keep the Flyers rolling, even if they struggle.

If Jagr doesn’t pan out and van Riemsdyk doesn’t play how he did in the playoffs and teams get to gang up on Giroux and Briere all season, the Flyers will struggle. The margin for error is slim for all the teams in the Atlantic Division and Philly needs to hope their bets on the future pan out.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.

Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

Bishop’s expiring contract

The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

Win low, worry later

GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

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It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.