And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

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During the off-season, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren tore apart the team’s structure in a mad rush of moves. He didn’t say the team would be better, but he said it would sure look different.

Instead, the Flyers’ 2011-12 season essentially seemed like a bizarre sequel to last season, only with a wildly different cast. Philly didn’t win the Atlantic like they did last year, but they were a formidable if flawed group nonetheless. The Flyers then overcame shoddy goaltending in the first round against Pittsburgh (much like they did in 2011 against Buffalo) only to get smacked around in the semifinals against a hated rival (this year: New Jersey in five games thanks to tonight’s 3-1 loss; last year: Boston in four).

The more things change, the more they stay the same for this fascinating Flyers franchise … but this time they probably can’t just trade their “problems” away.

What happened?

After a track meet series against the Penguins, the Flyers almost seemed bewildered by the thought of facing a more balanced and controlled opponent in the Devils. A totally flat Game 2 from Philly could have been a reality check. Instead, it was a harbinger of things to come as New Jersey essentially dominated every facet of the series.

Who takes the blame?

Everyone, maybe? Claude Giroux’s suspension hurt. Ilya Bryzgalov’s bonehead moves were brutal, but he also kept them in some games that weren’t particularly competitive. The Flyers’ defense looked porous yet the most disturbing thing for a high-powered offense for Philly was that they didn’t have much success in their strongest area.

Bryzgalov will get a lot of blame – and to some extent, rightfully so – yet it was a near-total failure. For that reason (and a virtual refusal to give solid backup Sergei Bobrovsky even a slight chance), some might actually point a finger of blame at Peter Laviolette.

I’d say make your choice.

What will they do about it?

For better or worse, the Flyers seem pretty locked-in. Sure, Holmgren isn’t shy about making bold moves, but who’s going to take Bryzgalov’s albatross contract in a trade?

The most obvious concern (in-house, at least) is bringing back Matt Carle and/or Jaromir Jagr. Then again, you never know with the Flyers; they could very well arrange things to get in on the Ryan Suter sweepstakes. For all the money they spend on their defense, they could really use a No. 1 guy with Chris Pronger possibly done for good.

Logic says the Flyers largely “are what they are.” But when has logic really factored in to this wacky and consistently entertaining franchise?

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And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy