Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Flyers challenge top-ranked Blackhawks

18 Comments

Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Philadelphia Flyers will head to the United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

A lot has changed since the Flyers and Blackhawks met in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

When Chicago won it all that year, they went forward with the goal of preserving their core as best possible despite their salary cap problems and were rewarded with another championship last season. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has been trying to reinvent itself and that hasn’t gone nearly as well.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $400. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The Flyers weren’t able to even make the playoffs following the shortened campaign and they haven’t looked great this season despite dramatically changing their goaltending and adding veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit. It looks like Philadelphia’s bold moves are no longer having the desired effect.

They are averaging just 2.23 goals per game despite their numerous offensive threats. The silver lining is that if they find a way to click, as they have done at times this season, they would be a true contender.

It helps that goaltender Steve Mason has been a high point of the Flyers’ 2013-14 campaign while former Blackhawks netminder Ray Emery has held his own as the team’s backup.

Right now goaltending might be the one area where the Flyers actually have the edge over Chicago. The Blackhawks’ top two goaltenders, Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin, are both dealing with lower-body injuries and won’t be available tonight. That puts the pressure on 24-year-old Antti Raanta and 21-year-old Kent Simpson. Raanta is the only one with any NHL experience (seven contests) while the two have a played in just 32 combined AHL games.

Raanta was in net last night, which means there’s a good chance that Simpson will make his NHL debut against Philadelphia.

At least he’s likely to have plenty of support. In contrast to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have the best offense in the league with an average of 3.58 goals per contest. Patrick Kane became just the second player to reach the 40-point mark with his three-point performance on Tuesday. On top of that, even Chicago’s fifth best goal scorer, Brandon Saad, has found the back of the net more often than any Philadelphia player.

It’s easy to see who the favorite is tonight, but if the Flyers want to get back to the level that they were at in 2010, they have to steal points in contests against seemingly better opponents. Perhaps that’s what will happen tonight.

Callahan (hip) will be fine for start of training camp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Callahan could only play in 18 games last season and underwent two hip surgeries, but perhaps 2017-18 will be different. The news is certainly good so far.

“I’m full go, right from Day One,” Callahan told the NHL.com. “It’s going to be nice to be able to do a hard training camp this year.”

His statement was reinforced by the fact that he participated in the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday.

Tampa Bay signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million contract in the summer of 2014 and while he was great for the first year of the deal, he declined in 2015-16 and then of course barely played last season. That’s led to concerns that the 32-year-old’s contract might prove to be disastrous in its back half.

“I know there’s chatter and people doubt me — if I can come back and what I’ll be like when I come back,” Callahan said. “I’ve always tried to use it as motivation. That’s how they propelled me to the place I am right now in my career. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m excited to get going this year. I think it’s going to be one of the best years I’ve ever had.”

Tampa Bay could certainly use the help. The Lightning fell short of the playoffs last season, but also missed Steven Stamkos for much of the campaign as well as Callahan. If those two stay healthy and if Callahan bounces back then Tampa Bay could be one of the major contenders in 2017-18.

Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

Getty Images
1 Comment

We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

“I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

Under Pressure: Ryan Murray

Getty Images
1 Comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

The Blue Jackets were naturally hoping for great things when they took Ryan Murray with the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but he’ll turn 24-years-old in September and so far he hasn’t consistently lived up to those early expectations.

To be sure, he’s had some bad luck along the way. He suffered a torn labrum while playing in the juniors during the 2012-13 campaign and in the years that’s followed he’s been limited at times by knee and ankle problems. Most recently he missed the last 15 games of the regular season and the Jackets’ playoff run due to a broken hand.

Injuries haven’t been Murray’s only issue though. While they’ve resulted in setbacks along the way, when he was healthy last season he still wasn’t living up to expectations. Seth Jones, David Savard, Jack Johnson, and rookie phenom Zach Werenski served as Columbus’ defensive core while Murray was relegated to more of a supporting role.

That top-four core isn’t particularly old either as Johnson is the most senior member at the age of 30. Johnson is on the final season of his contract, but unless the Blue Jackets can’t re-sign him, Murray has no simple path back into prominence. He’ll have to get there through merit alone and he’ll want to demonstrate his ability to do so this season given that he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

“It’s a big summer for Ryan; for him and for us,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson noted to the Columbus Dispatch in April. “He knows it. We’ve had good talks with him. He’s had good talks with our strength and conditioning people, our doctors.

“He’s a good hockey player, and we’ve seen some good things from him. He’s had bad injury luck without question, but he’s going to overcome that. He’s at the age now where he’s not a young pup.”

Players at his age are still typically regarded as having upside, but also beginning to transition away from the point where they’re regarded as prospects. There won’t be many more years where Murray will be looked at as a potential top defenseman if he doesn’t force himself into that role soon.

Alfredsson left front office job with Sens to be ‘stay-at-home dad for a while’

Getty
1 Comment

Many people were surprised to see Daniel Alfredsson leave his role as senior advisor of hockey operations with the Ottawa Senators.

The reason for his departure was unclear at the time (he walked away in July), but he finally spoke to the Ottawa Sun during a golf tournament on Monday.

“I have a couple of projects on the go, but nothing major,” said Alfredsson, who added that he wants to be a “stay-at-home dad for a while.”

“Once school starts, it’s full on with activities with the kids. We’re moving into a new house here in the fall, so we have a lot of planning to do with that. So, it’s going to be a quiet year for me, overall.”

The 44-year-old, who has four boys, is moving into a new house in Ottawa, and says the family will live there for the foreseeable future.

Despite stepping away from the NHL for now, he also admitted that he wouldn’t mind jumping back into a team’s front office if the right opportunity presented itself.

“If that opportunity would come back again, I would look at it very hard. It’s what I know best. It’s what I love, as well. I can see that in the future at some point. But when, I don’t know.”

Alfredsson spent all but one of his 17 seasons playing for the Sens. He put up 444 goals and 1157 points in 1246 contests with Ottawa and Detroit.