Author: Matt Reitz

Jaromir Jagr

Flyers hold on against Pens, earn top spot in the East


The Flyers have made a habit of huge comebacks lately. Last Friday, the Flyers came back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Anaheim Ducks. Then last night, the Flyers roared back from an early three-goal hole to beat the Buffalo Sabres on Versus.

Tonight? Tonight they tried to flip the script.

The Flyers jumped all over the Penguins and controlled the first two periods of the game. But in the third frame, the Pens came with a late charged and almost gave the Flyers a taste of their own medicine. Instead, they came up short and the Flyers escaped with the 3-2 victory to vault them into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The win was particularly big for a couple of former Penguins. Max Talbot joined the Flyers after parts of six seasons in Pittsburgh; Jaromir Jagr signed with Philadelphia after making his mark on the league with the Penguins a decade ago. Both know that they aren’t the most popular men in the Steel City these days.

Jagr was able to joke about missing an empty net after the game. “Their fans were happy that I didn’t score and I’m happy we won the game. I just make everybody happy. You have to find a way to make everybody happy. That’s what I did.”

The high-scoring Flyers have been able to get it done this season with the best offensive in the league, but Thursday night featured some great team defense for the first half of the game. It was the defense that served as the catalyst for the win against the Pens. They’ve won four straight games as they go into their rematch against the Tampa Bay Lightning this weekend. You may remember what happened the last time the two teams played.

For the Penguins, they showed in the final period that they can generate plenty of pressure without their sidelined captain. Regardless, they will need a more complete effort on Saturday against the Islanders before they (presumably) get Crosby back for Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings.

Even though the Pens got off to a hot start this season, the better keep it up. The Flyers aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Smith-Pelly, Connolly loaned to Hockey Canada

Phoenix Coyotes v Anaheim Ducks

With the World Junior Championships coming up later this month and each country releasing the rosters for their training camps, a few organizations have had to make some tough decisions with their young NHL players. On Thursday night, the Anaheim Ducks announced that the team will loan rookie forward Devante Smith-Pelly to Hockey Canada for the upcoming camp and tournament. Likewise, it’s been reported that the Tampa Bay Lightning will release forward Brett Connolly to Hockey Canada as well.

Eric Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports that Connolly will head to Calgary for Team Canada’s camp on Saturday. The decision to release the 19-year-old rookie was made before Martin St. Louis went down with his injury; the team didn’t change their mind when they learned St. Louis would miss time. Connolly was part of Canada’s silver medal winning team at least year’s WJC and he’ll look to improve on that if he makes this year’s team.

Lightning head coach Guy Boucher talked about the opportunity for Connolly: “…it’s going to be a great moment for him to live that pressure and be one of the top guys. And that’s an incredible experience for him for the future because he’s going to be able to take more pressure and the toughest moments. That’s what you get out of (playing for) Team Canada.”

On the other coast, the Ducks announced 19-year-old Devante Smith-Pelly will get his first opportunity to make Team Canada at the WJC. He was one of the last cuts last season, but took his game to another level in the OHL playoffs last season and made the Ducks’ roster out of training camp.

“This is a great opportunity for Devante to continue his development,” said Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray. “Being a candidate for Team Canada in such a prestigious tournament is a great honor. He’s improving each day as an NHL player and we hope he can continue his progress after playing for his country. We fully expect him to play a prominent role in the upcoming tournament for Canada.”

On the other hand, Florida Panthers look like they’ll have different plans for defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The third-overall pick in the 2010 draft has been playing win the surprising Panthers all season and will probably not be released for the few weeks of the tournament. Instead, he’ll stay up at the NHL level and help the Florida Panthers compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

It’s always a tough decision for general managers when they weigh the experience a prospect will gain when at the WJC against the injury risk while playing for another team. Each team is in a different situation—each player is also in a different situation for that matter.

On Thursday, both the Lightning and the Ducks decided it would be most beneficial for their promising young players to get a taste of the pressure of the WJC.

Rogers, Bell close to purchasing controlling interest in Maple Leafs


It was only two weeks ago when the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan said they weren’t going to sell their controlling interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE). It’s amazing what (as much as) $2 billion can do to change people’s minds.

Telecommunication rivals Bell Media and Rogers Communications are pooling their assets to purchase the 79.5% of MLSE shares that are owned by the Pension Plan. The $2 billion would include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Leafs TV, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, the Air Canada Centre, and various real estate holdings.

Two billion dollars doesn’t goes as far as it used to.

QMI Agency is reporting that the deal could be completed as early as Friday; but more likely, the deal will be completed sometime before Christmas.

It’s noteworthy that Bell and Rogers are buying the Maple Leafs in the midst of their best start in awhile. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in six seasons, but they’re currently only two points behind the Boston Bruins for first place in the Northeast Division. The team is as desirable as they’ve been in years. What will they be able to do when they have ownership that is desperate for ratings?

Either way, let’s be real: the Maple Leafs could win five games per season and still make money. Now if we could get Bell or Rogers to buy the Phoenix Coyotes, all the ownership problems in the NHL would be cured.

Bruins just keep getting stronger, sign Dougie Hamilton

Boston Bruins v New York Islanders - Rookie Game

Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins signed 2011 first-round pick Dougie Hamilton to a three-year entry level contract on Thursday—and the rich just keep on getting richer. It might not be the most surprising news of the week, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important for the Boston Bruins’ future.

If you aren’t familiar with Hamilton, you will be. Hamilton was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft; one of the picks the Bruins obtained from Toronto in the infamous Phil Kessel trade. Hamilton was regarded as one of the best two-way defensemen available in June’s entry draft and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down this season. He’s already won OHL Defenseman of the Month honors twice this season and it’s only December. He received an invite to Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp represent in hopes of representing Canada at the World Junior Championships later this month.  Things are going well.

It’s no wonder that GM Chiarelli expects the young Hamilton to compete for a spot on the Bruins’ roster next season. The 6’4” blueliner has a huge shot, knows how to play the offensive game, and can use his size in the defensive zone. At 18-years-old, he already looks like he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL. Just wait until he gets another year of season with the Niagara Ice Dogs.

Hamilton celebrated the contract in style tonight. One goal, two assists, three points, and the No. 1 star of the game. Not a bad way to commemorate the contract.

Shanabanned: Ville Leino suspended for one game

Toronto Maple Leafs v Buffalo Sabres

Brendan Shanahan has been a busy man tonight. Fresh off issuing a four-game suspension to Kevin Porter, the league announced that Ville Leino will receive a one-game suspension for his elbow to the head of Philadelphia’s Matt Read on Wednesday night. More importantly for Leino, the elbow will cost him just over $24,000 in money that he could have used for Christmas gifts.

Shanahan explains in the league issued video that Leino was in the process of stealing the puck from Read with his feet as his elbow came up and hit him in the shoulder and head. The league viewed the contact as an accidental elbow, they also viewed it as a “reckless” hit “without intent” to injure from Leino. Additionally, Shanahan took into account that Read was not injured on the play and Leino has no history of dirty play in the NHL.

Leino should consider himself a lucky man, because the play looked like it would warrant more than just a single game suspension.

Maybe Leino can take the one game mandatory vacation to find his game that he left in Philadelphia last season. Despite making $6 million this season, he’s only managed three goals in 27 games over the first two months of the season.

Three goals, one suspension, and a lot of criticism over the first two months of his 6-year stint in Buffalo. It could have started a little better.