Bye, bye Broad Street Bullies? Flyers don’t have a fight yet

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by Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Hockey in the NHL is a far different game than it was 45 years ago, when the Broad Street Bullies ruled the ice with their fists.

In the 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers had guys like Dave ”The Hammer” Schultz, Bob ”The Hound” Kelly and Andre ”Moose” Dupont to not just beat opponents but beat them up, too.

The current Flyers may still carry the ”Bullies” nickname but they are hardly bullying anyone: They are one of only two teams in the NHL that has not been assessed a fighting major a quarter of the way through the season.

The old Bullies can hardly believe it.

”They’re two different animals, the way the game is today,” Kelly said. ”With the rules today, you can’t hit anybody, you can’t verbally intimidate anybody, so that takes a lot out of it. You don’t have to fight anybody. The biggest thing you’re given is a face wash.”

It’s no secret that fighting has been weeded out of the game over the years, but nobody expected the Flyers to be on the leading edge of the anti-pugilistic trend. With tough players like Wayne Simmonds, Radko Gudas and Dale Weise, Philadelphia isn’t exactly a group of shrinking violets. Even general manager Ron Hextall fought five times during his playing career and he was a goaltender.

This is the latest in a season the Flyers have ever gone without an official NHL fighting penalty, eclipsing the previous record from 1967. That was the first year of existence for the franchise and it was before the players were beaten up in a brawl against the St. Louis Blues, an incident that prompted founder Ed Snider to demand a tough-as-nails approach.

”We have a new mascot called Gritty now, and I think the Flyers’ fans expect that from then players to play like Gritty because of the name he has,” said Bullies-era defenseman Joe Watson, who believes the current team is more about finesse. ”Fighting is a form of intimidation. … Players think twice of going in the corner with this guy or that guy because they might get a punch in the face or hit severely or so on and so forth, and it just doesn’t seem to happen right now. We do have guys that can handle themselves. I don’t know why it has happened this way. It’s hard to believe.”

Philadelphia has no fighting majors and a 9-9-2 record through 20 games. While the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers lead the league with seven fights apiece, the Flyers and Arizona Coyotes are the only ones stuck on zero.

”I think we’re team tough,” Weise said. ”I don’t think anyone takes advantage of us. I think if the situation arose, we’ve got a lot of guys that can handle themselves. But I just think the way hockey is going, you can’t take a stupid penalty (if you) go and get an instigator or something like that or get a roughing and put (another) team on the power play.”

Philadelphia isn’t a small team, with players averaging 6-1 and 198 pounds, but Jakub Voracek said: ”I really cannot say that we are big and tough if we don’t have a fight yet.”

Maybe the answer lies in some of that size and toughness.

”When you have a Wayne Simmonds on your team, I don’t think people want to fight him and it’s always good to have a guy like that who can play,” said Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who holds the Flyers’ all-time penalty minutes record with 1,815 and 171 fights during his career. ”If there had to be a fight, he’s a pretty good deterrent guy to have. I just don’t think anybody wants to fight Wayne Simmonds. That’s probably why there’s no fights.”

Simmonds and his teammates have tried to goad opponents into fights and a handful of times have dropped their gloves only to find no willing dance partner. According to HockeyFights.com, less than 16 percent of games leaguewide this season have had a fight, down from 41 percent as recently as 2009-10.

The NHL years ago sought to curb staged fights between enforcers, and even a lot of the fighting following big hits has decreased.

In 2009-10, 171 games included more than one fight. Last season, only 41 games had more than one.

”I don’t feel there’s any hate in the league anymore,” said Kelly, who dropped the gloves 97 times in the NHL. ”The rules have definitely changed the whole game, the whole approach and it’s holding back a lot of the physicality that players used to play with. It’s not worth the fight, and unfortunately you have to watch your teammate skate off hurt or something because somebody got cheap shot or did something and you just can’t afford to want to jump in and help out.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said people can debate whether the sport is better with less fighting, but most agree there is still a purpose for it. Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested an occasional fight keeps tensions from boiling over, something Tocchet agreed with.

”The league’s trying to take control of the head injuries, the hitting from behind, the cheap stuff, sticking a guy behind his knee,” Tocchet said. ”The NHL’s trying to clean that up, so you don’t need that deterrent of a guy going in there and policing (the game) himself. I still think that there’s still a need for fighting in certain places … The odd time a guy needs to be reminded that he can’t do the stuff he’s doing on the ice if things aren’t being called.”

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Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.