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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.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.