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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

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.