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NHL on NBCSN: Should Chuck Fletcher blow up or retool Flyers?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

SEAN: This season is long gone, so Chuck Fletcher will need to make some big decisions between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline. By the end of February he’ll have been Flyers GM for nearly three months, more than enough time to get a feel for the organization and have an idea the best way forward to turn around their fortunes.

Flyers brass wanted someone with a “bias for action” to replace the patient Ron Hextall. You can be sure the team will be aggressive in trying to become a playoff team in 2020, but at what cost?

Wayne Simmonds will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he’ll have some suitors. He’s 30 and his offensive output has diminished this season. He’s an easy one to cut bait on and bring back a return full of futures. After that, do you rip up the core that’s been together for years like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek? At their ages, they still have good years left, you’d hope. And with the development of Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick up front and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere on the backend, plus the future in Morgan Frost, Philippe Myers, Joel Farabee, there’s no reason to blow it up. Factor in Carter Hart getting an extended run due to the numerous injuries that have hit the position and you can still see some bright spots ahead.

A number of Flyers are having down years, which will happen given their current state of mess. But players like Giroux, Voracek and Gostisbehere still have lots of term left on their contract, making them difficult to deal away.

The Flyers have never been shy about spending money to improve, so it’s realistic that with a smart off-season (No 13-year contracts, Chuck!) that may include hiring a replacement for interim head coach Scott Gordon they can be back in the playoff mix in 2019-20.

JAMES: During almost a decade with the Wild, Fletcher took some massive swings for the fence. He was able to make contact here and there, but that franchise will need to deal with his whiffs for ages.

With that in mind, there might be some hesitation in Philly, but let’s be honest: Hextall’s firing came, in large part, because management was already getting patient with the slow-burn approach. The “microwave” solution will have to do, which means smaller (but still unpleasant) moves like trading away Simmonds, rather than really hitting the reset button in parting ways with Giroux or Voracek.
Besides, it would take multiple drafts to compile many of the assets Philly already has. Beyond Giroux and Voracek, the Flyers have to fantastic young defensemen in Provorov and Gostisbehere. Couturier is the sort of two-way beast teams crave for playoff battles. Konecny and Patrick are both the types of forwards who could theoretically make leaps forward under the right coach.

Of course, there’s a lot of arduous work to be done, including answering the age-old question of finding a competent goalie. This dismal 2018-19 season might obscure this notion, but people (myself included) were intrigued by what this group could accomplish if they took the next step. Maybe Fletcher can push steer them in that positive direction? Taking that risk makes a lot more sense than starting from square one all over again.

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JOEY: I really don’t think the Flyers have to blow this thing up right now. I realize that Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek are older players, but this team has a lot of youth on the roster and in the pipeline. There’s no need to sell off veterans or make sweeping changes. This team has what it takes to get back on track in the near future. If it doesn’t happen this year, it should happen fairly soon.

Patrick, Konecny, Gostisbehere, Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Couturier are all 26 or younger. Most teams in the NHL would kill to have a young core made up of players that are that talented. Add guys like Hart, Frost, Myers and Isaac Ratcliffe, and you’ve got another group of youngsters that are close to making it to the NHL.

I feel like the Flyers were a victim of the success they had last year. No one really expected them to make the playoffs in 2018, but they did. So now that they’re struggling this season, it’s a much bigger deal. Look, I realize that they should be better than they’ve been, but some key players have had down years.
The organization has fired a GM and a head coach this year, so they just have to give Fletcher the opportunity to make a few small tweaks to see if they can salvage this situation. Don’t blow it up.

SCOTT: The time is now, isn’t it?

New coach, new GM — a fresh start in upper management and a fresh set of eyes at some big problems. Sure, Fletcher has made some interesting moves, but he also made a playoff contender, too.

They’ve lost seven straight and are in the basement of the Metropolitan Division and are a couple flights of stairs away from the bottom of the entire league. You’re already setting yourself up for a good draft pick, and there are some juicy prospects lining up for this coming draft in late June.
You have guys like Simmonds who will command a nice return at the trade deadline from a team looking to break the bank as they take a run at the Stanley Cup. Cash in now. Perhaps it’s time to shop Giroux, too. Look, nobody wants to fire it all into the Sun, but at what point do you have no other choice. Have they not been trying to re-tool on the go already?
There are some good players to build around still, but it’s not going to take some re-tooling on the fly to get it done this time. Look where that sort of thing got St. Louis — last place in the Central Division.
And they simply can’t let Hart go to waste and add another tombstone in that goalie graveyard.

Do it right.

ADAM: When Fletcher took over my opinion was that he shouldn’t do anything drastic or potentially detrimental to the long-term outlook of the team to try and salvage this lost season. He needed to take the rest of the year, let it play out, see what the team needs, find a permanent coach (whether it is Joel Quenneville or somebody else), and go from there. I still think that has to be the case when it comes to the bigger moves. But for as awful and dysfunctional as this season has been, I am still not sure if this is a “blow-it-up” type of situation.

I came into this season thinking the Flyers were a boom or bust team that could either make the playoffs and do fairly well, or totally fall flat on their face.

The X-factor for which path they would follow was the goaltending.

And, well, obviously the goaltending has sent them on the wrong path.

I don’t think this is a terrible team. They have a good mix of veteran stars (Giroux is still great. Voracek is good. Couturier is outstanding) some really good young players that can be part of something, and who knows, maybe even a shot at a top lottery pick. With better goaltending this season is probably going in a very different direction and we’re having a different conversation right now. Remember, this was a playoff team a year ago and I don’t think the forwards and defenders are playing that much worse this year. It’s the goaltending that has crushed them. Again. Fix that and maybe you have something decent here.

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Flyers-Capitals from Capital One Arena. Paul Burmeister, Keith Jones and Anson Carter will handle studio coverage.

Finland defeats Canada for gold at IIHF World Championship

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Marko Anttila helped lead Finland to its third world hockey title, scoring the tying and go-ahead goals in a 3-1 victory over Canada on Sunday.

Anttila tied it at 1 on a power play early in the second period and the Finnish captain made it 2-1 early in the third. Harri Pesonen added an insurance goal with five minutes to play.

Kevin Lankinen made 42 saves for Finland, allowing only Shea Theodore‘s first-period goal.

Matt Murray stopped 19 shots for Canada.

Anttila also scored Saturday in Finland’s 1-0 victory over Russia. The Finns knocked off two-time defending champion from Sweden in the quarterfinal. Draft-eligible Kaapo Kakko led the team with six goals.

Finland also won titles in 1995 in Sweden and 2011 in Bratislava.

Earlier, Russia beat the Czech Republic 3-2 in a shootout for third place. Russia was outshot 50-30 through 70 minutes of play, including 10 minutes of sudden-death 3-on-3 overtime, then outscored the Czech Republic 2-0 in the shootout on goals from Ilya Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev.

Unflappable Binnington won’t be affected by Stanley Cup spotlight

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BOSTON — The question was delivered after a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in February — a victory that came after the St. Louis Blues’ saw their 11-game win streak snapped a few nights earlier.

The Blues has just played their ninth game of the month that finished within two goals. They were in the middle of turning around their season and the backbone for the change in fortune was a 25-year-old rookie goaltender who hadn’t made an NHL start until this past January. All those tight hockey games surely had to have brought out a few nerves in Jordan Binnington, right?

“Do I look nervous?”

“No.”

“There’s your answer.”

That line was put on a t-shirt, which has sold throughout St. Louis since, with even some of Binnington’s family members grabbing a few. 

That win came in Binnington’s 18th career NHL start. But way before that game at the end of February, his teammates already knew that he was pretty unflappable.

“It’s just how he is,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo during Stanley Cup Final Media Day. “He’s pretty quiet. He just goes about his business. That quote’s obviously funny but every day he just shows up, does what he has to do. For us, it’s enjoyable when he does stuff like that because we get a kick out of it.”

The quiet confidence that Binnington possesses has been an integral part in helping get the Blues to within four wins of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Even after defeats, that memory is erased from his head and he’s looking forward as “don’t look back” is a big mantra with head coach Craig Berube. The same can be said for his goaltender, who has only lost consecutive starts twice this season, both coming in the playoffs.

“If you want to be successful, you want to have that demeanor, you can’t let things affect you and nothing seems to bother him,” Pietrangelo added.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Binnington even has a tie to the Bruins organization after having been loaned to their minor league affiliate in Providence last season since the Blues didn’t have their own AHL team. While sharing one with the Colorado Avalanche, general manager Doug Armstrong was allowed to place one goaltender with the AHL team in San Antonio. That goalie ended up being Ville Husso. Armstrong then alerted his fellow GMs that if anyone was looking for an experience netminder on loan, Binnington, who rejected a move to the ECHL, was available. That’s when Bruins GM Don Sweeney reached out and a deal was made.

Binnington played 28 games last season in Providence and three more in the Calder Cup playoffs.

“They were nothing but good to me,” Binnington said of AHL Providence. “The Boston Bruins prospects are in good hands, I can tell you that. It was a great city and I’m very fortunate they took me in. Met a lot of good people.”

“It would be disingenuous to say that this was all part of the master plan, bring him in January and be here today,” said Armstrong. “But what he did do is he never quit on himself and that’s what I take away.”

After that experience, Binnington still had to continue fighting for a place in the NHL. He began the 2018-19 season in San Antonio and waited for his opportunity. 

It took 164 AHL and 40 ECHL games, but his chance came in January as starter Jake Allen continued to struggle. A 2-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers was not only the birth of the team’s victory anthem — Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” — but also Binnington usurping the No. 1 job, reaching the Cup Final, becoming a 2019 Calder Trophy finalist, and him likely cashing in this summer as he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1.

All that time waiting for an opportunity didn’t damper Binnington’s confidence.

“I realized a couple years ago I was in a situation where my back was against the wall,” Binnington said. “Got to handle it right, and I’ve just had this belief and hunger in myself to be the best I can be and make the most of my talent. I’m very fortunate to be coming to a team like this and it’s been a pretty special season so far.”

Binnington’s teammates have enjoyed being up close to witnessing his journey over the past four months. Who knew that night in Philadelphia in early January would lead to this? 

The 49 starts since have prepared Binnington for this moment as his team plays on the biggest stage. Some players who have never played in a Cup Final might be feeling the butterflies right now, but to Binnington it’s just another series. There’s no spotlight big enough that will made him prepare and execute his game any differently.

“I think that’s where experience comes in and you learn that confidence comes from preparation,” he said. “You want to be prepared for anything that’s thrown at you and that’s kind of the way I look at my life now and hockey specifically. I think that’s an important way to look at it.”

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
Who has better goaltending?
Who has the better special teams?
X-factors for Bruins, Blues

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

————

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.

Bruins fan Matt Damon wowed by Stanley Cup

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When you think of Matt Damon’s connection to Boston, you’re most likely going to recall “Good Will Hunting,” and maybe make some bad jokes about apples and/or Ben Affleck. If forced to make a Boston sports connection, there’s likely the urge to compare him to Tom Brady, his occasional lookalike.*

Apparently Damon is also a Boston Bruins fan, or at least he came off as a one in the video above. If nothing else, he’s impressed by the sight of the Stanley Cup, which qualifies him as “human.” Damon was presented with the Stanley Cup while he was on hand for the Indy 500, which is airing on NBC (stream here).

There’s some good stuff as Damon explains that he was in Vancouver right after the town, um, handled the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup win poorly; Damon said he was going to work, which is hilarious and adorable. There’s also some old-school Stanley Cup trivia in the video, so that should be fun to watch even if you’re not a Damon fan.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final takes place between the Bruins and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET on Monday on NBC. Click here for the full TV info.

* – Dangerous observation: Damon kinda sorta looks like Sidney Crosby from certain angles, doesn’t he? /ducks

OK, maybe that comparison is a stretch. But Damon’s looking a bit less like Brady these days, right?

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better special teams?
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has the better defensemen?
• X-factors
• PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
• Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Marchand says left hand is ‘good’ heading into Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — Bruins winger Brad Marchand says his left hand is fine heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

He sat out Boston’s practice Sunday after being given a ”maintenance day” by coach Bruce Cassidy. But Marchand showed no visible signs of discomfort and didn’t wear any braces on his hand as he met with reporters.

”I just told Butchy I wanted a day off. I’ve had enough of practicing,” Marchand said with a smile when asked about his status for Game 1 on Monday night. ”I’m good.”

Cassidy echoed Marchand’s assessment, saying ”he’ll be ready to go.”

Marchand tweaked his hand during the Bruins’ intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday when he bumped into Connor Clifton in front of the net. Sunday was the first practice Marchand’s missed since the Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes on May 16 to advance to the Cup Final.

Marchand is Boston’s leading scorer in the playoffs with 18 points (seven goals and 11 assists). He had 100 points (36 goals and 64 assists) during the regular season.

He says that bumps and bruises are simply part of the game at this time of the season and is nothing he is getting worked up about.

”There’s always things that come in. Guys get hurt in practice and stuff like that,” Marchand said. ”But I think we’re feeling pretty good in the room. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. You play with what you have and you play as healthy or unhealthy as you are this time of year. At the end of the day there’s no excuses. . They have guys that are banged up, too.”

This will be the third Stanley Cup Final for Marchand. He was 22 years old in 2011 and in his second NHL season when Boston beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win the franchise’s sixth championship. But he said the Bruins’ 2013 Cup loss to the Chicago Blackhawks sticks with him more.

”It was devastating,” Marchand said. ”It still hurts to this day. I probably look back more on the loss and what I would do differently, than the win. You lose something like this, you’re a lot closer with the hurt. It never leaves you. Hopefully we don’t feel that again.”

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

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower