Flyers' defensemen confident despite criticism

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Flyers' defensemen confident despite criticism

VOORHEES, N.J. The Flyers defensemen know what youve been saying about them.

They know you think that, as a group, theyre weaker now than they were heading into last season. Theyre aware of your skepticism as to whether theyll be good enough to give goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov a chance.

But they see things differently.

I like it, Nick Grossmann said of the teams defense as a whole. We got a couple additions in Bruno Gervais and Luke Schenn, and I think it adds a lot of skill and size. I like our group. Theres a few guys who played together last year here, theres still the same core. And these guys, I think its a good addition. Im looking forward to playing with them.

Along with Schenn and Gervais, the Flyers most recently brought in veteran D-man Kurtis Foster to help bolster their blue line. All three are solid acquisitions, but none of them will be the next Chris Pronger or Matt Carle -- two players who were on the active roster entering last season.

You take out a Hall of Famer in Chris Pronger, and Matty Carles a good player, as well, Braydon Coburn said. But we put some good players back in the lineup with Kurtis Foster and Bruno and a young guy, Luke Schenn. I think that gives our defense a pretty solid three pairings.

Theyre three big pairings, as well. With their newest additions, the Flyers now have one of the leagues biggest defensive corps -- the eight blue-liners in camp average out to 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds each.

And lest you worry about their ability to move the puck and assist in coach Peter Laviolettes run-and-gun system, they believe theyre up to the task.

I think weve got pretty good mobility, Coburn said. Our team is an attack-oriented team. Were a team that moves, and weve got guys that can skate. Weve got a good combination of skating and size back there.

Its foolish to suggest the Flyers are better off having not brought in a top-tier defender last summer, but given the short 48-game season and six-day training camp, the teams defensemen do believe they have a leg up over other teams with vastly changed back ends.

Anytime you play with each other before, its going to help out, Grossmann said. You know each other, you know how to read off each other, everyone kind of knows the system. And then these two guys come in and it feels like youre able to play with them thats how you know theyre good guys. Im looking forward to playing here and see what they can bring to the table.

Of course, there are some issues. Andrej Meszaros is working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon, and isnt sure whether hell be ready to go for Saturdays season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Erik Gustafsson, whos shown talent at moving the puck and generating offense, has an ankle injury and isnt attending camp. Marc-Andre Bourdon, who had a breakout season in 2011-12, is suffering from post-concussion symptoms.

There's also a matter of uneven conditioning. Some players, like Kimmo Timonen, haven't played in a game since the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs last April.

But all that aside, the Flyers' defensemen are a confident group. They've been all business at training camp. And theyve got a message for those who believe that they might not be good enough to help the team be a real contender.

We dont know that yet, do we? Timonen said. Well see how the season gets going. But we got some new guys, we got some young guys. Hopefully we can play good defense and help the forwards and help the goalies.

We have to wait and see.

E-mail Sarah Baicker at sbaicker@comcastsportsnet.com

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

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Associated Press

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

PITTSBURGH -- Former Flyers captain and Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Clarke was Rick MacLeish’s teammate for 12 years and two Stanley Cups.
 
“Ricky was the most talented player the Flyers had during the 1970s,” said a saddened Clarke on Tuesday, after the announcement of MacLeish’s death at 66 late on Memorial Day (see story).
 
“Life after hockey wasn’t fair to Ricky. He left us far too soon.”
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.
 
Here’s what other teammates had to say:
 
“Ricky was a special player for the Flyers,” said Bill Barber. “He always came up with scoring the big goals and he was instrumental helping us win two Stanley Cups. He will be greatly missed.”
 
Gary Dornhoefer was MacLeish's linemate with Ross Lonsberry for almost six seasons.
 
“I’ll tell you what, he was probably the fastest player on the ice,” Dornhoefer said. “As far as a wrist shot is concerned, there was no one better at getting that shot away and accurate. Ross and I would talk and say ‘let’s just give Ricky the puck and he’ll put it in.’
 
“If you look at the amount of goals he scored [328 as a Flyer], well, that’s why we kept giving him the puck. Ross and I had cement hands, so we’d pass the puck to him. The Flyers could have a mediocre game, but because of his skills as a player and the athlete that he was, he could carry us.
 
“He was that gifted. I always felt that during the years he played, he never got the recognition that he properly deserved. He was that good. It saddens me that he was such a young man and is no longer with us. That really hurts.”
 
Bob “The Hound” Kelly agreed.
 
“Rick was probably the most gifted, natural centerman that the Flyers have ever had,” Kelly said. “He was a tough kid who skated and worked hard.
 
“Although he played in the shadow of Clarkie, he was every bit as good as Clarkie. Clarkie was more of a natural leader where Rick was just quiet and simply went out there and played his heart out. He was a great guy and it is very sad that we had to lose him at such an early age.”
 
Joe Watson made a few comparisons.
 
“I’d put him up there with [Claude] Giroux, [Eric] Lindros and [Peter] Forsberg in terms of natural skill,” Watson said. “He was a great player and we’ll certainly miss him.”

Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

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Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

Too many bodies and not enough room at the inn.

That pretty much describes the dilemma the Flyers will face this offseason in addressing their defense, which dramatically improved once Shayne Gostisbehere arrived in November.
 
If there is one thing the Calder Trophy finalist showed, it's you can't have enough quick, young feet with the ability to create offense on the back end.

Gostisbehere gave Flyers fans a glimpse into the defense's future — it's loaded with young talent. The line behind Gostisbehere is long — the deepest pool of young defensive talent in club history.
 
All eyes will be watching this fall to see whether Ivan Provorov can catapult himself ahead of Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg and win a roster spot, which means at least one blueliner must go from the 2015-16 roster.
 
“We're not going to change philosophically in terms of young players,” general manager Ron Hextall said April 27, the day after the players cleared out their dressing room stalls following the playoff loss the Washington Capitals.
 
“They have to come in and be better than someone else that's here and, if that happens, we proved last year that we'll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he's ready to play at this level and make our team better.
 
“I'm not putting a player on the team so we can say we're a young team. They're going to come in here and earn a spot.”
 
Here is a deeper look back on this year’s defense:
 
Michael Del Zotto

Age: Turns 26 on June 25
Stats:52 GP; 4G, 9A, 13 PTS, -8, 23:24 MIN
Cap hit: $3.875 million.

Missed the final 28 games of the regular season following surgery to repair a broken left wrist that had been bothering him since being injured initially on Dec. 21 against St. Louis. No doubt the injury played a pivotal role in limiting Del Zotto's offensive effectiveness just one year after rejuvenating his career with the Flyers with 10 goals and 32 points and earning a two-year contract extension. Del Zotto's best years are still ahead of him. He hit his 400th career game in November. He seemed to get it this year, as to when not to join the attack. Just imagine a lineup with Del Zotto, Gostisbehere and Provorov. The 2016-17 season will see what kind of contract he can earn as an unrestricted free agent.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere

Age: 23
Stats: 64 GP, 17G, 29A, 46 PTS, +8, 20:05 MIN
Cap hit: $925,000.

What can you saw about the most dynamic and impactful Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg, who was the franchise's last Calder finalist back in 1993-94. With bonuses, Gostisbehere earned over $1 million this season. If Mark Streit never gets injured, chances are we don't see Gostisbehere until late in the season. Yet, the way things turned out, he became a Calder finalist.

His offense from the back-end includes things fans have been yearning for: speed, agility, youth and a great shot, as well. He quickly began to quarterback the power play in Streit's absence. "Ghost" led all NHL rookie defensemen in points while setting a couple franchise records, including goals by a rookie blueliner (17).

His rawness on the defensive end was evident all the way through, yet that was expected. It's a fair tradeoff for what Gostisbehere produces at the other end. He had strong chemistry with defensive partner Andrew MacDonald. Offseason hip/abdominal surgery should not be a concern.

The sky's the limit with this kid.
 
Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 26 this June 5
Stats: 76 GP, 5G, 9A  14 PTS, -3; 19:50 MIN.
Cap hit: RFA who earned $991,666 last season.

In the beginning, there seemed to be no middle ground with Gudas. You either loved him or you hated him depending upon whether he threw a questionable hit and was faced a suspension or used his physical edge to the Flyers' advantage. By season's end, however, Gudas seemed to settle in as a consistent defensive presence.

Still, you worry about his questionable hits. His 304 hits were second in the NHL this season. He's the only defenseman the Flyers have who scares people on the back end.

His 157 blocks were second only to Nick Schultz's 174. Gudas is surprisingly mobile given his girth. He played his 200th career game in April and spent much of the season paired first with Del Zotto and then Brandon Manning. He was effective in the playoffs against the Caps.
 
Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 30 on Sept. 7
Stats: 28GP, 1G, 7A, 8 PTS, +10; 20:07 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million

The Flyers didn't want to pay Matt Carle $5 million per year in 2012. The fans never appreciated him and when Carle left for Tampa as a free agent, it took a while for the organization to realize Carle gave them what they wanted on the back end, which is why the Flyers overpaid in trading for and then re-signing MacDonald.

The problem was MacDonald lacked on the defensive side and quickly got caught up in a numbers game, which resulted in his starting the season with Phantoms.

Del Zotto's injury allowed MacDonald's re-entry to the Flyers and he played very well as Gostisbehere's partner right into the playoffs. He was among the team's best players in postseason. MacDonald's time spent in the AHL also saw him improve his defensive play.

MacDonald deserves a chance to remain a Flyer, but again, numbers and cap hit will again stand in his way.

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

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Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

Rick MacLeish, the smooth-skating centerman with a potent wrist shot whose goal lifted the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup, died late Monday night.

MacLeish was 66.
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.

“With the passing of Rick MacLeish, the Flyers have lost one of their legends,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “A good father, grandfather, teammate and friend, Rick will be missed by all who were fortunate to come and know him over the years.
 
“His happy and friendly demeanor was front and center everywhere Rick went. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Rick’s wife, Charlene, his daughters, Danielle and Brianna along with his grandchildren. May he rest in peace.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first 50-goal scorer and second 100-point player behind Bobby Clarke, with both milestones achieved in 1972-73. A three-time NHL All-Star, he won two Cups with the Flyers.
 
He will forever be known for his power-play-tip goal in front of Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert in the first period of Game 6 of the 1974 Cup Final. Bernie Parent made the goal stand the remainder of the game.
 
MacLeish played 16 seasons, including 12 as a Flyer. He was an integral member of the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Cup squads.
 
MacLeish's 697 points are second only to Clarke (1,210) in club history among centers, and he ranks fourth in all-time points (697), fifth in assists (369) and sixth in goal-scoring (328).
 
His 741 games in orange and black are tied for sixth overall, and his 12 hat tricks are second only to Tim Kerr (17). MacLeish scored 54 goals with 53 assists (107 points) in 114 playoff games.
 
After leaving the Flyers, he also played in Pittsburgh, Hartford and Detroit, amassing 759 career points in 846 games.
 
Drafted fourth overall by Boston in 1970, MacLeish became a Flyer as part of three-team trade involving the Bruins and Toronto that same year.
 
Known for his effortless motion and blazing speed on the ice, MacLeish had a reputation as an unmotivated player early in his career until his breakout season in 1972-73.
 
“You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to play, and the Flyers didn’t keep you if you weren’t committed to winning,” teammate Gary Dornhoefer once said.
 
“It might have taken MacLeish a few years to mature as a hockey player, but he earned his keep as a member of the team.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first legitimate sniper, often wristing his deadly shot from the circles.
 
During the 1974 playoffs, he led the Flyers in both goals (13) and points (22) and finished second to Parent in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting for playoff MVP.
 
After his retirement, MacLeish dabbled in owning race horses and worked with the Flyers' alumni.
 
Among his last major public appearances with Cup teammates in Philadelphia was at the closing of the Spectrum party on Jan. 16, 2010, hosted by Flyers chairman Ed Snider, who died in April.