Flyers Where are They Now?: Tim Kerr

521448.jpg

Flyers Where are They Now?: Tim Kerr

AVALON, N.J. -- Tim Kerr, who ranks seventh in goals per game in NHL history, probably is the leagues runaway all-time leader in stoicism.

They practically had to put him on the operating table to stop him. And they will place him in his grave before he ever complains.

Not only did Kerr rarely raise a stick at the defensemen who chopped at and hung on him while he was scoring 370 career goals in 655 games, he wouldnt even bother to lift it as the goal light went on.

I wasnt excited when I scored because I expected to score, he said. I always said the best job in hockey was to be a 20-goal scorer. Score once every four games and life is good.

It was not always good for Kerr, who suffered three knee injuries and a broken leg in his first four Flyers seasons, and had a knee (1985) and a shoulder (1987) give out on him in agonizing stages during Flyers runs to two finals. In those series against the Edmonton dynasty, Kerr played just two games (in 1985), then only eight during the 1987-88 season after five operations on a shoulder.

He gulped aspirin to build a tolerance for the anti-inflammatory drugs that enabled him to bounce back to 48 in just 69 games in 1988-89 and had 14 goals in 13 playoff games that spring before his thumb was broken by a Penguin slash that rendered him effectively useless in a semifinal loss to Montreal.

Four plagued seasons later, it was over for him at age 32, all the liberties taken in the slot in an era where men were allowed to be men and few were big enough to handle his 225 pounds ultimately cheating Kerr out of numbers that likely would have put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I had some crazy things with injuries that certainly hurt my time playing and numbers and stuff, Kerr said. But I enjoyed the challenge of all those rehabs.

I had a great run, a lot of fun with a great group of guys. Every night going to the rink you felt like we had a good chance to win. It was unfortunate we didnt win the Cup, but I guess I would be more disappointed if we had a team that didnt give everything it had.

I look back on guys taking shots before games to freeze up, remember playing an Islander series with a strap-on when I couldnt get my hand out of my pocket without using my other arm. Today I dont think you would see that very much. But we had some warriors who would do anything to try to win.

He laughed.

I gave everything I had with my body, Kerr said. I know that because I can feel it today.

If its any consolation to the goalies who surrendered to him, Kerr, 51, needs a knee replacement.

My shoulders are good though, amazingly, he said. It also should be of considerable consolation to Flyers fans who winced every time Kerr had to come out of the lineup and who cried over the still-unexplained death of his 30-year-old wife Kathy 10 days after she gave birth in 1990, that Kerr is living happily ever after, not that he would be whining if that wasnt the case.

Obviously Im going to be the last guy complaining about business because it was pretty crazy there for a few years, we did pretty well, said Kerr, who owns Tim Kerr Power Play Realty. Obviously sales arent what they used to be, but there are still people getting in and out of this market and rentals have been excellent.

He sits behind the desk in an office a lot bigger than the 10,000 signing bonus the undrafted and ironically perceived to be under-motivated free agent accepted from the Flyers after a reduced six-round draft in 1979. Picked on the advice of Flyers scout Eric Colville, he was probably the team's biggest return ever on 10,000.

Kerr bought a car with a lot of that money. But when he joined the Flyers a year later, part of his 60,000 went into real estate. Today, he has multi-million-dollar homes here and in Moorestown, N.J., where the Kerrs spend the school year, plus places in the Cayman Islands and Vermont.

He owns two teams, one in Pensacola, Florida, the other in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the Southern Professional Hockey League, which he also operates. Tim Kerr Charities is run by his wife Midge when she is not running six kilometers in triathlons.

First in her age group in New York three weeks ago, brags Kerr.

First in importance, Tim Kerr Charities, which has raised more than 1.5 million over almost two decades, will stage Sundays Cedar Island 5K Swim benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project; a Sept. 3 Splash and Dash kids event for a young cancer patient named Jay Devico; and a Sept. 4 7K run and 5K walk for the aid of the family of a fallen soldier, Johnny Kihm. (Details and entry information for all events are available at Timkerrcharities.org).

Midge met Kerr at the Tim Kerr Run in Avalon in 1991 as a junior high gym teacher at Springton Lake Middle School in Delaware County.

Wasnt a hockey fan at all, she said. A cousin persuaded me to go and there were a few people there who thought we should meet.

I didnt think either one of us was looking for someone. But both our parents knew it was something special, and I knew he was the man I had been waiting for to spend my life with forever.

Their charity work became more hands-on than ever in 2005 after the middle of their three sons, Wesley, was treated at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia for a rare bone infection.

We went home with a well child while others were still there facing life-threatening illnesses, said Midge. We had to do more.

Midge missed becoming the national triathlon champion in her age group last weekend in Vermont by 14 seconds 14 seconds she probably thinks were wasted not helping others.

Even before Kathys death, through the grind of another rehab, Tim was saying, you certainly dont have to look far to see people who have more problems than you do.

And having found them, he rallies for them.

Its fun to give back and help, great that my kids are involved, and I hope they keep this going for a long time, he said.

Kayleigh, 10 months old when Kathy passed away, works in California. Kimberly, who was just 10 days old, is going into her junior year at West Virginia University. Garret will play basketball this year as a freshman at Philadelphia University of the Sciences, Wesley, a rising senior at Moorestown High School, is being recruited for basketball and golf scholarships, and Tanner, the best student in the family, is a rising junior who plays soccer and tennis.

The best thing about having his own businesses, said Kerr, is that he can run his schedule around his kids athletic events. He makes almost all of them. His children, who come first, indeed are the first reason the knee replacement he has put off for years will soon happen.

I still work out an hour a day, mostly elliptical and light weights. If I dont, I dont have a good day, he said. But I cant get around a golf event without having a tough time in the end or play tennis with my kids without hurting for a few days. Its pretty much time to get it done.

This time, one would hope that no surgical screws fall out or become infected, like they did in Kerrs nightmarish summer of 1987. After averaging 56 goals over the previous four seasons, he missed almost all of 1987-88. Yet he still scored a goal in the Game 7 loss in Washington, and thanks to Pat Croce and an almost supernatural will, bounced back the next season to get 48 and win the Bill Masterton Trophy for his perseverance.

He was as dedicated an athlete as I have ever worked with, said Mike Keenan, who coached the Flyers to those two finals.

Kerr had an unfortunate amount of practice at it. He missed half the 1989-90 season, when the Flyers missed the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, then the following year came back 14 days after Kathys death only to soon need arthroscopic knee surgery.

He returned too soon, rested some more, then stepped on a puck during a warmup and suffered an incapacitating groin-hip pull. When he finally came back in March, for the first time in his career he wasnt instantly pumping goals. New GM Russ Farwell began the necessary overhaul by exposing Kerr to the expansion draft to stock the San Jose Sharks, who quickly traded him to the Rangers for Brian Mullen.

Jay Sniders was the first call to me, and he apologized, said Kerr. I believe sincerely the Flyers didnt think I would be picked up.

Going to another team after pretty much your whole career in Philly was not easy. That was the end of it for me, passion-wise, because it really didnt work out after that. I had another operation, then went to Hartford the next year with coach Paul Holmgren and my knee just wasnt responding, so I packed it in.

I dont hold any regrets, the Flyers treated me great while I was here. My proudest thing in the game was when the Flyers inducted me in their Hall of Fame the year after I retired. I was very honored they did that so quickly, pretty cool.

But no cooler than Kerr waiting in the slot, players hacking at him, hanging on him, bouncing off him.

Every team would try to put their biggest defensemen on me, which is what I wanted, because chances are I would be quicker than that guy, he said. I could use my body off of his and have a field day out there.

The guys who defended me better were the smaller, quicker guys who were able to close off the angles. Once I got the puck, bigger or smaller than me wasnt going to make a difference.

We laughed about the Pelle Eklund option. If I wasnt one of the first three options for Pelle (Kerrs primary setup guy when he scored 34 power play goals in 1985-86, still an NHL record) then he could do something else with the puck. Hey, if I was going to take the beating, I wanted the puck."

The feed was on his stick and in the goal even faster than they could schedule his next surgery. But this was no one-trick pony with a range of five feet. In the signature game of his career and of the first finals run Kerr scored four goals within 8:16 at Madison Square Garden on two close-in forehands, a backhand and a one-timer steaming up the slot to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 6-2 lead.

The Flyers, who had not won a series the previous three springs, withstood a Ranger comeback to complete a 6-5 win and a 3-0 sweep. We were feeling that pressure, needed some confidence, said Keenan. And that mountain of a man gave it to us.

It makes one wonder what Kerr could do today, when defensemen have been disarmed of practically every weapon but the pokecheck.

But I dont doubt theres more of those smaller, quicker type of guys who did well against me, said Kerr. And Im sure the goalies are better, too.

I wasnt sure about it at first, but I like the game today.

That said, the good old days hardly are just somebodys bloated memories. The 1987 Oilers, who had added Kent Nilsson and Reijo Ruotsalainen to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey, were the greatest offensive team ever, and without Kerr the Flyers were still alive deep into the third period of Game 7.

Take away Edmontons best goal scorer, too, and I dont know where it ends up, said Keenan, but Kerr doesnt spend any time thinking about it.

It was hard because we sacrificed so much, wanted it so badly, he said. But Im not somebody who looks behind very much.

My Avalon restaurant went under because I was finishing up playing in New York and Hartford. But I look at that as a business education thats been very beneficial for me.

To lose Kathy, obviously it was a crazy period of my life. My kids know the story, but its not a conversation in my house every day. I was blessed to meet another woman and wife and be able to grow my family.

Everybody has periods in their life they look back upon as not an easy time, but I am certainly not one to dwell on what if. Im very fortunate with what I have today and look forward to tomorrow.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at jayg616@aol.com.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

050416_schenn_pkg_webbestvideo3_1280x720_679686723674.jpg

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The hours before the biggest game of Bryan Rust's life were restless. The nap he tried to sneak in never materialized. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward's mind was simply too busy.

"I was just sitting up there looking at the ceiling," Rust said.

Yet even those daydreams didn't compare to the reality: the rookie forward who began training camp hoping just to make the team scored both of Pittsburgh's goals in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh will host Western Conference champion San Jose in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

In a building littered with stars, it was the relentlessness of the 24-year-old Rust and the steadiness of 22-year-old goaltender Matt Murray who provided the difference as the Penguins reached the final for the first time since 2009.

"I'm in that mode where I'm getting the bounces and the breaks right now," Rust said.

Ones Rust and his teammates are earning. The Penguins rallied from a 3-2 deficit by controlling the final two games of the best-of-seven series, winning 5-2 in Tampa Bay in Game 6, then backing it up with what coach Mike Sullivan said "might have been the most complete 60-minute effort we had."

In disarray in December when Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston, the Penguins have sprinted through April and May and will head into June with a chance to win the franchise's fourth Cup, one that would serve as a bookend to its last triumph seven years when stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were still in their early 20s.

They're older now. Wiser. And undaunted by a series of postseason failures that made it seem the window of their primes were closing. Yet here they are after dispatching the New York Rangers in five games, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in six and the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning in seven.

"They played better hockey than us the whole series," said Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, who lost a Game 7 for the first time after starting his career 7-0 when pushed to the limit.

Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs for the Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves, but it wasn't enough to send Tampa Bay back to the Cup Final for a second straight year. Captain Steven Stamkos had two shots in 11:55 in his from a two-month layoff while dealing with blood clots, his best chance coming on a breakaway in the second period that deflected off Murray and trickled wide. One of Murray's teammates deftly guided the puck out of harm's way, emblematic of Tampa Bay's inability to keep the puck in Pittsburgh's end with any sort of consistency.

"I thought I beat him," Stamkos said. "It just went through him and out the other side. It was close, but we didn't generate enough offensively in order to win a game."

Mostly because the Penguins didn't let them. It's part of what Sullivan calls "playing the right way," a way abetted by the influx of speed brought in by general manager Jim Rutherford. That group includes Rust, who forced his way onto the roster thanks to feverish skating and a self-confidence that belies his nondescript 5-foot-11 frame.

That effort -- or "desperation level" as Crosby calls it -- provided the Penguins with the boost they needed to overcome a bit of unfortunate history and the return of Stamkos. Pittsburgh had dropped five straight Game 7s at home, including a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in 2011 in a series in which both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed due to injury.

That loss had become symbolic of the franchise's postseason shortcomings following that gritty run to the Cup in 2009 that culminated with a Game 7 win in Detroit that was supposed to be the launching pad of a dynasty.

Seven long years later, with an entirely new cast around mainstays Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have returned to the league's biggest stage.

"We've always believed in one another," Crosby said. "Trying to get back, it's not easy."

Not by a long shot.

Vasilevskiy, a revelation while filling in for injured Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, spent most of the night facing barrage after barrage as Pittsburgh controlled the puck and the pace of play for long stretches.

The Penguins finally broke through behind Rust, who managed all of five goals in 55 regular-season games, a total he's matched in just 17 games during the postseason. He gave the Penguins the lead 1:55 into the second when he raced down the slot, took a feed from Kunitz and beat Vasilevskiy over his glove.

Drouin's fourth goal of the series tied it at 9:36 of the second, a wicked wrist shot from the circle that zipped by Murray and seemed to blunt Pittsburgh's momentum.

Only it didn't.

All of 30 seconds later, the Penguins were back in front. Ben Lovejoy's slap shot from the point caromed off the end boards to the right of the net. Rust jabbed at it, squeezing it between Vasilevskiy's left arm and his body.

Their season on the brink, the Lightning recovered but Murray never wavered. His teammates in front of him kept Tampa Bay from getting in his way and when the final horn blared, Pittsburgh's metamorphosis was complete.

"The biggest challenge is ahead of us," Crosby said. "We have to finish it off the right way."

Notes
The Penguins went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Lightning were 0 for 1. ... The team that scores first is now 124-42 all-time in Game 7s, including 5-0 this year.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

050416_schenn_pkg_webbestvideo3_1280x720_679686723674.jpg

Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

In the final installment of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. Today, we begin with R.J. Umberger.

R.J. Umberger
2015-16 stats: 39 GP, 2 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $4.6 mm cap hit

Dougherty: At the end-of-the-season media availability, Umberger said he expects to be bought out. And he will, unless general manager Ron Hextall can work some magic. He’s a goner.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Umberger expects to be bought out. It seems imminent at this point. Either way, the Flyers need to move on from Umberger.

Verdict: GO

Paone: To his credit, Umberger was a total pro as he went through his immense struggles this season. But to say the writing is on the wall for Umberger in Philadelphia is an understatement. It's like he sees a skywriter spelling it out in the clouds above him everywhere he goes. He even said himself that he expects the final year of his contract to be bought out sooner rather than later. His premonition will come true and the Flyers will take the $1.6 million cap hit that comes with it for next season.

Verdict: GO

Chris VandeVelde
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 2 G, 12 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $712,500 cap hit

Dougherty: VandeVelde is a Dave Hakstol disciple. He played for him at North Dakota and he played for him here. He was a cog on the fourth line, playing with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White all season long. But while VandeVelde kills penalties, he doesn’t do anything else. He has no offensive ability and, simply stated, is an AHL player playing in the NHL. The Flyers want to add scoring and to do that, someone has to go. And VandeVelde should be that guy.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Debating a fourth-liner’s status shouldn’t be one of the harder decisions, but it is in this case. That’s because Dave Hakstol adored his final unit of VandeVelde, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. However, the Flyers need better depth and VandeVelde is super cheap, so sending him to the AHL to clear a roster spot wouldn’t be a stomach-churning move. With a tiny cap hit, even an offseason trade is conceivable.

Verdict: GO

Paone: This is a tougher call than one would think for a role player of VandeVelde's ilk. On one hand, he, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare formed one of the most effective fourth lines in the entire league this season and an effective fourth line can be such a valuable weapon in today's NHL. There's chemistry there that you shouldn't want to mess with. On the other hand, VandeVelde is probably the most expendable and interchangeable of that trio. And with the Flyers needing as many roster spots as they can create, another younger and more effective player may be able to fit in there (Scott Laughton to start, possibly). That's why I lean toward saying VandeVelde won't be with the big club to start the season, despite his longstanding ties to Dave Hakstol. Roster spots are becoming more and more valuable in Philadelphia.

Verdict: GO

Jakub Voracek
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 44 A; Contract: Signed through 2023-24, $8.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: This is a no-brainer. He signed an eight-year contract extension last summer, and that kicks in July 1. He had confidence issues this season and battled injury, but there’s nothing of concern there. He should be healthy and back to his productive self next season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Obviously, this isn’t really a question. What is, though, are Voracek’s health and rebound.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: It's no secret the Flyers' star winger struggled with both production and injury this season, a year removed from his spectacular 81-point campaign that earned him a massive eight-year, $66 million extension. That extension just so happens to kick in this year, by the way. You're crazy if you don't think a motivated Voracek will be back in orange and black next season.

Verdict: STAY

Jordan Weal
2015-16 stats: 14 GP, 0 G, 0 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Weal was basically a throw-in in the Vinny Lecavalier trade. Los Angeles didn’t want him because there was no room for him on its NHL roster, but the Kings would have lost him for nothing had they placed him on waivers. He came to Philly and didn’t do anything to impress. He’s a restricted free agent. He’ll probably get qualified, but shouldn’t. Let him go.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Ron Hextall knows a lot about Weal. The 24-year-old was often the first player on the ice for extra work before practice. I think there was more than one reason why Weal was included in the trade that sent Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings. I say he’s back at a minimum rate but will head to the minors.

Verdict: GO

Paone: What exactly is Weal capable of at the NHL level? That's a really good question and one we don't have an answer to considering his lack of playing time with in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia this season. His injury after becoming a Flyer did him no favors, either. As I mentioned above when talking about VandeVelde, roster spots in Philadelphia are becoming more and more precious as the influx of talented prospects begins. Weal is really going to have to prove himself during camp to earn one of those spots. But, for right now, starting the season with the big club is a hazy picture for him.

Verdict: GO

Ryan White
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 5 A; Contract: Unrestricted free agent

Dougherty: White is everything the Flyers thought Zac Rinaldo would be. He brings energy, he’s physical and he can even score. He displayed the ability to play on the power play, which is a plus with a player in a fourth-line role. White should be back at least for another season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: White epitomizes what you want. He cares more about the Flyers than money. He’s a terrific teammate willing to do anything. And he’s understanding more and more how to score ugly. A perfect fourth-liner for the Flyers who will be re-signed.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: You want to talk about an almost-perfect fit? That's what White has been with the Flyers over the last season and a half. In 107 games as a Flyer, White has recorded 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points. In his first five seasons in the league with Montreal, the 28-year-old forward had just five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 117 games. Even in a mostly fourth-line role, he's made an impact to the point he's earned Hakstol's trust enough to be the net-front presence on the Flyers' second power-play unit. He's a UFA who'll be due a bit of a raise, but White just meshes way too well to not bring back. He knows it, too, saying in his end-of-season media availability that money is necessarily the determining factor in negotiations with the Flyers. He'll be back in his familiar roles next season.

Verdict: STAY

Remembering the Lindros hit from Stevens 16 years later

panaccio_720x405_693409347859.jpg

Remembering the Lindros hit from Stevens 16 years later

All it took to end the Flyers career of Eric Lindros was one devastating shoulder to the chin from Scott Stevens.

This day, in 2000, just 7 minutes and 50 seconds into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Stevens, the most intimidating defenseman in New Jersey Devils history, caught Lindros in transition coming across center ice in the Flyer offensive zone … with his head down.

In real time, measured against today’s standards, Stevens’ hit on Lindros is nothing compared to what seems to occur nightly in the NHL at breakneck speed.

The difference is, back then, the Stevens’ hit was deemed legal.

Today, it would draw a five-minute major, game misconduct and possible suspension because the principal point of contact from Stevens’ shoulder was the chin and forehead of Lindros.

Stevens was 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Lindros was two inches taller — but smaller when he tucked his head down, as he often did when he skated hard and fast. He weighed 25 pounds more. Didn’t matter. Stevens dropped Lindros to the ice and a hush came over the arena now called Wells Fargo Center.

The significance of the hit is obvious. It marked the end of Lindros’ career as a Flyer. Recall, he had missed more than two months because of headaches, and came into the series in Game 6.

The Flyers lost Game 7, 2-1. They lost a series they once led 3-1. And they lost perhaps the greatest power forward of his generation. No player dominated the ice like Lindros. He was unique in that NHL coaches actually had to design game plans around defending him.

Stevens’ hit resulted in Lindros’ sixth concussion as a Flyer, but more significantly, it was his fourth in five months. He would sit out the entire following season with post-concussion syndrome while demanding a trade that would eventually come with the New York Rangers.

Lindros' impact in eight years as a Flyer can’t be understated. He is among the club’s all-time top 10 in goals (290) assists (369) and points (659) and is the third-highest scoring centerman in Flyers history.

Tragically, he was also the NHL’s poster child for post-concussion syndrome. At the time, the Flyers, the league and many neurologists weren’t sure of the ramifications of this medical term, but in coming years, it would become synonymous with head injuries in every sport.

Medically speaking, this remains the biggest impact Lindros had on hockey — he brought much-needed focus to concussions.

Sadly, during his 13-year career, Lindros missed the equivalent of two more seasons because of injuries, most of which were concussion-related.