Greenberg: Flyers in trouble if Pronger on downside

465886.jpg

Greenberg: Flyers in trouble if Pronger on downside

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Posted: 11 a.m.

By Jay Greenberg
For CSNPhilly.com

Knee, foot, hand. And now back. There are still many more NHL players with the motivation to be sticking pins in a Chris Pronger doll than he has body parts that have gone bad in the last 12 months. But the gap is closing, though the Flyers can only hope not as quickly as the 36-year-old defensemans career's might be.

I started the season with a surgery and now who knows whether I am going to have another one or not? said Pronger Monday. From an injury standpoint it has been the toughest year.

Start to get back and feeling good and another one crops up.

With doctors' appointments scheduled for Tuesday, Pronger wouldnt answer the question as to whether the pain shooting down his leg could help him more rapidly wrap his head around the ordeal of a fourth surgery in 12 months. Most likely, the treatment will be more conservative; otherwise there seems little way Pronger will be ready by October. But as Paul Holmgren awaits a definitive report on the Flyers most essential players spine, the GM may be feeling chills running down his own.

In Mark Howes final four seasons with the Flyers, the best defenseman in franchise history had back problems that limited him to an average of 38 games a year, including only 19 in 1990-91, when the Holmgren-coached Flyers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive spring. He was fired 22 games into the following season, when Howe played only 40 games and the Flyers didnt make the postseason again.

Those teams, midway through a five-year playoff drought, were not nearly as talented as this one. But the uncertainty of the availability of the guy who most calmed the defensive zone and could create in the offensive one took a huge toll -- and not just in plays not made. With the teams most critical player in limbo, who could attempt to claim locker room ownership? Some suggest captain Mike Richards, who had his own physical problems, did not.

The Flyers went 9-4 in the midseason stretch when Pronger was recovering from a fractured foot, but that was December and January, not March, April and May.

The second half of the season teams start to realize that they have to start playing good hockey to make the postseason, said Brian Boucher on Tuesday. Wins are harder to come by.

The second time around without Pronger, when he had a broken hand, the Flyers went 5-5-7. In the postseason, it wasnt until he finally could get a grip, that they could too. Game 7, when Pronger finally was deemed ready to take a regular shift, was the best game the Flyers had played by far since he went out. And when his back promptly went out, the Flyers were done in four straight, two of the games not even being competitive.

I really felt like we missed Chris in the Boston series, said Peter Laviolette. You saw the damage Zdeno Chara was doing at the other end of the ice and how difficult it was for our guys to generate what we needed to generate in the offensive zone.

A year ago, Chara was playing hurt while the Flyers were rallying back from 3-0. You have to look only a little past the Flyers goaltending, which obviously cost them as well, to see Prongers absence as an even larger factor in their demise.

Since there is no way they can come back with all the same goalies Laviolette kept having to yank, Holmgren will try for an upgrade this summer. But if injuries are turning Pronger, who has six seasons left on his contract, into the shadow of what he was, thats Howes shadow falling across the window of opportunity for this team.

We played a hell of a Game 7 against Buffalo, said Boucher. It was like we played earlier in the season, when we steamrolled teams.

Certainly Buffalo, its forwards corps in tatters, was all but ready to go, but the Flyers were the Flyers again for long as it would last, which was not even through Game 1 of the Bruins series, when Prongers back seized up.

With players whispering that nobody, not even Laviolette, read any riot acts down the stretch, it sounds like Prongers voice was missed in the room as much as his 6-6 body on the ice. He provides a lot of cheap sarcasm for his 7 million a year and some players likely needed to hear it.

Indeed, the long spring of 2010 may have manifested itself in the springless legs of 2011 team. But more specifically, the increased workloads on Andrej Meszaros, Kimmo Timonen and Sean ODonnell seemed to wear them down. Against Boston, Matt Carle, without his usual partner, seemed particularly lost.

The leg bone is connected to the thigh bone. The Flyers, six deep on defense and seemingly playing with house money, began to resemble more a house of cards. There was only the most vague consolation for them in seeing Washington also going down in four. Losing to the Bruins so badly cut like a knife, in this case the potential for a surgeons knife cutting into Pronger.

The year from hell is over, he declared Monday. But if the teams anchor defenseman cant give the Flyers 78 or so games and four rounds in 2011-12, they are headed for Purgatory.
Related: ProHockeyTalk.com delves into Pronger's deal Buy Flyers gear

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.

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

usa-logan-couture-sharks.jpg
USA Today Images

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

052816-provorov-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_694956611777.jpg

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

Flyers prospect and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov on Saturday afternoon was named the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year.

Provorov, who the Flyers drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2015, recorded 21 markers, 73 points and was a plus-64 in 62 games with Brandon during the regular season.

The 19-year-old beat out Windsor's Mikhail Sergachev and Shawinigan's Samuel Girard for the honor. Both Sergachev and Girard are eligible for this year's draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.

In 21 playoff games with the Wheat Kings, Provorov added three goals and 10 assists. Brandon beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Championship Series to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup. However, in the Memorial Cup, Brandon lost to the Red Deer Rebels on May 25.

What's next for Provorov?

The defenseman will come to Flyers training camp in September with his eye on making the roster. Many believe Provorov is ready to make the jump to the NHL, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has built a reputation of being patient, especially with his defensive prospects.

Provorov is one of five prospects in the Flyers' system that has created excitement, joining Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, an undrafted free-agent signing who made noise this season. Could Provorov — or any of the other prospects — join Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers' blue line in 2016-17?

After the Flyers' season ended with a playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, Hextall hinted he'll continue to be patient with his prospects (see story).

“What we're building towards remains the same,” Hextall said after the season. “I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago — our vision is the same and we're on a path.

“And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."

But all eyes will be on Provorov come training camp. Can he force Hextall's hand?

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

052716-wch-rosterbestvideo3_1280x720_694622787541.jpg

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.