Pronger named as the 18th Flyers captain

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Pronger named as the 18th Flyers captain

When Chris Pronger was traded to the Flyers, his former general manager in Anaheim, Brian Burke, called him the most dominant voice in a dressing room.

Ask any Flyer and theyll agree.

Even though he never wore the C when Mike Richards was captain, Prongers voice resonated among every player on the Flyers, even if it caused some friction.

On the eve of training camp opening, the Flyers announced late Friday afternoon that Pronger would be their 18th captain for the 2011-12 season.

So does anything change for Pronger now that he wears a C on his sweater?

I dont think so, Pronger said. You have to be who you are and play the way you always played, whether you have a letter on your jersey or not. If youre a leader, lead. If youre a quiet, unassuming type of guy, who just goes out and works hard and plays to the best of his ability, then do that.

Dont do anything outside your comfort zone or outside anything you have done to this point to be successful. Everybody who comes into that locker room and wears the jersey and that Flyer emblem has done something to impress upon somebody that theyre going to provide something our team needs. I dont think they need to change that one bit.

The soon-to-be 37-year-old becomes the fifth defenseman in Flyer history to wear the C. Richards captained the Flyers from 2008-09 until the end of last season.

In making the announcement, general manager Paul Holmgren said that Kimmo Timonen and Danny Briere would be alternates.

With Chriss experience and presence, we felt that he was the perfect player to take over as captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, Holmgren said. Having Kimmo and Danny, both former captains in the NHL, serving as alternates, really gives us a strong, dedicated leadership group.

All three of these players know what it takes to win and are excellent role models both on and off the ice.

Timonen served as a captain in Nashville; Briere in Buffalo.

Pronger said the captaincy issue was first broached by Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette in July when he visited Skate Zone for a medical checkup for his wrist and back.

We touched on it briefly, Pronger recalled. Lavy was here and we had a little conversation and I said I have bigger fish to fry. I need to focus on getting myself healthy and back to where I need to be to play the way you need me to play if you do indeed want me to be the captain for me to be effective.

While Pronger, who was a captain in St. Louis and Anaheim, seemed the obvious choice, a number of Flyer fans favored the more low-key Briere.

I think Chris is a great leader and a very good choice by the organization, Briere texted CSNPhilly.com.

Pronger last captained a team in 2007-08 (Anaheim Ducks).

The one in 07 was thrust upon me because Scotty Niedermayer retired and we were coming off a Stanley Cup, Pronger recalled. Everything was roses.

Going into it, I knew it was going to be difficult because Scotty and Teemu Selanne werent there, youre going to have a Cup hangover and have all these things going against you and it was that.

It was a difficult 4-5 months and then Scotty came back and assumed his captaincy and kind of got back on track and we did our thing.

He says hes a different captain now than earlier in his career as a member of the Blues.

Youre always going to be a little different with the experiences you go through, Pronger said Age and just everything youve gone through, throughout the course of your career

Whether it be Olympics, Stanley Cups, five different teams Ive been on, different captains I have had and been. Theres no question you will always be a little bit different. I dont think that changes how I play or how I need to perform.

Pronger is recovering from off-season surgery to repair his right wrist and back. Because of his injury rehab, Pronger will not make the start of training camp on Saturday, but will join his teammates at some point.

Holmgren said earlier in the week he expected Pronger to be ready for the clubs regular season opener on Oct. 6 in Boston.

This announcement would seem to bolster that anticipation, while stopping a possible distraction who wears the C? before it occurs.

When Pronger first arrived, there was friction between himself and Richards, which both players eventually spoke about in roundabout ways.

By the Stanley Cup Final in June 2010, it had evaporated with Richards admitting that having gone to the Olympics and spending time with Pronger and other Team Canada players, he began to feel at ease in his role as the captain with Pronger as a partner in the dressing room and not an adversary trying to upstage him.

Prongers biggest challenge now is a brand new team with at least seven new faces on it and some legitimate questions as to how long its going to take to find chemistry.

A lot of new faces, a lot of guys know one another, but dont know one another well, Pronger said. That is something Peter touched on with me when we talked about this.

We need to get guys together and camaraderie and chemistry and that flow going early in training camp and then onto first part of the season to get acclimated to one another, get comfortable and get off to a good start and get feeling good about ourselves so that we can get on a bit of a roll.

Form that bond you need in April, May and June when you come together and sell out for one another and be willing to sacrifice your body or whatever the case may be for the good of the team. Tomorrow is first step in that direction.

The last defenseman to captain the Flyers was Jason Smith (2007-08). Before him, Derian Hatcher (2005-06). Ed Van Impe was the first (1968-69). Eric Desjardins held the post longer than any other defenseman: 1999-2000 to 2001-02.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Gary Bettman talks NHL expansion, missing Ed Snider's presence, 2018 Winter Olympics

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Gary Bettman talks NHL expansion, missing Ed Snider's presence, 2018 Winter Olympics

PITTSBURGH -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered no clues on Monday during his annual Stanley Cup Final address as to the state of NHL expansion or the current odds that Las Vegas gets a franchise.
 
The league’s Board of Governors will meet on June 22 to make a decision on expansion. The earliest a team(s) could play would be 2017-18.
 
Quebec City is also in the running, but the value of the Canadian dollars weighs heavily against another team being added north of the border at the moment.
 
If a Vegas franchise is added, it would have a direct impact on Pacific Division clubs such as the Sharks, who take on the Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
 
Bettman refused to “handicap” the situation but said he expected to know at least a week in advance as to what the committee’s recommendation will be.
 
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said there are “a lot of on-going” issues related to expansion and some involve input from third parties.
 
“We’ve made good progress ... it hasn’t been quick progress,” Daly said.
 
Asked about rumors of the NFL, specifically the Oakland Raiders, going to Vegas and what that impact would mean to hockey, Bettman said he hasn’t even broached the topic of having two pro sports there with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or even considered such.
 
“If the NFL comes to Vegas at some point, so be it,” Bettman said. “We’re judging the application we have before us on the merits of that application.”
 
Bettman said the thought the NFL moving to Vegas, in his opinion, wasn’t “anywhere close to a done deal.”
 
Daly added that even if there is movement by the NFL toward Vegas, it would not be seen as a “deterrent” to the NHL expanding there.
 
Snider not replaced
Bettman said that former Flyers chairman Ed Snider’s spot on the 10-person executive and competition committees has not been filled since Snider's death in April.
 
Snider was an original member of the league’s competition committee and the only owner on it.
 
“He was a great owner and is terribly missed,” Bettman said.

More Olympic issues  
IOC President Thomas Bach and IIHF President Rene Fasel have gone on record they want to end paying the out-of-pocket expenses for NHL players to attend the Olympics.
 
That’s a non-starter for the NHL if both organizations want participation of the NHL's players at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The practice of subsidy has been in effect for the past five Winter Olympics.
 
“If they are unable to resolve the issue, I have no doubt it will have an impact on our decision,” Bettman said, adding the NHL would have to take a hard look at continued Olympic participation since its member clubs aren’t interested in putting up the “many, many millions” it would take to make up the financial gap.
 
Whenever there is change in the IOC leadership, Bettman said, there are always discussions of whether some sports, such as hockey, should receive subsidies.

Stanley Cup Final: Sharks-Penguins set to battle in Game 1

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Stanley Cup Final: Sharks-Penguins set to battle in Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

'HBK' is H-O-T
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.

Flyers 2015-16 Redux Part 1: Goaltenders

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Flyers 2015-16 Redux Part 1: Goaltenders

If there's one thing the Flyers proved during the 2015-16 season, it's that you can never understate the importance of having two capable goaltenders.

Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth both shared the top spot at various points, as goaltending was one of the club's strengths.
 
Without strong performances from both, Dave Hakstol's team never would have made the playoffs.

Among the more intriguing questions that will arise in training camp next fall is who wins the starter's job. If the playoffs proved anything, it's not a lock Mason is ordained the starter.
 
Competition in goal made the Flyers better.
 
“To have inner competition is a good thing,” general manager Ron Hextall said after the season. “We've got two good goalies and I think, as we saw this year, it's nice to have.
 
“If we have one of them this year, then we're probably nowhere near the playoffs. They were a strength of ours and I give them both credit for giving us a chance to win those nights.”
 
Neuvirth has made it clear that he sees himself as a No. 1.
 
“Michal Neuvirth's become a better player this year and I think that Michal Neuvirth has a belief that he can be a No. 1, maybe for the first time, maybe when he was younger he did,” Hextall said.
 
“He proved it to himself, he proved it to us, and on the other hand, Mase did the same thing. Mase has played the last month and a half and was terrific. He played a great game and quite honestly, there is no rounds to go, we didn't have another guy to go to.”
 
Hextall feels Anthony Stolarz likely needs one more year of AHL grooming.
 
“Stolie is a good, young prospect, but he's young and he's not ready to take the ball at this level, so Mase took the ball and ran with it,” Hextall said. “We get two guys that I think our team feels very comfortable with and so do I.”
 
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have both demonstrated during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs that you can win with a young goalie coming off the bench and stealing the top spot with a strong run.
 
Here’s a recap of the goaltenders - not including Stolarz, who was on the roster for 16 games but did not play:

Steve Mason
Age: 28
Stats: 54 GP; 23-19-10; 2.51 GAA; .918 SV%
Cap hit: $4.1 million
 
Mason played his 400th career game in March. Despite a terrible start that had more to do with a serious personal matter off the ice, Mason was the Flyers' late-season MVP, starting 12 consecutive games down the stretch and enabling the Flyers to erase a three-point gap and claim the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

After a stellar showing in the season-opener in Tampa, Mason's off-ice issue hit full brunt. His focus was gone the remainder of October and it showed with a 3.39 goals-against average heading into November. More bad luck came as he got the flu and missed a series of games before returning as the Flyers struggled through a series of overtimes and shootouts during which Mason came up small.

While Mason has shown he can make a critical save on a breakaway during games, he seems to make himself small in net during shootouts, during which he was 2-6 this season.

True, you can argue the Flyers have lacked for goal-scoring in the shootout for years now. Yet, the point is, Mason's confidence in shootouts is poor.

A knee injury bothered him in the start of the second half, as he lost his job to Neuvirth, who kept the Flyers afloat. Mason's return to full health began in March.

Mason finally hit .500 — 15-15-7 — with a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on March 7. His sprint to the finish began March 19 and he went 6-4-2 to help push the Flyers into the playoffs.

In Game 1 against Washington, Mason played well, but he was terrible the next two games in which he allowed 10 goals, three of which were horrific, and then lost the net to Neuvirth as the Flyers faced a 3-0 deficit.

His playoff goals-against average of 4.09 and .852 save percentage were proof of his poor play. Puzzling stat: His save percentage when the Flyers were on the power play this season was just .878 after being .958 the year before when he faced more shots against.

Mason continues to mystify as to whether he has the mental toughness to overcome adversity. While he's proven his value in the regular season, until he shows he can carry this team deep into the playoffs on his own, there will forever be a question as to whether he's capable of winning a Stanley Cup.
 
Michal Neuvirth
Age: 28
Stats: 32 GP; 18-8-4; 2.27 GAA; .924 SV%
Cap hit: $1.625 million

Where would the Flyers have been this season without Neuvirth, especially at the start?

You could make a compelling argument Neuvirth was the club's first-half MVP while Mason struggled. Neuvirth was 11-6-2 at the All-Star break compared to Mason's 10-12-6.

Bang vs. buck. He's a steal at $1.625 million. The only knock on Neuvirth, which has dogged him throughout his nine-year career, is his health. He has an uncanny way of getting hit with freak injuries and admits it's held him back.

In all, he had six different injuries that caused him to miss 18 games — almost a quarter of the season. Yet despite late-season knee surgery, which forced him to miss eight games, Neuvirth came on strong in replacing Mason for Games 4 through 6 in the postseason.

Neuvirth clearly showed he was far more on top of his game than Mason, winning two of three, one of which he faced 44 shots and earned a brilliant 2-0 shutout. Neuvirth has played half as many games as Mason in his career yet he has a chance in camp to get that coveted starter's job back, which he once briefly held in Washington.

Neuvirth's 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage during the regular season were career bests. Interestingly, this is a contract year for both Neuvirth and Mason to show their value for that next deal.

In Neuvirth's case, it's about getting starter's money — not back-up. That said, even if this shy Czech becomes the Flyers' starter, his penchant for injury dictates wariness over the long haul.