After long summer, Flyers excited to get to work

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After long summer, Flyers excited to get to work

Vinny Lecavalier is excited.
 
“Great guys and some great players here,” said the Flyers' tallest centerman. “That is what is so exciting. This is a really good team. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here.
 
“I looked at the roster and really liked this team. That is why I am excited to start here.”
 
There’s always excitement and anticipation around the start of a hockey training camp. This fall, there truly is a difference as the Flyers open camp this morning at Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, it was exciting knowing guys are coming back healthy from where we were last year,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.
 
“The man games we lost, it’s exciting guys are coming back full health for the most part. It wasn’t that way last year. Claude [Giroux] went down and he’ll back. I hope it’s not a problem and I don’t think it will be from everything that I have heard.”
 
Giroux will be here but until his right hand is fully healed, he won’t be playing games, shooting pucks or taking contact.
 
The Flyers fell into the great abyss last season with a 2-6 start from which they never recovered and failed to make the playoffs.
 
They didn’t fire the coach or general manager Paul Holmgren, but they did fire the goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (buyout) and had an emotional farewell presser for class guy Danny Briere (buyout).
 
Then came a long, tortuous offseason.
 
“It doesn’t have the same meaning on the outside as when you are inside and competing [in the playoffs],” Laviolette said. “I think I found late spring and early summer to be hard to handle.”
 
All the while, plans were unfolding to restock the roster.
 
It began with the trade for Islanders captain Mark Streit on defense; then the signing of goalie Ray Emery; finally, the addition of Lecavalier.
 
Not a lot of moves, but critical ones.
 
Everyone in and around the Flyers seem primed for this camp. Fresh start.
 
“I’m ready,” veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “I feel like I’ve been off a really long time. Too long. To have a year like that last year, sometimes, it’s good to settle down and see what we did wrong together -- everybody. Coaches, players, management, everybody.
 
“I hate to say it was good that we didn’t make the playoffs, but at least now everybody realizes we have to work even harder and make better decisions. Sometimes, you need [as a team] to go down to come back up again.”
 
There are a few job openings to be sorted out in this camp, the biggest of which is whether Emery wins the starter’s job over Steve Mason, who was nothing short of superb in just seven games at season’s end.
 
When was the last time the Flyers had genuine competition for the starter’s job in goal? Maybe 2005, when Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki fought it out?
 
“You certainly hope so,” Laviolette said of the competition. “You hope that’s the case. That they push each other and they do it in a competitive way that best benefits the team.
 
“You’re talking about somebody [Mason] who came in here at the end of the year and played well for us and someone who had a terrific season ... I haven’t talked to them or seen them yet. Those conversations will come.”
 
It’s a camp where some older players have something to prove.
 
Lecavalier wants people to know there’s a decent number of goals still left in his stick after his buyout.
 
“Not to prove Tampa wrong or anything,” Lecavalier said. “For me, it’s another challenge the way the year went last year with injuries and not winning, that is more the part of me saying I want to have a good year and help this team out as much as I can.
 
“Everybody has something to prove every year. We’re all going to push forward.”
 
Mason wants to prove his gaudy 1.90 goals-against average was genuine. Emery wants to prove his 17-1 record and Stanley Cup was no fluke, either.
 
Then there’s Hal Gill and Dan Cleary. Gill is on a tryout and says he can “show” the Flyers what he possesses is something this club needs.
 
Cleary has a tryout deal, plus a promise of a three-year contract waiting in the wings but may have gotten a firm offer from Detroit right now. He may or may not be here, though the club expects he will.
 
“[Cleary] and Hal are in the same situation where it’s an opportunity to come into camp and get on the ice and show what they can do,” Laviolette said.
 
“These are veteran players who have been proven to be successful in the roles they served on teams.”
 
The hardest decisions in camp will be who the starting six defensemen are -- yeah the Flyers are actually deep for once -- and who sits as No. 7.
 
Right now, oft-injured Andrej Meszaros could be No. 7. It has to be sorted out in camp.
 
Then there’s the matter of where Lecavalier plays. First line? Second line?
 
Maybe he goes between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds?
 
“I talked to both of them,” Lecavlier said. “I don’t know who I will play with. I played few shifts with Simmer and Schenn [in the player scrimmages]. Both are great players, great hockey sense. ... Whoever I play with, I am happy to be here.”

Ron Hextall: Vegas 'obviously did their homework' on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Ron Hextall: Vegas 'obviously did their homework' on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall on Wednesday night reacted to losing alternate captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft (see story).

"There were a number of guys I felt like there was a chance we would lose," Hextall said. "And Belly was on that list.

"Vegas obviously did their homework and have themselves a good player. Pierre-Edouard is a character member of our organization and he'll be missed."

Bellemare is the Flyers' second alternate captain to depart the club in the same calendar year. Mark Streit, whose "A" Bellemare inherited, was traded to Pittsburgh via Tampa at the NHL trade deadline.

Streit will likely see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. The Penguins plan to petition to get his name on the Cup even though Streit did not play in the Final against Nashville.

As for Bellemare, the 32-year-old center was left unprotected by the Flyers last weekend. He signed a two-year contract in March that carries a $1.45 million cap hit per.

Bellemare had 17 goals and 34 points in 237 games in three seasons with the Flyers after signing with the team in June 2014.

"He's a terrific team player and an even better human being," Hextall said. "He was great in the community and he'll be a real nice piece for Vegas."

NHL Notes: Marc-Andre Fleury leads expansion draft selections

NHL Notes: Marc-Andre Fleury leads expansion draft selections

LAS VEGAS -- The Vegas Golden Knights finally have some players to put on the desert ice this fall.

Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Marc Methot and Alexei Emelin, 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault and forwards David Perron and James Neal are among the veterans selected by the Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft Wednesday night.

Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and general manager George McPhee announced their choices during the NHL's annual postseason awards show at T-Mobile Arena, where Vegas will begin play in the fall.

Fleury took the stage in a Golden Knights jersey to wild cheers from his new home fans. The three-time Cup winner lost his starting job with the back-to-back champion Penguins, but he'll get to start over in the desert with two years on his contract.

The picks included defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk and Brayden McNabb, forward Oscar Lindberg.

The Golden Knights also announced additional acquisitions of a handful of veterans and free agents, including Anaheim defenseman Shea Theodore and Florida forward Reilly Smith.

The NHL wrote its draft rules to give the Golden Knights more opportunities to compete early in their existence, and their expansion draft choices certainly appear to form a solid core that could make noise in the Pacific Division.

"They're way past getting off the ground," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "I think this is by far the best expansion team ever" (see full story).

Oilers: 20-year-old McDavid wins Hart Trophy
LAS VEGAS -- Connor McDavid has won his first Hart Trophy. Hardly anybody in hockey believes it will be his last.

The Edmonton captain claimed the award as the NHL's most valuable player Wednesday night at the league's postseason awards show at T-Mobile Arena, the new home of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

The league also revealed the results of the Golden Knights' expansion draft to an arena filled with new fans of the NHL's 31st franchise.

McDavid also won the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the league's most outstanding performer in a vote of his fellow players.

The honors capped a remarkable sophomore season for the 20-year-old center, who won the scoring title and led the Oilers back to the Stanley Cup playoffs after an 11-year absence. The former No. 1 pick beat out fellow finalists Sergei Bobrovsky of Columbus and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

"I'm so proud to be in Edmonton," McDavid said. "I'm so proud to be an Oiler, and so proud to play with the guys."

McDavid is the third-youngest player to win the award. Only Crosby and Wayne Gretzky claimed the Hart as teenagers (see full story).

NHL: Home openers announced; Golden Knights’ 1st game in Dallas
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights will make their regular-season debut on the road in Dallas on Oct. 6 and host the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 10 in the first home game in franchise history.

NHL teams announced their home openers Wednesday with the full, 1,271-game schedule for the 2017-18 season set to be released Thursday.

Vegas will play its first two games on the road, visiting Arizona on Oct. 7 before the second leg of an early back-to-back for coach Gerard Gallant's club.

The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will raise another banner and begin their quest for a three-peat Oct. 4 against the St. Louis Blues. The Penguins visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 5 in a matchup of the only teams to win the Cup three times in the salary-cap era.

The Western Conference-champion Nashville Predators open the season Oct. 5 at Boston. Nashville celebrates the longest playoff run in franchise history at home Oct. 10 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Philadelphia opens Oct. 4 at the San Jose Sharks, who have the longest active season-opener winning streak at seven. The first night of the season also includes the Calgary Flames at the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Winnipeg Jets, a matchup of the top two picks in the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews against Patrik Laine.

The Detroit Red Wings host Minnesota on Oct. 5 in the first NHL regular-season game at the new Little Caesars Arena.

The back-to-back Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals open their season at Ottawa on Oct. 5 and host the Montreal Canadiens in their home opener Oct. 7