Philadelphia Flyers

Danny Briere: Facing the Flyers won't be easy

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Danny Briere: Facing the Flyers won't be easy

Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux both lived with Danny Briere for a time.
 
Couturier, however, was his housemate, along with Briere’s three boys, for 18 months.

“We talked once in a while and are still in touch -- he’s a good friend,” Couturier said. “It’s a special game for both of us.

“You are with him almost 24/7. Since Day One, he took me under his wing and kind of adopted me. I felt like a big brother to his kids, his boys. It was a fun experience.”
 
It’s one thing to go up against former teammates, but imagine how awkward it’s going to be Saturday in Montreal for all three players when the Flyers meet the Canadiens for the first time this season.
 
“Facing guys I have been with a lot of years, the past few seasons, guys I had a chance to live with, it’s kind of a weird feeling,” Briere said. “You’re excited to see them, but it’s also weird to face them. We all know when the puck drops, it gets competitive. I know these guys are the same way. They’re not going to give me an inch out there.
 
“It’s never easy when you face ex-teammates. I remember my first few games facing Buffalo with the Flyers, they were always tough games, mentally to get ready for and also on the ice. You have to shut off the fact they’re you buddies and try to move on for that three-hour span.”
 
The Flyers bought Briere out of the final two years of his contract last June. He was owed just $5 million in real dollars (not salary cap dollars). Briere ended up signing a two-year deal with Montreal worth $8 million overall.
 
“There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “I said it the day I talked to you guys after the Flyers bought me out. There are no hard feelings. They were very respectful ... Honestly, I have no complaints. It was agreed upon, it was fair and the Flyers needed to get under the cap. I understand. You move on.”
 
Briere spent much of August training with the Flyers at Skate Zone in Voorhees. His boys live in Haddonfield, NJ, with his ex-wife. They will get to fly back and forth to Montreal as their school schedule, plus the Canadiens' schedule, permits.
 
“It’s working out good,” Briere said. “In today’s world with all the communications that we have, it’s a lot easier to communicate and stay in touch. Last year, I got a little taste of it with playing in Europe during the lockout. It’s not ideal but we make it work.”
 
Briere had been the Flyers' biggest offensive threat in the playoffs during his six years here. Besides leading the NHL in the 2010 playoffs with 30 points, Briere compiled 37 goals, 35 assists for 72 points in 68 playoff games -- better than a point-a-game player as a Flyer.
 
Briere was minus-1 in Montreal’s season-opening 4-3 loss to Toronto. He played on David Desharnais’ line with Max Pacioretty.
 
He was honored pregame when Montreal allowed him to accept the torch from Habs legend Guy Lafleur, a tradition before every hockey season symbolizing handing the reins of leadership of the team.
 
“Yeah, it was a pretty special feeling and very special night,” Briere said. “I think the Montreal Canadiens organization showed a lot of class by giving me that chance to be the first one to get that torch from one of the all-time greats in Guy Lafleur.
 
It’s different being a French-Canadien playing in Quebec than being American or even a Canadian from another province.
 
When he didn’t sign with Montreal as a free agent after leaving Buffalo seven years ago, people in Quebec felt betrayed. Briere was booed every time he touched the puck during the six years he was a Flyer.
 
Back then, he was younger -- had not even turned 30 -- and admitted he didn’t want the pressure of playing in Montreal. Now it’s different. He’s older -- turns 36 in two days -- and far more mature.
 
“Everyone is different,” he said. “There are players out there that it doesn’t affect them. The media pressure just won’t affect them. Other guys would rather stay away from it. They’d rather play in a quiet place and do their job and not be bothered.
 
“We all have different personalities. It works for certain guys and doesn’t work as well for other guys. I really believe it is easier as you get older and get to know yourself better. You’re a little bit more mature.”
 
He’s had one major adjustment in Montreal from Philly.
 
“Having to do interviews in French and English,” he said. “Whatever it takes, 15-20 minutes, you have to double that. I was coming in knowing that and expecting it from the start. At my age, too, it might be easier to face that, deal with that than if I were 20, 21, 22 years old.”
 
The Flyers had trouble scoring goals last season, had trouble scoring goals this preseason, and got just one against the Maple Leafs.
 
Briere said there was too much offensive talent on the Flyers for scoring to become a serious issue with them. He did add …
 
“Hopefully, it lasts one more game."

Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

With 27 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster on Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and what not, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time.

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience, but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery -- though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go, so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go," Hextall said of Manning.

Some cuts will be easier than others. Barring an injury to goaltenders Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon's demotion is inevitable.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has only appeared in one preseason game thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does, and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is," Hextall said.

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open October 4 at the San Jose Sharks.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly.

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured -- if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be -- all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

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Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

If you have witnessed preseason hockey this past week, you are well aware that the NHL is buckling down on its rulebook and even revising it. An excess of penalties and power plays have occurred as a result of these changes. Are they good for the game? I examine each of the five new rules or changes to the existing rulebook. 

Rule 78.7 (b) — A coach's challenge on an offside play — If the result of the challenge is that the play was “onside,” the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.

In 2015, the NHL granted each coach a challenge they could utilize in the event of overturning an incorrect call on the ice. If the challenge failed and the original call stood, then the challenging coach would forfeit the team’s timeout. Starting this season, a failed challenge on an onsides call in which there’s a goal will result in a two-minute minor penalty.   

By doing so, the NHL instituted a method to help maintain the game’s integrity in the event of a missed call by a linesman, as many coaches hold onto their challenge at a critical juncture — typically during the third period. Now with a two-minute penalty, it’s a way of reversing course without actually taking away the challenge. It's as if the league is saying we want you to have a challenge, but not really. The league is now discouraging teams from using it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, offsides calls can be measured in millimeters — that’s how arbitrary it’s become. But to penalize an entire team for a coaching staff’s misjudgment is excessive, and as we’ll see this season, it will sway the outcomes of a few games. Forfeiting a timeout for losing a challenge is acceptable, but killing a two-minute power play? Absurd, and for that I give it …

Two thumbs down   

Rule 61.1 — Slashing — Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

Flyers fans can call out Sidney Crosby for emphasizing this rule, which is not a rule change but simply the enforcement of an existing rule. Crosby violated this in the worst way when he performed a machete slice over the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Methot late in the season. The result was a broken finger, nearly severed from the tip and the loss of one of Ottawa’s top defensemen for weeks. Watch the video and you can hear Methot scream in pain as Crosby took his whack.

In the preseason, we have seen more slashing than department store prices during Black Friday. It’s out of control, not the slashing itself, but the slashing calls. As the rule states, it’s a "forceful or powerful chop," which usually requires a two-handed grip. However, the referees have resorted to blowing the whistle for a one-handed love tap. As Shayne Gostisbehere said Wednesday, “When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s not a penalty.”  

I suspect come October when the regular season begins, the officials will ease up on their slashing calls, but it definitely creates a gray area, much like the interference call. Over the course of the season, some refs will whistle everything, while others will let stuff go. If it protects the league from injury, especially serious injury in cases like Methot and even Johnny Gaudreau, it can be beneficial, but I see some inconsistency from game-to-game and for that I give it ...

One thumb up ... my good, non-slashed thumb

Rule 76.4 — Faceoff positioning and procedure — The players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink and clear of the ice markings (where applicable).

Like the slashing penalty previously discussed, this is another enforcement of an existing rule. In other words, the league wants to cut down on cheating during faceoffs. You know when players began cheating on faceoffs? Since the inception of the faceoff. In fact, I can recall producing a three-minute story when I was working at a Nashville TV station on how players gain advantages and bend the rules on faceoffs. Three minutes. On cheating! 

Now, those L-shaped lines are no longer suggestions or recommendations, but strict guidelines of where the players should stand prior to a faceoff. If a team is caught twice during the same faceoff (and it doesn’t have to be the same player), the result is a two-minute minor penalty. The Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang was a guilty offender twice during Wednesday’s game in Allentown and the Flyers benefited with a power play in each instance. The league’s explanation states they want to protect players from banging heads, and more importantly, protect the linesman dropping the puck. 

Like the slashing penalty, I’m curious to see which linesmen strictly enforce this rule and which ones will be a little laxer. This is another one of those penalties (like the challenge call) that you certainly don’t want to impact the outcome of a game. The league has good intentions for enforcing Rule 76.4, but will they have consistent enforcement? And for that I give it …

One thumb up

Rule 87.1 — No timeout shall be granted to the defensive team following an icing.

Once again, here’s another example of a moment when a coach would intervene during a critical point of a hockey game (usually late during the third period). An attacking team is applying pressure in the offensive zone of a close game and the defensive team, obviously gassed, flips the puck out of the zone for an icing. That coach proceeds to call a timeout to allow his team to catch its breath and grab some water before the ensuing faceoff.

My take on the new rule: Love it! This rule should have been implemented years ago. You can penalize a team for icing without actually calling a penalty. Allowing a timeout does exactly the opposite and circumvents any drawbacks of icing. By forcing a tired group of guys to line up and take a faceoff right away is precisely the way it should be handled, and for that, I give this new rule …

Two big thumbs up

Eliminating Rule 80.4 — Numerical advantage on faceoffs — When a team on the power play high sticks the puck, the ensuing faceoff will be conducted at one of the two faceoff spots in their defending zone.

This is the abridged version of the rule that was roughly half a page long. Playing the puck with a high stick is instinctual and when the game is played at warp speed, a player’s natural inclination is to raise their stick in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. When a player is guilty of a high stick, the whistle is blown and a faceoff occurs. Now that this rule has been eliminated entirely from the rulebook, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the zone in which the infraction was committed.

No team should be given a territorial advantage as a result of a high stick. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to acknowledge the absurdity of Rule 80.4, and for finally acknowledging this, I give the elimination of this rule …

Two thumbs up