Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Maple Leafs
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (21-22-7) will try for a season-best fourth consecutive victory when they take on the nose-diving Toronto Maple Leafs (22-24-4) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.

Here’s what you need to know before puck drop:

1. Change it up?
Is there a change coming to the Flyers’ blue line? Nicklas Grossmann, who has missed the team’s last nine games with a shoulder injury, has been skating all week and appears to be ready to return.

“Just taking it a day at a time,” he said after practice on Friday. “Every day it’s getting better. That’s the way we want to. We haven’t made any decisions for [Saturday].”

Here’s the issue: The Flyers are rolling and have received much better play from their defensive corps as of late. Hockey players are creatures of habit. Will head coach Craig Berube run the risk of throwing off his team’s chemistry? And if so, who comes out?

Mark Streit has been one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the entire NHL since early December. He’s safe. Michael Del Zotto is riding a career-high five-game point streak. He’s not going anywhere. Nick Schultz picked up his first goal as Flyer on Thursday and is arguably the club’s most reliable D-man. He’s earned his spot as a regular.

That leaves Carlo Colaiacovo, Luke Schenn and Andrew MacDonald. All three players have served as healthy scratches at some point this season. If Grossmann dresses against the Leafs, it would be safe to assume Colaiacovo would be the odd man out. Then again, Berube has made stranger decisions this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the three were benched in favor of Grossmann on Saturday.

2. Terrible in Toronto
To say it’s a difficult time for Leafs nation would be a severe understatement. Toronto is in a complete freefall with no end in sight. 

The Leafs have posted a 1-10-1 record in January, a stretch in which they’ve been outscored, 40-16. They’re one game away from matching their worst losing streak since 1996. They’ve looked listless at best under interim coach Peter Horachek, who took over behind the bench after Randy Carlyle was fired on Jan. 6. Their players have been called uncoachable. Their fans are throwing jerseys on the ice in outrage. Essentially, the Leafs have become the laughing stock of the NHL since the calendar switched over to the year 2015.

It all starts up front. Toronto has just seven goals during its 0-7-1 slide. Even worse, the Leafs have converted on just two of their last 26 power-play attempts in that stretch. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and company simply aren’t getting it done.

3. Injuries
Defenseman Braydon Coburn (foot) and center Scott Laughton (upper-body) remain sidelined for the Flyers. 

Forward Michael Raffl is listed as questionable. He’s missed the last two games because of an illness. If he’s unable to play, Petr Straka, who picked up his first NHL point on Thursday, will continue to skate in his place with Ryan White and Wayne Simmonds.

For the Leafs, captain Dion Phaneuf (hand) is out. 

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Chris VandeVelde entered 2014-15 with just one career NHL goal to his name. In 40 games this season, the 27-year-old already has seven markers — all at even-strength. He’s picked up four of them in his last five games while skating with Vinny Lecavalier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the Flyers’ fourth line. The trio has supplied a ton of energy on the forecheck and has been sound in the defensive zone, as well. Look for them to continue buzzing.

Maple Leafs: There aren’t many Toronto players worth watching, but JVR is having a tremendous season. He enters Saturday leading the Maple Leafs in goals (21) and is second on the team in points (43). The 25-year-old is finally using his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to his advantage, both along the boards and in front of the net. His defensive game is still raw, hence his minus-16 rating, but he’s always been a more-offensive minded forward anyway. He’s paid to score goals. Toronto needs as many as they can get right now.

5. This and that
• Seven of the last eight meetings between the Flyers and Maple Leafs have been decided by multiple goals. The Flyers have won the last two by a combined score of 11-6.

• Kessel and JVR have combined for 41 of Toronto’s 141 goals this season.

• The Flyers have scored at least three goals and one power-play marker in five straight tilts.

• Jonathan Bernier, who allowed possibly the worst goal of the season Thursday, is 2-3-0 with a 4.78 goals-against average and .865 save percentage in five career starts against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux has eight goals and 15 assists in 21 career games against the Maple Leafs.

NHL Notes: Bruins, Ryan Spooner avoid arbitration with 1-year deal

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NHL Notes: Bruins, Ryan Spooner avoid arbitration with 1-year deal

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins and center Ryan Spooner avoided arbitration on the day of their hearing, agreeing to a one-year, $2,825,000 deal Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Spooner became a restricted free agent July 1 after finishing a two-year contract that was worth $950,000 per season.

Spooner said that he didn't want to go through the hearing because it's "not a pleasant thing" and he didn't think the Bruins wanted to participate, either. He's the 24th player to settle this summer without a hearing after filing for arbitration.

Spooner can be a restricted free agent again next summer.

"For me, I'm going to spin that into a positive and say that I'm going to take that as a challenge to have a good year and show that I can be the player that they want me to be," Spooner said during a conference call. "And then on the (other) side too, it kind of just shows that they need to see a little bit more out of me as a player. There's a lot of things that I can also bring to the table that I need to work on" (see full story).

Devils: Five forwards re-signed to deals
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils have re-signed Stefan Noesen and four other forwards who spent most of last season with New Jersey's top minor-league franchise in Albany, New York.

General manager Ray Shero announced the signings of Noesen, Blake Coleman, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney and Ben Thomson on Wednesday.

Noesen, who split the 2016-17 season between Anaheim, San Diego (AHL) and New Jersey, got a one-year, two-way contract worth $660,000 at the NHL level. The Plano, Texas native had six goals in 32 regular-season games with the Devils.

Pietila signed a two-year, two-way contract with an average annual salary of $667,500 at the NHL level. The 24-year-old had an assist in 10 games with New Jersey.

Coleman got a one-year, two-way contract worth $660,000 at the NHL level. He played in 23 regular-season games for the Devils and had a goal and an assist.

Thomson and Rooney each signed one-year, two-way contracts worth $650,000 at the NHL level. Rooney played in four regular-season games with the Devils, one more than Thomson.

Coyotes: MacLean, Allen hired as assistants
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes hired John MacLean and Scott Allen on Wednesday as assistant coaches on Rick Tocchet's staff.

MacLean played 18 NHL seasons with four teams before becoming an assistant coach in the New Jersey Devils organization for seven seasons. He was an assistant with the Carolina Hurricanes from 2011-14 and served as an analyst for the NHL Network from 2015-17.

A former minor league player, Allen served as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers from 2009-12 and has held numerous coaching jobs in the minors, most recently with the San Antonio Rampage.

The Coyotes also hired Mike Van Ryn as head coach of the Tucson Roadrunners, the team's AHL affiliate.

Tocchet was hired earlier this month to replace Dave Tippett.

Sharks: Barr hired as assistant coach
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks have hired Dave Barr as an assistant coach on Peter DeBoer's staff.

Barr will serve as the team's "eye in the sky" this season. Barr had previously worked with DeBoer for four years in New Jersey and helped the Devils make the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

Barr was associate coach in Florida last season and has also been an NHL assistant with Buffalo, Minnesota and Colorado.

Barr joins assistants Steve Spott and Rob Zettler, goaltending coach Johan Hedberg and video coach Dan Darrow on the staff.

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Olympics: Team Canada names Burke GM for 2018 Games
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres: Goalie Lehner re-signed to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils: 3 restricted free agents re-signed
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.