NHL's latest realignment proposal will intensify rivalries


NHL's latest realignment proposal will intensify rivalries

Be prepared to hear the words “Flyers” and “wild card” in the same sentence.

The NHL and NHLPA are working on a proposed realignment plan that would keep the current two-conference model but split those conferences -- Eastern and Western -- into just two divisions. The top three teams from each division would qualify for the playoffs, while two wild cards teams from each conference would be introduced into the league’s new playoff format.

Unless the league expands by two more teams, the Flyers (and every other team in the proposed Eastern Conference) will be at a competitive disadvantage from their Western Conference counterparts. Under the proposal, the East would be a 16-team conference, co-opting Detroit and Columbus from the 14-team West.

The current Atlantic Division would adopt three new members -- the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets -- to form a new seven-team division, with the top three teams receiving automatic playoffs bids. Using last season as an example, the Rangers would have been the No. 1 seed, the Penguins the No. 2 seed and the Flyers the No. 3 seed.

The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each division would always play one another in the opening round of the playoffs and it’s practical to think that the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots could both come out of the Atlantic Division. However, assuming the point totals were identical, the last time the Atlantic Division could have produced five playoff teams under this model would have been the 2008-09 season. In this scenario, it’s inevitable that one wild-card team will have to start a first-round series against a Central Division team (i.e. Detroit, Boston).

All of the above requires approval from the NHLPA and the NHL’s Board of Governors, but the proposed realignment appears to have eased the travel concerns the players had when they shot down the previous four-conference plan a year ago.

But what does it mean for the Flyers? It seems the hatred between the Flyers and their divisional rivals -- specifically, the Penguins -- will only intensify when the postseason rolls around. Using the point totals from the previous five seasons and assuming the Red Wings/Blue Jackets finish with very similar point totals, here’s how the Flyers would have fared over the past five years:

2011-2012: Third in the Atlantic Division, would have played Pittsburgh in the first round (no different)

2010-2011: Second in the Atlantic Division qualifier, would have played Pittsburgh in the first round instead of Buffalo

2009-2010: Second wild-card team, would have played Washington in the first round instead of New Jersey

2008-2009: First wild-card team, would have played New Jersey in the first round instead of Pittsburgh

2007-2008: First wild-card team, would have played Pittsburgh in the first round instead of Washington

End to End: Who's the better fit for Flyers, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick?

End to End: Who's the better fit for Flyers, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Who would be a better fit for the Flyers, Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier?
I don’t believe either one would necessarily be a better fit than the other for the Flyers. This is a case where either player matches what the orange and black need: a top-six centerman. It’s safe to say with either Hischier or Patrick, they will come away from Chicago with a substantial piece they can add to their puzzle. I’ve felt they needed another lottery forward.
They’re getting one now, but which player would I prefer to see as a Flyer? That would be Patrick because, for me, he’s the safer bet who is closer to the NHL than Hischier. Now, I don’t believe the Flyers should draft based on who will be here quicker. That would be asinine. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to see either one of them in Philadelphia next season.
Patrick has been atop the rankings for this class for two years now. He dominated the WHL as a 17-year-old two years ago, and despite injuries last season, he still ruled play. Plus it’s hard not to be enamored with Patrick’s size. At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he’s a big right-handed pivot. Hischier is listed at 6-foot, 176 pounds. He’ll have to get stronger.
That’s not saying Patrick doesn’t need to add more muscle to his frame, but at 6-3, 198, he has a solid frame that should be able to handle the wear-and-tear of an NHL season. Sure, he does have some durability questions, but it’s not to the Joel Embiid level of concern.
Both players play a solid 200-foot game, which is something GM Ron Hextall preaches. Neither is deficient in his own zone. Patrick is more of a physical player than Hischier. The Brandon center has a solid combination of speed, power and skill, which is attractive.
Hischier has many of the same traits as Patrick, but he’s the flashier of the two. Ultimately, this is a discussion for the Devils more than the Flyers. New Jersey has to decide which one they want, and then the Flyers get the other. From afar, Hischier seems more of a fit to what the Devils need and factor in his rise over the last few months, I think he’ll be a Devil.
And that means Patrick will be a Flyer. Which is perfectly fine with me.

If I had to pick, I think the Flyers need more of a player like Hischier than Patrick.
The good thing is they can't go wrong with either 18-year-old.
Hischier seems to come with a higher ceiling offensively and greater potential to put up star numbers at the center position. The playmaking ability is what changes games and the teams that score are the teams that win.
"He's such a strong offensive player, he's completely fearless — you cannot intimidate him," Cam Russell, the general manager of Hischier's junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, said (see story). "If you watch him play closely, you'll see that he's the first one on the puck and I've never seen a player roll off hits like he does in the corner. I can't think of a time when he was run over or contained in the corner, he's just so strong, so quick and so agile with the puck."
What's really appealing about Patrick is you know what you're getting: a proven two-way center that focuses on defense just as much as offense. He'll bring everything to the table and he looks to be the safer pick.
He has "elite" potential, too, in his own right.
"He won't let anybody down," Grant Armstrong, the general manager of Patrick's junior club, the Brandon Wheat Kings, said. "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league."
So, the Flyers are in an excellent spot. I'd like to see Hischier fall to the Flyers, but Patrick should excite fans, as well.
And the funny thing is the Flyers won't have to decide between the two.

Let's get this part out of the way before I go deeper into this question: both Patrick and Hischier are great fits for the Flyers.

Both are impact forwards who should be able to help sooner rather than later. And with the way the Flyers struggled offensively last season, that's just what the doctor ordered. So they really can't go wrong here and, as I said on Sunday, I do feel it comes down to simplest terms as the Flyers should take whomever New Jersey doesn't out of Patrick and Hischier.

But this question is about the better fit between the two.

Let's think about it this way: We all have a bunch of t-shirts that fit, but we all have that one t-shirt that fits just right. And when we're in a pinch and need something to wear, we always go back to that t-shirt that fits just right.

And the "just right" fit here for the Flyers is Hischier.

The guy just brings an energy to the ice when you see him play. He has a dynamic way to him that when you watch him play, your eyes are just drawn to him. So many times last season the Flyers seemed so lethargic and slogged through periods and games. They needed an energy boost. Hischier can help bring that needed jolt.

On top of that, the high offensive ceiling for Hischier has to appeal to the Flyers, as Jordan said above. That's just what they need. Nothing against Patrick, seen as more of the two-way player. But the two-way center has been the Flyers' preferred way of thinking for so long now. Nothing against a two-way center, but the Flyers need more of a dynamic, playmaking center and Hischier is that. It's time for something different.

The Flyers are going to get a darn good player at No. 2 no matter what, but Hischier is the better fit here and now.

End to End: Our Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe predictions

End to End: Our Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe predictions

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Our Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe predictions.
As a long-time loser in predicting Stanley Cups — I have predicted the St. Louis Blues to make the Final the last four seasons — I am venturing another prediction today.
The Predators are a great story, and it’s been a fun ride watching Nashville make its way through the Western Conference for its first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Peter Laviolette has done a marvelous job with the Predators with players that fit his system (important to note). P.K. Subban is great for hockey, and having him in the Final should make NBC happy. He’s an extremely marketable player who’s an excellent hockey player too. Nashville is an underrated hockey market, as well, and it’s deserving of the spotlight it’ll be getting.
But I just don’t think they have the depth to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, who I see winning their second straight Stanley Cup in seven games. The Preds survived the Anaheim Ducks after losing Ryan Johansen for the playoffs. I think that loss will prove costly in the Final.

Ottawa played Pittsburgh tough in the Eastern Conference Finals and took the Penguins to double-overtime in Game 7 before the Pens won. As long as the Penguins have a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, I’m not going to pick against them in the series.

Sure, the Pens’ defense is banged up. There’s a weakness there, and Nashville’s defensive corps is deep with a great mix of two-way defenders. Pekka Rinne has been nearly unbeatable all playoffs. It should be a really competitive Final. However, I just feel the Penguins will survive. They survived against the Washington Capitals, who were the best team in the NHL during the regular season. They survived against the Senators. And they’ll survive again against the Predators.

And while Matt Murray will be the goalie for the Penguins in the Final, this Cup belongs to Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury beat the Capitals. He beat the Blue Jackets. He deserved better than to be yanked after one bad game against the Senators. But since he won’t be in net, I’ll go with Crosby for the Conn Smythe. He’s still the best player in the world, and he’s been great this postseason. He’ll be just as good against Nashville.

This is a fun and enticing Stanley Cup Final.

I just don't see the Penguins losing.

Crosby, Malkin and Phil Kessel are clicking on all cylinders just like last season's Cup-winning team. And Crosby looks quietly hungry for another ring.

As stout as Rinne and the Predators have been defensively, I don't think they've seen a goal-scoring team quite as good and deep as Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Nashville will also be without Johansen, its second-leading scorer this postseason.

Malkin has really taken his game to another level in the playoffs. He did so during the regular season, as well. With that, I'll say he caps it all off with a big Stanley Cup Final and the Conn Smythe Trophy.

And Crosby will have his third Cup — we all know the significance behind that.

I love the dynamics surrounding this year's Stanley Cup Final.

On one hand, you have the darling Penguins, a complete powerhouse with some of the best talent in the world poised to lift the Cup for the second consecutive spring.

On the other hand, you have the upstart, hungry, take-no-guff Predators, who are ready to keep shedding the underdog label on the way to the ultimate prize.

The individual matchup of Subban vs. Crosby will excellent theater and will certainly garner the spotlight. As well it should as they're obviously two of the best players in the world.

And don't discount the matchup of Rinne and Murray in the nets. Rinne's superb puckhandling ability makes Nashville especially dangerous as he can jumpstart a Predators rush with just a flick of his wrist.

The Preds' speed and ability to attack and overwhelm in the offensive zone are their best traits. But if any team out there has the ability to match and even surpass, it's Pittsburgh.

So, as you may have gathered, I really feel this is an even series despite the facts Pittsburgh has an invaluable experience edge and the Preds are without their stalwart center in Johansen. So the smart money says I should lean to Pittsburgh then, right?

Well, I've never really been one to go along with the pack, so... I'm going with Nasvhille in six games and Filip Forsberg for the Conn Smythe. Forsberg has been fantastic this postseason and leads Nasvhille with eight goals and 15 points. The guy also has a knack for the clutch, timely play and I expect to see many more of those from him in this series.

It's tough to describe, but the Preds just have that "feel" right now.