Why watch: Senators-Penguins conference semifinals

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Why watch: Senators-Penguins conference semifinals

We're a good four months away from seeing any professional hockey in Philadelphia, but this year's NHL playoffs continue to roll on.

The Eastern Conference semifinal series kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m., with the Ottawa Senators traveling to Pittsburgh to face off against the Penguins. Looking for an excuse to watch? Below, the nuts and bolts of what you need to know to enjoy this Flyers-less playoff series.

Let's play catch-up
It took the Penguins six games – and a lot more effort – to eliminate the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals than anyone expected. And Pens starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had a fair amount of trouble, looking a lot like he did last spring against the Flyers. Fleury was eventually ousted in favor of backup Tomas Vokoun, who was in net for Games 5 and 6.  

By contrast, the Sens capitalized on goalie issues in their opening-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, in which Habs goalie Carey Price was injured and had to be replaced with backup Peter Budaj. Ottawa's goaltender, Craig Anderson, arguably kept them in the series, too. Though it took only five games for the seventh-ranked Sens to knock off the No. 2-seeded Canadiens, they were far from adept at starting games, putting the pressure on Anderson (who allowed only two first-period goals on 66 opening-stanza shots).

Storylines
The matchup might not have the cache of, say, a Flyers-Pens series or a Boston-Montreal pairing, but these two teams do have some history. They've faced each other in the playoffs three times, with the Pens emerging as victors in the two more recent meetings (2010, 2008).

Things get particularly interesting if you zero in on this year's Senators-Penguins relationship, however. First: The Penguins took all three of the games in the teams' regular-season series in 2013, outscoring the Sens 9-4 in the process. But it's the meeting between these two teams on Feb. 13 that really adds some drama to this series.

Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, one of the best young blueliners in the league, was the victim of a scary incident in that game, in which a skate blade sliced through his left Achilles tendon, leading many to believe he'd miss the rest of the Sens' 2013 campaign. (He returned, obviously). But it was Penguins forward Matt Cooke who delivered the hit that led to Karlsson's injury, and it's safe to say neither Karlsson nor his teammates have forgotten that fact. Cooke, of course, said the play was unintentional; but that doesn't mean tensions won't be high on both sides of the red line.

Also, as it was against the Islanders, expect the Penguins to continue to avenge their 2011-12 fate of falling to the Flyers in an embarrassing fashion in the playoffs' first round. The big question for them is, then: Which goaltender will give them a better shot to compete with Anderson and the Sens? Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has so far been mum on the subject.

Players to watch


Penguins: Sidney Crosby
Sorry, Flyers fans – we know that’s probably not what you want to read right now. But Crosby was impressive during the Pens’ first-round series, netting three goals and tacking on six assists after returning from a jaw injury for Game 2. On a team all but defined by its offensive depth, Crosby continues to be one of the most exciting players to follow – but if paying attention to the Flyers’ arch rival doesn’t do it for you, keep an eye on Evgeni Malkin. The dangerous Russian leads the Pens with 11 postseason points.

Senators: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson was the recipient of last season’s Norris Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s top defenseman). He was arguably on pace for another impressive season when he suffered that aforementioned 70-percent tear of his left Achilles tendon, causing him to miss 31 games. But Karlsson, who returned just before the regular season came to an end, hasn’t lost a step. He was the best Senator on the ice through the team’s five-game series with the Canadiens.

(Consider keeping an eye on Jason Spezza, too. The Sens’ center practiced this weekend for the first time since he underwent back surgery in February. While there’s no guarantee he’ll make an appearance in the series, he changes the Sens’ landscape entirely if he does.)

Prediction
As mentioned, Pittsburgh swept the Senators this season, outscoring them 9-4 in the process. But the Pens had some trouble containing the Islanders’ young, quick forwards, and similar issues could plague them against Ottawa (especially if Spezza returns to the lineup during the series). That said, as long as the Penguins are motivated – instead of exhausted – by their emotional first-round series, this matchup is theirs for the taking. Penguins in six.

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

In the end, the Flyers blinked and avoided arbitration Monday morning by overpaying Brayden Schenn with a four-year, $20.5 million contract.
 
The contract leaves the club in a precarious salary cap situation, as the Flyers have just $1.38 million in space now, according to generalfanager.com.
 
The 11th-hour settlement saw the Flyers and Schenn’s agent, Don Meehan, avoid arbitration, which was set for 9 a.m. in Toronto.
 
Meehan was seeking a deal worth $5.5 million for Schenn, who was a restricted free agent.
 
The one Schenn signed will average $5.125 million, according to a source, which still seems excessively high for the 24-year-old, who has had just one excellent season in five full years in the NHL, excluding two partial seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.
 
Schenn had his most productive year last season with career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), while showing he could play wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Wayne Simmonds.
 
The Flyers and Schenn were more than $1 million apart going into Monday morning with no progress having been made over this past weekend.
 
Why general manager Ron Hextall didn’t risk the arbitration process remains unanswered. The contracts of some players in comparable situations favored a settlement less than what the Flyers agreed to.
 
The Flyers had offered Schenn a two-year deal that would have paid him $4.25 million this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That’s an average of $4.3 million.
 
New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed a five-year deal earlier this month worth $23.25 million. His AAV is $4.65 million. That’s the figure the Flyers could have gambled on getting from an arbitrator.
 
They may have been scared away from going through with the arbitration because of the five-year, $26.5 million deal fellow RFA Jaden Schwartz signed with St. Louis earlier that carried a $5.35 million hit.
 
Hextall was not immediately available for comment.
 
TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported the financials of the contract.

Flyers and Brayden Schenn to go to arbitration

Flyers and Brayden Schenn to go to arbitration

Barring an 11th-hour settlement, the Flyers will go to arbitration on Monday against swing forward Brayden Schenn.
 
The hearing is slated for 9 a.m.
 
The two sides are more than $1 million apart with no progress having been made over this past weekend.
 
“We will probably go to arbitration,” Don Meehan, the agent for Schenn, said Sunday.
 
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall seemed to concur.
 
“I’m not overly optimistic,” he said about avoiding arbitration.
 
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto filed last summer but signed without going to a hearing.
 
The 24-year-old Schenn is the highest-profile Flyer to get this far without signing since John LeClair back in 2000. He received $7 million — the highest one-year award ever.
 
By filing on July 5, Meehan assured his client will get a contract. The Flyers’ qualified Schenn, who earned $2.75 million last season, on June 30.
 
He is a restricted free agent, who could earn close to $5 million a season on his next deal. And that’s the sticky part.
 
Sources said the Flyers offered a two-year deal that would pay Schenn $4.25 million this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18 (see story). That’s an AAV of $4.30 million.
 
Meehan wants $5.50 million, which is excessively high given Schenn’s seven-year career thus far.
 
At the same time, if you look at the some of the RFA signings this summer, as Meehan surely has, the comparable numbers would suggest Schenn is worth slightly more than what the Flyers have offered.
 
Two examples here: New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed a five-year deal earlier this month worth $23.25 million. His AAV is $4.65 million. That’s the correct ballpark for Schenn.
 
Schenn had his most productive year last season with career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59) while proving he can play the wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Wayne Simmonds on the right side.
 
Palmieri had career-highs as well in goals (30), assists (27) and points (57).
 
Problem is, the other end of the spectrum, where Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues sits.
 
The 24-year-old center recently signed a five-year, $26.5 million deal as an RFA with an AAV of $5.35 million. That’s far higher than Hextall wants to go with Schenn at this point.
 
A fractured ankle and subsequent surgery ruined Schwartz’ past season (33 games played), but Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong looked at what Schwartz accomplished two years ago — career-highs with 28 goals, 35 assists and 63 points – and used that as a barometer for the future.
 
That deal hurts the Flyers here with Schenn.
 
Hextall’s offer suggests the Flyers want Schenn to prove he’s a $5 million player, which means show the Flyers 30 goals and 70 points this season.
 
Schenn finished second in goals to Simmonds (32) and third in points behind Giroux (67) and Simmonds (60) last season.
 
The arbitrator should be able to locate a fair medium. Expect Meehan to ask for a one-year award only.

Former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn signs 2-year deal with Coyotes

Former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn signs 2-year deal with Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have signed former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn to a two-year contract.

The 26-year-old defenseman had four goals and 12 assists in 72 games with the Flyers and Los Angeles Kings last season. Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier were traded by the Flyers to the Kings last January in exchange for Jordan Weal and a third-round draft pick in last month's entry draft.

In his career, Schenn has 28 goals and 100 assists in 566 games with the Kings, Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs. In three-plus seasons with the Flyers, Schenn scored 12 goals and added 30 assists.

Schenn was the first-round draft pick - fifth selection overall - by the Maple Leafs in 2008.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka called Schenn "a good, young defenseman" who will be "a solid addition" to the Arizona blue line.

- CSNPhilly.com contributed to this story.