'07-'08 Flyers Preview

'07-'08 Flyers Preview

We've been so wrapped up with our Phillies here in the Illadelph that even us hardcore Flyers fans almost forgot that the Orange and Black start their season tonight. We've asked hockey guru Martin Slamon, who keeps a pretty hilarious blog over at digidigidigi, to give a full run down on the upcoming Flyers season, which begins tonight in Calgary. Much more after the jump.

From the creators of last seasons' box office flop, "My Right Foot" starring Peter Forsberg in the title role, comes the much hyped blockbuster smash (or so we hope) "Back With A Vengeance."  The Philadelphia Flyers hope to erase the memory of their 40th anniversary season (22-48-12), the worst in franchise history, when they take on the Flames in Calgary tonight.  They'll  start "wiping the slate clean" with 8 players making their Flyers regular season debut, including free agent acquisitions Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

Flash back to the beginning of last season.  The Flyers, off to a horrible start after bowing out of the first round the previous year in an embarrassing loss to the Sabres, are faced with the firing of their head coach Ken Hitchcock (1-6-1 start), and the resignation of burnt out GM, Bobby Clarke.  Couple that with Forsberg's (their captain at the time) world-wide search for a magical right skate that would make him 100%, and you have a nightmare of a hockey season.  Phantoms coach John Stevens (2005 Calder Cup Champ), upgraded to the big club and with the help of new GM Paul Holmgren, began to see some progress towards the end of the year.  The team was really just a "soft core" version of their former self, made up of numerous call ups from the Phantoms.

Here's a break down of the Flyers roster, coupled with possible line combinations, as per Tim Panaccio  of the Philadelphia Inquirer:  The top line will consist of Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne on the wings of (love) new center Danny Briere.  You may know him from such commercials as "Hey, watch me hit that window pane to the left of the one I just hit."  He was one of the big three center free agents available in the offseason, with the Rangers acquiring the other two in Gomez (Devils) and Drury (Sabres).  Look for Briere to pick up where sir Peter left off, only without the whole play two games, sit out three games scenario.

The Flyers have what equates to two 2nd lines, with Mike Richards centering Joffrey Lupol and Denis Tolpeko... and Jeff Carter centering Scot Hartnel and Sami Kapanen.  I say this, because both Carter and Richards have been mediocre in their first two seasons, showing flashes of brilliance only in less frequent spurts than moments of futility.  Richards was rumored to have the best camp out of all Flyers forwards and was rewarded with an A on his sweater.  His willingness to scrap is admirable and he does a lot of the little things right on the ice, but the Flyers need a viable 2nd line center to provide scoring depth.  Carter is a complete mystery (so far) and a player who has all the right tools but hasn't implemented them.

Jim Dowd (former Devil) is paired on a bruising fourth line, with Jesse Boulerice and Ben Eager.  Dowd is a smart veteran center who brings some legitimacy to a line that would much rather beat your face in than play hockey.  Eager led the Fly-guys in penalty minutes last year, but he isn't big enough and has too much skill to be labeled a sure fire "heavy-weight."  Boulerice is also rather diminutive when compared to the top echelon of fighters in the league, but he's had an impressive camp and a number of eye opening (or gash opening) fights, including his two-time defeat of Devil's Cam Janssen.

On defense, Braydon Coburn, who came in a trade with Nashville for Peter Forsberg is paired with big n' slow Derrian Hatcher and starts his first full season as a pro.  Impressive youngster Lasse Kukkonen and Randy Jones worked well together in the pre-season.  Jason Smith, long time captain of the Edomonton Oilers, is now our 16th captain, after securing the job late last Saturday in a loss to the Rangers.  He dished out several punishing checks and fought twice in the game, carving a place in the hearts of true Flyers fans.  His partner, Timmonen is the puck carrying defenseman the flyers always wanted Joni Pitkanen to be.  The 7th alternate d-man is Nate Guenin, a suprise to make the club who looked strong in camp and edged out the hard hitting Denis Gauthier.  Look for the retirement of other creaky defenseman, Mike Rathje... one of the last physical leftovers from Clarke's grand vision of the new NHL.

Marty Biron, long time Sabres back up and pal of Briere, gets his chance to prove he deserves the number one goaltender position on the Flyers.  Silent Bob Esche is gone and Nittymaki looks to rebound after his labrum injuries of last season.  Former Flyer Brian (Bobby) Boucher is back, but as a starting goalie for the Craig Berube led Philadelphia Phantoms.  As far as predictions go, I nor anyone else in their right mind knows what the Flyers will do this season.  Injuries, all the new faces, and the possible return of Peter the Great make the future pretty uncertain.  I will go out on a limb and say they make the playoffs as a lower seed (5-8) and are ousted in the 2nd round.  But don't take my word for it.

Tidbits: Injuries are once again the story this year, with four of them occuring on or around the controversial "Downie Killed McCammond" game.  Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall (out 3-4 weeks) both sustained wrist injuries, but Lupul hopes to play tonight.  R.J. Umberger broke a pinky finger after a really strong preseason, but he hopes to join the club as soon as the Vancouver game.  Randy Jones had a hip flexor but is slated to start and Timmonen had a scary collision in practice with goalie Antero Nittymaki, but both are fine.  Speaking of Downie, the Flyers appear to have "buried" him and the story on the Phantoms after the announcement of the 20 game suspension.  What's worse is that the AHL commisioner suspended Downie for a month after reviewing the hit.  Downie could possibly make his AHL debut on Nov. 3, but still has to serve the NHL suspension before playing pro.

NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

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NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield

Position: Guard

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 214 pounds

School: Oklahoma

It seems rare these days for juniors considering the NBA draft to return to school. It's even more unique for those players to take a leap from likely draft picks to lottery locks.

But that's exactly what Buddy Hield did during his dazzling senior season at Oklahoma. The guard demanded the country's attention as he shot his way to 25.0 points per game (second in the nation) and helped the Sooners reach the Final Four as he racked up both the prestigious Wooden and Naismith Awards in the process.

While the scoring was certainly worthy of praise, Hield's efficiency was even more impressive. Despite attempting career highs in field goals (16.2), three-pointers (8.7) and free throws per game (5.4), the sharpshooter increased his percentages across the board. Hield connected on 50.1 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three-point range and 88.0 percent from the line.

Even though Hield capped off his decorated career with a dud in Oklahoma's Final Four loss to eventual national champion Villanova (nine points on 4 of 12 shooting), he proved throughout the course of the season that his ceiling is higher than expected and that he belongs among the top tier of this year's draft class.

Strengths
All of those days practicing on a milk crate back in the Bahamas paid off because Hield can flat out shoot the ball. His 147 threes led the nation last season and were tied for the most by any college player since some guy named Stephen Curry drained 162 in 2008.

But Hield isn't just a standstill shooter by any means. Yes, he can catch and shoot, but he also has the ability to fire off screens, pull up off the dribble and get to the rim at times.

Hield also showed he wasn't afraid to stick his nose into the trees by pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game a season ago and 4.9 a night during his time at Oklahoma.

Weaknesses
There is some concern about whether Hield will be able to get that silky shot off the way he wants to at the next level. He does have a lower release point than typical jumpers, and, at 6-foot-4, he won't be able to just rise up to shoot over smaller defenders in the NBA. That means to get open, he will have to rely more on his ball handling, which could use some work and helped lend itself to Hield's 3.1 turnovers per game as a senior. Hield will also have to improve his defense, which has never been a strong suit.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Seamlessly. In case you haven't heard, the Sixers can use all of the outside shooting help they can get. With so many big bodies doing their work down in the paint, Hield would be able to spot up for one open jumper after another.

However, with the two perceived transcendent talents at the top of the draft, the only way we would be able to see how Hield looks in a Sixers jersey would be if Bryan Colangelo pulls the trigger on a trade to acquire another high draft pick.

NBA comparison
Sure, Hield's game has some similarities to Curry and he received a co-sign from Kobe Bryant during the NCAA Tournament, but let's not get too carried away. A more accurate comparison would be Portland guard and Lehigh product C.J. McCollum. Like McCollum, Hield is a natural shooter who can score from just about anywhere on the floor. Hield also has the drive to get even better in common with McCollum, who walked away with the NBA's Most Improved Player Award this season.

Draft projection
Hield is an early- to mid-lottery selection. Look for him to go somewhere between picks Nos. 5-9.

Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

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Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

Too many bodies and not enough room at the inn.

That pretty much describes the dilemma the Flyers will face this offseason in addressing their defense, which dramatically improved once Shayne Gostisbehere arrived in November.
 
If there is one thing the Calder Trophy finalist showed, it's you can't have enough quick, young feet with the ability to create offense on the back end.

Gostisbehere gave Flyers fans a glimpse into the defense's future — it's loaded with young talent. The line behind Gostisbehere is long — the deepest pool of young defensive talent in club history.
 
All eyes will be watching this fall to see whether Ivan Provorov can catapult himself ahead of Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg and win a roster spot, which means at least one blueliner must go from the 2015-16 roster.
 
“We're not going to change philosophically in terms of young players,” general manager Ron Hextall said April 27, the day after the players cleared out their dressing room stalls following the playoff loss the Washington Capitals.
 
“They have to come in and be better than someone else that's here and, if that happens, we proved last year that we'll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he's ready to play at this level and make our team better.
 
“I'm not putting a player on the team so we can say we're a young team. They're going to come in here and earn a spot.”
 
Here is a deeper look back on this year’s defense:
 
Michael Del Zotto

Age: Turns 26 on June 25
Stats:52 GP; 4G, 9A, 13 PTS, -8, 23:24 MIN
Cap hit: $3.875 million.

Missed the final 28 games of the regular season following surgery to repair a broken left wrist that had been bothering him since being injured initially on Dec. 21 against St. Louis. No doubt the injury played a pivotal role in limiting Del Zotto's offensive effectiveness just one year after rejuvenating his career with the Flyers with 10 goals and 32 points and earning a two-year contract extension. Del Zotto's best years are still ahead of him. He hit his 400th career game in November. He seemed to get it this year, as to when not to join the attack. Just imagine a lineup with Del Zotto, Gostisbehere and Provorov. The 2016-17 season will see what kind of contract he can earn as an unrestricted free agent.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere

Age: 23
Stats: 64 GP, 17G, 29A, 46 PTS, +8, 20:05 MIN
Cap hit: $925,000.

What can you saw about the most dynamic and impactful Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg, who was the franchise's last Calder finalist back in 1993-94. With bonuses, Gostisbehere earned over $1 million this season. If Mark Streit never gets injured, chances are we don't see Gostisbehere until late in the season. Yet, the way things turned out, he became a Calder finalist.

His offense from the back-end includes things fans have been yearning for: speed, agility, youth and a great shot, as well. He quickly began to quarterback the power play in Streit's absence. "Ghost" led all NHL rookie defensemen in points while setting a couple franchise records, including goals by a rookie blueliner (17).

His rawness on the defensive end was evident all the way through, yet that was expected. It's a fair tradeoff for what Gostisbehere produces at the other end. He had strong chemistry with defensive partner Andrew MacDonald. Offseason hip/abdominal surgery should not be a concern.

The sky's the limit with this kid.
 
Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 26 this June 5
Stats: 76 GP, 5G, 9A  14 PTS, -3; 19:50 MIN.
Cap hit: RFA who earned $991,666 last season.

In the beginning, there seemed to be no middle ground with Gudas. You either loved him or you hated him depending upon whether he threw a questionable hit and was faced a suspension or used his physical edge to the Flyers' advantage. By season's end, however, Gudas seemed to settle in as a consistent defensive presence.

Still, you worry about his questionable hits. His 304 hits were second in the NHL this season. He's the only defenseman the Flyers have who scares people on the back end.

His 157 blocks were second only to Nick Schultz's 174. Gudas is surprisingly mobile given his girth. He played his 200th career game in April and pent much of of the season paired first with Del Zotto and then Brandon Manning. He was effective in the playoffs against the Caps.
 
Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 30 on Sept. 7
Stats: 28GP, 1G, 7A, 8 PTS, +10; 20:07 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million

The Flyers didn't want to pay Matt Carle $5 million per year in 2012. The fans never appreciated him and when Carle left for Tampa as a free agent, it took a while for the organization to realize Carle gave them what they wanted on the back end, which is why the Flyers overpaid in trading for and then re-signing MacDonald.

The problem was MacDonald lacked on the defensive side and quickly got caught up in a numbers game, which resulted in him starting the season with Phantoms.

Del Zotto's injury allowed MacDonald's re-entry to the Flyers and he played very well as Gostisbehere's partner right into the playoffs. He was among the team's best players in postseason. MacDonald's time spent in the AHL also saw him improve his defensive play.

MacDonald is deserving on chance to remain a Flyer, but again, numbers and cap hit will again stand in his way.

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

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Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

Rick MacLeish, the smooth-skating centerman with a potent wrist shot whose goal lifted the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup, died late Monday night.

MacLeish was 66.
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.

“With the passing of Rick MacLeish, the Flyers have lost one of their legends,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “A good father, grandfather, teammate and friend, Rick will be missed by all who were fortunate to come and know him over the years.
 
“His happy and friendly demeanor was front and center everywhere Rick went. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Rick’s wife, Charlene, his daughters, Danielle and Brianna along with his grandchildren. May he rest in peace.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first 50-goal scorer and second 100-point player behind Bobby Clarke, with both milestones achieved in 1972-73. A three-time NHL All-Star, he won two Cups with the Flyers.
 
He will forever be known for his power-play-tip goal in front of Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert in the first period of Game 6 of the 1974 Cup Final. Bernie Parent made the goal stand the remainder of the game.
 
MacLeish played 16 seasons, including 12 as a Flyer. He was an integral member of the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Cup squads.
 
MacLeish's 697 points are second only to Clarke (1,210) in club history among centers, and he ranks fourth in all-time points (697), fifth in assists (369) and sixth in goal-scoring (328).
 
His 741 games in orange and black are tied for sixth overall, and his 12 hat tricks are second only to Tim Kerr (17). MacLeish scored 54 goals with 53 assists (107 points) in 114 playoff games.
 
After leaving the Flyers, he also played in Pittsburgh, Hartford and Detroit, amassing 759 career points in 846 games.
 
Drafted fourth overall by Boston in 1970, MacLeish became a Flyer as part of three-team trade involving the Bruins and Toronto that same year.
 
Known for his effortless motion and blazing speed on the ice, MacLeish had a reputation as an unmotivated player early in his career until his breakout season in 1972-73.
 
“You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to play, and the Flyers didn’t keep you if you weren’t committed to winning,” teammate Gary Dornhoefer once said.
 
“It might have taken MacLeish a few years to mature as a hockey player, but he earned his keep as a member of the team.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first legitimate sniper, often wristing his deadly shot from the circles.
 
During the 1974 playoffs, he led the Flyers in both goals (13) and points (22) and finished second to Parent in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting for playoff MVP.
 
After his retirement, MacLeish dabbled in owning race horses and worked with the Flyers' alumni.
 
Among his last major public appearances with Cup teammates in Philadelphia was at the closing of the Spectrum party on Jan. 16, 2010, hosted by Flyers chairman Ed Snider, who died in April.