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Points for Pelicans center Anthony Davis on Sunday, setting All-Star Game record

The Greek god of wrestling praises Randy Orton for having the best match, executing the best move and being involved in the best angle during the past week. Achilles Heel also tells you why Orton rules the Internet, why using Dolph Ziggler as fodder for the top world title contenders is a bad idea, and why his list is better than wwe.com’s list.

During Thursday’s unique dual induction ceremony into the Flyers Hall of Fame, Eric Lindros and John LeClair complemented each other perfectly, just as they did as members of the Legion of Doom.

Despite concerns about Nerlens Noel’s inconsistency, he’s playing better in January. Eric Fisher also provides good news and bad news about two 20-year-olds who are supposed to be part of the Sixers’ future, tells us which teams are moving up toward playoff position and examines the Sixers’ upcoming schedule.

Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

Flyers Notebook: Flyers should be sellers

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 20 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Flyers should be sellers before next week’s NHL trade deadline, and high-profile players such as captain Claude Giroux and center Brayden Schenn should be made available for the right price.

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Do the math. The Flyers have 63 points. They are two points behind the Maple Leafs for the final wild card position. The Islanders and Panthers  are one point ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers have 23 games left in the regular season.

The Panthers have played two fewer games than the Flyers. The Flyers have played one more game than the Maple Leafs and Islanders.

It’s certainly not impossible for the Flyers to make the playoffs. But it’s a difficult road. It doesn’t help that two of the Flyers’ next five games are against the Capitals, including Wednesday night (8 p.m.), and another game is against the Penguins. By the time that five-game stretch is over, the Flyers probably won’t have gained any ground. A best-case realistic scenario is that they will maintain their current position. Basically, they’d be treading water, except they’d only have 18 games remaining.

Three games into that five-game stretch is the NHL trade deadline. That means that general manager Ron Hextall has to decide whether it’s more important to make the playoffs this season or to build for the future.

What’s the upside to the Flyers making the playoffs? It will be a good experience for the younger players, such as Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. A strong finish to the regular season should help the Flyers’ confidence.

On the other hand, the Flyers still have trouble scoring goals, which was their downfall during last season’s hard-fought first-round playoff series against the Capitals. I think it’s time to start moving pieces.

Whom should the Flyers try to trade? Let’s start with the easy ones. Veteran defensemen Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz all have contracts that expire after this season. Streit and Schultz are nearing the end of their careers. Del Zotto, who is a minus-13 in 32 games, has been inconsistent and injury-prone as a Flyer. None of them appears to be in the Flyers’ future, so Hextall should try to get something in return for them rather than let them leave without getting any compensation.

Teams looking for a boost for the playoffs might be willing to part with draft picks and possibly a prospect for these defensemen. Streit is a liability in his own end, but he can quarterback a power play. Schultz is steady and reliable, and could fill in nicely on a third pairing. Del Zotto is more of a wild card, but teams may take a shot that Del Zotto lives up to his promise. As for Andrew MacDonald, his contract ($5 million per year for 3 more seasons) makes him virtually untradeable.

Speaking of unrestricted free agents, goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth both fit into that category. Neither one has demonstrated that he deserves to be the No. 1 goalie, and the Flyers have plenty of young goalies in their system. The Flyers should certainly listen to offers for either one. Anthony Stolarz could move up from the Phantoms to be the backup for the rest of the season.

And that brings us to the big names. Well, let’s start with a mid-sized name. Matt Read, who is likely to be exposed in the expansion draft anyway, should certainly be made available. Dale Weise, whom the Flyers signed to a four-year contract last summer, should be available to teams looking for a veteran fourth-line forward for the playoffs.

But the Flyers should also listen if teams inquire about Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. Giroux only has 12 goals this season. More alarming is that his plus/minus rating is minus-20. Giroux, 29, has five years remaining on a contract that pays him $8.275 million annually (all salaries courtesy of capfriendly.com). The contract is an impediment to making a deal, but if a contender could add Giroux, it should boost their chances in the playoffs. The Flyers should strongly consider trading Giroux if there is a legitimate offer.

Schenn is an enigma. He leads the NHL in power play goals (14), yet he is not among the top 50 goal scorers in the league. Think about that for a moment. How is it possible to lead the NHL in power play goals yet not be among the top 50 scorers? By being terrible at even strength. Schenn has just four goals that weren’t on the power play. He only has 15 points that aren’t on the power play. His plus/minus rating is minus-20.

Schenn, 25, is under contract for three more seasons at $5,125 per season. If a team makes a good enough offer, which involves a package that must include at least one top prospect on the wing, the Flyers should strongly consider letting someone else find out if Schenn will ever develop into the top player everyone thought he would be when the Flyers acquired him from the Kings.

The Flyers should also listen to offers for center Sean Couturier, although I would be more reluctant to trade him than Giroux or Schenn. Let’s begin with the fact that Couturier is the Flyers’ best defensive center. The fact that he’s only a minus-3 on a team with a minus-25 goal differential is impressive. That fact he has that rating while frequently matching up against the other teams’ best centers is remarkable.

Those who want to trade Couturier frequently point to his offensive production. He certainly has a lot of room to improve, but his numbers, relatively speaking, aren’t so bad. None of his nine goals and only two of his eight assists have come on the power play. That means he has more non-power play goals than any Flyer except Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Yes, he has more than Giroux (7) and Schenn (4). Couturier has as many non-power play points (15) as Schenn (15) and nearly as many as Giroux (19) despite playing 13 fewer games than Schenn and 16 fewer than Giroux. A solid case can be made that Couturier is the Flyers’ best center at even strength. At $4.33 million for five more seasons, Couturier also has a salary cap-friendly contract.

The only players who should be safe from trade speculation are Simmonds and rookies Provorov and Konecny. It would take a tremendous haul to pry Voracek or Shayne Gostisbehere away from the Flyers, but everyone else should be fair game as the Flyers become sellers at the trade deadline.

 

LEADER IN THE CLUBHOUSE: If the Flyers trade Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds should be next captain. He is a terrific player and he leads by example. Simmonds, who is currently an assistant captain, epitomizes what it means to be a Flyer.

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OUTDOOR FUN: The Flyers will face the Penguins at Heinz Field on Saturday (8 p.m.) as part of the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series. It would be wonderful if this became an annual tradition, perhaps at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, or with a rotation between Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park and Beaver Stadium.

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GRAND ACHIEVEMENT: Penguins center Sidney Crosby notched the 1,000th point of his career Thursday during a 4-3 overtime victory over the Jets. After registering No. 1,000 with an assist, Crosby later assisted on the tying goal and then scored 21 seconds into overtime to complete a three-point night.

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BEING A MAN(NING): Brandon Manning deserves a lot of respect for the way he handled himself Thursday in Edmonton. Manning is public enemy No. 1 there for breaking young star Connor McDavid’s collar bone last season, which led to a spat earlier this season in Philadelphia. Manning played a composed game before, when the time and score were right for it, obliging the larger Patrick Maroon by engaging in a fight.

On a side note, the penalty for embellishment called on Manning after Oilers forward Milan Lucic japed him in the groin with his stick from behind is one of the worst calls of the year.

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DETENTE: The Flyers Alumni are in the midst of a tour of Russia, which is ironic, considering the Flyers were vilified in Russia after defeating the Soviet Red Army team at the Spectrum in 1976. The alumni are participating in clinics and are playing three games. There are rumors that Russian president Vladimir Putin may play in the final game. A hard hit reminiscent of the Ed Van Impe check that caused the Russians to walk off during the 1976 game could spark an international incident.

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ALUMNI REMATCH: Given the success of the Flyers Alumni vs. Penguins Alumni game at Wells Fargo Center, the teams will have a rematch on March 18 at Santander Arena in Reading. Proceeds will benefit the Flyers Alumni Association and Reading Royals Charities, with the alumni funds going toward a $2 million pledge to support the construction of the Edward M. Snider/Flyers Alumni Ice Hockey Rink.

Lindros fulfills destiny

Posted by Eric Fisher On November - 13 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Fisher column logo2This is the way it was supposed to end – with Eric Lindros being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lindros seemed ticketed for the Hall of Fame from the time he was in his mid-teens. The path he took, however, was definitely the one less traveled.

Lindros’ road to the Hall of Fame was bumpy. It was filled with twists and turns, littered with controversy and disputes. Consequently, although there was never any doubt in my mind that Lindros deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, he wasn’t selected for induction until his seventh year of eligibility.

One reason for the delay was Lindros’ durability. He only played in 760 games. Lindros compiled 865 points in those games, which ranks him 19th in NHL history in points per game (1.14), yet it leaves him in only 120th place in career points.

A glaring hole in Lindros’ resume is a Stanley Cup. When the Flyers acquired him from the Quebec Nordiques – starting his NHL career mired in controversy when the Nordiques apparently traded him to both the Flyers and Rangers at the 1991 NHL Draft – the question wasn’t whether Lindros would lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. The question was how many Cups the Flyers would win.

His nickname was “The Next One,” a reference to “The Great One,” as Wayne Gretzky was known. Greatness was a given.

Life, however, is complicated. Lindros often appeared uncomfortable in the spotlight. He seemed to want to blend in with the rest of the team as “one of the guys,” a preference almost impossible to attain for a 6-foot-4, 240-pound wrecking ball with superb skill.

In his third season with the Flyers, Lindros won the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s most valuable player. He played in 46 of 48 games in that lockout-shortened season, compiling 70 points and finishing with a plus-27 plus/minus rating. Lindros finished third in the MVP voting the following year, accumulating 115 points in 73 games. His points-per-game pace was similar during the 1996-97 season, but he only played in 52 games.

For his eight-year Flyers career, Lindros averaged 1.36 points per game. That would rank fifth in NHL history, behind only Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Bobby Orr. Lindros’ scoring rate is even more remarkable when you consider that most of his Flyers career was played during the Devils-led trap era, which reduced scoring.

During his Flyers career, Lindros was the NHL’s most dominant player. I’ve never seen a player who could dominate a game with a combination of physical play and skill like Lindros.

But his Flyers career isn’t remembered simply for his dominance. His on-ice performance can’t stand alone. It is accompanied by an increasingly acrimonious relationship with Flyers general manager and franchise icon Bob Clarke. The roots of the difficulties can be found in the relationship between Clarke and Lindros’ parents, who were heavily involved in his career.

Another source of tension was treatment of Lindros’ multiple concussions. There was much less known about concussions in those days. As Lindros sought second and third opinions, many questioned his toughness.

Today, it seems as if Lindros, who had watched his younger brother Brett’s career end at age 20 due to concussions, was justified in being cautious about returning too early. At the time, though, the debate over Lindros’ medical treatment exacerbated the already-escalating feud between Clarke and the Lindros family.

Lindros missed an entire season after Devils defenseman Scott Stevens gave Lindros a severe concussion with a crushing open-ice check to Lindros’ jaw as he powered across the blue line during Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Adding injury to insult, Clarke and the Lindros camp traded barbs throughout that year until Lindros was traded.

After leaving the Flyers, Lindros kicked around the NHL, playing for the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Stars. But he was never the dominant force he had been with the Flyers.

In the end, the Next One’s only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals was at the end of the 1996-97 season, when the Flyers were swept by the Red Wings.

Lindros will never win a Stanley Cup, but he has healed many of his old wounds. He received a rousing standing ovation when he played for the Flyers alumni against the Rangers alumni as part of the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. He was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame, along with Legion of Doom linemate John LeClair. Earlier this season, Lindros took part in a celebration of the best players during the Flyers’ 50-year history. One of Lindros’ biggest boosters for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame was Clarke.

Layer by layer, Lindros seems to have shed the controversy and bad feelings that swirled around his controversial career. During Hall of Fame weekend he talked about how he and former Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren laugh about Holmgren mentioning a potential NHL comeback following his participation in the Winter Classic alumni game.

At the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends game at Air Canada Centre this weekend, Lindros was reunited on the ice with Legion of Doom linemates LeClair and Mikael Renberg. It seemed just like old times.

The man who never felt comfortable in the spotlight finally seems comfortable with being Eric Lindros. And everyone else seems comfortable with that as well.

There won’t be any hard feelings Monday night. There will only be celebration as Lindros fulfills his destiny by becoming an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Classic George Steele (RIP) match, interview