The Flyers haven't been the same emerging threat since moving on from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and the current roster is one big mystery. Are they a new emerging contender, or a batch of misfits?
The Philadelphia Flyers could be just about anything this year. They've gone from a promising team on the rise that went to the Cup final in the Jeff Carter-Mike Richards era to one of the most convoluted collection of players in the NHL.
For instance, it's intriguing to think of what Vincent Lecavalier could bring to this club. He's not the 108-point scorer he was in 2006-07 and never will be again. He has had point per game averages of .85, .83, .77 and .82 the past four years, which isn't bad, unless you're getting paid $10 million and costing $7.7 million against the cap.
He looked good in his first game as a Flyer and created the team's first goal of the season off a beautiful assist.
The problem is that Lecavalier hasn't been healthy for a full season since 2009-10. He's missed 17, 18 and nine games the past three seasons, but that didn't stop the Flyers from signing him up for a five-year term. Because the Flyers sign everybody.
Another example is Steve Mason, former Calder winner-turned Columbus castoff. His numbers have hovered around the .900 SP for four years and the Flyers defense is much worse than the Blue Jackets', who've only ever made the post-season once.
There's also Ray Emery, who will surely get the second start in net for Philadelphia. He was 17-1 for the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks last season, but only won 15 of his 28 decisions with a .900 SP in Chicago the year before. Who knows what the Flyers will get from him?
Jakub Voracek had a career season over 48 games, while Scott Hartnell, at 31, either had a down year, or started to show some age. What is Brayden Schenn? The only constants on the team seem to be Claude Giroux's brilliance and the blueline's unsteady makeup.
Hovering over all of this is Peter Laviolette's future. The race to first coach fired in Philadelphia this fall is on between him and Chip Kelly of the NFL's Eagles.
If their first game of the season is any indication - a 3-1 loss to Toronto - this could be another messy year. We're not about to write them off after one game, but when a fresh team is as flat as the Flyers were at home against a tired Maple Leafs squad, there has to be some "uh-oh" feeling inside.
The major, questionable overhaul of the roster two years ago is still having a very negative effect, while the former core moved on to win the Cup they couldn't in orange and black. The Kings had patience and struck, while the Flyers' impatience set them back a few years - and maybe more than a few.
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The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
A look at the latest speculation surrounding Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, and which teams might be a fit.
The Colorado Avalanche may be struggling at the bottom of the NHL standings, but they continue to dominate the NHL rumor mill. As usual, center Matt Duchene and left winger Gabriel Landeskog are the focus of trade speculation. On Tuesday, TSN unveiled their trade board for the March 1 deadline, with the 26-year-old Duchene topping the list and Landeskog, 24, coming in at No. 5.
Appearing on Edmonton's 630 CHED last Thursday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the asking price for Duchene, a 30-goal scorer last season, is higher than for Landeskog. However, he can see a team that thinks it can win this season pursuing Duchene.
Friedman also said he hasn't heard many rumors involving Colorado's puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie. As the Avs need to bolster their blueline, he feels it doesn't make sense to trade the 25-year-old.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reportedly seeks a good young defenseman as part of the return for Duchene or Landeskog. That type of deal won't be easy to find this season. NBC Sports' Jason Brough observes a high number of teams are also in the market for young blueliners. There aren't many available and teams carrying those assets will set high prices for them.
Recent trade chatter links Landeskog to the Boston Burins. It was thought the Bruins were unwilling to part with rookie rearguard Brandon Carlo, but Bleacher Report's Adrian Dater claims the 20-year-old could be available after all. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty thinks it would be a big mistake by the Bruins to swap Carlo for less than a genuine superstar.
Last weekend, the New York Post's Larry Brooks suggested New York Islanders GM Garth Snow should offer up blueliner Nick Leddy as part of a deal for Duchene or Landeskog, Brooks felt that move could provide the Isles with a significant boost.
Leddy, 25, is under contract through 2021-22 with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.5 million. Sakic, however, could have his eye on younger options.
The Montreal Canadiens need depth at center. TSN's Frank Seravalli thinks Habs GM Marc Bergevin could be interested in Duchene, though a deal of that nature probably wouldn't happen until the off-season. However, the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey questions if Bergevin can afford the high asking price for either Avs star.
Are the Canadiens willing to sacrifice promising 18-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in a package deal for Duchene? With 38-year-old blueliner Andrei Markov's career winding down, moving his possible replacement is a risky notion.
Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion is shopping around for a forward. Seravalli's colleague Bob McKenzie believes Dorion could have interest in Duchene or Landeskog. Given the Sens need for scoring depth at left wing, McKenzie speculates Landeskog could be Dorion's preference. However, he guesses the asking price for either player is too high.
Dorion could be asked to part with 23-year-old Cody Ceci as part of the return for Landeskog. That would be a deal breaker for the Sens GM.
The Carolina Hurricanes could be the best fit as a trade partner for the Avalanche. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson notes they have plenty of depth in good young defenseman, are in need of scoring punch and possess the salary-cap room to take on Duchene or Landeskog.
If Sakic is talking with Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, they're keeping those discussions well below the radar. With the Hurricanes jockeying for playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, Francis could be unwilling to engage in a major roster shakeup.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
The breakaway challenge is gone, replaced by a long-distance target shooting competition. But wouldn't it be more fun if the players used their shots to break stuff?
The NHL All-Star festivities are fast upon us and there will be change again this year. Gone is the breakaway challenge, which, let's face it, ran the gamut from uplifting to supremely awkward. You could see the pained expressions on some of the players who took part and it's fine to blame humble hockey culture as the problem, but it was never going to be the NBA's slam dunk contest anyway.
The new event this year in Los Angeles will be a the four-line challenge, which invites players to hit targets from the blue line, center ice, the far blue line and the far goal line. Goalies can take shots from the far goal line too, in search of extra points.
This sounds OK to me, particularly if the players are winging the pucks at the target (imagine someone taking a slapshot from center ice and hitting a bullseye?), but I actually had another idea the other day, which I humbly present to you, the fan.
"it was really fun," Matthews said. "You don't get an opportunity to do that all the time. It was a blast – we were shooting at veggie trays and chocolate fondue and cameras."
For me, the random objects are fun, but what I'd really like as an event is for the divisional all-stars to have a competition in which they see who can do the most damage to a car, just by shooting pucks at it. Yes, Gen Xers, I am proposing that the NHL adapt the bonus level from Street Fighter II:
Now, I don't expect the competitors (two guys per team, shooting at the same time) to actually take apart the car like our good friend Ryu, but I bet they could do some pretty good damage in, let's say, one minute of shooting. Obviously you'd have tarps on the ice to catch any broken glass and obviously it would be an old car with no fluids in it (we don't want it to blow up…or do we?). And hey, we can even toss in a charitable element – like whichever teams wins, they get to donate 10 new cars to the cause of their choice. Admit it: you're a little curious about what Shea Weber or Dustin Byfuglien could do to an old Volkswagen Jetta.
Because most Toronto writers flocked to Frankie Corrado this morning (#FreeFrankie), I wasted a minute of Matthews' time by asking him what he thought of my All-Star car smash challenge. Would it be fun for players?
"I guess so, I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I hit my car a few times growing up – my parents weren't too happy about it – but I guess if it was a car no one cared about, it would be fun to do some damage to it."
Sounds like a resounding "yes" to me. And if the NHL needs a judge for a damage panel? I'm willing to volunteer.