Posted on: August 25, 2011 10:28 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 11:19 pm
By: Adam Gretz
After a series of trades and some re-tooling of the roster earlier this summer, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has pretty much become the face of the Philadelphia Flyers. He's the highest paid player on the team and the third highest-paid player in the NHL this season, a contract he signed shortly after forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were sent packing to Los Angeles and Columbus.
With that comes plenty of expectation, especially at a position that has been viewed as the only weak link for a perennial Stanley Cup contender. It's a bold shift in organizational structure for the Flyers, a team that over the past several years went through each season and playoff run with a revolving door of goaltenders with relatively small salary cap commitments.
Over the past three seasons alone the Flyers used eight different goaltenders for at least one game. Those days appear to be over, as Bryzgalov will obviously be counted on to solidify the position for the next several years. Whether he will be enough to overcome the loss of offensive players like Richards, Carter and Ville Leino remains to be seen, but the 31-year-old has become one of the most important players -- if not the most important player -- in the organization for the foreseeable future.
The Flyers introduced Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia media on Thursday, and he's not only ready to play as many games as the Flyers need him to play, he's expecting to win a lot of them, too (then again, what else is he going to say?).
Said Bryzgalov, "When you play a lot, you feel confident about your game. If they need me to play 70 games, I'll play 70. If they need me to play 50, I'll play 50. So it all depends on the coach and management, whatever they need."
He's also looking to win at least 40 games this season, something he did two years ago as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. Playing 50 games, or even 60 games, hasn't been an issue in recent years as he was a workhorse for the Coyotes, appearing in at least 64 games in each of the past four seasons.
The 40 wins, however, could be tougher goal to reach.
Of course, regular seasons wins aren't going to be what the majority of Flyers fans care about. It's all going to come down to what happens in the playoffs, an area that remains somewhat of a question for Bryzgalov after some struggles the past two seasons with the Coyotes, a team that simply wasn't as talented from top-to-bottom as the Detroit Red Wings teams that eliminated them (he had more postseason success with Anaheim back in 2005 and 2006).
The Flyers lost a lot of offense this summer and are replacing it with some unproven -- though talented -- youngsters up front, while their top two defenseman (Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen) are both a year older, which means more responsibility for the man in goal. He's an improvement over what they've been running out there in past years for sure, but it's not out of the question for the Flyers to take a bit of a step back this year as a team, even with the upgrade Bryzgalov will bring.
You can see Bryzgalov's introductory press conference in its entirety at the Flyers website.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: August 22, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: August 22, 2011 10:37 am
By: Adam Gretz
Steve Mason, goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets, introduced his new mask (pictured) to the world last month and, wow, it's something else.
The incredible piece of artwork features the skull from the 1987 movie Evil Dead II, as well as a few other grim images on the left side, including a skeleton dressed as a civil war soldier.
The 23-year-old goaltender is still one of the youngest players at his position in the NHL, and following a rookie season where he quickly burst on the scene, leading the league in shutouts, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and qualifying for the Vezina Trophy, he's had some struggles the past two seasons. That's not entirely uncommon for a goalie that young, especially one that's counted on to be the unquestioned No. 1 starter.
Mason, entering his fourth season in the NHL, and his teammates are facing a big season in Columbus after an exciting summer that saw the Blue Jackets acquire forward Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers and defenseman free agent James Wisniewski.
I had a chance to speak with Mason on Friday afternoon about the new artwork he'll be wearing this year, as well as the 2011-12 season.
Adam Gretz: I guess the first thing I want to ask you about is your new mask. I saw some pictures of it last month and, man, that thing is crazy. Can you tell us a little bit about what all is going on there because it kind of scared the hell out of me.
Steve Mason: (laughs) Yeah that's kind of the feeling I was going for. The past couple of years I've been with Columbus I've had kind of cartoony stuff on there and this year I wanted to go with a different look. Kind of realistic looking pictures and kind of a scary theme.
I conversed with David Gunnarsson on a couple of emails back and forth and a couple of different sketch designs. I told him I wanted something that would give the fans a different perspective as to what goalie helmets can be about. There's a couple of skulls on there, the guy with the Blue Jacket is on there, then on the other side you have a completely different look. It has the Blue Jackets logo but it's not just a plain old logo. it kind of ties in with that scary theme.
Gretz: You mentioned you spoke with the artist on some things, I wanted to ask you about the process for how one of these things gets completed. Is it as simple as you going to the artist and giving him an idea as to what you want and letting him come up with the design? Or do they present you with certain ideas or themes?
Mason: Yeah, at the end of the day it's entirely up to the goaltender as to what he wants and they have pretty much free rein of their helmets, as long as it doesn't have anything derogatory on there, of course. For this season it was really all my doing, all the design thoughts and David was able to put it on a piece of paper and finally onto the helmet.
I told him what I wanted to see on the helmet, he sketched up a couple of things, and then I told him the things I liked, the things I'd like to see changed, and he put together a pretty good piece of work.
Gretz: Yes, he really did. It's very interesting. It's certainly different.
Mason: It is. It's unbelievable what he can do. I actually received it a few days ago. It was the first time I saw it in person, and it looks just as good as it did in the pictures. It's amazing what these artists can do today, taking life-like pictures wherever they come up with them in their mind and putting them on a goalie helmet. It's an incredible talent these guys have, and in my opinion David is probably the best.
Gretz: Let's talk some hockey. You're only entering your fourth year but for some reason it feels like you've been around a lot longer than that. You came on the scene so fast your rookie season, and it seemed like that set expectations really high going forward. I think sometimes it's easy to forget that you're still the youngest starting goaltender in the league, and if you look around the NHL, a lot of the guys that are starting weren't even in the NHL at this age. It Just seems like that's a position that takes plenty of time to develop and there's going to be some bumps early on. Your thoughts on that?
Mason: Yeah, absolutely, my first year was everything I could have asked for and more. I think a lot of those things came to me easier than they should have. It was one of those years where pucks just seemed to hit you, and if a guy had an open net he might have missed it.
I think I was 19 or turning 20 that year, so by far I was the youngest starting goalie in the league other than maybe Carey Price. It's something you have to relish and you can't take it for granted because it can be taken away from you pretty quick. For myself I just have to have the confidence to get back to that level. Obviously this is a big year for us, we made some big changes in the offseason.
Gretz: That first season, and even into your second season, you played under Ken Hitchcock who plays a pretty defensive system, and now you're playing under Scott Arniel, who seems to play a more up-tempo style; you guys seem to want to play with the puck, get in the other zone and all of that. How different is that for you as a goaltender?
Mason: Yeah, they're two different coaches. Ken has had a great career and I hope he gets another job soon, and with Arnie, it was obviously his first year and he was getting to know the players and they were getting to know him and his style.
They have two different systems in a lot of ways, but for a goaltender, at the end of the day your job is to stop the puck. For myself playing with Scott Arniel, his system might be a little more up-tempo where we want to control the puck more and hang on to it, where Ken's was more dump-and-chase. But again, for myself it really doesn't matter as I'm just focusing on the position and not really worrying about what's going on with the other guys.
Gretz: You mentioned the offseason changes a little bit ago. You guys brought in Jeff Carter, who along with Rick Nash gives you two of the top goal-scorers in the NHL over the past couple of years, and James Wisniewski, a guy that can bring some offense from the blue line. That added offense has to make a goaltender pretty excited for the upcoming season, yes?
Mason: Yeah it's something I'm really looking forward to. It was a huge offseason for the organization and I think (general manager) Scott Howson did an unbelievable job getting some guys that can help push us over the top and get a good playoff under our belts and keep going for our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
I mean, with Jeff Carter you have a perennial 30-goal scorer, so for us to add that offense is going to be huge to help out Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger and Derick Brassard. So to have a guy like that coming in, a guy that's been to a Stanley Cup Final, that's going to be huge for us.
And obviously getting Wisniewski locked up for six years on the back end, a physical presence who has put up huge numbers the past couple of seasons, that's another big thing to do for our back end, and most importantly for myself to help clear rebounds and help clear guys out from in front of me. And he's played in Montreal, so he knows what it's like to play under pressure with high expectations and all that. So it was really nice to see the organization step up and go after some really sought-after players this offseason.
Gretz: There has to be some excitement for the fans, as well, because the best, and really one of the only ways, to build a strong fan base is to win, and those are the type of additions that can help make that happen.
Mason: Yeah, the fans are in 100 percent there in the city and the surrounding area. When we made the playoffs my first year the city really rallied itself around the organization. I think the fans have been more than patient. It's a fun spot to play and it's one of the nicest rinks in the league, and when they're filling up the building it's a loud place, has a great atmosphere, and when the team puts together a winning streak there's a definite buzz in the city, and we want to get in that spot more often than we've been.
Gretz: And just to finish up here real quick, I see you've recently joined Twitter and fans can find you at @1masey. How long have you been on there, and have you enjoyed the interaction with fans?
Mason: Yeah, the reason I got it was actually for the free agency signing period. I wasn't going be able to see everything up to the second, so that was my reason for getting it. It was just to follow all the updates.
It's been good to stay up to date in the world of hockey, and really, just sports in general. I'm not that exciting like some other guys, like Paul Bissonnette or players like that, but the following has been pretty cool. You get some messages from fans here and there, younger players asking questions and asking for tips, and from a player's perspective that's pretty cool, and to get some words of encouragement, so it's been really good.
Photo: Steve Mason Twitter
Posted on: August 13, 2011 9:17 am
Edited on: August 13, 2011 12:56 pm
By: Adam Gretz
KHABIBULIN TO START HOUSE ARREST Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who has been serviving a jail sentence from last February's DUI arrest in Arizona, is scheduled to start serving the house arrest portion of his sentence on Sunday according to Dan Tencer of CHED 630 AM on Twitter. Khabibulin's agent says he's handled the situation "fine" and is looking forward to camp.
HARTNELL LOOKING TO BE MORE OF A LEADER The Philadelphia Flyers re-tooled their lineup this summer, and with absence of veterans and top-scorers Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino, veteran forward Scott Hartnell is looking to be more of a leader for the young roster and all of its new players.
SWEATT RETIRES FROM HOCKEY Free agent defenseman Lee Sweat signed a two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators this offseason, and on Friday surprisingly announced his retirement from hockey before the start of training camp. According to his agent he's looking to pursue outside business interests. The 25-year-old defenseman appeared in three games with the Vancouver Canucks last season and scored one goal to go with one assist, and scored five goals in 41 games with the Manitoba Moose at the AHL level.
GRETZKY SERVES AS AGENT The Chicago Cubs finalized a contract with Trevor Gretzky on Friday, their seventh round draft pick from this year and the son of NHL legend Wayne Gretzy. The interesting part of the story here, because the signing had been reported as likely to happen several weeks ago, is that Gretzky (Wayne) served as the agent for his son and negotiated the contract that will pay a signing bonus of $375,000.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: July 25, 2011 12:37 pm
Edited on: July 25, 2011 12:43 pm
That's the inclination I have after seeing what Philadelphia Daily News' Dan Gross reported on Monday.
It's not as if this comes out of left field. There had long been plenty of talk about Carter (shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets) and Richards (traded to the Los Angeles Kings) being fans of having fun. So for those who believed the scuttlebutt, this will add more fuel to their fire.
But Holmgren and Carter's agent say the partying is a moot point; the moves were all about the game.
This could be a situation where both are telling the truth. Perhaps the two former Flyers did have a penchant for partying and that could have had nothing to do with their exits. Anything is possible. But none of it is helping the perception of either player, especially in Richards' case as he did wear the C in Philly.
Personally, I thought Richards and Carter got bum raps on their way out of town, taking some parting shots about the organization not going any farther with them. Seems to me they did all right for themselves, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals with, to put it nicely, subpar goaltending on one occasion and helping the Flyers into annual contenders.
Photo: Getty Images
Hat tip to Puck Daddy
Posted on: July 24, 2011 12:40 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 1:16 pm
By Adam Gretz
Now that the Columbus Blue Jackets have acquired a No. 1 center, the discussion has shifted from whether they will ever find a player capable of matching Rick Nash's ability on their top line, to whether the player they acquired -- Jeff Carter -- is the right fit.
The concern now is that Carter and Nash might be too similar to complement each other as they are nearly identical players. They both have roughly the same build; they both score a lot of goals; and both take a lot of shots. Over the past three years, they've been two of the top-five goal-scorers in the NHL, while both finished last season in the top six in shots on goal.
Assuming the two are paired on Columbus' top line, somebody is going to have to take on more of a playmaking role because, well, you have two guys that love to shoot and only one puck to go around. The expectation seems to be that Carter, the center, will be that player, and he's been asked about it since being officially introduced to the Columbus media this past week.
AJ Mazzolini put together a story in the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday talking about the expectations Carter will be facing, where he acknowledged passing will have to become a larger part of his game. But should it?
As the center it's easy to assume Carter will distribute the puck more, and while neither player has put up huge assist numbers throughout his career, I think Nash, based simply on personal observation, possesses more playmaking skills and could be a better set-up man on the wing.
Nash has taken on such a shooting role in Columbus for, I think, two main reasons: 1) because, obviously, he's an excellent sniper on the wing, but also 2) because he's been forced to take on such a role.
He's been forced to take on such a role because he's been the only consistent goal-scoring threat in Columbus over the past seven seasons. Since 2003-04, he's been the only Blue Jackets player to score at least 30 goals in a season, while only three others (Antoine Vermette in 2009-10, R.J. Umberger in 2008-09 and 2010-11, and Nikolay Zherdev in 2005-06) have managed to score more than 25 in a season. If he doesn't do it, nobody is doing it.
Not only does Columbus have another option, Nash has somebody else on his line that will also be capable of finishing plays. And Nash brings more to the table than just the ability to shoot. He has vision, he can create space for himself and his linemates, he works along the walls and he even has some touch to his passes. Take this play for example:
He's just needed somebody else to take advantage of all of it.
I don't expect Nash's game to change all that much, but I do think we'll see his performance go to another level. He's going to have a much better player on his line -- perhaps the best player he's ever played with in the NHL -- that is also capable of scoring goals and highlighting his playmaking ability that has gone relatively unnoticed the past seven years.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: July 23, 2011 1:44 pm
Edited on: July 23, 2011 2:35 pm
By Adam Gretz
When the Columbus Blue Jackets lost Kristian Huselius for four-to-six months after an injury he suffered while lifting weights, it was pretty much assumed that general manager Scott Howson would be bringing in another forward to help replace him. On Saturday, Howson announced -- via his own Twitter feed -- that the club had signed free agent Vinny Prospal to help fill a top-six spot in the lineup.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports it's a one-year deal worth $1.75 million (plus bonuses).
There weren't many strong forward options remaining on the free agent market, but Prospal is probably among the best of the bunch. In 29 games last season with the New York Rangers, the 36-year-old winger scored nine goals to go with 14 assists after missing the first half of the season with a knee injury. He is just one year removed from a 20-goal, 58-point effort.
He's not likely to completely replace Huselius from an offensive standpoint at this point in his career, but for one year and that cap hit it should be a solid addition to a Columbus lineup that's already seen a boost thanks to the offseason additions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski.
For his career, Prospal has scored 227 goals in 978 games with six different teams (Ottawa, Philadelphia, Anaheim, Tampa Bay, New York and Florida).
If you remove Teemu Selanne from the list (he's either going to play for Anaheim or retire), the free-agent forwards still available ranked by point total from last season are Sergei Samsonov, Cory Stillman, Alexei Kovalev, Rob Schremp and John Madden.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: July 13, 2011 8:32 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2011 10:36 am
By: Adam Gretz
The Columbus Blue Jackets picked up what should be a huge upgrade to their offense earlier this summer by acquiring Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, due to some bad luck over the weekend, they lost another player that should have been one of their other top six forwards when Kristian Huselius tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights in Sweden, according to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.
General manager Scott Howson said, via Portzline's Puck Rakers blog, that Huselius is expected to miss four to six months, which could keep him out of the Blue Jackets lineup until January.
Huselius is entering the final year of a four-year contract -- that pays him $4.75 million per year -- that he signed prior to the 2008-09 season. He was limited to just 39 games last season due to injury, scoring 14 goals.
Now that that Columbus has another hole on its top lines for a large chunk of the season, the search now turns to the remaining free agent market and anybody that could potentially step in. The options are not promising. Looking at the forwards still available, and ranking them by goals scored in 2010-11, the top 10 players are as follows: Teemu Selanne (31), Antti Miettinen (16), Alexei Kovalev (16), Nikolai Zherdev (16), Sergei Samsonov (13), Rob Schremp (13), Cory Stillman (12), John Madden (10), J.P. Dumont (10) and Brad Winchester (10). Yikes.
Selanne, even at age 41, can obviously still play at a high level as shown by his 31 goals last season, but he is not an option (Selanne is either playing for Anaheim or he's retiring). Madden doesn't really fit seeing as how he's a checking line center as opposed to a goal-scoring winger, and the Jackets have already been through the Nikolai Zherdev experience.
Stillman is a reliable veteran that has been on a pair of Stanley Cup winning teams, while players like Samsonov and Schremp might offer the faint hope of a boom-or-bust signing.
There's never a good time to lose one of your top offensive players -- especially when it's two weeks into the free agent signing period in what was already a weak group -- when all of the best players have already been picked over.
Photo: Getty Images
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: July 12, 2011 11:28 pm
Edited on: July 13, 2011 12:10 am
By: Adam Gretz
On Monday we looked at the seven NHL teams that are still sitting below the NHL's salary floor and the work they need to do to reach it. But what about the teams that are closing in on the $64.3 million cap? Here's a quick look at the five teams that are closest to it, the amount of cap space they have remaining, the number of players they currently have under contract and the number of restricted free agents they have unsigned.
All salary figures come via CapGeek.
After picking up Regehr in a trade with the Calgary Flames, Ehrhoff's negotiating rights were acquired just before the start of the free agent signing period and he was quickly locked up with a 10-year, $40 million deal. On July 1, Leino signed a six-year, $27 million deal. Teams are allowed to exceed the cap during the summer, so the Sabres still have plenty of time to jettison some salary to fill out the remainder of the roster. But who do you sacrifice if you're the Sabres? Perhaps a player like Shaone Morrisonn? Ales Kotalik? Jochen Hecht? If the Sabres want to carry a 23-man roster this season, somebody is going to have to go.
The Washington Capitals have made a series of moves themselves, bringing in Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun, as well as re-signing Brooks Laich. Last week, the club shipped Eric Fehr and his $2.2 million cap hit to the Winnipeg Jets to clear some much-needed cap space as the club still needs to sign its remaining restricted free agent, defenseman Karl Alzner.
No team has had a bigger change to the makeup of its roster this summer than the Philadelphia Flyers, and while they traded two lengthy contracts (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards ... arguably their best players) they still have some potential long-term problems, none of which could be bigger in the future than the one belonging to defenseman Chris Pronger. He is still signed for another six years, and at the age of 36, isn't getting any younger on the blue line.
After they traded Carter and Richards and allowed Leino to hit the free agent market, the Flyers replaced them with Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot and the players acquired in the two trades (Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn). They have no remaining restricted free agents.
The Penguins, it seems, have become the greatest example for teams with salary cap constraints due to the amount of money they have invested in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. (Both players have average annual salaries of $8.7 million.) As I've written in the past, this isn't quite as big a concern as it's often made out to be because their money is invested in elite, All-Star level players. Many of the top teams (Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago, Washington, San Jose ... pretty much any of the Stanley Cup contenders) that are pressed against the cap every year have close to (or more than) 50 percent of their cap space tied up in just five players. The Penguins are no different.
On Tuesday the team signed Dustin Jeffrey, their only remaining restricted free agent, to a two-year contract.
Finaly, we have the Flames. In late June they completed the previously mentioned trade with Buffalo involving Regehr to shed some salary. They followed that up by bringing back veteran forward Alex Tanguay, signing him to a five-year contract. Their remaining restricted free agent is defenseman Brendan Mikkelson. With 22 players under contract and still over $3 million in cap space, they should be in solid shape regarding the cap.
Photo: Getty Images