Roenick, Hatcher elected to United States Hockey Hall of Fame

Although Jeremy Roenick made myself and many other Flyers fans sick with his Chicago praise while broadcasting during the Stanley Cup Finals, today is a day to forgive and celebrate what the one-time Flyer accomplished in his career.

Roenick and fellow one-time Flyer Derian Hatcher were selected to be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 21.

Though neither will go in as a Flyer, both players made a noticeable impact while with Philadelphia. Hatcher spent three years on the Flyers, serving as a captain in 2005-06 and giving the team a physical presence it had been lacking. Though Hatcher was at the end of his career, he still had the respect of his teammates, if not always the fans.

Roenick also spent three years with the Flyers, though never propelling the team to levels many though he would when he was acquired in 2001. That year was Roenick’s best as a member of the Flyers as he led the team with 67 points and 46 assists, winning the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s MVP. In his second season in Orange and Black, Roenick had 27 goals and 59 points. With a better supporting cast I think Roenick really could have taken the team places.

Both players have not been away from the game long enough to be eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. When their time comes Roenick will easily be a first-ballot selection while Hatcher has a fair chance.

In other news Darroll Powe agreed to a one-year contract yesterday worth $725,000.

You can read a Q&A with Powell here.

Flyers trade Gagne

Well, this one is a head-scratcher.

News that Simon Gagne would be traded had been out for weeks and many Philadelphia fans, while appreciative of Gagne’s 10 seasons with the Flyers, were prepared to move on without one of the best forwards the team has had in recent memory.

However the fans were also hoping the team would get a little bit in returnfor him.
Instead the Flyers dealt Gagne to the Lighting today in exchange for little-known defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick in next years draft.

For that price the team could have just released him and saved money. Bellow is the AP report:

New Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman added a big offensive chip to his club by trading for the longtime Philadelphia Flyers forward Monday. Tampa Bay sent defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to Philadelphia to get Gagne, who spent 10 seasons with the Flyers.

“In adding Simon to the Lightning, we acquire a very talented player that will play alongside our top forwards,” Yzerman said in a statement. “With his combination of speed and skill we are excited to have him with us and grateful he was willing to waive his no movement clause.

“This trade not only makes us a better team in the short term, it helps create long-term flexibility for us, which all along has been one of our top priorities.”

In 664 NHL games, Gagne has 259 goals and 265 assists. He ranks ninth on the Flyers’ career list in goals and 10th in points and games played.

He had 17 goals and 23 assists in 58 games last season and added nine goals and three assists in 19 playoff games as Philadelphia reached the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

Gagne is eligible to become a free agent after next season.

“I’m very excited right now,” Gagne said. “I’m looking at this opportunity as a new challenge and a new start. Tampa Bay was a team I was more than willing to waive my no-move clause.”

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Walker has played in 304 career regular season games over seven seasons. The 30-year-old Alberta native was originally selected by the St. Louis Blues in the third round of the 1998 draft.

Walker had two goals, three assists and 90 penalty minutes in 66 games last season with the Lightning. While with St. Louis, Chicago and Tampa Bay, Walker amassed four goals, 26 assists and 444 penalty minutes during his NHL career.

“We like the way Matt plays,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. “He’s a character-intense player. He plays physical. He’s a stay-at-home guy that is a good penalty killer. On our team he can buy us dirty minutes and not be a liability, but be a positive force and help and defend our own zone.”

Flyers open next season against Penguins

Though the Game 6 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals may still be a lingering pain for many Flyers fans, there came out some news today that should at least put a smile on a few faces.

The NHL released its opening day schedule and it includes the Flyers starting their season on October 7 against the Penguins. As an added bonus it will be to first game ever played in Pittsburgh’s new arena, CONCOL Energy Center.

You can read about the rest of the openers here.

Though there is so much time and so many other sports standing in the way between now and next season’s opener, it good to know the Flyers will have the chance to start their season by ruining a special moment for Crosby and his boys.

Flyers face big goaltending decision

As the Flyers begin their offseason hoping to change the roster only enough to get two more wins than this season, the biggest question mark comes between the pipes.

The goaltender position was a revolving door this season. The Flyers went out and signed Ray Emery last offseason and immediately made him their No. 1 goalie. There were hops that he would find his 2006-2007 form and become the goalie Flyers fans have longed for the last decade. Instead injuries derailed his season and created instability on the backline.

In his place became the combination of Brian Boucher (33 games), Michael Leighton (27 games), Jeremy Duchesne (1 game) and Johan Backlund (1 game). Boucher and Leighton each had their moments in the regular season, but it is hard to say either is of No. 1 caliber.

Boucher produced a 2.76 GAA and Leighton had a 2.48, both more than respectable. Whether either could produce those numbers over a full season is yet to be seen.

Fans grew to love Boucher and Leighton in the playoffs as they helped lead the Flyers on an unbelievable journey to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, both struggled in the finals as the Blackhawks fired puck after puck in the net, particularly in Games 5 and 6. We don’t need to talk about the soft goals goals in Game 6.

Leighton did finish with a 2.46 GAA and three shutouts in the playoffs — tops among all goalies. The Flyers were also 16-5-2 when Leighton started in the regular season.

If the Flyers decide that Leighton is not their man (they already know Boucher will not be the starter) there is a host of free agent netminders to consider. Bellow is the the best of the bunch.

Notable free agents
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose
Marty Turko, Dallas
Jose Theodore, Washington
Vesa Toskala, Calgary
Chris Mason, St. Louis
Dan Elis, Nashville
Martin Biron, New York Islanders

Nabokov is the first name on every fans wish list but is also the most unrealistic. He earned $6 million last season and the Flyers do not have the cap room to add that type of salary to the books. The team would have to move at least one prominent player to make room for Nabokov. If the front office could make a deal work without hurting the team’s offense too much I would be all for it. Top goalies are rarely available and when they are teams should pounce on them. Again I don’t think this move happens, but Nabokov is head and shoulders above the field.

After that things get a bit tricky. Turko and Theodore and respectable options, but each will also be looking for around $5 million. I don’t know if I trust either that much.

From there the choices get real sketchy though. If the team can not get top talent it may decide to save money and stick with Leighton and hope he pans out.

Re-signing Emery is also an option, though I haven’t heard a peep that would lend me to believe that would happen. He is still recovering from hip surgery and it is not known when or if he will be able to return.

The Flyers also have a pair of developing goalies in the minors in 2008 draftees Jacob DeSerres and Joacim Eriksson, but neither is considered to be ready for the big time in the upcoming season.

The final option would be working a trade for Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, who the team  had interest in at the trade deadline. Vokoun would be sure thing in net, but again working a trade will not be easy.

One thing that is certain is that money will need to be spent this season. Who it is spent on may very well decide if the Flyers are the ones celebrating with the Cup this time next year.

“I think Michael Leighton cost the Flyers $142,000 this year,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren recently said. “I think it’s fair to say that whoever our goalies are next year are going to cost a lot more than that.”

Blackhawks win Stanley Cup in Philly

Somehow, someway the puck that left Patrick Kane’s stick from an impossible angle ended up in the back of the net.

And as a result the Flyers season is over.

Kane scored early in overtime to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win and its first Stanley Cup in 49 years on Wednesday. It was a soft goal by Michael Leighton to be sure, but how Kane found the net is still a mystery to me. This came after the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game late in the third period to force overtime. The line of Hartnell, Daniel Briere and Ville Leino were once again the best unit on the ice for the Flyers, even if it was in a losing cause.

There is plenty to talk about this game and this series. There’s also plenty to discuss about the future of the team and what it needs to do to get two more playoff wins next season.

But for tonight and Thursday, there is only pain. The pain of knowing another year came and went and there will be no Stanley Cup in Philly. Not even the magical run the Flyers had to get to this point can ease that pain right now.

Over the next few days we will review the Flyers up and down regular season, the craziness of the playoffs and what the fans think should happen in the offseason. But before we can do that we must first heal.

It was a great season Flyers – just not quite great enough.

The feeling of a fan before Game 6

A bowl of cereal did not work. Neither did a glass of juice. I know when lunch rolls around that won’t help either.

That feeling in the pit of my stomach is going to be around until about 8:15 tonight. Even then it might last another three hours.

It’s do-or-die time for the Flyers as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight. The Blackhawks lead the series 3-2 and will be looking to celebrate tonight at the Wachovia Center.

That’s the cause of the disturbing feeling in my stomach, not indigestion or the flue.

It’s a feeling of fear and trepidation; excitement and anticipation; confidence and worry.

It’s all there, every bit of it.

I’m sure I’m not alone today. Any fan that has invested much of the past few moths following the Flyers has that same feeling today — and is hoping to have that feeling again on Friday for Game 7.

In fact, any fan of any team in any sport who has been in the same situation knows the how unbearable the wait can be for a game. The work day seems to last forever, yet your work output hits an all-time low.

Clouds have covered the Delaware Valley and we have been assured that storms are on the way. Maybe it’s a symbol of bad things to come. Maybe not. The sun will return tomorrow, but whether Flyers fans will be able to notice it is another issue entirely.

After winning the Eastern Conference Finals Flyers Chairman Ed Snyder said ‘Anything past here is gravy’.

I wonder if Flyers fans will feel that way at 11 p.m. if it’s all over. I don’t want to think like that, yet my stomach forces me to.

At the same time my gut is telling me that tonight will be cause for celebration of an extended series. The celebration of the knowledge that Game 7 is coming, where anything can and will happen.

The Flyers can win tonight. The Flyers should win tonight. They are 9-1 at home and despite his shortcomings this series, Michael Leighton has been a rock at the Wachovia Center.

The first goal will be huge. As will the second and third. And the stomach will feel the impact of every one of them.

It’s the curse that myself and all other full-time sports fans have to live with. And it’s a curse I am longing to suffer through for one more game.

Leighton or Boucher in Game 6

Michael Leighton or Brian Boucher?

That is the question swirling around Philadelphia today as the Flyers prepare for a must-win Game 6 on Wednesday.

Both goalies struggled in Sunday’s 7-4 loss against Chicago, giving up three goals each. The seventh was scored on an empty netter.

Rich Hofmann details Laviolette’s decision here.

Laviolette knows who he will be starting but is keeping the rest of us in the dark. If the players know, they’re not talking either.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of which goalie is between the pipes, for the Flyers to survive the defense must be much better than it was in Game 5. The Flyers showed they could score and nearly had about four more goals on the board. The problem was each time they tried to claw back there was another breakdown and another Blackhawks goal.

The good news for the Flyers is that they return home for Game 6, where they are 9-1 this postseason. You know the Wachovia Center will rocking, even more so then in Game 4 when it sounded like the roof was going to blow off.

Back to the goalie situation, I think they team has to stick with Leighton. As tempting as it would be to go with Boucher, especially at home where he feeds of the crowd, this is Leighton’s series to win or loose. He went the first five games, he needs to be the guy for the final two — yes there will be two.

If you were Laviolette what would you do?

Just how they Giroux it up!

Oh how one goal can change everything. That’s all any Flyers fan could think about entering overtime of Game 3.

If the Flyers get that goal, they are right back in the series.

If the Blackhawks find the back of the net, the series would be all but over. The Blackhawks aren’t the Bruins. A 3-0 would not have been overcome.

And then Claude Giroux scored on a deflection of Matt Carle’s pass 5:59 into the extra session and erased any doubts about a 3-0 hole and replaced it with the realization that the Flyers are right back in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 4 awaits on Thursday right back in Philadelphia. If the Flyers hold serve, we are looking at a tied series and pandemonium in the city.

Giroux wasn’t the lone hero on the night. Scott Harntell, who has been beaten up by fans — including us — and media all season, had an outstanding game scoring a goal and assisting on another on a smooth no-look backhand goal. He has been a real force during the postseason.

Daniel Briere continued to be “Mr. Playoff” with a goal and Ville Leino continued to show why he should have been on the ice all season with another goal.

As was the case of the first two games, this one had fans on the edge of their seats the whole team. It was the third one-goal outcome in as many games. Any more of this and the local hospitals better load up on extra beds because the heart can only take so much.

Three more wins Flyers fans. Three more wins.

Who needs Sidney or Alexander? Flyers-Blackhawks draw big

Fans in Philadelphia and Chicago aren’t the only ones interested in how the Stanley Cup Finals turn out this season.

Apparently the rest of America is always joining in on the fun. The following is an Associated Press article on the high TV ratings the series has drawn.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ win Monday night earned the best overnight rating for a Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals on record.

The Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers drew a 4.1 rating and 7 share on NBC, the highest overnight rating since at least 1975, which is as far back as the records go.

The rating was up 21 percent from last year’s 3.4 for Red Wings-Penguins.

The game earned a 25.1 rating and 39 share in Chicago.

The rating is the percentage of all homes with televisions tuned into a program, while the share is the percentage of all TVs in use at the time. Overnight ratings measure the nation’s largest markets.

This should be a wake-up call to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that you don’t need Sidney Crosby to get fans attention.

Of all people, Ben Eager leads Blackhawks past Flyers in Game 2

In his 2 ½ seasons with the Flyers Ben Eager was hardly a star. He was a tough guy, but hardly the most relevant player on the ice. The left winger scored just nine goals over that span, including posting a big zero in 27 games in 2007, before he was shipped off to the Blackhawks.

However, he now has a reason to be remembered by Philadelphia fans.

Eager scored what turned out to the game winner in Chicago’s 2-1 win that gives the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. The goal came on a soft wrister late in the second period that gave his team a 2-0 lead. The Flyers fought back valiantly in the third period sending puck after puck toward the Chicago net, but could only manage a single tally.

So once again the Flyers are backed up against it. And once again we will see how they respond.

Here are a few other observations from the game:

- Michael Leighton checked out mentally and it cost the Flyers big time. Leighton was great for most of the night but after allowing the game’s first goal off the stick of Marion Hossa at 17:19 of the second, something must have shut off on his mind. There is no way a goalie that has helped his team get to the Stanley Cup Finals can let in that wrister by Eager just 17 seconds later. It ruined what had been a nice bounce back from a dreadful Game 1 showing. Soft goals happen from time to time, but this one really stings.

- The third period was one of the most exciting periods of hockey I have seen this postseason. The Flyers were all over the Blackhawks and it seemed almost a certainty that they would get the equalized over the frantic final 10 minutes. Antti Niemi stood on his head in a performance nothing short of spectacular.

- Tonight’s game was a treat for hockey fans who love a physical brand of hockey. Right from the first face-off, big hits were delivered. There was a ton of back-and-forth jabs with each team landing some big hits. It wasn’t quite the Broad Street Bullies but I was happy to see the players come out with an edge to them. Outside of a few cheap shots, the physical stuff was clean, which made it that much better. A lot of the physical play has been stripped from the NHL since the lockout and it was good to see a game that had a bit of old feel to it.

- Did anyone else catch the close-up the camera put on Chris Pronger when he was mimicking a Chicago player by opening and closing his hand to saying “you’re all talk”? The facial expression from Pronger was priceless.

-The Blackhawks are good a blocking shots – we get it. But, by the way, the Flyers are pretty good at that too. There was so much emphasis put on Chicago’s shot blocking despite the fact that the Flyers blocked just about the same number of shots. I’m sure both teams got an earful after all of the goals that found their way to the back of the net in Game 1 and both teams looked inspired to lay their bodies on the line.

- Game 3 is Wednesday and the Flyers need to win it. True, they came back from a 3-0 deficit already once this postseason, but the Blackhawks are too good to let a lead like that slip away. It will be one more gut check for a team that has had a dozen of them this year. We will find out if they can answer the bell one more time.

The roof may come off the Wachovia Center

Those lucky enough to have tickets for tonight’s Game between the Flyers and Canadiens will be heading to the Wachovia Center with hopes of witnessing a remarkable event.

With one win, the Flyers will be heading to the Stanley Cup.

Expect the Wachovia Center to be shaking tonight as fans of this starving franchise anticipate a historic night. The Flyers lead the series 3-1 and are on the verge of heading West to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, who swept the Sharks out of the Western Conference Finals. Everything seems to be pointing in the Flyers direction right now. Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter returned in Game 4 and both played well enough to warrant significant ice time once again. Meanwhile, Michael Leighton continued to be the out-of-nowhere hero, posting his third shutout of the series. Right now the Canadiens have to be wondering what it will take to get a puck past him.

If this playoffs has taught us anything it’s that a series is not over until it’s over. Montreal taught that lesson to Washington, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the first round and the Flyers taught that lesson to the bruins, erasing a 3-0 hole.

So technically Montreal does still have hope. I just don’t see them coming into Philly and beating the Flyers tonight in front of what is sure to be the most amped up Flyers crowd in years. I mean the roof might really come off tonight.

Sam Carchidi talks about the team’s Closer’s mentality in today’s Inquire. The players talk about not being over confident and understanding the task that is ahead. For us fans, we don’t have to have that type of mentality. We can dream about the Stanley Cup, because it is now so close – five wins away to be exact.

Every fan has felt the heartbreak from a team losing when it was so close. God knows Flyers fans have over the years. But tonight should be a night of celebration.

Tonight the Flyers can make the Wachovia Center becomes the happiest place on earth.

Canadiens fight back

Two wins are still in need after the Flyers could not keep their hot play going in Montreal, falling to the Canadiens, 5-1 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The loss is not stunning as Montreal has played well both at home and with its back against the wall all playoffs. The key to the series will be what happens in Game 4 on Saturday. The Flyers will put a stranglehold on the series with a win or the Canadiens will draw even and come back to Philly with some momentum on their side.

With so little going right Thursday night lets not reflect on that loss. Instead lets step back for a moment and admire what Michael Leighton and the team’s defense was able to do during the early part of this series.

Michael Leighton’s shutout streak lasted 172:05. That’s a ridiculous feat for any goalie let alone one that has been referred to a journeyman and a career backup. His story is the type the Hollywood makes movies about.

So what if he and the defense had one off night? I expect him to be right back in top form on Saturday as the Flyers go up 3-1 in the series.

Thursday night was nothing more than a small bump.

Specter, Tebow, Mark Jackson and Ole Ole …

With the Flyers seemingly destined to return to the Stanley Cup Finals, its hard to be too down on the sport scene these days, but there are still plenty of things going on that need to be called out. Bellow is a brief recap of what has been Grinding My Gears, even in these great sporting times.

- Arlen Specter’s campaign. I won’t claim to know anything more about Specter and his politics than the fact he changes political parties more than NBC changes its Prime Time programming. What I do know is that his commercials, or more accurately commercial, drove me nuts. I couldn’t watch one baseball or hockey game without seeing the ad with him and Obama standing next to each other and Obama saying “I love Pennsylvania and I love Arlen Specter” about five times.

As it turned out, after 80 years the voters didn’t love Specter.

- Tebow hits baseballs. There were reports that Tebow picked up a bat and took a few swings at a Memphis high school. Word is that he hit 12 home runs in 15 swings. And I should care because? A great athlete hit a baseball far, gee I’m shocked.

 I for one hope Tebow proves his doubters wrong and has a successful NFL career, but is it any wonder why so many people are routing against him? The media is turning the guy into the athletic version of Chuck Norris. Next thing you know there will be T-shirts saying “Tim Tebow doesn’t churn butter. He roundhouse kicks the cows and butter comes straight out.”

Let me know when he completes some passes at the NFL level. I don’t need to know about his next game of H-O-R-S-E.

- Mark Jackson on the mic. While Jackson was great point guard in his day his work for ESPN is deplorable. The guys is to intelligent commentary what Lou Holtz is to clear speech.

Yesterday he dropped this gem during the Celtics-Magic game: “There should be a debate about who is the best QB in Boston, Rondo or Brady!”

Yes Mark, Rondo is clearly in the same category as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. The scary part is some team may one day hire this guy as a head coach.

- Check out ESPN’s baseball schedule this week. We had Yankees-Red Sox Monday; Yankees-Rays today; Yankees-Mets Sunday. Are you kidding me? I understand the network gets high ratings with the Yankees, but three times in a week is absurd. People who want to see the Yankees on a daily basis can dish out a few extra bucks and order YES. As for me, I will be saying NO to ESPN this week.

- Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole: This one is intended for the Canadiens fan base, not the Flyers, who echoed the chant as a taunt to Montreal. This is a soccer chant and its use in any other format is unacceptable to me. With the World Cup a month away we will be hearing this chant in all it’s glory for full month. I will bask in it then. I hate it now.

The people of Montreal need to learn something a little more original. Maybe they can work on that next year. Their season won’t last long enough for them to find a new one..

Flyers playing the part of 2004 Red Sox

On October 16 2004 fans of the Boston Red Sox went home from Fenway knowing their team’s season was on the verge of coming to an end. The Red Sox had just been buried 19-8 in front of their home crowd and had fallen into a 3-0 hole against the hated New York Yankees.

What happened next went into baseball history as the Red Sox won the next four games becoming the first baseball team to erase an 3-0 deficit and win a series.

I bring this up not just because of the fact that the Flyers recently came back from a 3-0 hole to win a series, but also because of what happened next for the Red Sox – and may happen for the Flyers.

With all of their momentum from coming back on the Yankees, Boston went to the World Series and steamrolled the St. Louis Cardinals, in the form of a 4-0 sweep.

Steamrolled is the perfect word for what happened last night as the Flyers dominated every facet of the game, beating the Montreal Canadiens 6-0.

Everyone knew the Flyers were the bigger team in the series, but few could have expected that kind of whipping. On Tuesday we will find out if Sunday’s performance was just carryover from Game 7 or it was a sign of things to come. I don’t expect the Canadians to just roll over the way the Cardinals did , but it’s also hard to imagine the Flyers losing Game 2 at home.

Of course if this playoffs has taught us anything, it’s that nothing will go as planned. But here’s hoping the Flyers follow the same path as those 2004 Red Sox.

Who wll be the Game 7 hero?

With apologies to Metallica there will be a new “Hero of the Day” by the end of the night.

As the Flyers and Bruins get set to engage in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, it’s only right to ask, Who will be tonight’s hero?

Truthfully it could be anyone.

It could be one of the stars such as Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Marc Savard or Milan Lucic.

Or it could be a role player such as Dan Carcllo, Aaron Asham or Michael Ryder. Maybe it will be one of the goaltenders. Michael Leighton anyone?

So much is on the line tonight. If the Flyers win they will be just the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit . They will also host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals as a No. 7 seed against No. 8 Montreal. If Boston wins, its struggles this week will be long forgotten.

But there can only be one winner, and history will remember one hero.

If I had to venture I guess I would go with Richards, who has been in the middle of everything this postseason. And how fitting it would be for the captain to complete the remarkable comeback. Who s your pick for the hero of the day?

While you think about it, enjoy this clip of the most memorable Game 7 moments in NHL history.