Archive | 11:15 PM

Gustafsson Ready If Flyers Need Him

6 Jan

CITIZENS BANK PARK — If the Flyers so need him, he’s ready. Erik Gustafsson played his fourth game after rehabbing a left wrist injury of his own and Kimmo Timonen’s left wrist injury might give the Flyers good reason to call him up.

But so far, they haven’t told him anything.

“I’ve played four games now,” said Gustafsson. “The first two games were a little rusty to be honest with you. Last game I thought I played pretty well and then [Friday night] I felt pretty good out there with such an exciting event. You get a lot of energy from that and all the boys were playing well. I don’t know if I played well, but it feels good to win.”

The Phantoms won 4-3 in overtime over the Hershey bears in dramatic fashion. They tied the game with 20.8 seconds left when Gustafsson fed Eric Wellwood for a shot from the right wing that eventually found its way to Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom in the slot. He deposited the puck behind Braden Holtby for his 10th goal of the year.

Then, less than a minute into overtime, Shane Harper scored on a breakaway.

“It’s unbelievable. The crowd was unbelievable,” said Gustafsson. “The atmosphere was great. To be honest with you, this was probably the best win of my life and it felt great. To be part of that, not only the last minute and the way we won it, just with these guys it was a great feeling. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

And in all the excitement, the wrist is only an afterthought. It feels fine and Gustafsson is ready to get back to NHL action. That could happen as soon as Saturday if Timonen can’t go.

“To be honest with you I try to not think about it as much,” said Gustafsson. “If it happens, it happens and I’m ready to go for sure. The wrist holds up really good so if it happens, I’ll be really happy.”

It was a huge disappointment for Gustafsson to miss time. When he went down injured, he was clearly playing his best hockey at the NHL level. On Nov. 5, his last game with the Flyers, he was a plus-6, played a career-high 23 minutes and got his first NHL point on an assist.

“It was really frustrating at the start there,” said Gustafsson. “I tried to put that aside and then when I had to have the surgery I was trying to stay positive. It was for sure really frustrating, but I’m just gonna keep working hard right now. It feels pretty good right now and I hope I get another crack at it.”

He was a plus-2 with two shots on net in the Outdoor Classic against Hershey and wants to get back to his old form. While he says the conditioning might not completely be there, he’s ready for the call. Whenever that may be.


No NHL Realignment Next Season

6 Jan

If you were looking forward to the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes being in the Flyers’ division, hold the phones. It won’t be happening next year.

The NHL announced in a press release that it will not move forward with the plans since the NHL Players Association denied consent to proceed with realignment.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a press release. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the realignment plan and modified playoff format for next season.

“We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league’s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”

The NHLPA returned fire with its own press release written by Donald Fehr which outlines the players association’s concerns on “more onerous travel” and “the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.”

Fehr says that the NHLPA tried to engage in conversation with the league about scheduling conditions to cut back on back-to-back games, long road trips and border crossings. But according to Fehr, the league had no interest in such discussion.

“The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL’s proposal,” said Fehr. “Players’ questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so.”

Sure, this could just be about travel, or it could be about the fact that the current CBA is about to expire and the NHLPA wanted to take an early stance with this issue. That war won’t officially start for a little while, but this appears to be the first battle.

Flyers Place Matt Walker On Waviers…Again

6 Jan

Losing Chris Pronger was bad. Losing Kimmo Timonen might be worse. Timonen is officially day-to-day with an injury to his left wrist, of which the severity is not yet known. He is being checked out by doctors on Friday and likely won’t play Saturday. That means his 223-game ironman streak is probably over.

Even though Matt Walker was paired with Braydon Coburn in practice on Friday in Timonen’s place, he won’t line up with him on Saturday. According to TSN, the Flyers waived Walker Friday afternoon, for the second time this season.

Without Timonen or Walker, the Flyers would be in need of a sixth defenseman and the likely suspect is Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson has been rehabbing a wrist injury of his own and was close to returning before Timonen went down in Thursday night’s game against Chicago. The current situation on the blue line likely hastened his process a bit.

In five games this season with the Flyers, Gustafsson has an assist and is a plus-6. The Flyers have not yet announced a corresponding roster move.

Phantoms Offer A Look To The Future

6 Jan

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers are the only team in the National Hockey League without a player in the World Junior Championship. On the surface, it appears as though the Flyers may not have much to say for a farm team. But void of a big-name minor league talent, the farm system is alive and well; they just go about things a bit differently.

On draft day, the Flyers are pretty active. But they’ve been active with trades, not so much using their own draft picks. The right to draft Sean Couturier came from Columbus, so the Flyers haven’t used their own first-round pick since 2008.

Somehow, the Flyers have been able to house a farm system. They may not have a big name in the lower ranks, but those in charge of the young NHL team say that the prospects exist.

“We’ve got a player for the World Juniors on our team right now,” director of hockey operations Chris Pryor told Philly Sports Daily. “That’s Sean Couturier. The World Juniors are fine and everybody loves the teams and that’s nice, but at the end of the day everybody’s in it to have their draft picks play for your NHL club.”

If that’s the case, then the Flyers are doing quite well. With Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Erik Gustafsson all playing NHL minutes this year, the Flyers haven’t had a whole lot of highly-touted talent for Phantoms coach Joe Paterson to work with.

But they’re making it work with a few college free agents. Gustafsson, Harry Zolnierczyk and Matt Read are the most obvious examples of the makeshift theory on how to have a farm system without drafting all that often.

“We’ve done a nice job filling in those blanks with free agents to supplement not having as many picks as some other teams,” said Pryor. “That’s the price you pay to get Chris Pronger. The guy’s a Hall of Fame defenseman. Sometimes you gotta give to get and we all understand that. We’re in it to win the Cup every year.”

So what happens below the NHL level? The Phantoms come to town for their yearly trek to Philadelphia on Friday. Per The Flyers’ new philosophy, a couple guys to watch against Hershey weren’t drafted by the Flyers.

Jason Akeson leads the Phantoms in scoring with nine goals and 15 assists in 32 games. He was signed to an entry-level contract out of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. The right winger played 201 games in the OHL and had 68 goals and 186 assists. In his rookie year, he’s already impressing.

“He had a really nice junior career,” said Pryor. “He’s a smart player. Skilled. Smart. He’s not overly big. He’s not overly fast. But he’s extremely smart and he’s skilled. That’s what’s gonna give him a chance to play down the road is his hands and his head.

“He’s gotta keep working it. Sometimes kids come out of juniors and it’s a big adjustment coming from junior to pro. The pace of the game, they’ve just gotta adapt. Sometimes it takes kids a while. He’s figuring it out because, like I said, he’s a smart player.”

On the defensive side, a guy to keep an eye on is another rookie. Blake Kessel is the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel. He played at the University of New Hampshire and actually overlapped a year with James van Riemsdyk.

“Especially for the defensive side, they tend to take a little longer than the forwards just because they have a little bigger responsibility in their own end,” said Pryor. “It’s a little tougher position to play. That’s not saying the forward position’s not hard either, but you have more responsibility as a defenseman sometimes and it just takes a little time.”

It’s also been a long year for Kessel, who is tagged as being an offensive defenseman. He had 21 goals and 57 assists in 114 games for UNH and then jumped right into a season with the Phantoms.

“You gotta remember some of these guys, especially from the college side, when they’re halfway through the season in the American League, they’ve already played a year in college, so it’s a long year,” said Pryor. “Are we happy with him? Sure we are. He’s got opportunity for us down the road, but for us he’s learning his trade at the American League level. He’s doing a good job.”

Whether they’re traded for or signed or drafted, the Flyers seem to find a way to fill a lineup card with prospects. They haven’t drafted many of the Phantoms, but on Friday the philosophy of free agent signees will be showcased for all to see at Citizens Bank Park.

“I think if you go through the rosters around the league there’s a lot of college free agents that might not carry the big name but there’s a lot playing,” said Pryor. “We’ve took on with a little bit more importance because we’re trying to fill in some blanks from a prospect standpoint because of obvious reasons.

“I think we’ve done a good job.”