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Leighton to Undergo Back Surgery

Earlier this week as the Flyers set their roster, the team wasn’t sure whether or not to place goalie Michael Leighton on Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR).  Little did they know, that his bulging disc would turn into a herniated disc and require surgery.  The team announced that Leighton would have surgery Monday, and miss 6-8 weeks.

Michael Leighton will miss 6-8 weeks following back surgery.

But, that wasn’t the only news of the day.  Leighton admitted his back has been bothering him, but didn’t tell the club until it got worse over the summer.  I’m assuming “over the summer” means after he had signed his new two year deal.  Holmgren said yesterday that the Flyers didn’t know about the injury until after the deal was signed.  If he had told the team before signing the deal, the team may have not resigned Leighton, or at the very least the team would have checked his back out to begin with.  But, should have the team checked him out regardless?

This new development comes days after Ian Laperriere admitted he wasn’t honest with the Flyers’ medical staff with his concussion symptoms in order to play in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Leighton says it bothered him during the summer and in training camp, but the preseason game in Toronto (where he was injured) made it flare up worse.

The silver lining is that had the Flyers signed someone like Marty Turco instead of Leighton, rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky would likely be in Adirondack instead of coming off a very good performance in the Flyers’ season opening win in Pittsburgh.

Back injuries are not one to mess with as they can linger throughout the year.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Leighton missing more than 8 weeks, especially if the Bobrovsky-Brian Boucher tandem are playing well.  As our friend Shawn pointed out, Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin had similar surgery last January, and missed the rest of the regular season (about 3 months).  Is it possible that Bobrovsky staying on the NHL roster had to do with the Flyers believing the Leighton injury was more serious than they first knew, or wasn’t healing (both of which we later found out are true).

It’s entirely possible that Leighton may lose his job if the current tandem are playing well.  At the very least, we’ll have two months of seeing Bobrovsky develop with the Flyers.

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More Ninjury Update

Chris Pronger missed Thursday’s game and will miss tonight’s with St. Louis after missing training camp following knee surgery.  It’s still possible he returns for Monday’s home opener against the Avalanche.  Tim Panaccio reports Pronger will “probably not” play Monday, but will be up to Pronger to return to the lineup when he feels healthy.

Flyers Roster Update: Bye-bye Guerin

On a conference call today, Paul Holmgren announced some major roster decisions for the start of the season.  He announced that the Flyers would be releasing Bill Guerin from his Pro Tryout Contract, and Johan Backlund would be sent down to the Phantoms, along with Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson, Jon Kalinski, Mike Testwuide, David Laliberte and Ben Holmstrom.

How much action will Bobrovsky see with the Flyers?

So, what does this mean for the roster? Well for starters, Sergei Bobrovsky will be on the roster when the Flyers play at Pittsburgh on Thursday.  Also, it means bubble forwards Andreas Nodl and Dan Carcillo are also on the team, at least for the time being.  That leaves the roster at 23 (13 forwards, 8 defensemen, 2 goalies), assuming both Ian Laperriere and Michael Leighton go on Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR).  If both go on the LTIR, just under $2 million in cap space will be available.  So, if the team decides to not place one of the two on LTIR, they have the space to do so (although they would have to clear a roster space).

Holmgren also praised Bobrovsky’s preseason, and said there is a chance that he plays in one of the first two games.  Logical thinking would be the second game, when the Flyers take on the Blues in St. Louis, instead of opening night in Pittsburgh.  Is keeping Bobrovsky with the big club a smart move? I thought he would be better served in the AHL, getting to play the lion’s share of the minutes, but if he’s going to actually play with the Flyers, it could work out.  He’ll gain some experience while Michael Leighton is out.

Was Nodl's defense the deciding factor over Guerin?

It’s a shame for Bill Guerin, who was expected to give the Flyers a veteran presence while being able to contribute on any of the top three lines.  But Guerin didn’t have a very strong preseason, and he was crunched by the numbers.  It seems the team didn’t see him as an upgrade over Andreas Nodl, who played in 10 playoff games for the Flyers last year.  Nodl is better defensively than Guerin is, and that probably hurt Guerin’s cause.  Nodl’s offensive upside is there, but has yet to be realized, scoring only 1 goal in 58 games (including playoffs) over the last two seasons with the Flyers. Nodl had 14 goals in 65 games last year for the Phantoms.

One other burning question is, who will be the 6th defenseman?  Five spots are penned in going to Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Mezsaros.  Three guys are battling for the last spot: veteran Sean O’Donnell, youngster Oskars Bartulis, and Matt Walker, who was acquired in the trade for Simon Gagne.   Pronger’s status (update in the Ninjury Report), is still questionable for the opener, which could help one of the defensemen get into the lineup.  It will be interesting to see which of the three cracks the top-6 as a regular, or if the team will go defenseman by committee.  O’Donnell, who played the last two years with the Los Angeles Kings, has my vote as the 6th defenseman.

Will Jody Shelley be the 13th forward?  Shelley, who was signed from the Rangers in the offseason, is known for his physical prowess.  Most likely, he’ll play against teams with heavyweights, such as the Rangers and Maple Leafs.  It’s possible he’s part of a platoon with Nodl, depending on the matchups, while Ian Laperriere is out with post-concussion syndrome.

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Ninjury Report

Holmgren also announced that Chris Pronger would begin practicing tomorrow, in hopes to play Thursday against the Penguins.  Pronger has missed all of training camp after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason.

The next update on Ian Laperriere is expected to come Wednesday, so hopefully the news is good for Lappy.  He’s still expected to go on the LTIR.

Possibly joining Laperriere on the LTIR is Michael Leighton, which Holmgren said is still a decision that needs to be made.  The team would likely have to make a roster move in order to carry three goalies if Leighton is kept on the active roster.

Update: Checking in with the Flyers Goalies

Another hockey season is upon us, and yet another season where the Philadelphia Flyers have questions in goal.  The tandem of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher are back for another year after going to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Throughout the system, the Flyers have some promising prospects who may be the future in net.

After being picked up on waivers last season, Michael Leighton got the starting job after Ray Emery and Brian Boucher went down with injuries.  Unfortunately, Leighton was injured in March, and watched Boucher start during the stretch run until he too got hurt in the second round and Leighton started from then all the way through the Cup Finals.  After questions about who the 10-11 Flyers goalies would be, Leighton resigned for a modest 2 year, $3.1 million dollar deal.  Combined with the returning Boucher, it seems that the 1-2 punch would be cemented.  However, Leighton was injured in a preseason game against Toronto, and will miss a month with a herniated disc.  This opens the door for one of the youngsters to step up.

Michael Leighton, while fully functional.

Sergei Bobrovsky was brought over to North America in May after spending the last four years playing in the KHL in Russia.  Bobrovsky got his first taste of NHL action Tuesday night against New Jersey, earning a win after a solid third period and a good shootout performance.  Bobrovsky is most likely slated to play with the AHL Adirondack Phantoms, but that doesn’t stop fans from being excited about the potential the young Russian shows.  He has played in four of the five preseason games so far, and has played extremely well.  Competing with him for the Phantoms starting job will be Johan Backlund, who played 41 games with the Phantoms last year, and got himself into 2 Flyers games (one of which was a playoff game).  Backlund is coming off hip surgery and is still recovering, which may give the edge to Bobrovsky. With Leighton missing a month, one of these guys will be on the Flyers’ roster to start the year, with the other starting in Adirondack.  It may benefit Bobrovsky to start in Adirondack, as he is still getting used to North America, and will get a chance to play.

Two prospects that won’t see NHL action any time soon, but are still on the radar are Nicola Riopel and Joacim Eriksson.  Riopel played a few games with the Phantoms last year before being loaned back to his junior club in Moncton.  While Leightion is out at the NHL level, this gives a Riopel a shot to stay with the Phantoms and get some action with the club.  Eriksson is a interesting name, being a 7th round pick in 2008, and working his way up to be the Flyers’ #1 prospect.  This season, Eriksson will stay overseas with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League.

For the past twenty years, the Flyers have had no luck in the goaltending department and it has cost them several times.  Will Leighton return healthy, and will he be the #1 throughout the year? Which goalie will make the opening night roster? Will Bobrovsky continue to be the phenom and swoop in? There are plenty of questions, but one thing is for sure.  One injury allow a guy to be an unlikely hero; we saw it last year.

Note: This was an update based off of the original article, which can be found at Crimespree Hockey.

St. Patty’s Day Special

In honor of St. Patty’s Day, I’ve decided to compile a list of all time favorite Irish (or Irish-American) athletes. I’ll probably miss some guys, but here’s the list.  Don’t forget to have a drink or two for these guys tonight.

Paddy Harrington 

One of my favorite non lefthanded golfers, the Dublin born Harrington has three majors under his belt including back to back Open Championships in ’07 and ’08.  As for his distant cousin Joey Harrington….yeah, let’s just say he won’t be making this list.

The 1986 Boston Celtics

Led by Kevin McHale, the ’86 Celtics dominated going 67-15 and beating the Lakers for the NBA Championship. Oh yeah, and they had some Larry Bird guy on this team…I think he was pretty decent.  Before anyone says anything about the whole team being Irish, I’m pretty sure you have to be Irish to play for the Celts.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they do background checks.

Owen Nolan

The five time NHL All Star from Belfast has had quite a career, scoring 420 goals for six franchises over the better part of two decades.  Not only can he score, but he can bang the body as well, being one of the top power forwards in the NHL in the late ’90s.

Sheamus

I don’t watch much wrestling these days, but I have heard of this Irishman. Still technically in his first year in the WWE, Shameus has already won gold as the promotion’s champion.  Ok, so it’s scripted, but it’s still an accomplishment.

Connie Mack

The son of Irish immigrants, Cornelius McGillicuddy is a legend in the baseball world.  He managed the Philadelphia A’s for FIFTY years, which included five World Series titles.  The old ballpark in Philadelphia bore his name and now he has a statue outside of Citizens Bank Park.

John McEnroe

Not afraid to speak his mind, McEnroe was the King of the tennis world in the early ’80s, winning 7 Grand Slams, all between the years of 1979-1984.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Mark McGwire

10 years ago, Big Mac would probably top the list, but between then and now, things have changed.  McGwire has fallen from the top of the mountain, landed hard and is now trying to work his way back up, by joining the Cardinals as a hitting coach. 

Peter Griffin

His selfishness and arrogance get Patriots quarterback Tom Brady pissed off at him, and get Peter Griffin traded to the London Silly Nannies.

Flyers Forecast

As we step back into the NHL season, the Flyers resume play tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  In addition, the trade deadline is in 27 hours, at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, right before the Flyers take on the Florida Panthers.  As it stands right now, the Flyers are sixth in the Eastern Conference with 67 points, 8 behind 5th place Buffalo, and 10 behind division leader New Jersey, although the Flyers have one game in hand on the Devils.  We’ll take a quick look at the rest of the schedule.

Home (10): Maple Leafs, Islanders, Bruins, Blackhawks, Thrashers, Wild, Devils, Canadiens, Red Wings, Rangers

Away (12): Lightning, Panthers, Sabres, Rangers (2), Predators, Stars, Thrashers, Senators, Penguins, Islanders, Maple Leafs

As you can see 9 of the final 22 games are against teams currently in the playoffs (Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, Montreal, Detroit, Buffalo, Nashville, Ottawa & Pittsburgh).  However, only 5 games are against teams who are against teams who we would declare “out”, 4 of which are against Toronto and the Islanders (Florida the other).  So what we see is, the Flyers play against teams they are competing with for positioning, and have to beat the teams they are expected to beat. 

I expect the Flyers to finish sixth, take on the Northeast division winner (Buffalo or Ottawa) in the first round.  I think they could move up, but it’ll take a huge hot streak and a couple teams above them to go ice cold.  Possible, but not likely; the gap between the Flyers and the teams above them is just too big at this point.  This could work in the Flyers’ favor as they could avoid a first round matchup with either New Jersey or Pittsburgh.

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Trade Deadline News (or non news)

Yesterday the Flyers waived forward Riley Cote and defenseman Danny Syvret, both have since cleared waivers.  The team also put goalie Ray Emery on long term injury reserve, most likely ending his season.  Defenseman Ryan Parent was activated from the LTIR this morning.  As it stands now, the Flyers have about $1 million to work with.  Don’t forget that any player traded to the Flyers counts as a full season cap hit because the team has players on its LTIR (thank you Mike Rathje, July 1 can’t come soon enough). 

Ryan Parent will play tonight, even while being subject to all of the latest rumors.  Rumored is that he and possibly Braydon Coburn would head to Nashville for defenseman Dan Hamhuis.  Taking on two defensemen for one doesn’t make sense for Nashville, as they have seven defensemen already (including Hamhuis).  Nashville GM David Poile has stated that he won’t move Hamhuis unless an offer blows him away.  Nashville is also looking for draft picks, none of which the Flyers have.  I don’t think the Flyers have anything to offer the Predators that will knock their socks off, so I don’t see Hamhuis coming here unless Nashville lessens their asking price or Holmgren caves and overpays.

Olympic Hockey Final Four

It wasn’t easy for the United States but they advanced to the medal round with a 2-0 win over Switzerland.  Devils forward Zach Parise scored both goals (including one empty netter) and Ryan Miller was stellar in net, shutting the Swiss offense down.  Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller played great, but the offense did not give him support in the bid for an upset.  The Americans remain the only undefeated team in the tournament after the results of the quarterfinal games.

In the second quarterfinal, Russia took on Canada in a match that many projected to be a gold medal game at the beginning of the tournament.  It was expected to be an epic battle between two powerhouses but was nothing close to that.  The Canadians, apparently fired up over their loss to the US, came out storming, scoring three goals in the first 13 minutes of the game.  They took a 4-1 lead into the intermission, before going up 6-1 early in the second.  The sixth Canadian goal finally chased Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov, whose play should not encourage San Jose Shark fans.  The Russians really never got anything going, as they were down the whole game and it seemed like they did not want to focus on playing defense from the get-go.  Both Mike Richards and Chris Pronger finished with an assist each.

The US’s opponent was determined in the third game of the night, between Finland and the Czech Republic.  The game was a defensive struggle, going 0-0 into the third period.  However, with less than 7 minutes to play in the game, and on the powerplay, Finnish defenseman (and former Flyer property) Janne Niskala shot the puck towards the net, which was redirected by Niklas Hagman to score the eventual game winner.  Valtteri Filppula added an empty netter to seal the game for the Finns. 

The final match of the night pitted medal favorite Sweden against Slovakia.  With nothing to lose, Slovakia gave it their all against the powerful Swedes, and they prevailed in a stunner, 4-3.  After a scoreless first period, the Slovaks scored two quick goals less than a minute apart by Marian Gaborik and Andrej Sekera.  Sweden answered back a couple minutes with a pair of their own quick goals by Patric Hornqvist & Henrik Zetterberg.  Pavol Demitra scored a powerplay goal with less than a minute to go in the period to put the Slovaks up heading into the final frame.  Tomas Kopecky scored halfway through the third for the Slovaks, which was followed by a Swedish goal by Daniel Alfredsson, but Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak held down the fort and secured the upset win for Slovakia.  Former Flyer Peter Forsberg recorded an assist in what is likely his final Olympic game.

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The way the semifinals shapes up guarantees a Flyer will come back from Vancouver with a medal.  Kimmo Timonen’s Finnish squad takes on the U.S. at 3:00 tommorow, and Mike Richards and Chris Pronger’s Canadians play the upstart Slovaks in the second half of the doubleheader. 

If you can’t wait for Olympic hockey, the U.S. women’s team and the Canadian women’s team square off for gold this afternoon.

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The Flyers started practicing again today at the SkateZone. Ryan Parent and Danny Syvret are due back after the break, but just in case, the Flyers have recalled defenseman Joey Mormina from the Phantoms.

There has been no update on goaltender Ray Emery, which is leading some speculators to believe he is going to be shut down for the year.

Olympic style Grudge Matches

While the main goal of tonight’s USA-Canada hockey game is better seeding for the medal round, national pride is at stake.  The last time the Americans have defeated the Canadians in Olympic play was 1960, when the United States took home the gold in Squaw Valley.  The Canadians defeated the Americans in their last Olympic match in the 2002 Gold Medal game.  The winner of the game will win their group, but if USA loses, they still have a chance to get the 4th seed.

Are Flyers Mike Richards & Chris Pronger making it hard for Philadelphia fans to choose sides?  Last time I checked a map, Philadelphia was located in the United States.  Of course, it’s fine to hope Richards and Pronger do well, but as long as the scoreboard has the Americans up at the end of the night.  And it’s odd (for a Flyer fan) to be rooting for Devils forwards Zach Parise & Jamie Langenbrunner, Rangers forwards Chris Drury & Ryan Callahan and Penguin defenseman Brooks Orpik. 

Along with that, Mike Richards is now playing on a line with Penguins center Sidney Crosby.  Just having those two on the same line makes for an interesting topic since the two rival captains do not like each other at all.  But I’m sure they have put personal feelings aside for the good of the country.  How must Rick Nash feel?  In a word from a DGB/Bloge Salming video, I’d say “awkwaaaaaard”.

Russia also has a grudge match with the Czech Republic this afternoon, as do Sweden and Finland.  Both games should be excellent as they are longtime rivals.  All four are still in the hunt for the first round byes in the knockout stage of the tournament, and have medal hopes.  Philadelphia’s eyes will be on Finland’s Kimmo Timonen, going against former (and not future) Flyer Peter Forsberg.

Which comes down to the final grudge of the day.  ESPN calls itself the worldwide leader, but I (with alot of hockey fans) have a problem with the television channel.  Watching the channel, the hockey game is a mid-show feature, after college basketball, NBA and Nascar.  However, viewers, when told to choose, say they most want to watch the USA-Canada game.

The hockey game is the yellow color, covering 49 states, DC and the world, with 57% of the total vote over college basketball (17%), NBA (17%) and Nascar (9%).  The only dissenter was Kentucky, who had both the hockey game and college basketball at about 40%.  Kentucky’s proud of its highly ranked college basketball team (although they don’t play today). 

Obviously this shows that ESPN has its priorities backwards.  Then again by their logic, if you can’t slam dunk or dance around like a fool, you’re not important enough to feature on the show.

Hello, Mr. Halladay

As the beginning of spring training has begun, we’ve seen the sight we’ve been waiting all winter to see: Roy Halladay throwing in Phillies red.  Last week he posed for Sporting News, and did an interview with the magazine, but now he’s finally working in pinstripes. 

In the Sporting News article, Halladay was asked who the best pitcher in the NL East was, and he replied that he would “never vote for myself” and that “Johan Santana has always been fun to watch”.  Although he said former Toronto teammate Chris Carpenter was the best in the NL.  Now, according to Brian Costa of the Star-Ledger, Santana was asked the same question and with a one word reply said: Santana.  When asked earlier this week for a reply of Santana, Halladay avoided starting a war of words with the Mets pitcher and said,

I steer clear of that.  I think it was a Lou Holtz quote: ‘Well done is always more important than well-said.’ I’ve always tried to take that philosophy. I stay out of the papers and news. Not that those people don’t know what they’re talking about. It just doesn’t have a lot to do with how I appraoch the game. It’s not going to effect the way I prepare, the way I pitch.

He also told reporters that what he was looking forward to most with a new team was being in the postseason.  Halladay knows he has a better shot of making the playoffs (and going to the World Series) with the Phillies than he ever did playing second fiddle to the Red Sox and Yankees.

In the same interview he descibed his workout routine, which consists of him getting to the ballpark at 5:45…..in the morning.  He said that a couple of pitchers, including Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, and Chad Durbin, plan to beat him to the park.  Not only is he a stud pitcher for the team, but it seems like he’s going to be a good role model on the younger guys. Although in the SN article, he doesn’t want to act like their “mentor”, but talk to the other guys “pitcher to pitcher”.  Even if the young guys learn a little from how Halladay conducts himself, it should help them become better pitchers themselves.

Halladay is projected to start the season opener April 5th in Washington, DC against the Nationals.  It seems like the Phillies might outnumber Nationals fans 2 to 1 (at the very least) with the amount of people who say they are heading down to the nation’s capital.

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As John wrote on his blog today, a sculptor is working on a Harry Kalas statue for outside Citizens Bank Park.  However he is waiting to get $80,000 (in donations from fans) to bronze the statue. 

In my opinion, a statue for Harry should have been done a long time ago, possibly when the stadium was first opened, but definitely while Harry was still alive.  Now the Phillies could never have predicted his death, but it would have been nice to honor him while he was alive (along with renaming the broadcasting booth posthumously).

Olympic Hockey Day 1

Team USA kicked things pool play off yesterday with a game against the Swiss, winning 3-1.  Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan started the scoring.  St. Louis Blue David Backes and Lightning forward Ryan Malone each had a goal in the win.  Former Flyer Luca Sbisa, playing for the Swiss team, finished even with one shot on goal.

In the second game of the night, Mike Richards and Canada took on Team Norway.  Canada streamrolled Norway, 8-0.  Richards took advantage of the playing time he got, by following his own rebound and scoring the third goal for Canada.  Richards finished with the goal, +2 and 3 shots on goal.  Other Flyer representative Chris Pronger had an assist on Dany Heatley’s second period goal and finished +3.  Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla was the star of the show, with a hattrick.  Former Flyer Patrick Thoresen, a Norway representative, finished -3 with one shot on goal. 

The nightcap saw Russia take on Latvia.  Latvia appeared nervous early, leading to a couple of quick goals by Russia.  Latvia settled down and played better, but Russia was just too powerful, earning a 8-2 win.  Alex Ovechkin and Danis Zaripov lead Russia with two goals apiece.  Flyers defenseman Oskars Bartulis, playing for Latvia, finished the game a -1, but took a bad cross checking penalty in the first period.  In any consolation, the brutal cross check was on Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk.

Today’s action features Kimmo Timonen & Finland taking on Belarus, Sweden taking on Germany and Slovakia facing rival Czech Republic.  Sweden features former Flyer Peter Forsberg, who is looking to return to the NHL, once again.  The Czech Republic’s drawing card is former NHLer Jaromir Jagr, who also may be interested in an NHL return next season.  Talk about all the hockey games here.

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Anyone else think the IOC is ridiculous in its ruling that forces US goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jon Quick to cover ‘slogans’ on their masks?  Miller’s “Miller Time”, I can see because it is a beer slogan, but not a tribute to his deceased cousin. 

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In a very good article by Phantoms beat writer Tim McManus, Phantoms assistant coach tells readers that he believes defensemen Kevin Marshall, Joonas Lehtivouri & Marc-Andre Bourdon could use another year in the AHL for seasoning.  Right now, the Flyers have four defensemen under contract for next season, and if these three aren’t ready, they will have to fill the holes elsewhere.  Although, this can all change if any of the three play strong down the stretch, and have a nice training camp in the fall.

Keep an eye out, Mike will be doing a Flyers prospect update during the Olympic break.