By Ryan Black, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
Saturday was Super Hero Day at the New York Islanders game at Barclay's Center, and an entire section of fans fittingly showed up dressed as refs and linesmen and cheered for icing and offsides calls. Here is where we make the “Of course refs are superheroes to Islanders fans!” joke, as bitter Flyers fans, and reference the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals.
Speaking of the Islanders and arenas, the team is in a rather bizarre situation. Because the Barclay’s Center deal went downhill fast, the team has been splitting games between that venue and the remodeled Nassau Coliseum this season, and will continue to do so for the next three years until their new arena is built. The rehabbed Coliseum only holds 13,900 fans these days, but that’s more than they had been drawing most nights in Brooklyn anyway.
With the team a sure bet to make the playoffs, though, it hasn’t yet been decided where, exactly those playoff games will be played. Perhaps not a situation management planned on encountering in the offseason, but still surprising. If the Flyers manage to scrape into the playoffs, in the very least we know where they’ll be playing, and that there probably won’t be anyone dressing as refs.
OK, let’s get out of New York and go Around the NHL.
The Flyers got to see first-hand what a wreck the Anaheim Ducks have been lately, but even that uninspired 6-2 throttling doesn’t demonstrate the scope of it. Saturday’s game gave the Ducks their third seven-or-more game losing streak of the season. They’ve won two of their last 21 games, a futility streak the runs back into mid-December.
In light of such ghastly results, it’s hard to believe that it took this long for Anaheim to join the five other NHL teams that have already fired a coach this season. Randy Carlyle, who was in his second stint with the franchise, was finally fired by GM Bob Murray after the team returned from a five-game road trip where they were outscored 29-7.
Murray worked with Carlyle previously. The coach led them to a Stanley Cup in 2007, though Murray fired him a few years later after a rough start to the 2011 season. The coach Carlyle went on to head the Maple Leafs for three and a half campaigns before yet another midseason dismissal, but was brought back by the Ducks in 2016.
Murray had seemed reticent to fire his old colleague this time around, making a series of minor transactions throughout the year in hopes of changing the team’s fortunes. Ultimately, he waited until his team had sunk from solidly in a playoff position to last place in the entire Western Conference. Now, Murray will personally try to right the ship-he’s stepping behind the bench as interim head coach. "I think this is the only way for me to determine what all the problems are,” he said.
The Maple Leafs locked up their young franchise center Auston Matthews last week, inking the 21-year-old to a 5-year deal worth $58 million, for a cap hit of more than $11.6 million per season. He’ll be the second-highest paid player in the league, behind Connor McDavid. That huge signing sent waves around the league, and added to speculation about how the team will manage its salary cap going forward.
Along with John Tavares, next season they’ll have two forwards making more than $11 million, plus William Nylander and Patrick Marleau over $6 million, defenseman Morgan Rielly and goaltender Frederik Andersen both at $5 million. All told, their cap situation appears rather tight, with two promising restricted free agent forwards left to sign: Kasperi Kapanen is having a solid good breakout season, while budding superstar Mitch Marner leads the team in points.
Kapanen may be more likely to take a modest bridge deal, but news quickly came out that Marner might be after roughly the same money that Matthews received. If that’s the case, a few Leafs might have to shake loose in the offseason. Currently, the team looks like it’ll be elbowing up towards the cap limit with just one goaltender, eight forwards, and three NHL defenseman signed for next season. Let the rumors intensify.
The New Jersey Devils moved out fan-favorite, depth center, and all-around-good-guy Brian Boyle last week, swapping him to the Nashville Predators for a second round pick in the upcoming draft.
The trade gives an early indication of what deadline prices might look like this time around. If the Flyers are still looking to trade Wayne Simmonds, however, the Boyle deal might have taken one of the suitors out of the equation: The Predators were supposedly after a net-front presence for their power play, and already slotted Boyle into that spot a few times during their weekend home-and-home against the St. Louis Blues.
The Devils weren’t the only Metropolitan Division team making moves. The Pittsburgh Penguins halted their Derick Brassard experiment after less than one full season, shipping the center (who they acquired last year from Ottawa) down to the Florida Panthers. The Panthers also received Riley Sheahan and three draft picks to send
forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann up to Pittsburgh.
In that trade, the Penguins get a younger, bigger center with a lot of upside: Bjugstad is 6’6”, and potted 49 points last season for Florida. The Panthers, apparently, might not be done. Brassard himself could be flipped to clear room, as Florida team is rumored to be hot after Columbus Blue Jackets stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, either as free agents or before the trade deadline.