Monday, March 25, 2013

Briere's concussion could be the start of a fond farewell

The word going around on a possible Danny Briere trade was that one would be difficult, given that Briere would need a lot of convincing to waive his no-trade clause. Now, the 35-year-old forward may not even get the chance to change his mind.
Briere, it was announced via the Flyers' Twitter account Monday, is dealing with the effects of a concussion. It's believed he incurred it at practice Saturday, when he went into the boards during what everyone from the players to coach Peter Laviolette termed "intense" practicing.
Briere, who is listed as being out indefinitely, and defenseman Nick Grossmann both missed Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss in Pittsburgh due to what had been called upper body injuries. Grossmann, who practiced Sunday morning with the club, was said to have been hurt Friday. He is listed as being out day to day without a detailed diagnosis.
One of those hockey mystery injuries that comes ... from practice?
“Well, that's part of hockey. That happens," Kimmo Timonen said Monday. "That tells you how hard we practiced (last) week. Sometimes, you need to practice hard and get some practice time. You never want to lose two players due to practice, but it is part of the game and I have seen that happen. Hopefully those guys get back soon.”
For the Flyers, the injuries could not have come at a worse time. Briere hadn't scored in 13 games, but anytime he's out of the lineup he's missed. Grossmann has probably been the Flyers' steadiest defender all season.
Now they're out as the Flyers begin a five-game homestand that better produce at least three or four wins or else the white flag might be raised to half-staff at the Skate Zone.
Briere has 123 goals and 280 points since joining the Flyers as an unrestricted free agent before the start of the 2007-08 season. But over 96 regular season games the past two seasons, he's scored but 21 goals. None of that speaks to his consistent excellence as a playoff performer, but then, the odds were already stacked against him and the Flyers when it came to giving Briere the chance for another postseason run of redemption.
Now the odds are even greater.
Briere last suffered a concussion Jan. 21 of last year. He missed six games. Even a mild one this time would likely keep him out 7 to 10 days, but one lengthier than that could be hurtful to his status here. Considering Briere's dropoff in production and his $6.5 million salary cap hit, he'd be a likely candidate for the Flyers to use a roster amnesty exemption on this summer.
The Flyers would thus be able to wipe that figure off their cap for the next two years, while paying only two-thirds of the remainder of what Briere's front-loaded contract still called for, which is $5 million over its final next two years.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Flyers have to come to grips with their shortcomings

Mark it down, the heads will be down at practice at the Skate Zone Thursday. And if they're still down Friday night at Wells Fargo Center, heads may roll.
The realization has finally set in for the Flyers - they're probably not good enough.
They have lost too many games to their supposed conference peers, and act like they shouldn't even be on the same sheet of ice whenever the opponent happens to be the Devils or Rangers.
These Flyers are a team in transition, a group that for the most part has stopped listening, perhaps because they are all stumped by their own shortcomings.
It's not over yet, but it doesn't take an ESPN degree in Advanced Numerology to figure out the short schedule odds against them are overwhelming. Too many teams are above them, too few games remain in a schedule featuring so many "four-point games" that without a winning streak it's difficult to make any standings headway.
This Flyers team isn't like to kick off on any winning streak. It hasn't won more than two in a row this season. And the personnel shortcomings are really coming to the fore.
The $51 million goalie really came back to work this season, but his shortcomings unavoidably show through when the defense is shaky around him.
Which essentially means almost always.
The defense was too thin to begin with, and the wear and tear is clearly showing. Luke Schenn has been OK, but he's wearing down, Braydon Coburn is having a bad year, Andrej Meszaros has been worse, and Erik Gustafsson hasn't been able to graduate from the minors as expected.
Their forwards, thanks to Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, can still succeed on the first power play unit. But there is nothing of systemic value out on the point behind Kimmo Timonen, and on even strength situations, the Flyers often seem shorthanded.
It's gone bad, and it's likely not to change. It will probably mean significant player moves before the trade deadline, and before that, the coach is going to be perceived to be in trouble, which in the NHL is also a common state of affairs for teams not as good as their respective management teams consider them to be.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bryzgalov: Win now ... or it's over

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The beauty of an Ilya Bryzgalov interview is that you never know what the guy will say next, but you can usually count on its entertainment value being much higher than its informational worth.
Not so today, as Bryzgalov was giving the usual "I've been asked this question before" non-answers to points about being overworked - and yes, he is being overworked - in these desperate days during a compacted season for the Flyers.
Example: "Sometimes, yeah, you get tired," Bryzgalov said regarding his 25 starts in 27 games thus far. Then when asked if he's talked with coach Peter Laviolette about that, he added, "I can't tell you. You got to ask the coach. It's like, out of my hands. It's out of my authority to speak about coach and player conversations. If he decides to tell you, he'll tell you. I'm strictly forbidden."
But suddenly, as the Baffling Bryz will do on occasion, he launched an answer of serious clarity. This came when the subject changed to this week's pair of consecutive games against the New Jersey Devils, the first of which is Wednesday night at Prudential Center in Newark. For an athlete, Bryzgalov's response to how important these two games are to both teams was frank and courageous.
Whether he meant it to be is another matter...
"If you check the standings, they are four points ahead of us and they have one game in hand," he said. "If you win both games, you tied up with them and you have a good chance to continue the battle for the playoffs. But if you lose both games, you're done. You're done. That's it. This is it. This is probably reality. You're going to be like eight points behind them with (about) 30 games played and not many games left to catch up. It's going to be very, very difficult. It's not only going to depend on you. It's going to depend on other teams more than you. That's how important these games (are)."
Mark it down, then.
If the Flyers don't win Tuesday night in a building in which they've lost on their last five trips (including playoffs) ... it's all over?
Well, Laviolette said "Bryz has a valid point" about that. And Danny Briere went on and on in agreement.
Then, Briere concluded: "We need to win both games. Looking at tomorrow night, we haven't played well the last few games in that building. We have to break that trend."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pronger talks at Flyers' morning skate

VOORHEES, N.J. - Chris Pronger's sudden appearance at the Skate Zone today followed a two-part televised interview on Canadian cable outlet Sportsnet. That interview was conducted by reporter Dan Murphy, who also happened to be the co-author of a book written last year by Chris' older brother Sean Pronger.
But in his first interview with the Philadelphia media since a conference call Dec. 1, 2011, Chris Pronger didn't offer anything by way of promoting the book other than agree it's a good read.
"Did you read it?" he said with a bellow.
This was the end to a press conference that stretched nearly 40 minutes, and in that time Pronger was equal parts honest and sarcastic, jovial and sadly serious. In short, he was typical Chris Pronger.
Some excerpts:

Considering his appearance was accompanied by a press release in which University of Pittsburgh Medical Center concussion specialist Michael Collins makes it clear he's advised Pronger to never play hockey again, Pronger was asked if this was a retirement press conference:
"This doesn't look like that type of conference, so no," he said. "I'm presently trying to get healthy and work toward getting healthy. That’s where it's at."

On what he's dealing with symptom-wise:
"I've made improvements. I still have symptoms, I still get symptoms with loud noises and a lot of moving parts, bright lights, things like that. It's not to the level it was, but I still do get them. There's a lot of things that have gotten better. My eye is still troubling. It's not working properly. I don't have peripheral vision. I don't have a lot of the things I have that have worked well for me in the past. ... I keep having to get stronger and stronger glasses. I just got another new prescription."

More on symptoms:
"It's an awkward feeling. It's something where if you haven't experienced it before you don't understand what (the doctor) is talking about. But it can be debilitating. I guess the biggest part is the depression. How you feel about yourself. How you feel about the injury and how dark you go down."
On how his family has dealt with him during this time:
“You get agitated very quickly. When the symptoms start piling up, you start getting a headache and it's loud in the house, there’s bright lights. Kids are running around screaming, all that stuff, you are on edge as it is. You’re pissed off that you are not playing the game you love, that you can’t go do what you want to do every day. Then you are even more pissed off because you got a headache and it’s getting worse and worse and your eyes and you’re lightheaded and dizzy and your kid comes over and you snap.
"You’re not being the father you want to be. It changes your personality a little bit. I’ve gotten a little better with it. But I still get a 'grrr' on from time to time, and I've got to catch myself, take myself out of the room and make sure I’m a little better."

Look for more on Pronger in the Friday print edition of the Daily Times.
As for other things from today's morning skate, the Flyers may have to dress seven defensemen due to health reasons.
All currently injured players - Matt Read, Andrej Meszaros, Nick Grossmann and Tye McGinn - all practiced with the club. Grossmann would not talk about his injury, which means he was told by management not to do so. He is believed to have a groin strain, but may try to play on it tonight.
The Flyers will have a sixth defenseman to spell time with Grossmann in seldom used Kurtis Foster. Unfortunately for him, he's been waiting for this after a bevy of healthy scratches - yet he's dealing with flu symptoms. Perhaps between the two of them, they can take minutes away from the healthy defenders.
Meszaros (shoulder) apparently will not play. He stayed out on the ice long after the regular guys left the ice. McGinn (orbital surgery) stayed out there with him. And so was Mike Knuble, which would indicate that he'd be a healthy scratch.
But if no one else was called up today, that only happens if Read would play.
As for Read, he's obviously close to returning early from his muscle tear, but says he is still getting pain when he shoots the puck. So why consider rushing back in to play?
"Why wouldn't I come back?" Read said. "This is my job. I love doing it. I'm not going to sit
on the sidelines watch my teammates go through battles and I can't be out there. It's frustrating. So I'm going to do the most I can to get back into the lineup."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Zolnierczyk's suspension a message well sent

It could be easily argued whether the four-game suspension dealt Sunday to Flyers fourth-line winger Harry Zolnierczyk was fair or not. In the world according to NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, however, there's no such thing as right or wrong, it's just his interpretation of reality that really matters.
So Shanahan can give three games to Washington's John Erskine for a dangerous elbow to the face of the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds a few weeks ago, even if Erskine wasn't penalized on the play during the game.
Then there can be multiple hits that straddle the border of what's right or wrong in this league that Shanahan's office can ignore, or he can surprise a team by offering the largest suspension of the season to a little known AHL promotee like Zolnierczyk who's trying his mightiest to play above his size at this level.
In this case, Shanahan's penalty was right on the mark.
Part of what landed Zolnierczyk in such trouble is that Ottawa defenseman Mike Lundin was left with a concussion after "Harry Z" hit him during the Flyers' 2-1 victory the Senators Saturday. The other obvious trouble point is that a camera angle caught Zolnierczyk leaving his skates to make the hit to the head area, a big no-no according to Shanahan.
"Instead of delivering a hard legal check, he launches prior to the check, making significant contact to Lundin's head," Shanahan said in his video announcing the suspension.
Beyond that, don't be surprised if Shanahan's office was well aware of the nearly dangerous hit Zolnierczyk put on Washington's Mathieu Perreault with 25 seconds left in a 4-1 win over the Capitals Wednesday night. Zolnierczyk got away with that one scot free. Despite being initially tagged with a game misconduct for kneeing, the penalty was later rescinded by the league.
In fact, he didn't knee the guy. But Harry Z., not a kid at 25 and with four years of Ivy League education at Brown on his resume, didn't learn his lesson, either.
To throw that hit in that spot was only a guy trying to impress his bosses in an effort to stay up here rather than go back to Adirondack. Can't blame him for the effort, but to crush the guy in the final minute of a game that had been over on the scoreboard for quite a while seemed a little over the top.
Zolnierczyk not only threw that one, but followed up in his very next game with a high hit on Lundin that was much worse. Consider this four-game suspension a payback by Shanahan, then, and an attempt to send a message to an excitable player that he needs to chill out a bit.
Might help if the Flyers' coaches tell him to try to better channel that energy, too.