Flyers

Radko Gudas discovered this week just how soft the NHL has become

Radko Gudas discovered this week just how soft the NHL has become

Flyers radio color commentator Steve Coates labeled Thursday’s scoreless first period between the Flyers and Stars as “nondescript” hockey.

Welcome to the new NHL, the Nondescript Hockey League.  

The NHL’s regular season is evolving into a product that looks more and more like an amplified version of an All-Star Game with a lot of skating and shooting and very little checking.

“Either with the puck or without the puck, I don’t know if there was a hit thrown by either team in that first period,” Stars head coach Jim Montgomery said, describing the first 20 minutes of the Flyers' 2-1 win.

Interestingly, according to the official stat keepers, somehow the Flyers and Stars managed to register 12 first-period hits between the two teams, which started with Travis Konecny bumping Esa Lindell just six seconds after the opening face-off.

As fighting has been almost entirely phased out of the game over the past ten years, one can only wonder if hitting and checking is following a similar trajectory. Apparently, we’ve now reached a point where just the definition of a hit, especially a clean one, isn’t so clear cut any longer.  

“I don’t know what to say, that’s just the way the league is right now. Every hit, everybody thinks it’s dirty right now,” Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas said. “When I was coming into the league it was way different. Guys were hitting everywhere. That’s a really big change in the sport now.”

While the line for what constitutes a clean play from a dirty one has clearly moved toward the direction of making the game safer, Gudas discovered this week that those legal hits according to the rulebook are now no longer tolerable across the league. 

Monday against the Blues, Gudas leveled Alex Steen, knocking him out of the game and leaving the benches to chirp back and forth about the physicality of Gudas’s play.

“I hit Steen at center ice and guys are going after me,” Gudas said. “There’s no hits in the center ice anymore.”

The following night in Washington, Gudas executed a perfectly timed hip check against Capitals center Travis Boyd early in the third period. Moments later, Gudas was immediately jumped by Devante Smith-Pelly, and the two bruisers dropped the gloves and settled their differences. 

Yes, we’ve entered an era in pro hockey where the tolerance level for physical play is now at a level that amounts to being grazed or nudged. Having spent the past nine-plus seasons in the American Hockey League, Flyers coach Scott Gordon believes the standard has been set years ago in the AHL, where guys once sacrificed everything to prove they were NHL-worthy. 

“The way it is now, a hard hit is almost unacceptable by the opposition,” Gordon said.  “Unfortunately, the way players are now, they don’t expect the big hits because they’re too far, few and in between. Because of the pace of the game, it’s nowhere near where it used to be. The game is so much faster. You can skate hard all the way and get there, and next thing you know, it’s now a late hit.”

Some believe it’s a 25-year evolution of the NHL’s instigator rule that was put into effect in the early 90s. 

Others point to concussions to Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, and most notably Brandon Manning driving Connor McDavid into the boards in 2015 — which led to McDavid's broken collarbone — as the turning point to where we are now.  

Either way, who initiates the hitting and who deserves to be hit seems to be a touchy subject in today’s touchy-feely game. 

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Sharks face elimination against Golden Knights

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USA Today Images

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Sharks face elimination against Golden Knights

Many pinned the Sharks as a favorite to make a run at the 2019 Stanley Cup, especially with the addition of Erik Karlsson.

On Thursday night, they face elimination in the first round against the Golden Knights, who hold a commanding two-game series advantage.

Below is the full schedule for Day 9 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC.

Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes (WSH 2-1)
Game 4, Eastern Conference first round
7 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets (tied 2-2)
Game 5, Western Conference first round
8:30 p.m. ET | TV: USA | Live stream here

Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks (3-1 VGK)
Game 5, Western Conference first round
10 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

5 takeaways from Alain Vigneault's introduction as Flyers head coach

5 takeaways from Alain Vigneault's introduction as Flyers head coach

VOORHEES, N.J. — A new era of Flyers hockey officially commenced Thursday morning when the organization introduced Alain Vigneault as its new head coach.

At Flyers Skate Zone, Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher answered questions in a televised press conference and also addressed the media afterward.

Here are five pertinent takeaways from the gathering:

1. That didn't take long

Everything happened quickly, which tells you how much Fletcher wanted Vigneault.

Ten days ago, Fletcher said the process of identifying the Flyers' next head coach was underway. Shortly after, he contacted Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton to ask for permission to interview Vigneault, who was still under contract with New York following his firing last April. 

Vigneault said the Flyers were one of two teams to already request an interview.

Fletcher and Vigneault set up a meeting over the weekend in Aventura, Florida, where Vigneault has a home. Following an interview and dinner, Fletcher knew Vigneault was his guy. Vigneault also knew the Flyers were his fit.

"Met Chuck, flew down to Florida last Saturday," Vigneault said. "Had a great meeting, talked again Sunday and finalized things on Monday."

Fletcher did his due diligence but clearly Vigneault was on his radar from Day 1.

"Once I knew there was a fit, there was no reason to continue the process," Fletcher said.

"There were a couple people right at the top of the list when I took over. I focused on that group and Alain was the guy.

"There were a few other people I had phone calls with or had permission to speak with, other quality coaches, but I will say I spent much more time with Alain than with anybody else."

2. The time is now

Fletcher and Vigneault clicked on many topics, from organizational philosophy, coaching tactics, communication and areas to improve.

One area that truly stood out was how both believed the Flyers could win now.

That shared belief may have been most important.

Fletcher was brought on board behind an urging from management to make the Flyers more competitive again, much sooner rather than later. At this stage of his career, Vigneault perfectly coincided with that message. He has come up short in two Stanley Cup Final appearances and likes what the Flyers have in place.

What I was looking for in my new opportunity to coach were three things. First thing I was looking for was an opportunity to win — an opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup. When I look at and analyze the parts we have here in Philly, when I look at and analyze the options that we have in improving this team, it gets a check mark from me.

This is without a doubt one of the best franchises in the National Hockey League. In my mind and after talking to a lot of people who have been in the game that know this franchise, this team is on the upswing.

In my bucket list, I need one more thing: I need to win a Stanley Cup. I've come close twice. I've been very lucky to work for three great organizations: the Montreal Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers. I've come close twice. I think this will be the right one. 


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

3. Assets are good

It also doesn't hurt to join an organization with financial flexibility to fill holes and supplement what is already in place.

"Yes, there's no doubt," Vigneault said. "No doubt at all."

Vigneault knew that was an enticing part of the package with the Flyers, who could have upwards of $30 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, before the team takes care of its young restricted free agents.

"We've sat down and established and identified a real good list of where we need to improve this team, where we need to get more depth," Vigneault said. "You talked about goaltending, up front, the center position would probably be somewhere where we'd like to take a look at. Is that going to be possible? We'll see. But we're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place, it's going to be a lot of fun."

When Vigneault met with Fletcher, he was sold on the big picture, which he believes will attract players, too.

"We expressed different theories, different principles, I talked to him about the importance of the organization," Vigneault said. "In today's game, you've got to make sure the environment that you're creating is — I don't want to say pro-player, but it can incite players to choose Philly as a destination because they'll get the best development, they'll get the best coaching whether it be strength, psychological coaches, etc. 

"You need total commitment from ownership and there's no doubt that we have that here."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

4. 'Talent has no age'

Vigneault said he has no qualms with playing younger players, which was a hot topic during his days in New York.

I firmly believe that talent has no age. If a guy who's 19 can step in and help the Flyers win and be competitive, he's going to play. Talent has no age. You just have to put players, young and old, and your core guys, in situations where they can best help the team.

But he will stress systems, fundamentals and playing the right way, which is why Fletcher liked him so much for the Flyers.

"Players look for direction," Vigneault said. "If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you're going to have success. You do the same thing with your team, they're going to follow you."

On a conference call Monday, Fletcher emphasized accountability.

Vigneault said there's a balance when enforcing it with players in order to get the best out of them.

Certain players have a little bit more money in the bank because they've been around a little bit longer and they've got a better skill set than others. Certain players are given a little bit more latitude to make certain plays. But there are some times … you've got a one-goal lead, five minutes left in the game, or two minutes left in the second period, or two minutes left in the first — there's no latitude then. 

You've got to make the right play at the right time for the benefit of the team. And you live to retry it another day. Those are all parts of players understanding what it takes to win. Once they understand that, you've got a real good environment.

5. First order of business

This is a busy time for Vigneault. He will be the head coach of Team Canada in the 2019 IIHF World Championship from May 10-26.

What is atop his to-do-list with his Flyers tenure underway?

"Right now, because of my schedule, I would like to first meet and talk to the coaches that are here," Vigneault said. "If I have a decision to make moving forward, I can quickly talk to Chuck. Since I'm going to be gone for the month of May, I can probably start, if I need to start a process, I can during that time."

So far, no decisions have been made regarding the statuses of assistant coaches Kris Knoblauch (power play), Ian Laperriere (penalty kill), Rick Wilson (defensemen) and Kim Dillabaugh (goalies).

"There's no doubt in my mind that the coaching staff that is here at this time is very solid and very competent, so I do want to take the time to talk to those guys, hopefully in the next week before I leave for Europe," Vigneault said. "Chuck and I will circle back and figure out what's best for this group."

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