Category archive: Philadelphia Flyers

The Chicago Blackhawks made their much-anticipated move for a blueliner before Friday's 3 p.m. ET Olympic trade freeze, but nobody was busier than Bryan Murray.

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Bryan Murray
Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images Bryan Murray had a big day Friday, earning a contract extension and making personnel moves.

The veteran Ottawa Senators GM got more job security, made a trade, revealed he made a contract offer to his most important pending free agent, and put another player on waivers.

Murray was rewarded for a surprising season by his Northeast Division-leading Senators with a one-year contract extension and then promptly improved his playoff-bound club with the acquisition of veteran center Matt Cullen from the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I've known Matt since my Anaheim days, and I really felt that he would fit into the room and the chemistry of our team," Murray told ESPN.com. "If he plays with the right people, he should be real productive for us."

The 33-year-old Cullen, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, has 40 points (12-28) in 60 games and is actually on pace to eclipse his career high of 49 points. So this might be a sneaky pickup by the red-hot Sens, who have usurped the slumping Buffalo atop the Northeast Division.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, believe they made a move Friday that helps them this year in their Stanley Cup bid and next year with their salary cap issues. They acquired veteran blueliner Kim Johnsson from the Minnesota Wild as well as prospect Nick Leddy in exchange for defenseman Cam Barker.

Johnsson, 33, will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and has a $4.85 million salary-cap hit this season. Barker has two more years left on his deal after this season at a $3.08-million cap hit. The Blackhawks need to shed some serious payroll in the offseason to accommodate new contract extensions that kick in next season for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. So with Johnsson off the books July 1, they'll save a bit of money there. It's a start. But they'll need to shave off more payroll this summer, around $7 million.

That's what the Hurricanes were doing Friday, shedding more payroll. Cullen, earning $2.8 million this season, is UFA July 1, which put him on Jim Rutherford's hit list. The Hurricanes GM moved Niclas Wallin to San Jose on Sunday and is not done dumping UFAs from his rebuilding squad. Rutherford did a nice job Friday getting a second-round pick in 2010 in exchange for Cullen plus blueliner Alexandre Picard.

Once Dominic Moore went to Montreal on Thursday night for a second-rounder (albeit in 2011), that certainly helped set the market for what Rutherford could get for Cullen, who is also a veteran center and potential UFA.

For Ottawa, the one fly in the ointment in a terrific season to this point has been a 27th-ranked power play. Cullen can help, and even play on the point. Murray figured head coach Cory Clouston wouldn't waste any time using his new toy on the power play.

"We're at the point where our power play hasn't been something that we're really excited about every night and he brings something there," Murray said. "Because of his quickness and intelligence and the fact he sees the ice well, I think Cory will surely try him out there at the point."

Ottawa may not be done ahead of the March 3 NHL trade deadline.

"We're now going to have to look around and talk about a defenseman," Murray said.

The Senators also put Jonathan Cheechoo on waivers Friday. The disappointing winger has another year on his deal at $3.5 million for next season, so I'd be shocked if anyone claimed him. Murray told ESPN.com that Cheechoo would go to AHL Binghamton if he cleared waivers.

And finally, Murray announced he had extended a contract offer to key defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. Volchenkov's agent Jay Grossman confirmed to ESPN.com that he had received the offer from the Senators and "will be reviewing with Anton soon," he wrote in an e-mail.

Elsewhere, the New York Rangers acquired tough guy Jody Shelley from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a conditional draft pick. The Rangers had waived tough guy Donald Brashear the previous day.

Also put on waivers Friday was winger Jamie Lundmark by the Calgary Flames and rugged, veteran winger Brad May by the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings eventually need to clear cap space in order to be able to activate defenseman Andreas Lilja and fit his $1.25 million salary under the salary cap, although at this point doctors still haven't cleared Lilja, GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com.

"We're also not sure what's going to happen with Kirk Maltby," Holland added. "He's played through a chronic shoulder injury all season long, and doctors say he'll need surgery if he wants to play next season. But the question is, does he have surgery now or after the season? We are still determining that."

Bottom line, there are possibly more roster moves coming from Detroit depending on what happens with Maltby and Lilja.

The Florida Panthers were working the phones Friday, a day after shipping out Moore. More players may likely move before the March 3 trade deadline, likely including UFAs-to-be Jordan Leopold and Dennis Seidenberg, both blueliners. Forward Rostislav Olesz is also available, although he has four more years on his deal with a $3.125 million cap hit.

Alexei Ponikarovsky remained a Toronto Maple Leaf on Friday, although a Leafs front-office source told ESPN.com that "interest was building" for the winger, a UFA July 1. But it will wait until March 1 at the earliest. He is earning $2.5 million this season, although his salary cap hit is $2.1 million. The 29-year-old Ukrainian had 41 points (19-22) and a plus-5 rating in 60 games with the Leafs this season.

Ray Whitney did not move Friday and that's not that surprising. Rutherford told ESPN.com Friday morning that he was pretty sure the 37-year-old winger, UFA July 1, would be a post-Olympic move. My sense is that will allow more teams that are tight against the salary cap to get into the action, which brings to mind the Pittsburgh Penguins. Whitney, as previously reported, nixed a trade to Los Angeles two weeks ago when he tried to coax a three-year contract extension out of the Kings. He could do that because any move needs his consent via his no-trade clause.

Whitney has 45 points (17-28) and a minus-1 rating in 58 games with the Hurricanes this season, and is a valuable and versatile player who can play the point on the power play. He's earning $3.55 million this season. He's actually a player the Senators had on their radar before moving on to Cullen.

"I did inquire about Ray, but at the end of the day, being a center and the versatility with Cullen certainly fits with us right now," Murray said.

Another player who did not move Friday was Marty Turco. Again, not very surprising. A Stars front-office source told ESPN.com that the team was getting "no traction" on the trade market. That's because of his $5.4 million salary. The veteran goalie will be UFA July 1, and he showed again Thursday night in Calgary that he remains an elite No. 1 goalie. It also showed he's letting neither the Kari Lehtonen acquisition nor the trade rumors affect him.

"I'm coping just fine," Turco told ESPN.com on Friday. "I want to win. Period. So we'll just see what happens."

We'll also see how the Philadelphia Flyers feel about Ray Emery's rested hip in two weeks' time and whether they believe they can make a playoff push with Michael Leighton as their possible starter.

Another goalie named Marty stayed put as well. Martin Biron has been looking for a move ever since Rick DiPietro returned to give the Islanders a crowded crease. Biron, UFA July 1 and earning $1.4 million this season, recently went on a conditioning stint in the AHL as he awaited a possible trade. But it'll have to wait until March 1 at the earliest.

"I have been feeling good after playing a couple of games in Bridgeport," Biron told ESPN.com. "Got back into action against Nashville [a 4-3 win Tuesday night], and that was good. So I know I can come in and help a team down the stretch."

Friday's mini-trade deadline wasn't full of activity. More bodies will be on the move around the NHL when the trade freeze thaws March 1.

Before all was said and done Thursday, there were two other teams in the running with New Jersey for Ilya Kovalchuk: the St. Louis Blues and the Philadelphia Flyers. Is it just me, or isn't it surprising the Blues were in it? Jeremy Rutherford had the details in Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"We were in on it, but they were asking too much," Blues president John Davidson told ESPN.com on Saturday. "[Thrashers GM] Donnie [Waddell] was driving a real tough bargain."

The Blues are no guarantee to make the playoffs this season, so on the surface, it's kind of surprising to see them go after such a high-profile rental. But the hope was if the Blues got him, he would fall in love with the city like so many other players have over the years and they'd be able to sign him to an extension.

"We have 55 NHL alumni in this city," said Davidson. "Players love it here."

But the price was too high. I'm told the Thrashers wanted T.J. Oshie as part of their package.

The Flyers were in it almost to the end, and that's no surprise at all. They were rumored to be in it all along. There's a lot of pressure on the Flyers to go for it this season; after all, they gave up two first-round picks in the trade that brought in star blueliner Chris Pronger last June, so there's no point turning back now.

But in the end, the Flyers decided Atlanta's price was too high and the Devils were victorious. I believe the Thrashers wanted either rookie forward James van Riemsdyk or impressive young forward Claude Giroux as part of the return package. In both cases, the Flyers balked.

The interesting part? The Flyers have come oh-so-close on a major rental pickup for the second straight year. Last March at the trade deadline, the Flyers came within inches of picking up Jay Bouwmeester before the Florida Panthers decided to keep him through the end of the season. But it went right down to the wire.

One last note on the Kovalchuk saga: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello made a classy move Thursday night, jumping on a private plane and flying to Washington to personally pick up his newly acquired star, along with his agent Jay Grossman and defenseman Anssi Salmela, and bring them back to New Jersey.

Whitney and Wallin updates
If all had gone according to plan, Ray Whitney would have been a Los Angeles King by now and Niclas Wallin would be headed to San Jose.

Instead, they're both still in Carolina. Sources told me on Saturday that both trades were scuttled, as each player used their respective no-trade clauses to try to extract contract extensions from their suitors. (Both players are set to become unrestricted free agents July 1.)

Hey, it's totally within their rights to exercise the no-trade clauses, but you can imagine the frustration of Canes GM Jim Rutherford, who would have had a few assets in his hands had those deals gone through.

So, now what? Let's focus on Whitney, the most valuable rental forward left on the NHL trade market now that Kovalchuk has been moved. Whitney, via his agent J.P. Barry, tried to extract a three-year contract extension from the Kings last week. Given his age (37), the Kings had reservations. Officially, Barry and Kings GM Dean Lombardi haven't spoken since last weekend, although Lombardi ran into Barry's partner at CAA Sports, Pat Brisson, at Thursday night's Ducks-Kings game and I'm told the Whitney conversation was picked up again. Maybe a two-year extension will cut it down the middle?

Whitney has not tailed off in his late 30s; he remains a consistent point producer. My suspicion here is Whitney would likely rather stay somewhere closer to the East. He's got three kids at home, so who can blame the guy? Pittsburgh and Philadelphia certainly fit the bill. The Penguins are in need of a winger. I'm sure Whitney would love a chance to play with Sidney Crosby. But the Pens likely can't afford Whitney's $3.55 million salary under their cap until the last minute, the March 3 trade deadline.

The Flyers? Well, they struck out on Kovalchuk. And it just so happens Flyers coach Peter Laviolette knows very well what Whitney brings to the table from their days together in Carolina.

But if Rutherford doesn't get the deal he wants because he believes his hands were tied, he may just not deal Whitney.

Panthers scuttlebutt
At this point, the Florida Panthers really don't know whether they are buyers or sellers given their bubble position in the playoff race. The remaining games before the Olympics will have a big bearing on that. If they fall back in the race, UFAs-to-be Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold could both be made available as rentals.

But win or lose over the next week heading into Friday's Olympic roster freeze (the trade deadline before the March 3 deadline), I'm told two players are available from the Panthers no matter the circumstances: forwards Rostislav Olesz and Kamil Kreps. Olesz, who has played well at times this season, has four more years on his deal at a $3.125 million cap hit, while Kreps is set to become a restricted free agent July 1.

I'm told star goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has one year left on his deal at $6.3 million, will not be made available before March 3 regardless of where the Panthers are in the standings. That's a situation the team will revisit come June.

Sid versus Ovi, Part II
Weather permitting, the NHL's best rivalry resumes Sunday afternoon in Washington, where the Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A massive snowstorm blanketed the D.C. area Saturday and there was concern about the Penguins getting from Montreal to Washington on Saturday evening after their afternoon game with the Canadiens. The latest itinerary: Pittsburgh was set to fly into Newark, N.J., and then take a four-hour bus ride to D.C.

Assuming there are no other weather delays, let's focus on the second game of the season between the rivals (the Caps won the first meeting 6-3 on Jan. 21). It's a rivalry players and coaches and, yes, GMs, from both teams have genuinely bought into.

"I think so," said Shero. "Obviously, there's Sid and Ovechkin, that's a great rivalry on its own, and I think there's more hype now because we played last year in a seven-game playoff series. Now, Washington has won 13 games in a row and they're probably the best team in the league. So it should be an exciting game."

What makes this rivalry so compelling is the way both franchises have mirrored each other on so many levels, from bottom-feeders to the drafting of great young players to the gradual ascension up the NHL ladder. The Penguins got over the hump first with a trip to the Cup finals in 2008 and a Stanley Cup title in 2009. This season, the Caps seem to have responded to that challenge, putting together the most impressive season in the Eastern Conference and arguably the entire NHL.

"The Caps are an exciting team to watch," said Shero. "They seem to have taken a next step. It makes the rivalry even better between Pittsburgh and Washington and makes for great games. It's all good."

It's also why a league source reiterated Saturday that the Caps-Pens matchup remains the favorite at this point for next season's Winter Classic, although no final decision has been made.

Gretzky's trip
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier didn't just drop the puck last weekend in Minsk, Belarus, for the KHL All-Star Game. The two legends also donned the old skates, too. Gretzky and Messier played in a pick-up game with the president of Belarus and some former pro players.

"Yeah, that was neat," Gretzky told ESPN.com this week. "We had a great time. They just built a brand-new rink there in Minsk. It's beautiful. The people of Belarus really treated us like royalty. It was truly an honor to be a guest of the president."

Gretzky also took the time to have breakfast with KHL president Alexander Medvedev.

"He came to my fantasy camp a few years ago, so I had already met him," said Gretzky. "He's an interesting guy. We talked about the growth of the KHL to date and where he sees it going in the future."

The Great One, as most people know, has family roots in Belarus. His ancestors moved from there to Canada. Gretzky was approached by a person in Minsk who had researched the Gretzky family tree. Turns out Gretzky has relatives who live 250 kilometers from Minsk. Gretzky met a woman who was a cousin, his grandfather's niece.

"That was really something," said Gretzky. "My father was so happy to hear that I met some of our relatives. That by itself was worth the trip."

Gretzky also had dinner with former NHL stars Sergei Fedorov, Alexei Yashin and Sergei Zubov, while also taking the time to catch up with Russian greats Slava Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak.

Quite the trip!

Red Wings
Needing desperately to clear salary cap space, the Red Wings dealt Ville Leino to the Flyers in exchange for defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft on Saturday.

But the Wings then immediately put Tollefsen on NHL waivers. If he clears Monday at noon ET, I suspect he'll be sent to the AHL. The sole purpose of the move was to shed Leino's $800,000 cap hit in order to pave the way for the return of star winger Johan Franzen, who has been out four months with a knee injury.

Even with the move, the Wings will still be right up against the cap once Franzen returns. So, if and when defenseman Andreas Lilja is ready to return to the Wings' lineup, Holland will have to shed more salary. Lilja has been out nearly a calendar year with a concussion, but he's playing a couple of games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

Detroit's cap issues mean it'll make things more interesting for the Wings in terms of the March 3 trade deadline. The Wings won't have much room to add.

Avs and Svatos
A source told me Saturday that Colorado is shopping around winger Marek Svatos, an unrestricted free agent July 1. His cap hit is $2.05 million. He only has six goals this season, but he's a former 32-goal scorer. He could be a nice consolation prize for teams who lose out on Whitney.

Flyers and Emery
As I reported earlier this season, the Flyers are hoping to reach an extension with goalie Ray Emery before the end of the regular season. Because Emery signed a one-year deal this past summer, the team wasn't allowed to approach his agent until January. That happened in Calgary last week, when Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and Emery's agent, J.P. Barry, chatted briefly and only agreed they would commence preliminary talks after the Olympics. Emery is earning $1.5 million this season, so he'd be looking for a raise.

A final note
I want to send out my heartfelt condolences to Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and his family. I've been a parent now for 13 months, and I could not even imagine dealing with the shattering news of losing one's child. We get so caught up in this business with wins and losses and trades and rumors, we often lose sight of what really matters.

I feel absolutely horrible about Friday's tragic death of Brendan Burke. Let's all hope the Burke family can find the strength to get through this.

There was a fresh new wave of Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors last week, with the New York Rangers again linked to the star center. But the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning wants everyone to know there's absolutely nothing to them.

"We have never talked to the Rangers about Vinny," Oren Koules told ESPN.com on Saturday morning. "And by the way, Vinny has 50 points; he's not having a bad year. He's having a great year."

As I've written before, Lecavalier has a no-movement clause, so he alone will decide his NHL future, not the Lightning. There's no point worrying about it until then.

In the meantime, Koules made an interesting point about Lecavalier's production. When he had a slow start in October, Lecavalier was largely written off, and it certainly didn't help when Team Canada skipped over him for the Olympics on Dec. 30. But Lecavalier has come on of late. He entered Saturday's play 15th in NHL scoring, ahead of the likes of Zach Parise, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Semin and Jarome Iginla.

Lecavalier is on pace for 82 points; still, not really worth the $10 million he's earning this season, but certainly not a bad year at all.

Meanwhile, I also asked Koules about the reports regarding the team's financial problems. While he confirmed the league is assisting him in actively trying to find a buyer or investor, he denied that the Lightning has been forwarded an advance share of revenue sharing to help pay the bills.

It's clear the league wants to find a buyer/investor ASAP for the Lightning.

Toronto traders
The 28th-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs will be sellers ahead of the March 3 trade deadline, but they'll be in a unique position compared to any other club in the NHL. They've got cap space to sell, but more importantly, budget room.

In other words, they may be sellers and buyers at the same time. Confused? Unlike, say, Carolina or Edmonton (teams that solely want to shed salary like traditional sellers would), the Leafs are ready to take on huge contracts if the deals include draft picks or prospects in the process. And that's exactly the message being sent to the buyers around the league right now by GM Brian Burke and assistant GM Dave Nonis.

Burke has had this financial muscle at his disposal all along, but has been waiting for the right time. That time is coming.

For example, pretend you're a Cup contender. You want to make a deal to help your team March 3, but you don't have enough cap room. The Leafs are telling those types of clubs they'll take a contract off their hands for a pick or prospect. No other seller, in all likelihood, will offer that scenario to buyers because no other seller is willing to park big money in the AHL to make these deals happen. This is where the Leafs hope to start recouping some assets, especially after dropping a pair of first-rounders to Boston for Phil Kessel.

In the meantime, the Leafs are getting feelers for pending free agents, such as Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan, and even guys under contract past this season like Niklas Hagman (two more seasons at $3 million per). A handful of the free agents will almost surely be moved out. Ponikarovsky, hot of late, could be a fetching pickup for a team looking for second-line offense.

The Leafs' pro scouting staff, led by vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin, met Friday and Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to prepare for the March 3 trade deadline. Burke joined them Saturday. The staff ranked every player on all 30 teams over the two-day period so Burke and Nonis can quickly pull up those individual reports once trade talks heat up.

Know this: The Leafs' desire is to be extremely busy from now to March 3. We'll see if they find willing partners.

Hurricanes listen
Any player headed for unrestricted free agency is available in Carolina, but the Hurricanes are getting lots of calls on a player that's under contract for next season.

Joni Pitkanen has another year on his deal at $4.5 million for next season. The Canes like him a lot and are not trying to move him in any way. Yet, the interest from other teams is so high for the puck-mover, one wonders if Carolina will be able to say no before March 3 if the offers are too good to resist. The 26-year-old leads all NHL players in ice time per game, averaging just over 27 minutes. There won't be many top-four defensemen moving before March 3, so the high interest in Pitkanen is reflective of a barren marketplace for that position.

One player who will very likely move if he allows it with his no-trade clause is winger Ray Whitney, as I mentioned last week. To me, Pittsburgh and Calgary are screaming for this kind of move, as both clubs need offensive help and a boost to their power plays.

Here's the thing: He's cheaper to acquire now than on March 3. If the Hurricanes could unload him now, they'd save on their payroll. Come March 3, there's only five and half weeks left on Whitney's $3.55 million salary, so the Hurricanes wouldn't be saving nearly as much. In the meantime, teams will be scrambling for his services that day and the price will go up. Either way, the Hurricanes are hoping to recoup a first- or second-round pick and a prospect for Whitney.

Flyers-Rangers fallout
The Rangers, understandably, weren't happy when their star player, Marian Gaborik, got beat up by Flyers agitator/tough guy Daniel Carcillo on Thursday night. I don't blame them. I can just imagine their anger Friday when these Twitter posts were sent out by the Flyers:

From: @NHLFlyers
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 1:06p
In case you missed it, here's video of the Carcillo/Gaborik fight from last night.
http://bit.ly/5akcFO
sent via TweetDeck

From: @NHLFlyers
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 9:44a
Check out last night's media availability following the game, inc. Carcillo's "licking his chops" comment (video): http://bit.ly/71Pv6V
sent via TweetDeck

"I can't say I was aware they were doing this," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via e-mail Saturday. "It's not in violation of any existing policy we have."

There are no rules against it, but it's in poor taste, in my mind.

This and that
• The phone calls keep rolling in to Atlanta with inquiries about Ilya Kovalchuk, and it's going to get more serious over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a source described contract talks with Kovalchuk as "pretty quiet" of late. I think a trade is inevitable at this point.

• Had a chance to touch base this week with Finland Olympic GM Jari Kurri. The former Oilers great said he couldn't believe it when both Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne went down with injuries in back-to-back games recently. But Koivu is slated to return this week, and Kurri said he was confident the "Finnish Flash" would also be ready for the Olympics. "He should be OK," Kurri told ESPN.com. "Our understanding is that he'll be back in time, but it's going to be close, for sure."

• The Phoenix Coyotes are on the lookout for cheap offensive help; they can't take on too much of a payroll bump. Ideally, they're looking to make a dollar-for-dollar move. That's not an easy thing to do in this market right now, although that's exactly what Minnesota and Montreal pulled off in the Guillaume Latendresse-Benoit Pouliot deal (both players are earning the exact same salary).

• The New York Islanders continue to cast their fishing lines around the league in an attempt to move goalie Martin Biron ($1.4 million salary, UFA July 1). The Isles are pretty open to what they'd want in return: a draft pick, a defenseman or a left winger. Any one of those three apparently will do.

So, Mike Richards and the Philadelphia media had another blowout Sunday.

The good news for the Flyers captain is that he has only 10 more years of this.

Richards, who is signed through the 2019-20 season, has been at odds with some members of the Philly media since the start of the season, much of it stemming from stories written about the players' off-ice partying and nightlife. I believe, however, that comments from Flyers GM Paul Holmgren regarding this subject last summer gave the local media credence to go after this angle.

Richards has objected to some of the coverage, and while I understand his frustration, I also think he needs to suck it up and move on. You have to be above this stuff; it's part of the deal when you wear the "C." You represent the team and the organization in good times and bad. There's no need for these petty fights with the beat writers.

I reached out Monday to three former Flyers captains, Bob Clarke, Eric Lindros and Keith Primeau, to get a sense of what it's like to be team captain in Philadelphia, long known as a tough sports town.

"Things were a lot different when I was captain," Clarke, now a senior vice president with the team, told ESPN.com. "In those days, if you played poorly, it was pointed out, but there wasn't so much individual criticism and stuff like there is now."

Primeau loved being captain in Philadelphia.

"I personally felt that I was able to thrive under it," Primeau said. "I tried to wear my emotion and my heart on my sleeve."

The Big E? He did chuckle when asked whether he had "fun" as Flyers captain.

"Well, there were some interesting moments," Lindros said while driving back to Toronto on Monday. "But I'm moving forward; I'm not looking back."

But is it tougher to be captain in Philly than other NHL towns?

"You know, I don't know if it's any tougher than what Mats [Sundin] had to deal with in Toronto or what it's like to be captain in Montreal," Lindros said.

(As an aside, maybe Montreal and Toronto are onto something by not naming a captain this season. But I digress.)

Lindros, like Richards, was given the Flyers captaincy at an early age. Lindros was 21, Richards 23. It's a lot a pressure for a young man.

"He's young," said Clarke, who was 24 when he was named full-time Flyers captain. "He'll get through that real quickly. It won't bother Mike. His skin will get thicker, and he'll be fine."

One thing Primeau learned as a youngster was that battling the media was a losing proposition.

"I learned early in my career, through my time and difficulty in Detroit, that the power of the pen is mightier than the sword," Primeau said. "And no matter how much you want your case to be heard, your side of the story to be heard, it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes you have to live with what's being said and persevere. Ultimately, your character is going to come through and help in your defense."

My advice to Richards, from one Northern Ontario boy to another, would be to take the Philly writers out for lunch or dinner, have a few pops with them, and try to clear the air. You've got enough to worry about on the ice without needing this kind of stress off of it.

"And I don't think that's a bad solution," Primeau said. "I think I would be the same way, as well. If someone was questioning my character, I would want to know why he was taking such a strong position or the proof to support their position. There's not many things you can control, but your character is certainly one of them."

Clarke, though, had no problem with the way Richards pushed back with the writers Sunday.

"I thought he handled it great myself," Clarke said. "It's up to him and [GM] Paul Holmgren to figure out what's right or wrong. I like that, when the players fight back. I think it's good.

"But if you're going to let what's written bother you, then you have to use it as a way to unify your team. You can't let it affect the way you play except in a positive way."

Richards leads the team with 40 points (19-21) in 47 games, so he's done his job on the ice. In the end, Primeau believes, this will all be forgotten.

"My personal opinion is that this is really just a blip," he said. "He'll be the captain here for a long time, he'll be a great player for a long time, and people will remember him for a lot of things, but ultimately it won't be for this situation."

Clarke agreed.

"He's a top person, he's a great player, he's going to run into little things along the way," the former Flyers GM said. "But what the hell, he'll get through them. He's smart and he's got character."

TORONTO -- A young fan in a Flyers jersey waited patiently near the visitors' dressing room at Air Canada Centre. When Brian Boucher finally got off the ice after doing some extra work Thursday, you wouldn't have known this was a guy getting squeezed out in a three-goalie jam.

But with a smile as earnest as can be, Boucher signed an autograph and took a picture with the kid. Sure, things are tough on the job right now, but why take it out on the poor kid (although I know a few athletes who certainly would have)?

Life is not a bowl of cherries for Boucher, who is the odd-man out behind Michael Leighton and Ray Emery in a crowded Flyers crease.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it, but as a veteran of the game, I know lots of things happen in this game," Boucher told me later as we sat in the visitors' dressing room. "You have to stay patient, work hard, and stay as positive as possible."

This is the thing about NHL goalies -- there's only 60 jobs in the best hockey league in the world. Holding on to one is a feat in itself.

When Boucher signed a two-year, $1.85 million deal last summer, his second tour of duty with the Flyers was good opportunity: provide quality backup netminding to Emery, who was coming back to the NHL after a one-year stint in Russia. And I'm guessing, in the back of his mind, Boucher also figured he might get a solid chance at some point given the demands on starting goalies in Philly and Emery's roller-coaster career.

As it turns out, Emery played well out of the gates. Then, when Emery went down with an injury, finally giving Boucher his chance, the 33-year-old suffered an injury in a game Dec. 21.

"It is what it is, I got some bad luck there," said Boucher. "I got hurt, injured my finger in a game. The next game, we started the winning streak. [Flyers GM] Paul Holmgren had a meeting with the team and it seemed to turn things around for us. We've been good ever since. Unfortunately for myself, I haven't really been a part of it. But more importantly for the team, it's been a great turnaround and got us back in the thick of things."

You don't hear Boucher complain. He puts the team first and fully understands why the team has continued to ride the red-hot Leighton.

"Absolutely," said Boucher. "And you know, we didn't have a 20-point cushion, we didn't have the luxury of working people back in. It was what it was. He was the guy on the spot who got the opportunity and he's made the most of it. If you're the other guy on the outside, you just have to wait patiently. If you play well when you get back in, then you can make the case for yourself."

The 28-year-old Leighton is some kind of story right now (he wouldn't talk to me Thursday because it was a game day.) Will the bubble burst soon? His career numbers aren't grand, so you wonder how long he can keep it up. Then again, Tim Thomas and Craig Anderson were also journeyman goalies who, like Leighton, were once put on NHL waivers. Look at them now.

"He was given an opportunity that he probably hasn't been given in a while, to start games on a regular basis," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of Leighton. "He backed up Cam [Ward] in Carolina and usually caught the seventh game in 11 nights, and it was usually a back-to-back game on the road with a tired team in front of him. So this was his first opportunity and he's done a really good job of giving us what we need in net in order to win hockey games."

Let's be honest here, the Flyers got a bit lucky. Leighton actually cleared NHL waivers the first time around before the Hurricanes put him back on re-entry waivers a few days later, and the Flyers taking him at half the price. One of the hottest goalies in the NHL is costing the Flyers about $185,000 pro-rated for the season.

"We were between a rock and hard place with two goalies injured," said Laviolette.

So what now? Three goalies is never a good thing on an active NHL roster. Just running a practice with three goalies is cumbersome, not to mention the roster space dedicated to a guy who's not playing. Boucher could very well be put on waivers at some point and then sent down to the AHL; but so far, he's sticking with the big club.

"I don't know how it's going to play out," said Boucher, who was a solid backup to Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose. "The only thing that's been said to me is to work hard and stay positive. That's all you can do. Things can change dramatically. Things could change any day.

"I've been in three-goalie situations before in Phoenix and Chicago. They have a way of working themselves out, and usually on their own. Just control what you can control and don't worry about anything else."

This isn't a goalie controversy yet. But just wait. It is Philly after all.