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Saturday, June 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Flyers Need More Support At Defensive End

By Larry Wigge Sporting News

Only two teams are good enough to make it to the Stanley Cup finals each year. But an even more telling statistic is that in the past nine years, only one finalist - Pittsburgh in 1991 and ‘92 - has made it back the next year.

The Red Wings have stood almost pat since winning their first Cup in 42 years, but the Flyers, who were swept in the finals by Detroit, already are working hard to maintain their position atop the Eastern Conference by signing free-agent defenseman Luke Richardson to a five-year, $12.6 million contract.

That Richardson was able to get a 376 percent raise - from $664,300 to $2.5 million - illustrates how valuable a steady defensive defenseman can be in today’s market. But don’t for a minute think the Flyers bought themselves a Stanley Cup with this addition.

Richardson will help the Flyers’ defense, but he is no better than third or fourth on the depth chart. His huge contract, however, is not out of line when you consider how much the Rangers talked all throughout the conference finals of how vulnerable the Flyers’ defense was to a physical attack. New York couldn’t deliver the knockout punch; but in the Stanley Cup finals, the Red Wings could - and did.

Detroit’s forwards were able to pressure the Flyers’ defensemen. And that’s when you began to see the breakdowns.

“To be able to add a 6-4, 210-pound defenseman who plays consistently well every night will help solidify our defense,” GM Bobby Clarke says.

Richardson, 28, was steady for the Oilers the past few years, but still … “Bobby Clarke obviously doesn’t work with a budget,” Oilers GM Glen Sather says. “He was burned in the Stanley Cup final, and from his point of view it’s probably a pretty good investment - and that’s OK. But from our standpoint all players are replaceable. We’ve lost a lot better players than Luke.”

The Flyers did make the first step toward getting back to the finals, but, in case you’ve forgotten, they still have two goaltenders - Ron Hextall and Garth Snow - who often could be accused of impersonating an empty net. That situation should be next on the to-do list for Clarke and the Flyers.

Expected Messier to stay

Yes, the Rangers only offered star center Mark Messier a one-year contract at $4 million, a $2 million cut in pay. But ignore Messier’s comments about being hurt by the offer and intending to check out the 15 teams lined up for his services. Hurt or not, he’s staying put.

“Any team would be crazy not to want Mark Messier,” says Bill Torrey, president of the Rangers’ division rival Panthers. “I’m not totally convinced that the romance between the Rangers and Mark is over.”

Wayne Gretzky went to New York to play with Messier; Messier is not about to break up that combination just yet.

Coaching squabbles

So much for the Flames’ attempt to hold up the Mighty Ducks for compensation for signing former coach Pierre Pag.

Anaheim asked commissioner Gary Bettman to look into the situation, and he said there was nothing wrong with the Ducks signing Pag without compensation after Oct. 1. That’s time enough for Pag to get ready to coach Anaheim’s first game Oct. 4.

The Sabres’ treatment of coach Ted Nolan will hit them hard financially. The team had 200 season-ticket cancellations (amounting to about $250,000 in revenue) the first day after Nolan left the team. Look for a plunge in the standings, too.

Mark my words

Dave King, the Canadiens’ new assistant coach, will restore discipline to the team and jump to the top of the head-coaching prospect lists before the season is over. His presence already is being felt with Montreal’s signing of Andy Moog. King previously coached the veteran goaltender on the 1988 Canadian Olympic team… .

Tell someone in the Tampa Bay office that replacing defensemen Bill Houlder with Yves Racine, and Rudy Poeschek with Glen Featherstone isn’t exactly an upgrade. Looks to me like someone is trying to get coach Terry Crisp fired.

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