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Meltzer's Musings: 8/16/11

August 16, 2011, 9:48 AM ET [ Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Yesterday was another sad day in the hockey world. The death of Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien, who apparently lost his battle with his personal demons and took his own life, casts another pall over what has been a tough off-season.

I hope that people can look at the mental health issues that Rypien struggled with in an empathetic way. He was a prisoner of his own mind and possibly also his own biochemical wiring, which is an absolutely insidious form of illness about which there is still much that is unknown. Those who suffer from it should not be stigmatized.

I also hope that the lasting image of Rypien in people's mind is not of the player who got involved in that altercation with a fan in Minnesota, but of a scrappy player who was pound-for-pound one of the toughest men in the NHL. He was an undrafted rookie free agent who had to battle his way up from the minor leagues and then (literally) had to fight for each and every day he spent in the NHL.

Although I never got to meet or interview "Ripper," he was the type of hockey player whose determination was obvious even to those watching from a distance. That he struggled to cope with his off-ice issues shows just how tough of a fight it really is -- far tougher than anything or anyone he had to battle on the ice.

*****

Congratulations to Team Canada for its victory over Team Sweden at the finals of the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and to Team Sweden for its impressive victory over Team USA Blue in the finals at the U20 event in Lake Placid.

In the Hlinka Finals, Canada got goals from Sean Monahan, Scott Laughton, Brendan Gaunce and Charles Hudon. The lone Swedish tally was from Calle Andersson.

Over in Lake Placid, three forwards who are virtual locks for Sweden’s WJC roster dominated the scoring for the "Junior Crowns": Minnesota Wild prospect Johan Larsson racked up 14 points in five games, New York Islanders draftee Johan Sundström had 13 points, while Anaheim Ducks draftee Max Friberg compiled 8 points. Disappointingly, Ottawa Senators' 2011 first-round pick Mika Zibanejad only got to play in three games and contributed one point.

*********

Looking ahead to the Flyers training camp next month, what are the biggest concerns and question marks that you have? For me, they are:

1) The progress of Chris Pronger's rehab from hand and back surgery. I am more concerned about his health and effectiveness once he returns to the lineup than I am about whether he will play opening night or even the first month or so of the season.

2) The establishment of some chemistry with all the new forwards coming to town. I don't care about preseason wins and losses or special teams percentages, but hopefully the team will put itself in position to at least hold its own early in the season. It doesn't really matter if Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, etc., light it up in the preseason or not. It does matter if they look ready to contribute come the start of the regular season.

3) The roster battles for up to two (depending on Pronger) opening night blueline spots. As of now, you'd have to figure that Andrej Meszaros will be paired with Matt Carle if Pronger isn't ready to go. There will also be battles among veteran Andreas Lilja and younger players Erik Gustafsson and Oskars Bartulis for the avaliable third-pairing starting spot(s).

4) The roster battles for the available third line wing, fourth line wing and 13th forward spots. Andreas Nodl is likely to get the first crack at a third line spot, with Max Talbot and Blair Betts on the fourth line. With two roster spots available, veteran Jody Shelley is in competition with the likes of Tom Sestito, Zac Rinaldo, Matt Read, Ben Holmstrom, Mike Testwuide and Jon Kalinski.

5) The play of Sergei Bobrovsky. He knows that Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starter here, but other teams may develop a need for a goalie (although most teams currently appear to be just about set with both their starter and backup) before the start of the season. If he stays put, the second-year NHLer will need to prepare for a different role than he played last season.
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