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Meltzer's Musings: Manning, Quick Hits

July 17, 2014, 5:41 AM ET [473 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
* For the second straight summer, the Flyers' final remaining restricted free agent is defenseman Brandon Manning. Last year, Manning inked a one-year, two way contract on Aug. 29; one week ahead of the start of rookie camp. He agreed to a one-year deal, paying $80,000 at the AHL level and $675,000 in the NHL. With the Flyers carrying eight defensemen last year and having a virtually injury-free regular season among their defense corps, Manning did not appear in the NHL last season.

This past season, Manning posted AHL career highs in games (73), goals (eight), points (31) and penalty minutes (231). He was minus-24. Manning, who has dressed in 10 career NHL games, turned 24 on June 24.

With the departure of Ben Holmstrom, Manning is a candidate to become the Phantoms next captain as they move operations from Glens Falls to the Lehigh Valley. He is a young veteran leader on a team that will have an influx of rookie defensemen (Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hägg and Jesper Pettersson) joining second-year pro Mark Alt.

If Philly elects to carry eight defensemen at the NHL level again next season, Manning is a candidate for one of the reserve roles. As of now, it seems like the Flyers may go with seven defenseman.

Before any of that happens, however, Manning must first sign his next contract. As a restricted free agent, his options are limited at this point.

* On his Twitter feed, Phantoms announcer Bob Rotruck noted that defenseman Steven Delisle has signed a new contract with the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate. Last season in Glens Falls, Delisle dressed in 50 games and posted one goal, four points, 76 penalty minutes a minus-10 rating. Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-5 defenseman will turn 24 on July 30. Assuming Manning and Oliver Lauridsen are both in Lehigh Valley, Delisle could be the Phantoms' seventh defenseman.

* A street in Scarborough, Ontario, has been named in memory of the late Peter Zezel. Former Toronto Maple Leafs teammates Wendel Clark and Mark Osborne attended the dedication ceremony in which the Zezel Way street sign was unveiled. A fan favorite and beloved teammate wherever he played, the former Flyers center passed from a rare blood disorder on May 26, 2009. To read my five-year commemorative memorial blog dedicated to Zezel, click here.

* Alumni Birthdays: Goaltender Tommy Söderström turns 45 today. Two-way winger Valeri Zelepukin celebrates his 46th birthday.

* Today in Flyers History: On this date in 1996, the Flyers signed free agent center Peter White to provide some forward depth. A prolific minor league scorer who was a stride too slow to translate his offensive success to the NHL level, White led the AHL in scoring with 44 goals and 105 points in 1996-97. He posted an identical point total the following season as the Philadelphia Phantoms went on to win the Calder Cup. White was a semi-regular for the Flyers in 1999-2000 and centered the fourth line throughout the 2000-01 season.

After getting dealt to Chicago, White returned to the Flyers organization for the 2003-04 season and the early part of the lockout-canceled 2004-05 season before he was traded to the Utah Grizzlies in a minor-league trade.

For his AHL career, White racked up 783 points in 747 games. In the NHL, he was a fourth-liner, scratching out 23 goals and 60 points in 220 games. White's ex-wife, Jody, is the daughter of Bob Clarke.

* Today in Flyers history: On this date in 2000, the Flyers signed recent sixth-round draft pick Roman Cechmanek to a one-year, $1 million contract. A veteran of the Czech Extraliga and Czech national team, the 29-year-old Cechmanek had won five straight Extraliga championships with HC Vsetin and had been the starting goaltender for the gold medalist Czech team at the 2000 IIHF World Championships while taking the Best Goaltender Award from the tournament.

Under NHL rules of the time, no European player could enter the NHL as a free agent. Even if he was Cechmanek's age, he had to be drafted. Hence, the Flyers used a sixth-round pick to be able to negotiate a contract with him. The initial plan was to have Cechmanek compete for a backup spot to Brian Boucher, who was coming off a spectacular rookie NHL season and backstopped the Flyers to within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.

With no guarantee of a job with the Flyers and no interest in spending the season in the AHL with the Phantoms, Cechmanek's negotiation was a bit of a tricky one. Ultimately, the Flyers agreed to the following terms: 1) Cechmanek had the right to refuse an assignment to the AHL and go home, 2) If he opted to go home, he could still keep a $300,000 signing bonus, and 3) If he opted to go home, he'd forfeit the remaining $700,000.

At the start of the 2000-01 season, Cechmanek was asked to accept a brief assignment to the Phantoms. The Flyers wanted to get an extended look at 1999 first-round pick Maxime Ouellet before they made a final decision on whether to keep him with the NHL club or send him back to his junior team (the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts) for more seasoning.

Understanding that the situation was temporary, Cechmanek accepted the AHL assignment. He started two games (losing shutout bids in the final minute of play both times) and got tossed out of his third appearance in the second period -- with another shutout bid going ---- amid numerous game misconducts handed out as a result of a line brawl with Albany.

When Ouellet was returned to his junior team, the Flyers recalled Cechmanek. Thus began a wild three-season roller coaster with the Flyers.

Cechmanek was an extremely unorthodox goaltender. On the positive side, he used every part of his 6-foot-3, 200 pound frame to make saves. Frequently, that included intentionally using his mask to headbutt pucks. Other times, Cechmanek would be flat on his back, facing the end wall and yet somehow make a save by kicking his legs skyward. Opponents never knew what Cechmanek would do. Often, neither did his teammates.

On the downside, Cechmanek was frequently caught way of position. When he guessed wrong, the result was an easy goal. He was also a below-average puck handler.

Off the ice, Cechmanek was initially well-liked by his Flyers teammates. He struggled with the English language but usually had a smile on his face in the early days. Over time, the relationship became increasingly strained and hit the breaking point in his third and final season.

When things clicked with Cechmanek, they went very well. As a "rookie", he unseated Boucher (who had hit a sophomore slump) and went on to place second in the Vezina Trophy balloting and fourth in the Hart Trophy race while winning the Bobby Clarke Trophy as Flyers MVP.

The 2000-01 Flyers were not a great defensive team by any means. After Bill Barber was fired and Ken Hitchcock took over, the team tightened things up defensively. Cechmanek had much better defensive support when he won his second Bobby Clarke Trophy in 2002-03.

Over the course of his Flyers career, Cechmanek posted a 1.96 goals against average, .923 save percentage and 20 shutouts in 163 games. For his playoff career, he posted a 2.33 GAA, .909 save percentage and three shutouts. After his Vezina Trophy runner-up season, the Flyers signed him to a three-year contract extension, with a raise from $1 million to $3.5 million.

Behind Cechmanek's generally excellent statistics, there were problems. Cechmanek's playoff performances tended to be either stellar or awful, with very little ground in between. He had bad performances in elimination games against Buffalo in 2001 and Ottawa in 2003. He showed up teammates in Game Five of the 2003 series against the Sens and was met at practice the next day by Jeremy Roenick and others deliberately firing pucks near his head.

On the flip side, the fact that the Flyers even won a single game against the Senators in 2002 was because Cechmanek posted a 35-save shutout in Game One. Outshot by a 35-24 margin, the Flyers won Game One on an overtime goal by Ruslan Fedotenko. That would be the only goal Philly would manage in the entire season until a first-period Dan McGillis goal stood as the lone Flyers tally in a 2-1 overtime loss in Game Five (with Boucher in net to make 25 saves in a losing cause).

The next year, Cechmanek outdueled Toronto's Ed Belfour in a first-round series that went the full seven games. Cechmanek had significant problems stopping the puck in Games One but settled in as the series moved along. In round two against Ottawa, Cechmanek was alternately awful (Games One and Three) and brilliant (33-save shutout in Game Two, 28-save shutout in Game Four). He melted down in Games 5 and 6, and had the aforementioned blowup with his teammates.

The time had come for the Flyers' relationship with Cechmanek to come to an end. On May 28, 2003, Philadelphia traded Cechmanek to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2004 second-round pick. The trade came just three weeks after the end of the Flyers' six-game loss to Ottawa.
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