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June 13, 2024

Flyers notes: A local rink saved, Bobrovsky and the Panthers' path to the Cup, and the looming closure of CapFriendly

Flyers Charities helped two girls save their local ball hockey rink, while Sergei Bobrovsky sits on the brink of the Stanley Cup with the Panthers, and hockey fans are about to lose a major public resource.

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Lilly Walter, Natalie Van Druff, Garnet Hathaway, Flyers.jpeg Philadelphia Flyers/for PhillyVoice

Lilly Walter and Natalie Van Druff with Flyers forward Garnet Hathaway and a check for $200,000 to rebuild their local ball hockey rink.

Natalie Van Druff and Lilly Walters, two 11-year olds from New Hanover Township, got a massive assist from the Flyers in an effort to save their local ball hockey rink. 

On Wednesday, Flyers Charities announced that they had made a $200,000 donation meant to go toward renovations of Van Druff's and Walters' rink, moving along a proposal that the girls themselves had made alongside the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation and to the approval of New Hanover Township's board of supervisors in May.

Renovations are expected to begin before the end of June, per the Flyers, with the money being used on new flooring, boards, nets, benches, and penalty boxes, all to replace what was a rough asphalt surface surrounded by chain link fencing, and all to foster a safer and more functional space for Van Druff, Walters, and their friends to continue playing the game. 

“When we learned of Lilly and Natalie’s remarkable initiative to preserve their community’s beloved ball hockey rink, it was an unequivocal decision to rally behind them,” Flyers Charities president Blair Listino said via a press release. “One of our main pillars is growing the game of hockey and their determination to make a difference exemplifies that. With this donation, we are thrilled to help them create a space where their passion for the sport can thrive and their neighbors are inspired to embrace hockey.”   

Van Druff and Walters were invited to the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees recently, where they were presented with the $200,000 check and some Flyers merchandise from Gritty and forward Garnet Hathaway. 

The plan is for the rink to be done later in the summer, with New Hanover Township hosting a grand opening for it at its Community Park in Gilbertsville on August 7.

“We are thankful beyond words for Flyers Charities’ tremendous generosity and support with this timeless and priceless gift,” said Natalie’s mom, Kate Van Druff of the journey“Also, being backed by our favorite hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, is nothing short of a dream come true. That word ‘dream’ keeps coming up a lot - and how could it not? Imagine being 11 years old and this is your life. As a mom watching it all unfold, it’s truly surreal.”

Since 2021, Flyers Charities has donated $700,000 toward local rink rebuilding projects to try and better promote the growth of hockey throughout Greater Philadelphia.

What about Bob?

Sergei Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers are up 2-0 on the Edmonton Oilers entering Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night. 

Florida has been good, and Bobrovsky in goal has been brilliant for them, which can be everything when you're on the doorstep of the Cup, and has been so far against the elite of the elite in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. 

But Bobrovsky started as a young goaltender in Philadelphia once upon a time, and you don't have to go far into the Flyers' social media sphere to be reminded of that, along with all the 'what ifs' and the 'should've kepts.'

And even though it's been over a decade since he was traded to Columbus, stemming from that whole mess with Ilya Bryzgalov, it is hard not to think or feel that way – heck, I still feel that way about Patrick Sharp and Justin Williams, and I was a kid when they got traded away. 

But the Flyers making the situation where they had to choose Bryzgalov over letting Bobrovsky stay and develop was one of the many devastating fumbles the organization made over the course of the 2010s that has led them to the position they're in now: Fighting an uphill battle to be competitive and relevant again.

The current front office regime of Danny Brière, Keith Jones, and Dan Hilferty wasn't responsible for that, but it is one of those botches that scarred the fan base to this day and created another hurdle for them to get over in building back trust – fair or not. 

And while that's a battle on its own, there's something else – possibly even more daunting – to take away from where Bobrovsky and the Panthers are at now and how they got there: It took them forever. 

Look at the makeup of their team: Yes, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad are former top draft picks at the core of the Panthers' roster, but they're former top picks from 10 years ago (2013 and 2014, respectively) and had a lot of lean years there after where they were either OK but not playoff-worthy or made it in but dipped out with the first round. 

They really didn't start making waves until the 2021 and then 2021-22 seasons, seven years after they got Ekblad and finally got good enough to the point where they could go for a Claude Giroux at the deadline to try and put them over the top.

And even then, the Panthers needed to deal with their own share of bad luck along with getting some fortune back in their favor, plus taking one massive gamble with no guarantee that it would pay off. 

They didn't plan on losing Joel Quenneville as their coach because of the 2010 Blackhawks scandal, but got covered by Andrew Brunette proving a competent bench boss in the interim, and then having current coach Paul Maurice fall into their lap. 

They were good in 2022 and seemed ready to make some serious noise in the playoffs when they made the deal with the Flyers for Giroux, but then they found out quickly that they still weren't better than the juggernaut at the time in the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The Panthers needed more, needed some edge, and we're willing to roll the dice and part with good in pursuit of better. They traded Jonathan Huberdeau, their third overall pick from 2011 and who was just coming off a 115-point season, to the Calgary Flames that summer for Matthew Tkachuk, a great player himself but one that people weren't sure at the time could propel a team forward when it really mattered. 

But then he got to Florida, his aggressive playstyle forged the identity of the team, and combined with Barkov, Ekblad, Bobrovsky, and others stepping into their role in the lineup, it all put them over the edge.

They put everyone on notice and made it to the Cup Final before losing to Vegas, then made it all the way back and now stand two wins away from it. 

But all of it, it took a lot, and it took forever. 

So maybe that's something to keep in mind when looking at the Flyers' trajectory. It really could take years.

Knee capped

The Washington Capitals have a deal in place to buy CapFriendly, which has been the go-to website for tracking NHL player contracts and team salary caps for years now. 

The site is supposed to stay up through the draft at the end of June and the start of free agency in early July, but once the purchase is made official – expected to be sometime later in July – it will close, and a public (and valuable) resource will be gone just like that. 

It's a move where everyone in hockey loses – from fans to media and quite possibly even other NHL front offices. 

For the logic, here's Capitals GM Brian MacLellan's explanation of the CapFriendly purchase (via ESPN's Greg Wyshynski):

Another site might emerge as the next go-to for NHL cap info later on. PuckPedia has some cap data already and is great for tracking future draft picks, and CapFriendly originally stepped up as the next main resource in place of CapGeek just shy of a decade ago in 2015, when CapGeek's founder Matthew Wuest passed away from cancer. 

But for now, the hockey world is on borrowed time with CapFriendly, and asking a question that's kind of concerning to ask in 2024: Why aren't NHL teams internally tracking all the contracts already?

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