Ed Moran: With Briere returning, Sbisa falls under Flyers' salary-cap gun

Will Luca Sbisa be sent back to juniors?
Will Luca Sbisa be sent back to juniors?
Posted: January 19, 2009

THE FLYERS HAVE BEEN dodging salary-cap bullets all season, but it looks like that will end tomorrow. Danny Briere played his last conditioning game with the Phantoms last night, and he most likely will return to the Flyers' lineup for Wednesday's home game against Atlanta.

It could be called luck that general manager Paul Holmgren hasn't had to do anything more than waive Lasse Kukkonen twice since the start of the season - if you see injuries as luck.

Defenseman Luca Sbisa made the team and was kept from being sent back to junior hockey because of injuries to Randy Jones and Ryan Parent at the start of the season. Then when Jones was ready to return, and it looked like Holmgren was going to have to clear as much as $2 million in cap room, Briere went out with groin injuries.

But now the cap issue is upon them. There has been much speculation about what will be done, including a possible trade of a high-profile player and the return of Sbisa to juniors.

Don't look for a trade. It won't happen. With Josh Gratton and Jon Kalinski both on long-term injury, sending Kukkonen to the Phantoms will get Holmgren close to what he needs.

So close that he may even be able to keep Sbisa by sending Darroll Powe or Claude Giroux to the Phantoms. Both have played well and could make a case for the NHL. Powe has speed and determination and can mix it up. Giroux has vision and skill but gets knocked around easily.

The real question is Sbisa. He has been a healthy scratch. And he is part of a stacked defensive corps that already can't find room for Parent. Remember him? He was the centerpiece of the Peter Forsberg trade to Nashville that also brought Scottie Upshall.

Parent played 22 games with the Flyers last season and stayed through the playoffs, where he was impressive. His shoulder injury cost him a spot this season; now he is with the Phantoms.

So can the Flyers justify keeping Sbisa and leave no chance to bring up Parent?

The decision I see coming is the return of Sbisa to Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League, where he will play every game and skate huge minutes.

He's young and confident and as much as keeping him would be good for the Flyers' locker room and for Sbisa's confidence, there doesn't seem to be a better solution.

Boxing Day

For the Flyers, boxing day is any day that they are playing. For some reason, the Flyers can't seem to stop taking avoidable minor penalties and stay out of the penalty box.

I wonder how long they can keep getting points in games when they are averaging 18.2 penalty minutes per game and leading the league in minor penalties with 251.

It nearly cost them the game Friday in Florida.

After taking a two-goal lead in the first period, the Flyers drew four penalties in a row, including another too-many-men bench minor - their 11th, which leads the league.

The Panthers were only too happy to score two power-play goals, claim their point and force the Flyers into a shootout. The NHL has had no tolerance for obstruction, so it's puzzling that the Flyers can't seem to understand that a stick placed against an opponent in a position parallel to the ice results in a hooking call. Or that slashing a stick in two is slashing.

I'll give them the notion that they are targets for refs. The Flyers don't seem to catch a break. Kimmo Timonen clears a puck that deflects out of the rink off a Florida stick and he gets the delay-of-game.

Yes, the Flyers' penalty kill is great, but 18.2 minutes a game is going to get in the way of a long playoff run. Dontcha think?

Shanny back

Brendan Shanahan's absence from the game comes to an end today when the New Jersey Devils play Nashville. Great to see him back. Even at 40, Shanahan is a good player and an experienced veteran worth watching.

It wouldn't have worked for the Flyers bringing him in at the expense of a player like Mike Knuble, who would probably have been moved to make the necessary room. But it would have been better if Shanahan had gone to anyone other than the Atlantic Division rivals who, by the way, are now in second, ahead of the Flyers in the league standings and tied in points at 57.

Snap shots

It was a fun week for quotes, starting with this one from Thrashers coach John Anderson after they lost, 4-1, to Tampa at home: "Our give-a-crap level was like at zero. I've got to question whether anybody cares in that locker room. That's a joke" . . . And put these two quotes together and make of it what you want, following the weeklong rumors that Montreal was going to trade Christopher Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges and multiple first-round picks to Tampa for Vincent Lecavalier: "To suggest we're engaging in conversations to trade him or we're shopping him to all teams in the National Hockey League is completely inaccurate," Lightning GM Brian Lawton told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's false, egregious and it's abusive toward the player. I can tell you if a player of that stature were ever going to be traded, I would go meet with him, face to face, and discuss the situation. That has never happened." And from the other side: "There's a price for everything," Montreal GM Bob Gainey was quoted as saying in Montreal last week. "If a player we thought could help this team became available, we'd have to look at the price and then make a decision" . . .

The Phoenix Coyotes are in trouble and are projected to lose $45 million this season . . . Meanwhile, Kansas City has an empty rink and the New York Islanders have agreed to play a preseason game there next fall . . . And hasn't there been a lot of interest in Las Vegas for a hockey team? Could be some moves coming. *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com

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