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5/29 NOTE: Article updated for recent developments.
As the Flyers head into the summer, having missed the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, there are many decisions to be made regarding the makeup of the team.
One of the most visible on the ice and most talked about by fans was the player usage decisions made by the coaching staff throughout the season. Not optimizing the personnel on the roster was one of the most complained about issues by fans as the season wound down.
Going into the next training camp and 2017/18 season maximizing player potential will be a key component of trying to return to being a playoff team. There are not a lot of roster openings going into camp, so focusing on needs and getting the maximum out of the team will be a critical component to success.
There are a handful of upcoming factors that could impact who will push for those few openings and the existing roster for the Flyers.
Steve Mason and the goalie go round
GM Ron Hextall held his end of the season press conference. No real surprises came out of that event or the exit interviews with the players as they cleaned out their lockers. The most newsworthy was the commentary of Flyers goalie Steve Mason. He aired some of his grievances regarding the usage of himself and netminder Michal Neuvirth.
“Every single team needs to have a defined starter and a backup goalie,” Mason said. “Just having that clarity would have simplified a lot of things. If at the end of the season there was that clarity and the results showed for it.”
Mason was unhappy that he was not designated as the number one goalie early in the season and indicated that it had a negative impact on his level of play. A comment you would not necessarily expect to hear from someone who played in 58 games. He also complained about how Hakstol utilized the goaltenders which is something that many fans had also voiced skepticism about.
Several times throughout the season Hakstol would play either Mason or Neuvirth between 9 and 11 games in a row until they got tired and or injured and then play the other goalie for the same length of time without any rotation and then back to the first guy. It made zero sense and was bad for the player and the team.
In Hextall’s press conference he was asked about Mason’s comments. It was clear that he did not agree and was not pleased by them. Mason, it would seem, is on the outs with Hextall and the Flyers organization. He seemed frustrated when Neuvirth was resigned at the trade deadline and he was left without a contract going into the offseason. Neuvirth signed a short contract for a low salary amount. Neither of which Mason was expected to be willing to do.
“The way pro sports work, the way we work, you earn your ice time,” Hextall said. “So, whether you’re a defenseman, a forward, a goalie, you earn your ice time. Mase has been pretty much our goalie for the last four or five years.
With the upcoming expansion draft, the goaltending situation becomes even more complicated. The Flyers can only protect one goalie and it would make sense that they would want to protect Anthony Stolarz. If Las Vegas takes Neuvirth, with his 2 year term and $2.5M annual salary, Hextall is free to resign Mason or look to the market for a starter.
This would allow Stolarz time as the backup to continue to grow into an NHL goaltender and assume the starting job 1-2 years down the road.
There are a few big free agent names out there, Ryan Miller and Ben Bishop (recently signed by Dallas), are top name free agents who Hextall would hopefully avoid. Both Ryan and Bishop would demand exorbitant salaries and would insist on lengthy contracts likely 5-6 year deals.
The Flyers have several young goaltenders in the prospect pipeline who will likely be ready to assume NHL duties in that time and instead would be sidelined waiting for an opening.
Hopefully, Hextall would instead target players like Jonathan Bernier or Petr Mrazek. Either one would be a great fit for the Flyers and their needs. Both have been mostly backup players over their careers. They would not demand salaries or terms similar to Bishop or Ryan.
2017 NHL Entry Draft
Flyers social media blew up on Saturday April 29th when the draft lottery was held and the Flyers rocketed up from 13th to the 2nd overall pick. This was exactly what Flyers and Flyers fans had been praying for. This kind of surprise is something Flyer world had seen go the other way for years.
The worst case was losing the number one overall pick to Chicago which turned into Patrick Kane even though the Flyers had the worst overall record in 2007.
The consensus is that the Flyers will select whoever of Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier that New Jersey does not pick.Either one of center Nolan Patrick or winger Nico Hischier would be ideal for the Flyers and provide a fit to holes in the Flyers roster. It is a nice thought, but it would take more than the Flyers are willing to surrender to make either happen.
Check out #18 on the far half-wall https://t.co/FsWpAJCrkY
— mbhoya (@mbhoya) April 30, 2017
Check out #18 on the far half-wall https://t.co/FsWpAJCrkY
— mbhoya (@mbhoya) April 30, 2017
Either one of the two dynamic centers would be ideal for the Flyers and provide a boost to the Flyers need for a top line center to replace Giroux. The expectation was that the Flyers would draft a good player, but not a franchise center.
While Hextall has hinted at looking to free agency to replace Mason in net, do not look for him to make a big splash signing anyone to make an impact on either offense or defense. Hextall is pushing for patience and seems happy with the roster he has.
He had already indicated that he did not intend on looking for big pieces to add to the roster. With the unexpected signing of Mike Vecchione do not look for Hextall to make any moves other than looking for a potential goaltender.
When Vecchione signed with the Flyers it was a surprise to all and a welcome upgrade to the 4th line going forward. He adds speed, tenacity and offensive abilities to what had been a checking and penalty killing line.
Rumors have surfaced that Union college right wing Spencer Foo, who announced he was leaving college after his junior year, had narrowed his list of NHL teams to five and the Flyers were one of those teams. The Flyers have a strong connection to Union college with current players Shayne Gostisbehere and Mike Vecchione.
There is not a lot of room for existing forwards, but it is rumored that Hextall admires Foo who more than doubled his point production this season.
Oskar Lindblom is coming to North America
The most impactful addition to the Flyers roster of forwards this offseason will be when 2015 draft pick Oskar Lindblom leaves Sweden to begin his North American professional career. The 5th round pick has been turning heads since his 2015 WJC U20 performance. Playing for Sweden, Lindblom scored 4 goals and 9 points in 7 games and he has not looked back since.
The rugged left wing stands 6’2” and 195 pounds and is very strong on his skates. He consistently wins battles along the boards and is nearly impossible to move when he posts up near the net. He scored 25 points as a 19 year old in the Swedish Elite League playing among men. He tore up the league this season, a leading scorer all season and one of the most dominant players. He tallied 22 goals and 47 points for third best in the league. He was also plus 16 as he displayed his strong two-way play all season.
Lindblom led his Brynas team into the SHL playoffs. Lindblom scored 14 points in 20 games. He was the best player on the ice in games 5 and 7 of the semi finals, leading his team to the league championship series after being down 3 games to 1. Unfortunately, they lost the series in 7 games.
Lindblom is expected to secure a spot on the roster for the Flyers, possibly on the 3rd line alongside Couturier and Schenn. It is not unrealistic that he could play his way up the lineup to possibly play on the top line.
Replacing Del Zotto and Schultz on Defense
On the backend, the Flyers need to fill the vacancies left by UFA players Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto, who are not returning. Sam Morin and Robert Hagg both made their NHL debuts at the end of the season. Both players appeared to belong on the roster.
Hagg and Morin were both taken in the 2013 entry draft. Morin was selected 11th and Hagg 41st. Both have been playing solid hockey with the Flyers farm team in Lehigh Valley. Hagg has three full years with the Phantoms while Morin has two. They are both steady defensively with solid skating and passing skills. Neither will put up big offensive numbers, but can back up a more offensive partner while staying back to protect the goaltender.
— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) February 19, 2017
— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) February 9, 2017
The Flyers have two other blue chip prospects on defense who could push for a roster spot in the fall. Both Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers are more complete players and possess higher ceilings than Morin or Hagg. However, both could be helped by time with the Phantoms. They are both younger with Sanheim having recently just turned 21 and Myers who is only 20.
Given Hextall’s stated desire for patience and calling out how recent Pittsburgh standouts were older when they made the move to the NHL, they would have to really wow the coaching staff to cut ahead of any of the other defensemen.
“Their guys helping in the playoffs were all 23-years old except for the goalie,” Hextall said of the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. “So keep that in mind. They were kids, but 23-year-old kids.”
While there will be some new faces on the Flyers this coming season there are only a handful of roster spots to fight for.
Of the twelve forward spots, seven – Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Filppula, Couturier, Schenn and Konecny – are absolute locks. Weal (a UFA who will likely be resigned given his level of play since being called up) and Raffl (if not taken by LV) potentially have upper hand on another two roster positions.
The 2nd overall draft pick will fight for a starting role.
Assuming Lindblom performs as expected he will make a major push for a starting job. Mike Vecchione will also be a serious contender for a job. That means Read, Weise, Cousins (RFA), Laughton (RFA) and Bellemare are all fighting for two available roster spots.
Some changes obviously will have to be made. There are too many legitimate players vying for a small number of available slots.This means Read, Weise, Cousins (RFA), Laughton (RFA) and Bellemare are all fighting for two available roster spots.
Assuming the 7 core players return for the upcoming season that means the following players are vying for 5 available roster positions.This means Read, Weise, Cousins (RFA), Laughton (RFA) and Bellemare are all fighting for two available roster spots.
Fighting for roster spots
- Oscar Lindblom (Will sign ELC)
- 2nd overall Draft Pick
- Michael Raffl (2 years left @ $2.35M)
- Matt Read (1 year left @ $3.63M)
- Dale Weise (3 years left @ $2.35M)
- Mike Vecchione (RFA)
- Nick Cousins (RFA)
- Scott Laughton (RFA)
- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (resigned 2 yrs)
All of the above are fighting for five available roster spots. Even if Las Vegas takes one of the forwards that still leaves 8 players fighting for 5 spots.
On defense, Provorov, Ghost and Gudas are locks. Manning is most likely going to continue as the Flyers 7th defenseman. Andrew MacDonald is not leaving the Flyers organization. Where he plays is possibly a question. Hakstol is very high on him, so unless Hextall waives him to the Phantoms he will remain on the roster for another year. That leaves 2 open slots with Morin and Hagg having the advantage with Sanheim and Myers as outside shots.
In net, Neuvirth is under contract and will most likely be unprotected in the expansion draft. If he is taken, Hextall will have to shop for a goaltender on the open market or resign Mason.
There are several factors which will contribute to potential changes to the Flyers roster this offseason.
- UFA players – VandeVelde, Del Zotto, Schultz and Mason were all in the final years of their contracts and were UFAs at season end. Only Mason is possible to be resigned.
- Expansion draft – Las Vegas will most likely see the selection of one of the forwards fighting for a roster position or Michal Neuvirth forcing Hextall to find a new starting goalie.
- NHL Entry Draft – The most surprising variable was moving way up in the lottery. Either Patrick or Hischier could be on the roster next fall.
- European players – Oskar Lindblom has announced that he will not resign in Sweden and will be moving to North America this summer to join the Flyers.
- Free agency – Mike Vecchione, already a Flyer, having signed from college in March will probably have a role on the 4th line in the fall. Recent rumors about college free agent Spencer Foo, Vecchione’s teammate at Union, could cause additional roster turmoil should he sign in Philly. Hextall is not expected to make any other moves in free agency other than to find a goaltender should Neuvirth be taken and Steve Mason is not resigned.
It will be an interesting summer watching now events play out and how they impact the roster. New blood will make a push to replace veteran players on the roster.
This is what Hextall wanted when he said he would not mortgage the future for making a run at the playoffs now. The stockpile of draft picks have turned into NHL prospects who were given time to mature in the lower levels and will now challenge older players for starting roles with the Flyers.
Who said summer is boring for hockey fans?