Flyers need more offense this season … after all, they're paying for it

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Flyers need more offense this season … after all, they're paying for it

In a salary cap-baked world, every NHL team has a pie that’s no bigger than the next one.  

Some teams prefer the shepherd’s pie recipe in which you pack as much into the crust as possible like the Flyers typically do, while a handful of small-market teams play it more on the conservative side.

More importantly, how that pie is sliced up is what truly differentiates the 31 general managers and the rest of their cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.

In sifting through the Flyers' financials, you will notice a seismic shift in the organization’s spending just in the past four years.

During Paul Holmgren’s final season as general manager in 2013-14, the Flyers' defense was more of a green line than a blue one. According to NHLnumbers.com, the team allocated more money to the back end than any other team in the league: $29.5 million, accounting for 42.5 percent of its total cap dollars. Kimmo Timonen led the way at $6 million. Chris Pronger was still on the books despite a career-ending injury, and the team added Mark Streit at just over $5 million for four years. Interestingly, the Flyers' cap hit for Luke Schenn ($3.6 million) was more than their two goalies combined (Ray Emery + Steve Mason = $3.1 million).

That was Homer’s homemade way of building a team. He made some big trades and spent even bigger dollars to whip up the most expensive defense money can buy. The final product proved to be a little burnt around the edges, as the Flyers ranked 20th in goals allowed during a season in which Peter Laviolette was fired after three games before assistant Craig Berube stepped in and led the Flyers to a first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.

Whereas Holmgren’s method was more of a short-term, throw-it-in-the-microwave approach, Ron Hextall has proven to be the connoisseur of the Crock-Pot. Turn the knob on low and let it gradually work its way to a boil. Lift the lid, soak in the aroma, and then cover it back up because these things take time.

As the Flyers enter the 2017-18 season, Hextall is slicing his pie much, much differently than his predecessor — although not necessarily by choice.  

Prior to free agency this summer, the Flyers actually led the NHL in spending at the forward position. Now they’re currently third with 13 players signed at a total of $47.5 million, behind only the Blackhawks (who added Brandon Saad in a trade with Columbus) and the Maple Leafs (who signed Patrick Marleau). It’s actually a little more if you include the buyout of R.J. Umberger, whose $1.5 million is essentially dead money but doesn’t factor in the total.

However, the Flyers are the only team in the league spending two-thirds of its cap money on forwards at 68 percent, just ahead of the Devils. That percentage may deviate depending on which rookies make the team, but not much.

The most noticeable difference between 2013-14 and 2017-18 is the Flyers eventually had to pay market value for their two proven star players: Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who comprise roughly $16.5 million, or a third of what the Flyers are spending at the position. Four years ago, Scott Hartnell and Vinny Lecavalier were tops at just over $9 million. Throw in pay raises for Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Michael Raffl, and just like that, the Flyers are spending about $15 million more in their forward portfolio than they were paying in 2013-14.

In some ways it’s cyclical. Five years from now, Hextall may very well revert back to the Holmgren days if the prospects pan out to be legitimate NHL defensemen.  

As for this season, the Flyers have put a lot of eggs in that forward basket. Toronto and Chicago finished in the top 10 in scoring last season and made the playoffs, so their spending was justified. The Flyers were 20th in goals scored and missed the postseason with a minus-17 in goal differential. For what the Flyers are spending, you should expect more offense and, at the very least, a playoff team that outscores its opponent. 

It’s a franchise that hasn’t missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1993-94. If that happens, Hextall may need a rolling pin and start from scratch.

Andrei Markov to return to Russia to play in KHL

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Andrei Markov to return to Russia to play in KHL

You can mark off Andrei Markov as a potential training camp tryout. Markov said he talked to a few NHL organizations during the free agency period but has elected to move back to Russia to play in the KHL.  

“I couldn’t see myself playing with any other NHL teams,” Markov said Thursday afternoon during a conference call. 

The Canadiens on Thursday bid farewell to Markov, who spent the past 16 seasons with Montreal, the only NHL team the defenseman has ever played for.  

According to reports, Markov, who turns 39 in December, was believed to be seeking a two-year contract in the $6 million per season range, but was willing to settle for one year to stay in Montreal. However, the Canadiens elected to go considerably cheaper in signing former Flyers defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year deal worth a reported $700,000.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall had shot down previous reports the Flyers were the only team negotiating with Markov during free agency.

“No. That’s not true. Don’t believe everything you hear,” Hextall said after returning from the NHL draft.

However, Hextall also made it clear he’s considering bringing in a veteran defenseman on a camp tryout as a backup in case one of the younger defensive prospects may not be ready to start the season at the NHL level. Had Markov been willing to come in on a tryout basis, the Flyers would have been interested.

With Markov’s decision and the recent signings of Streit and Johnny Oduya committing to the Senators, the prospective free-agent pool of defensemen is beginning to thin out with Francois Beauchemin, Dennis Wideman and Cody Franson as veteran blueliners still looking for a job for next season.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.