Claude Giroux: Flyers are a 'desperate team'

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Claude Giroux: Flyers are a 'desperate team'

It was right there for them. Then it slipped away.

The Flyers had a one-goal lead in the third period of Thursday’s game against the Panthers at Wells Fargo Center. Things looked good. Six games earlier, in Florida, the Flyers throttled the Panthers and won by six goals. It appeared as though the orange and black would get a second victory over Florida in as many games this season. It seemed that way, but it didn’t go down that way.

The Flyers gave up a power-play goal in the third period that tied the contest. They had chances to win in overtime that didn’t work out. Then they watched the Panthers’ first two skaters score during the shootout. And that was that. Florida won, 3-2 (see story).

The Flyers picked up a point, but they didn’t seem so happy about it. They are 4-6-1 now. Almost a quarter of the lockout-shortened season is already gone -- just like that, while you were blinking or getting up to get a beverage from the fridge. One point would be fine on most nights in most seasons, but this year is different.

After the game, Claude Giroux did not look happy. He stood in the locker room with his arms folded and gave his appraisal of the situation. It was not a cheery take on the team's affairs.

“We need those points,” Giroux said. “We need that shootout win. We’ve got to get it done.”

That wasn’t all. He went further.

“We’re a desperate team right now,” Giroux added.
 
The Flyers played with energy and urgency in the overtime, but Giroux and several other players didn’t pat themselves on the back of their sweaters for it. Quite the opposite, actually. To hear them tell it, anything they did right on Thursday was overshadowed by what went wrong: their slow start in the first period and their missed opportunities on two power plays in the third period.

“We should be a desperate team,” Kimmo Timonen said when asked if he agreed with Giroux’s assessment of the season. “But the way we came out in the first period, that’s not a desperate team. That has to be a good teaching point for us moving forward. Every game matters. Every period matters. We’re not the team that’s 10-0. We can’t afford to lose the first period like that. Based on that, I think we lost a point [on Thursday].”

Peter Laviolette didn’t disagree. He said the first period “just seemed quiet.” He wasn't so thrilled with the rest of the game, either.

“We had opportunities in the middle period and on the power plays, chances to win a game and we didn’t do it,” Laviolette said.

It is how things have gone for them this year. There have been chances to win but not enough actual victories. After being one of the best offensive teams in the league a year ago, the Flyers have scored more than two goals just twice in 11 games. It is not what they or anyone else expected.

In any other season, the slow start would be unfortunate -- something on the order of a mild irritation. Again, this is not any other season. The slow start is clearly chafing them. You can hear the frustration in so many answers to so many different questions.

“I don’t know what it is or how to fix it,” said Matt Read, who scored his fourth goal of the season. “We’ve been coming out flat every night.”

Read shook his head a little as he talked. His frustration was evident. He couldn’t hide it. None of them can.

“When it’s a tie game late in the game, you’ve got to get pucks to the net and look for rebounds, a dirty goal,” Read continued. “It just didn’t happen. We need to keep working on that. We need to learn how to close out games.”

The Flyers picked up a point on Thursday. They didn’t sound too excited about it. That’s how it goes when the season is shorter and accelerated. The desperation sets in quicker.  

2016 Flyers free-agent target: Islanders RW Kyle Okposo

2016 Flyers free-agent target: Islanders RW Kyle Okposo

Each day until July 1, the day free agency begins, CSNPhilly.com producers Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile some of the NHL's top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.
 
Kyle Okposo, right wing
 
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 217
Last team: New York Islanders
2015-16 cap hit: $2.8 million
 
Scouting report
One of the biggest names on the free-agent market, Okposo is a nifty puck-handler with a fearsome shot, making for a richly talented offensive winger.
 
Sounds just like Ron Hextall’s No. 1 offseason need.
 
The 2006 seventh overall pick finished last season with 64 points — which would have been second on the Flyers — by tallying 22 goals and a career-high-tying 42 assists. His last three seasons have gone for 50-plus points, while in 2013-14 he posted a career-best 69.
 
Okposo is a multifaceted scorer, understanding how to produce in a variety of ways, whether it’s using his body or skill. He knows how to play big and small.
 
The righty shot is dangerous on the power play and a bona-fide top-six forward.
 
Many believe he’s just reaching his prime.
 
Projection
The Islanders have essentially said so long to Okposo, so he’s up for grabs.
 
The Flyers have interest but it looks to be a daunting task to snag the 28-year-old.
 
With the extension of Radko Gudas and the need to re-up restricted free agent Brayden Schenn, it simply doesn’t appear monetarily plausible for the Flyers to reel in a top-six forward the ilk of Okposo.
 
Rumblings have it that Okposo could be searching for a long-term deal in the ballpark of $7 million a season. Whether he’s worth as such is one thing. Whether the Flyers could afford it is another.

I’m a believer the Flyers should seek out Okposo, but unless Hextall pulls off an unforeseen trade to surprisingly clear the barn and make room, I don't see it happening.

NHL draft: Logan Stanley's size his biggest asset

NHL draft: Logan Stanley's size his biggest asset

BUFFALO, NY — Logan Stanley had no shortage of help to prepare for the NHL draft process.

Stanley leaned on his cousin, Washington Capitals forward Michael Latta, for advice as he attempts to carve out his own path to the NHL.

The cousins usually connected once a week during the hockey season, with Latta, a 2009 third-round selection of the Nashville Predators, providing guidance for his younger cousin.

“He went through all this — the combine, the draft — he kind of just said, ‘Enjoy it, work hard, you’re still a young kid so they’re not going to base your career off of this week,’” Stanley said at the recent NHL scouting combine. “He just said work hard, enjoy it and do your best.

“He watches [my games] when he can, he’s busy too with Washington, but he sees some.”

Anyone who watches Stanley can immediately see his biggest asset is his size. At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, he had the longest wingspan during the combine testing at 82.75 inches — a full 1.75 inches longer than the next prospect.

With his size, it’s not surprising the scouting report on the defenseman is that he’s an intimidating presence on the blue line. However, Stanley also skates well for his size and rarely gets beat wide. His size also gives him a large reach, making it difficult for opponents to get around his active stick.

Stanley is at his best when he’s playing a simple, physical puck-moving game. For Team Canada at the Under-18 World Championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Stanley helped make up a strong second pairing along with under-aged blue liner Nicolas Hague.

“Someone who is hard to play against defensively, going to give a good effort every night and someone who competes hard,” Stanley said, describing his game. “Trying to watch [Shea] Weber and try and play like him, [he's a] good skater, and obviously he’s had a great career so far. He’s a leader, definitely someone I look up to.

“I think just how hard he plays every game. He works hard and plays a hard game so I think just playing like that.”

Stanley was the 19th-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, up from 23 in the mid-term rankings.

With ISS Hockey, Stanley went from 27th in the February ranking to 25th in the final ranking.

“He’s a real draft wild card,” ISS Hockey Scouting Director Dennis MacInnis said. “He’s the type of guy that anytime after 17, I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes. He’s one of the most improved players since the start of the year.

“I think most of it was his confidence. For a big guy, he’s very mobile. There’s no questions about his skating or anything like that. He’s just got that tremendous combination of size, skating, compete level and hockey sense.”

Stanley scored five goals and 12 assists in 65 regular-season games while playing for the Windsor Spitfires this season. He added one goal in five Ontario Hockey League playoff games.

Away from the rink, with his down time, the Waterloo, Ontario, native likes to work on his golf game.

“I took a few weeks off after the season, but [working out] never really stops,” he said. “On a day off, I play a round of golf or just hang out with my family. [My golf game] is all right, needs some improvement.”

On the ice, scouts would like to see him improve on his offensive creativity. Additionally, he needs to learn to release his shot from the point quicker and use his large frame more to his advantage on a more consistent basis.

With the Flyers picking at No. 18 on Friday, Stanley will likely be available for them.

“He just needs time to figure out what [type of defenseman] he is because he likes to go with [the puck] once in a while,” MacInnis said. “He can’t handle the puck [well], but he can skate. Once he figures out what he is, I think there’s tremendous upside with the kid.

“Once he figures [the puck handling] out, his confidence has come a long way, and his game has really grown as the season has gone on. We project him more as a Top-4, shutdown, defenseman more than an offensive guy.”

Flyers enter 2016 NHL draft with 11 picks, open mind to make moves

Flyers enter 2016 NHL draft with 11 picks, open mind to make moves

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It’s one thing to advance five spots in the NHL draft.

It’s another to catapult 13 places into the top five.

Yet that’s what Flyers general manager Ron Hextall — along with a half-dozen far more desperate clubs — has been trying to do this week in advance of Friday’s first round.

Recall last June at the draft, the Flyers traded with Toronto to move up five slots from No. 29 to No. 24 to select forward Travis Konecny.

Hextall knows that getting into the top five is a long shot. Given the relative sameness of players after the No. 5 spot, however, he could stay or drop back.

“We’ll look at everything,” Hextall said. “Depending who’s on the board, do we move back? That’s the question that I don’t know myself right now.

“I don’t know how the board is going to fall. I believe we’ll pick at 18. That’s my belief. You never know.”

His scouts believe there will be an excellent player at No. 18 regardless.

“Our feeling is at 18 we’re going to get a real good prospect and I believe beyond our pick there’s still good players there,” Hextall said.

“So no matter what, we feel like we’re going to get a good player no matter what the order goes and a lot of it is to see how the board falls.”

Hextall said Thursday night that attempts to move up had failed.

“If I were a betting man," he said, "I’d say nothing is going to happen.”

Among those players who could be available at 18: forwards Kieffer Bellows, Luke Kunin, Riley Tufte and Julien Gauthier.

Keep in mind, the Flyers have never drafted a collegian with their first-round pick, but they have drafted players from the U.S. National program (James van Riemsdyk in 2007), which Bellows is part of.

Then again, given Shayne Gostisbehere’s performance this past season, you have to wonder if the Flyers' draft thinking has changed in regards to collegians.

“We’re drafting the best player whether college or a junior, high school,” Hextall said. “We’re still taking the best player. Doesn’t matter.”

With the addition of Arizona’s fourth-round pick to complete the Chris Pronger/Sam Gagner deal from last summer, the Flyers have 11 picks, the most Hextall has had during the short time he’s been the club’s GM (see story).

Six of those picks are jammed between the second and fourth rounds.

Gostisbehere was a third-rounder (78th overall) in 2012, and he blossomed quickly into a Calder Trophy finalist, finishing runner-up to Chicago’s Artemi Panarin (see story).

Left wing Oskar Lindblom, taken in the fifth round (138th) in 2014, had a productive season in Europe last year with Brynas IF in the Swedish Elite League, plus the U-20 World Junior Championship. He then came over here to play eight games with the Phantoms and recorded seven points off an amateur tryout contract.  

Hextall is hoping that with so many picks, he discovers another future NHLer buried.

“There’s not a lot hidden, but they are there,” he said. “Lindblom is an example. He was a later-round pick right now that looks like he’s got a pretty good chance of playing. He’s a really good prospect that was picked late in the draft.

“There are players out there that you could hit on. Our guys lately I feel have done a pretty good job. Look at Ghost, he was a third-round pick. Pretty darn good third-round pick. So there are guys out there. Our [scouts] have to try to be better than everybody else.”

Last summer, the Flyers went into the draft knowing they needed goalie depth. What they didn’t foresee was drafting three of them.

They’re already overstocked on defense and need forwards, particularly wingers, out of this draft (see story). With 11 picks, unearthing one truly skilled winger shouldn’t be an issue.

“In a perfect world, maybe we pick one goalie, two or three defensemen and the rest forwards,” Hextall said. “Well, we don’t live in a perfect world, but that’s kind of the outline going in.

“But again if there’s a defenseman there late in the draft, and we’ve drafted a couple already or three or four already, and he’s there and we like him that much, you can’t go by guys you like that much.”

No one is quite sure of the drop-off in this draft after 18. Unlike last year, when there were so many quality first-rounders that the trickle-down effect carried into the second round.

Whether those later players become impact players is another unknown.

“It depends on what you call impact, but yeah, we believe we’re going to get a good player,” Hextall said. “We really do. We’ve got a group of four or five guys. It’s a big group.

“We’re at 18 and someone’s going to jump out and get picked before everybody thinks they’re going to get picked. Guys will fall. There’s probably more guys that will fall than we have in our group.”

One thing that Hextall would not mind doing is orchestrating a trade at the draft for a proven, scoring winger, even though it will likely require parting with one of his coveted defensive prospects.

Hextall said last week he would entertain such offers and might even be willing to roll the dice and trade for the negotiating rights to a potential free agent.

"I got a couple calls," Hextall said, adding nothing piqued his interest. "I'm not going to tell you about them."