Re-signing Brayden Schenn shouldn't be the Flyers first offseason priority, but it should be near the top of the list

Re-signing Brayden Schenn shouldn't be the Flyers first offseason priority, but it should be near the top of the list

The Philadelphia Flyers’ first-round playoff loss to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers proved that the Orange and Black need significant upgrades at certain positions – most notably speed and puck movement along the blue line and a true finisher to play alongside Claude Giroux – in order to truly reach the upper echelon of the NHL.

But new general manager Ron Hextall came out a few weeks ago and said re-signing restricted free agent Brayden Schenn, the team’s second-line center for most of last season, is the Flyers’ top offseason priority.

Should it be THE top offseason priority?

Probably not.

A top offseason priority? Sure. But not THE top offseason priority.

That distinction belongs to trying to improve and start a youth movement on the blue line, as it has been for years now. It will be interesting to see how that plays out this summer with a new general manager who has played a hand in rebuilding a defensive corps for a team that’s still playing right now. But that’s another story for another day.

Back to the topic at hand, the younger Schenn.

Schenn, as you may recall, was originally considered the crown jewel of the package the Los Angeles Kings sent back to the Flyers in return for Mike Richards prior to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

That accolade instead belongs to Wayne Simmonds, who has burst into NHL stardom with 72 goals in his first three seasons in orange and black and has endeared himself to Flyers fans with his spirited and physical style of play.

That’s not to say Schenn has been a bad player during his tenure so far in Philadelphia. He’s been quite a good one with 40 goals – including his first 20-goal campaign this past season - and 45 assists for 85 points in three seasons as a Flyer.

But Schenn has been inconsistent at times, gone stretches without goals and can disappear on defense at times as he’s a combined minus-15 over the last three seasons. In fact, his usual line of him centering Simmonds and Vinny Lecavalier finished last season minus-20 combined.

Fair expectations or not, one can assume that Flyers fans and management expected more than they’ve gotten so far out of the guy the team’s captain – and arguably most popular player at the time – was traded for.

Add those facts in with the glut of centers the Flyers currently have on the roster and prized center prospect Scott Laughton ready to challenge for spot with the big club come training camp in the fall, and the question of what to do with Schenn, who is no doubt a valuable trade piece if that option crossed Hextall’s mind, is a somewhat legitimate one.

But he should be re-signed unless Hextall is blown away by an offer that will help the Flyers in the long-term, specifically along the blue line. There’s no way the Flyers should just let him walk to another team’s offer sheet. (Remember, the Flyers would have the right to match any offer Schenn agrees to with another team because he is a restricted free agent.)

The main reason is that Schenn, who will be 23-years-old when the new season starts in October, is an incredibly skilled player with a boatload of potential that has yet to be tapped.

There’s a reason he was the fifth-overall pick in a 2009 draft that included first-rounders such as the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Rangers’ Chris Kreider.

Schenn hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be at the NHL level. Part of that is because of the way he has had to jump around lines and positions during his short NHL career. He’s played on all four lines and on the wing despite the fact he’s a natural center. But it’s the NHL and things like that happen.

Another part of the questions surrounding Schenn could do with the market he plays in.

Philadelphia, at its very core, is hockey-crazed. When a player with the popularity and caliber of Richards is traded and a guy as highly touted as Schenn comes in, superior results are wanted almost immediately. It may not be fair, but it comes with the territory.

A lot of the time, superior results don’t come immediately, especially from a young player.

Young players have to find their respective games.

Schenn just finished his third season – his second full season, one of which was lockout-abbreviated – as a Flyer, is still in his early 20s and is finally getting a chance to play his natural position alongside other talented players on a consistent basis. It takes time.

Sure, more may have been expected sooner, but the Flyers would be foolish to give up on such a high level of young talent. They’ve done that before with disastrous results during previous general manager regimes. (See: Williams, Justin and Sharp, Patrick)

Hextall knows what holding on to young talent can do for franchise. Take a look at what the Kings team he helped build and develop has accomplished not only this season, but over the past few seasons. Sure, additions from the outside were made to push them over the top, but that happens with every successful team. Their core was developed from within.

And, whether you agree or not, Schenn is a major building block as Hextall tries to develop the Flyers in his image from within.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points (at the time of this posting), and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

Editor's Note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

The improvements have been obvious for the 76ers this season. Just months removed from a franchise-worst 10-72 record, the Sixers have begun to see return on their rebuild with rookie Joel Embiid leading the charge.
 
December will be a big month for the team as it looks to rise in the Eastern Conference. Attending an upcoming game won’t come attached with big ticket prices, either. With several marquee opponents headed to Wells Fargo Center over the next four weeks, including the Lakers, Celtics and Raptors, fans can find relatively inexpensive ticket prices on the resale market all month long.
 
On TicketIQ, a ticket search engine that pools tickets and data from over 90 percent of the resale market, the average resale price for 76ers tickets in December is just $58. That makes December among the cheapest months to see the Sixers this season.

 
With the Lakers in town for a December 16 game, it will be the only 76ers home game this month that commands an average resale price above $100. On TicketIQ, 76ers vs Lakers tickets own a $112 average and the most inexpensive are listed from $27 each. It will be the Lakers’ sole visit to Philadelphia this season.
 
The Celtics will be the Sixers’ second most expensive opponent this month, but their December 3 visit is currently averaging nearly half the price the Lakers are seeing when they’re in town two weeks later. As it stands now the average resale price for tickets against the Celtics is $69 with a get-in price of $13.
 
The Nets, Pelicans and Raptors are all generating similar demand for their respective stops in Philadelphia later this month. With all three teams visiting over a six-day period between December 14 and 20, no game will average over $55 on the secondary market. Tickets start from as low as $7 each to when Anthony Davis and the Pelicans come to town on the 20th.
 
For those fans with interest in attending the most inexpensive games at Wells Fargo Center this month, the struggling Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets will serve as the most affordable opponents to see in action in December. The Magic play the Sixers on Friday night, where last-minute 76ers vs. Magic tickets are averaging $43. Their next home game against the Nuggets have an average resale price of just $35.