The Flyers are just 4 points out of a playoff spot in a terrible Metropolitan Division

The Flyers are just 4 points out of a playoff spot in a terrible Metropolitan Division


So far this season, the Flyers have endured their worst eight-game start in franchise history at 1-7 , saw their head coach hit the unemployment line after all of three games, made headlines for all the wrong reasons after a goalie “fight,” and have gone through such awful offensive dry spells that their most-skilled players wouldn’t have been able to shoot the puck into the ocean at times.

And while the team has played much better hockey of late and may have turned a corner under new coach Craig Berube, who has led the them to a 7-7-2 record since taking over behind the bench for Peter Laviolette, the Flyers sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and last place in the Metropolitan Division … and are just four points out of a playoff spot.

You read that correctly.

With 16 points, the Flyers -- prior to Monday night’s games -- sit just four points out of playoff spot as in a weak Eastern Conference and an even weaker -- and terribly named -- Metropolitan Division.

But how is that possible given how poorly the Orange and Black started the year?

There are a few explanations.

When the NHL realigned over the summer to put Winnipeg out west, it created two divisions for each conference and forced the league to revamp its playoff system.

Eight teams from each conference will still qualify, but the league created a bracketed, division-based playoff system, much like it used to have in the 1980s when the Flyers were in the Patrick Division of the Wales Conference.

The top three teams from each division are guaranteed playoff spots while two “wild-card” spots will go to two remaining teams with the most points regardless of division. The wild-card team with fewer points will go into the playoff bracket that has the team with the most points, leaving the other wild-card team in the other bracket.

The Metropolitan Division is probably the worst division in hockey right now. The NFC East is pretty logical comparison. Both divisions feature marquee teams and big-name superstars, but both divisions are incredibly average for the teams and talent they feature.

Washington currently sits in first place in the Metropolitan with 25 points. But outside of Alexander Ovechkin and their power play, there’s nothing too menacing about the Capitals.

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are in second place with 24 points, but Evgeni Malkin is having a down year when it comes to putting the puck in the net, their defense isn’t the best, and Marc-Andre Fleury is an elephant-sized black and gold question mark in net.

The New York Rangers are in third with 20 points but are missing their top offensive player in Rick Nash and can’t find the net to support goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The New York Islanders have John Tavares and loads of offensive talent, but don’t have much defense nor a goalie. New Jersey can’t score. Carolina and Columbus are nothing to write home about.

Currently, the Atlantic Division’s Detroit and Montreal hold the East’s wild card spots. Detroit has 25 points and Montreal has 22.

That leaves the Flyers just five points out of the last wild card spot, too.

Compare all of this to the stacked Western Conference, where the last divisional spot belongs to St. Louis at 29 points and the last wild card spot is held by Los Angeles, which also has 29.

If the Flyers were in the West, they would be 13 points out of each of those spots. When you are about to scarf down some turkey next week for Thanksgiving, be thankful the Flyers aren’t in the Western Conference.

So, with all turmoil and issues that have surrounded the team, despite the facts its three games under .500 in regulation and Claude Giroux has just one goal seven weeks into the season, the Flyers are just four points out of that last division spot and five points out of that last wild-card spot.

Could be worse.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS