2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense

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2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense

This is the second of three parts reviewing the Flyers roster from 2013-14. Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.

Flyers president (then general manager) Paul Holmgren sounded a lot like coach Craig Berube when speaking about his defense on breakup day.

It’s not about the speed of your players, he said, but the ability to pass the puck -- quickly and precisely.

Holmgren said things were fine on the blue line, admitted every team could use more speed as well as a No. 1 impact guy, and didn’t seem all that alarmed at how easily the Rangers made the Flyers look slow during the playoffs.

Defense was an issue last summer. And the summer before. And it remains an issue this summer, as well.

Many NHL clubs have pushed their young defensive prospects into the NHL ahead of schedule and allowed them to develop there.

Club chairman Ed Snider strongly hinted he wanted the Flyers to do that with Shayne Gostisbehere.

What was true last May remains true this May, too: The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active drafted defenseman since the decade began playing regular minutes for them -- not someone else.

Which is why some people feel Gostisbehere has to play this fall regardless. 

Braydon Coburn
Age: Turns 29
Stats:
82 GP; 5G, 4A, 17 Pts., minus-6, 22:26 MIN
Cap hit: $4.5 million
Offensively, Coburn saw his numbers continue to decline despite obvious mobility talents and a strong shot he seldom seems to use anymore. His output was a disappointing 17 points. His five goals were the most in four years, however. He played OK much of the regular season, but had a terrible playoffs (minus-6), as did most of the Flyers' defense. His mental lapses, at times, were a concern. He has two years left on his current contract and his name often comes up in trade discussions with clubs in Western Canada, where he was born and resides during the offseason. Coburn played most of the season with Kimmo Timonen, who has pretty much been his longtime partner during their seven-plus years here.

Hal Gill
Age: 39
Stats: 6 GP, no stats, 14:50 MIN
Status: 
Unrestricted free agent
One of the true professionals in the game, Gill is a quiet leader in the room who served as a mentor for Erik Gustafsson and other young players. He was the ideal seventh man on defense and never complained about his role, even after sitting 44 consecutive games through the second half of the season. Nick Grossmann’s ankle injury forced Gill into the lineup during the playoffs, where his lack of speed was a decisive factor in two goals against during a painful Game 5 loss to the Rangers. The Flyers need younger legs moving forward. Gill is closer to retirement than being re-signed.

Nick Grossmann
Age:
29
Stats:
78 GP, 1G, 13A, 14 Pts., minus-6; 19:06 MIN
Cap hit: $3.5 million
Grossmann was the second-leading shot blocker on the club with a career-high 174 -- the third time he has eclipsed his record. He was the first defenseman in the NHL this season to reach 100 hits (189) and 100 blocked shots. A right ankle (tendon) injury was costly in the playoffs, as he missed the final three games against the Rangers. Grossmann is tough as nails, but lacks speed. That said, his pairing with Mark Streit was very effective.

Erik Gustafsson
Age: 24
Stats:
31 GP; 2G, 8A, 10 Pts., plus-7; 17:30 MIN
Status: Restricted free agent
Berube’s staff gave Gustafsson every opportunity this season to force himself into the lineup but the young Swede’s confidence with the puck seemed to wane this year, which is why he spent more time in the press box than on the ice. He's still the quickest defenseman the Flyers have and has very good skills in moving the puck up ice provided he doesn’t get boxed into double-teams. His performance against Pittsburgh in the playoffs a few years ago should have jump-started his continued development. That hasn’t happened -- the Flyers expect more of him. He should be re-signed. His cap hit this season was $1 million.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: 27
Stats:
19 GP as a Flyer (82 overall); OG, 4A, 4 Pts., minus-3, 21:59 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million
MacDonald gave the Flyers more flexibility, speed and puck movement once he arrived, but his play against the Rangers in the playoffs took a severe nosedive. He was a minus player in four of the seven games. He led the NHL in blocked shots with a mind-boggling 242 during the regular season, though. Had 24 points in 63 games with the Islanders before being traded. A big factor is that he made Luke Schenn a better player, and the pairing was actually very sound most games. His new six-year, $30 million contract kicks in this fall.

Luke Schenn
Age: 24
Stats:
79 GP, 4G, 8 A, 12 Pts., even, 16:32 MIN
Cap hit: $3.6 million
Schenn led the club with 260 hits. He has to learn to stay closer to the crease, however, as he still tends to get caught outside the dots where he lacks the lateral speed to recover at the net. MacDonald’s arrival allowed him to do what he does best: Hit and block shots (113 blocks). He was far more relaxed once MacDonald arrived and was the Flyers' most consistent defensemen in the playoffs. Both he and brother Brayden, a restricted free agent this summer, could be packaged in a deal somewhere for a more mobile, faster defenseman. He's not a lock to return.

Mark Streit
Age: 36
Stats: 82 GP, 10G, 34 A, 44 Pts., plus-3, 20:38 MIN
Cap hit: $5.25 million
Streit showed flashes of outstanding play this season and then would have a series of games in which he was a turnover machine. He has a strong skating ability and can eat up more minutes (20:38 average) if Timonen retires. He was signed to bolster the power play, but had just 15 power-play points (four goals, 11 assists) and should be able to get 20-15 points there. His overall stats, however, were strong and he improved the Flyers' defense. 

Kimmo Timonen
Age: 
39
Stats: 77 GP, 6G, 29 A, 35 Pts., plus-5, 20:19 MIN
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Timonen won his fifth Barry Ashbee Trophy, and deservedly so. Had a remarkably healthy season without the usual back injuries, and participated in the Olympics. He has lost a couple steps but is still a fine skater. He was ninth in the NHL with 19 power-play assists, and seemed to be rejuvenated by his selection to Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics, where he picked up a bronze medal. Timonen’s point production has gone steadily down as he’s gotten older. He’s no longer a $6 million defenseman, yet the Flyers would consider resigning him for half that much in a reduced role. His minutes this year were reduced by one minute a game. The Rangers' speed made him and others on the blue line look slow in the playoffs. He may retire; re-signing may hinge on cap hit and on whether to keep a younger player around instead.

Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.
Next: A look back at the forwards.

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).

Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls hopes versatility leads to NHL contract

Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls hopes versatility leads to NHL contract

WINDSOR, Ontario — Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls is hoping a move back to wing will make him a more versatile player as he looks to make the jump to pro hockey next season.

Dove-McFalls, a natural center, has spent parts of his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playing wing because of injuries among the Sea Dogs' forward group.

The 20-year-old is hoping his versatility will help earn his entry-level contract from the Flyers and a spot in Lehigh Valley.

"It can only be beneficial for me to play both positions, it'll help me be more versatile for when I get to the next level," Dove-McFalls said Monday at the Memorial Cup. "Some guys play one position their whole career, they have to play there, otherwise they're not able to play their game, so I think it's only good for me that I spent some time playing the wing this year."

A knee injury limited the 6-foot-1, 202-pound forward to just 29 games last season. Even when he did return to the Saint John lineup, Dove-McFalls admitted he wasn't 100 percent.

However, after a full summer of training, the Montreal native felt better than ever entering the 2016-17 season.

"I did a lot of power skating. I felt my skating was better and I felt a lot more confident out there," he said. "Last year, I was getting a little frustrated and stuff.

"[I] got more explosive and I think I move around the ice a lot better."

The work put in during the summer paid off this season as Dove-McFalls set new career highs for goals (17) and points (53) in 66 games with the Sea Dogs. He added five goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

One of Dove-McFalls' goals for this season was to earn his entry-level contract from the Flyers. He has until June 1 to do so before the Flyers lose his exclusive rights, according to CapFriendly.com. Drafted in the fourth round (98th overall) in 2015, Dove-McFalls could make the jump to the Phantoms next season if signed.

"Obviously, you do [think about it], but you have to play for the team," Dove-McFalls said. "I don't control what they do and what decision they make. All I can do is try to play my best.

"When the team does well, then everyone does well. Hopefully, that's going to happen, that's the plan."

Dove-McFalls is in constant communication with Flyers player development coach John Riley, and the two don't always talk just hockey.

"[He] just sends me articles about pro athletes and what the pro life is all about," Dove-McFalls said. "Not necessarily always just hockey — stuff that's off the ice too. When he does come and watch me play, he focuses more on the hockey part.

"[The articles] show how hard it is to be a pro and how dedicated you have to be to the game. Articles on Tom Brady or Kobe Bryant — those greats who are dedicated to their game."

Dove-McFalls continued a trend for Flyers prospects this spring. He became the fourth straight to win a President Trophy as QMJHL champions, joining Philippe Myers (Rouyn-Noranda, 2016), Sam Morin (Rimouski, 2015) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (Val-d'Or, 2014).

Described as a big two-way forward who can kill penalties and contribute offensively, Dove-McFalls points to current Flyer Sean Couturier and Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal as NHLers he tries to model his game after.

In order to make that jump to the pro game, Saint John coach Danny Flynn thinks Dove-McFalls needs to continue improving on his skating.

"He has to continue to work on foot speed. He has to continue to play a solid two-way game, but he has a good feel for how he's got to play," Flynn said. "If I were to be critical, because all young kids need development from our best player to our weakest player, foot speed would be an area that he'd like to improve on."

Seeing youngsters such as Travis Konecny and defenseman Ivan Provorov make the jump to the NHL has Dove-McFalls excited for the future.

"It's interesting," he said. "Obviously, they had nine or 10 guys at the world juniors this year and then you have Konecny and Provorov who were already on the team, so that's exciting. We have a lot of good young prospects.

"I think the organization is moving in the right direction. I'm not really looking too far ahead, I realize I'm still a long ways away, but it's good they're going in the right direction stockpiling prospects."