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.

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

Ron Hextall, Flyers follow through with wingers on Day 2 of NHL draft

CHICAGO — If the Flyers had somehow managed to finagle a third pick in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night, they had a specific kid in mind.

Guelph left winger Isaac Ratcliffe.

"When you really like a guy, you go after him and that's what happened," general manager Ron Hextall said after trading up in the second round Saturday at United Center to draft the power forward (see story).

"He fits the organizational needs at left wing. Real good size. He plays hard and can score goals. He is really raw, at the front end of the process. Some are average and some on the back end of the process. He's got work to do. We like his upside."

The Flyers swapped their own second-round pick, plus two more (75th and 108th overall selections) with Arizona to move from 44th to 35th and select Ratcliffe (see Day 2 draft tracker).

"He is a prototypical power forward," Hextall said of the 18-year-old. "Didn't quite have the power down yet in terms of his body. He needs to put some weight on and add strength. Real excited about him."

The Flyers came into the draft with 11 picks and ended up with nine because of a couple deals. They finished with seven forwards (three left wingers), one D-man, a goalie, and have 10 picks already stockpiled for 2018, too.

Speaking of goalies, Hextall didn't foresee himself taking one early in the draft. Yet he did, selecting Russian Kirill Ustimenko at No. 80 in the third round.

"I'm not gonna chase a goalie," Hextall said days earlier.

Did he chase this kid? Well, Ustimenko, 18, was considered to be a possible sleeper. NHL Central Scouting had him ranked fifth internationally. The Flyers saw a lot of him overseas.

"We did not chase him," Hextall said. "We were surprised he fell there. We actually talked about him much earlier. Our guys really liked him and our comfort level was better than other teams."

The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Ustimenko catches left and had some impressive numbers in 27 games for MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg this season with a 1.74 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

If you are keeping track, that's Anthony Stolarz, Carter Hart, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek and now Ustimenko.

That's an enormous number of Flyers goalie prospects at this point.

Left winger Matthew Strome fell into their laps in the fourth round, where the Flyers had back-to-back picks at 106 and 107.

They took Strome (No. 106), the third brother in recent drafts, joining Dylan (2015 draft/Coyotes) and Ryan (2011/Islanders), who has played 258 games for New York.

"Call a spade a spade — his skating has to improve," Hextall said of Matthew. "We all know it. He's a good hockey player with good size. He makes plays, scores goals and knows how to play the game.

"He's got one deficiency there he can focus on and we like where we got him. It's up to Matthew to put the work in."

A 6-3, 207-pound left winger, Strome, 18, was projected to go in the second round. Upset?

"Not really," Strome replied. "Just being drafted and being one of the top 300 players or whatever it is, just to be honored, it's very special.

"I'm going to use it as motivation to prove people wrong. If people did think I slipped down, I'm gonna prove them wrong, that they made the wrong choice."

He said "all" the attention in his family has been on his brothers. Now it's his turn. His brothers helped prepare him for the moment.

"Entering my first OHL year, they told me there would be ups and downs and I would have to work through it," Strome said. "The past couple weeks, they told me, 'Enjoy the moment, it goes by fast.'

"Once it's over, you're on that team for three years and you've got to make [sure] that first impression on them is really good."

At No. 107, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old Russian right winger Maksim Sushko (6-0/185), who last season played for Owen Sound (OHL), where he scored 17 goals with 32 points in 54 games. He spoke through an interpreter.

"I model my game after [Nikita] Kucherov of Tampa Bay," he said. "I like a physical style of play and give out assists. I'd like to become a better sniper."

In the fifth round, at No. 137, the Flyers tabbed 18-year-old left winger Noah Cates, from Stillwater High School in Minnesota.

He served as captain of his team and scored 20 goals with 65 points in 25 games last season and has committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

In the sixth round, at No. 168, the Flyers chose smallish (5-10, 163) 17-year-old Swedish center Olle Lycksell, who played for Linkoping last season in the Super Elite League where he had nine points in 29 games.

"He's a hard worker who understands the game and has good hockey sense," Hextall said.

Hextall had two final picks in the seventh round.

At No. 196, the Flyers took their only defenseman in this draft, overage Wyatt Kalynuk, who is 6-2, 186 and 20 years old.

"Really good skater," Hextall said. "Good mobility and size, good puck skills. He's been through drafts and he's going to Wisconsin, which we really like. So we have four years with him."

Ironically, Hextall traded their final pick at No. 199 to Montreal for a seventh-round pick next year so the Canadiens could choose goalie Cayden Primeau, who happens to be Keith Primeau's son.

Habs GM Marc Bergevin called and asked for the pick.

"I thought he would go sooner than he did," Hextall said.

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

CHICAGO — While the Flyers picked up a young first-round centerman in Nolan Patrick — who many feel will be in their lineup this season — at this weekend's NHL draft, they returned home with one major dilemma unresolved.
 
They still don't have a veteran goalie to pair with Michal Neuvirth next season.
 
The draft is usually a pretty good place to piece together a deal for a goalie about to become a free agent or one already under contract who a team might be willing to move.
 
In the Flyers' case, general manager Ron Hextall said nothing came about. That might be because a couple of teams made some moves prior to the draft involving goalies and there doesn't seem to be a rush to fill the spots.
 
"I didn't expect to [do a deal]," Hextall said. "I would have liked to have it done a month ago. But I am not going to do something just for the sake of having something in place.
 
"We are going to do our due diligence. Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes it's part of the process to see what is out there. It's a high priority. We have to get something in place."
 
Three teams have three goalies — Arizona, Dallas and Carolina. And there are several in free agency.
 
Hextall likes to get a jump on free agency but …
 
"I don't know," he replied when asked if that is where he's headed.
 
Maybe a trade? Again, no commitment. Hextall said he's not worried.
 
"My comfort level is there are a number of goalies out there," Hextall said. "So, there's not six No. 1 spots out there and just one goalie. I have comfort in that.
 
"We are still doing our due diligence and in the end, it's probably going to come down to a guy we take and term and money. I might like this guy, but is he asking unreal term? We'll go somewhere else. I keep telling you, [Steve Mason] is still in the mix."
 
Like a lifeboat in the vast ocean.