Addressing Flyers' top offseason questions

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Addressing Flyers' top offseason questions

If I had a dime for every time I was asked whether the Flyers will buy out Ilya Bryzgalov, then I would buy out Ilya Bryzgalov. Another offseason has created a great deal of intrigue for Flyers fans. Here’s a sampling of some of the questions I’ve received through Twitter and e-mail, and how I think the Flyers might react, beginning with the obvious:

Q. Will the Flyers use a buyout on Ilya Bryzgalov?

A. That’s the million dollar question! Check that, $23 million. The decision will be based solely on money. Is the organization willing to eat $23 million (two-thirds of what’s remaining on his contract) and spread it out over 14 years, and in doing so, suffer any embarrassment that comes after signing the enigmatic goaltender to a nine-year, $51-million contract in 2011? Many believe Bryz is a more likely compliance candidate in 2014 when the buyout is $17.4 million. Either way, you’re paying a lot of money to essentially tell a player to go somewhere else. If the Flyers are exploring the option, and can stomach the payout, then do it now. Don’t hesitate. That’s tough to stomach, but the financial commitment is the only aspect keeping Bryzgalov in Philadelphia. The New York Islanders are the current clubhouse leaders in the buyout department after paying out $17.6 million to Alexei Yashin in 2007.

Q. If the Flyers part with Bryzgalov, who would replace him?

A. We know Steve Mason is hungry and is looking to work his way back into a starter’s role, but as of now, he can’t be trusted as a No. 1. If Tim Thomas is eager to return to the NHL, regardless of his age, he’s worth bringing in on the cheap for one season. Vancouver is expected to buy out Roberto Luongo and the Flyers would have interest if the price is right. Plus, if Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t re-sign with Minnesota, he would be an attractive option. The offseason is shaping up to become a buyer’s market when it comes to goaltending.

Q. Those guys are old. What about 24-year-old Jonathan Bernier?

A. He’s young with tremendous potential, but he’s an unproven commodity. If the Kings are contacting perspective buyers for Bernier’s services, then that will ignite a bidding war to which the Flyers may be wise not to engage (see story). However, if there is genuine interest in Bernier, that could be the catalyst that forces the Flyers to exercise their remaining buyout on Bryzgalov. I believe the Flyers should retain their most prized assets for something considerably bigger.

Q. The Flyers' priority should be defense. From where will that come?

A. The Flyers have plenty of defense actually. At last count, the team has eight defensemen signed for next season, but if you measure their blue line from top to bottom, it speaks more to quantity than quality. They could make a play for Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, but with the Mark Streit signing, I don’t see the Flyers venturing down that desert road. I’m hearing rumblings that the Predators could make Shea Weber available come July 23, the one-year anniversary of when Nashville matched the Flyers' 14-year offer sheet. The Preds, coming off a terrible season, have a ton of money locked up in two players (Pekka Rinne and Weber), and Paul Holmgren would pull off a Chris Pronger-type megadeal in a micro-minute if they had a chance at Weber ... and then we won’t have to have this discussion again for a long time.  

Q. Don't you think the Flyers need a scoring winger after failing to replace Jaromir Jagr?

A. Yes. The Flyers need someone dynamic to play alongside Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. Bobby Ryan could be a possibility. I think he would be rejuvenated playing in his hometown. However, if Boston decides to cut Nathan Horton loose, he would become an attractive unrestricted free agent. It will also be interesting to see what Jarome Iginla will command on the open market following a subpar playoffs in Pittsburgh. Also, keep an eye on New Jersey’s David Clarkson, who brings a Scott Hartnell-type combination of grit and skill to the ice.

Q. Are there any buyout candidates the Flyers would have an interest in signing?

A. Possibly Roberto Luongo if the Flyers agree to cut ties with Bryzgalov. I’ll have a better indication once the buyouts begin.

Q. What will the Flyers do with the 11th pick?

A. They better not trade it, or at least, trade down. They’re in perfect position to grab a talented defenseman, someone who can have an impact in years to come. I also believe the Flyers need to deviate from their organizational philosophy of grabbing the best player available when there are obvious needs that should be addressed. I’d like to see them make an attempt to grab Seth Jones, who’s a surefire NHL star, but the asking price would be astronomical. Barring the Flyers not staying at No. 11, I’m hitching my draft wagon to either Rasmus Ristolainen or Ryan Pulock.

Q. What will it cost to keep Claude Giroux?

A. Holmgren doesn’t have to pay market value for Giroux, who’s just an RFA after next season. However, why nickel and dime the face of your franchise, especially after signing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to unnecessarily lengthy deals in years past. There are some “comps” Holmgren can utilize to help make that decision. You can point to Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf and the eight-year, $66 million extension he received back in March as a benchmark. Personally, I think Giroux is a better two-way player and I’d rather build a franchise around him than Getzlaf. However, Giroux is not quite worthy of the eight years and $76 million Evgeni Malkin recently agreed to, so let’s put G’s sticker price at $68 million over eight years. Anything less will be a bargain over the long term. I believe a deal will get done before the start of the season.   

Q. Will the Flyers make the playoffs next season?

A. Ask me in September.

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd.  Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kinda on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing players say that affects them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kinda unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kinda isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It’s almost has a practice type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he play at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forget to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it night never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early with a slight limp. He was not available after the practice and the team had no medical update. Voracek was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

It was just pouring out of Flyers swing forward Dale Weise after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.

A disallowed goal because of him.

A strong game in every respect from his teammates.

A realization that things never seem to change for Dave Hakstol’s club.

“We come out with a great start,” Weise said. “Get on the forecheck. The building is lively. We score what we think is a first goal which we haven’t done a lot this year.

“I’m not going to say it’s a game-changer. Whatever it was, it didn’t end the game. But that’s a pretty big part of the game.” 

Weise ended up grabbing Caps goalie Braden Holtby. He said he did so for support or he would have knocked him over since he was trying to position his stick.

Funny things is, Holtby apparently never felt the contact. When the Caps challenged Jakub Voracek’s goal on the first shift of the game, it was overturned.

“Yeah, I obviously didn’t see the interference part I just kind of followed the puck and next thing I know it was kind of out of the play so a little fortunate, a great call by our video coaches,” Holtby said.

Weise wasn’t sure what he did amounted to much because it happened before Voracek’s shot and not during the act of shooting that would have prevented Holtby from getting position.

“To be really honest with you I don’t think I really touched him that hard,” Weise said.

Goals are so hard to come by these days for the Flyers. To score one a half-minute into play in a huge rivalry game, with them so desperate for points, and then to lose the goal and the momentum early, it becomes a significant event in the overall outcome.

The Caps made the most of their chances. Just like Calgary did last week.

“Winning and losing is so thin in this league and when you’re playing a team like that who just has loads of offensive talent, you give them one, two opportunities and they score on it,” Weise said.

“For a team like us that doesn’t score very often, that’s tough. We are playing behind the eight ball every night. It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not in our head when we get down because you can see the way we play.

“We’re gripping the sticks. I really liked our effort though. I thought we played hard the whole night. Full marks to our team but it’s just kind of the same story every night.”

It’s trite but the term “snake bit” has been used a lot lately in talking about the Flyers since their 10-game win streak ended.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Weise said. “Look at that one there. Touch the goalie, goal disallowed. [Ivan Provorov] hits the cross bar. We had a couple other chances in tight. Snake bitten, I don’t even know if there’s a word for how I feel right now.”

It doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Flyers' playing in their first outdoor game in five seasons.

Another even more bitter rival: the Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field on Saturday night. Taking two from the Pens will require a supreme effort and maybe a little luck for a change. The Flyers have been real short on luck all season.

The Flyers' dressing room after games, of late, has the feel of a morgue sometimes. Over the last 10 games, the Flyers have seven losses (including overtime). In six of those losses, they have scored one goal or no goals.

“We got a pretty positive group in here,” Weise said. “We try our best to come in every day and be positive. It’s a tough situation right now. Every day we’re fighting for our playoff life so that’s in the back of everyone’s mind.

“It makes it more frustrating when you’re playing, so well. I thought we played a pretty good game tonight. That goal disallowed we come right back. They make it two nothing on the power play.

“We kept going. We played well. We had a lot of chances. Good start to the second period again. We came out strong but we just can’t seem to finish.”

Veteran defenseman Mark Streit said they're playing well, but losing doesn’t make up ground in the standings. The Flyers remain three points out of the wild card going into the weekend.

Of their remaining 22 games, 19 are against the Eastern Conference, so mathematically, they have a chance to recoup points.

“We keep telling that we’ve been playing pretty well but lose a lot of hockey games,” Streit said. “We just got to find a way ...

“We have to find a way to turn it around, to get the bounces, just to get a little bit lucky out there, and to get the ugly goal. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. But it’s also the bloody truth.”