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.

2017 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at No. 2

2017 NHL draft prep: Options for Flyers at No. 2

The Flyers' long-term landscape changed Saturday night with a stroke of luck.

Facing long odds, the Flyers nearly won the NHL draft lottery, but will have to settle for the No. 2 pick (see story). Considering where they were projected to pick, this is a major win for the Flyers.

"We had a lot of bad luck this year," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday night. "And I'm hoping this is a turning point. This is a big point for our franchise."

The Flyers came into the lottery most likely to draft 13th at 84.3 percent. Lottery rules dictated that they could only draft in the top three, stay at 13 or fall to 14 or 15th. They had a 2.2 percent chance at the top pick, 2.4 percent at the second pick and 2.7 at the third pick.

And the hockey gods were on the Flyers' side Saturday. Because of their current prospect picture — heavy on defensemen and goaltenders — the Flyers will have an opportunity to add an impact forward to their prospect pool, an immediate hole they will be able to fill.

Here are five prospects the Flyers could target with the No. 2 pick come June 23-24 at the NHL draft in Chicago.

(Note: Because the Flyers are heavy on defensive prospects, we're not including Miro Heiskanen, the consensus top defenseman in this year's draft class.)

Nolan Patrick, C, 18, 6-2/198, Brandon (WHL)
Patrick finished as the top-rated skater by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, a spot he has been in all year long despite dealing with a groin/abdominal injury throughout the 2016-17 season. He is touted as a two-way, right-handed center who does everything well but doesn't possess any one specific elite skill. Sportsnet's Jeff Marek wrote in March, "think Jonathan Toews-lite." Patrick has NHL blood in his veins, as his father, Steve Patrick (250 games), and uncle, James Patrick (1,280 games), both have played in the league. In 33 games with the Wheat Kings this season, Patrick scored 20 goals and 46 points. He missed 39 games. During the 2015-16 season, Patrick registered 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games. He played two seasons in Brandon with Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "He has more than proven over the last three years that he is the real deal and will be an impact NHL player. The poise, the presence, the attention to detail, the way he processes and executes plays — everything has been far more precise, far more accurate and a lot quicker this season."

Nico Hischier, C, 18, 6-1/176, Halifax (QMJHL)
With Patrick the projected top pick in June's draft, Hischier checks in as the early favorite to become a Flyer on June 23. Hischier had a breakout performance as an underage player — he was 17 at the time — for Team Switzerland during the 2017 IIHF World Championships, posting four goals and three assists in five games. He will likely become the highest-drafted Swiss-born player in league history. Nino Niederreiter (fifth overall, 2010) currently holds that title. Per hockey guru Bill Meltzer, Hischier would qualify for the AHL because he was loaned to Halifax this season from Bern, a professional Switzerland hockey team. In his first season in the QMJHL, Hischier led all rookies with 38 goals, 48 assists and 86 points in 57 games, earning himself the league's Rookie of the Year award and winning the Mike Bossy Trophy, awarded to the league's best pro prospect.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "Hischier is definitely worth the price of admission. He has a high skill level, but what's most impressive is the way he competes, his drive and work ethic. He is a player who is first on the forecheck forcing a turnover and when the play transitions, he's the first player back. He's in that category as a special player."

Gabriel Vilardi, C, 17, 6-3/202, Windsor (OHL)
Vilardi battled a knee injury and appendicitis in 2016-17 with Windsor, but still finished more than a point-per-game player with the Spitfires. He recorded 61 points in 49 games this season. His 29 goals led Windsor and his 61 points were second on the club. Vilardi is an excellent puck-possession forward, which drives his and his linemates' scoring. Skating is an area he can improve upon. He is a right-handed shot with good size, something that could intrigue the Flyers. He compares his game to John Tavares, the New York Islanders' star captain. He finished as Central Scouting's fourth-best rated North American skater.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "Vilardi is a high-end possession center with excellent hockey sense and puck-handling ability. He plays a very composed game with the puck, using his vision and playmaking ability to influence the game in all three zones. Vilardi excels below the dots in the offensive zone, where he utilizes his size and reach to control the play and generate scoring opportunities."

Owen Tippett, RW, 18, 6-0/200, Mississauga (OHL)
What would intrigue Flyers fans about Tippett is his shoot-first mentality, a trait not many current Flyers own. A right wing with size, Tippett positions himself in scoring areas and has a desirable shot. He's described as a strong skater with great breakaway speed. He led the Steelheads with 44 goals and 75 points in 60 games this season. His 44 goals were fifth in the Ontario Hockey League. With Patrick and Hischier the cream of this year's average crop, Tippett at No. 2 might be a reach, but he fits the mold of what the Flyers need.

Michael Rasmussen, C, 18, 6-6/215, Tri-City (WHL)
Rasmussen is a centerman with above average skating for a player his size and a knack for knowing how to use his size to his advantage. He suffered a wrist injury this season and played in just 50 of Tri-City's 72 games. He netted 32 goals and 55 points and led the Americans with 15 power-play goals, an attractive trait for the Flyers. He compares his game to Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov and former Maple Leafs superstar Mats Sundin. He finished fifth among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final rankings.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr's take: "He's playing with much more confidence this season. He's adapted to playing a bigger role and playing heavy minutes against opponents' top lines and defense. The game has slowed down for him a little bit and he's just that much more poised. He can take that extra bit of time and understands he can take that time to make plays and score goals."

NHL Playoffs: Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

NHL Playoffs: Penguins chase Holtby, beat Capitals to take 2-0 series lead

WASHINGTON -- Phil Kessel scored twice, Sidney Crosby set up more goals and the Pittsburgh Penguins chased Braden Holtby on the way to a 6-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 Saturday night that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead in their second-round series.

Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant again in stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced for Pittsburgh, which also got goals by Matt Cullen, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins scored three goals on 14 shots on Holtby, who was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer after the second period.

Grubauer didn't fare much better, allowing two goals on nine shots. Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Capitals, who outshot the Penguins 36-23 but still face an uphill task of trying to become just the 19th team to win a series after losing the first two games at home.

Guentzel added an empty-net goal to seal it for the Penguins, his playoff-best seventh (see full recap).

Pageau gets 4th goal in 2OT to lift Sens over Rangers
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau got his fourth goal of the game in the second overtime after scoring twice late in regulation, lifting the Ottawa Senators over the New York Rangers 6-5 Saturday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Ottawa leads the series 2-0 despite trailing by two goals after Brady Skjei's score with 14:50 left in the third. Pageau cut it to 5-4 with 3:19 left in the period, then tied it with 1:02 remaining.

Pageau scored again 2:54 into the second OT, snapping in a shot during a 2-on-1 rush alongside Tommy Wingels. Pageau is the first Senator ever with four goals in a playoff game.

Marc Methot and Mark Stone also scored for Ottawa, and Craig Anderson had 43 saves.

Skjei had two goals for New York and Michael Grabner, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan also scored. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 28 shots.

The series heads to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday night (see full recap).