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.

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”