Philadelphia Flyers

Are Flyers just underachievers? GM Ron Hextall doesn't think so

Are Flyers just underachievers? GM Ron Hextall doesn't think so

To look at the Flyers and where they are in the playoff picture -- only three players are plus this season -- it seems safe to say this team has underachieved under Dave Hakstol.

They're not a great hockey club. They're not as skilled or as deep as Chicago or Pittsburgh or Washington.

Only a few players have had good or very good seasons, and they're minus players as well -- Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

So on the eve of a four-game road trip that should tip the wild card one way or the other, how does general manager Ron Hextall square up with that assessment?

"I don't know if that's fair to say," Hextall said on Monday after the Flyers' team photo session at the Wells Fargo Center.

"Did we underachieve last night [against Carolina]? No. We're sitting there at 2-2 and we're outshooting them 2-1 and outplaying them, out-chancing them. Dominating the game essentially. A little bit of a microcosm the way our year has gone so far.

"So last night we scored more goals. Why don't we score more goals? Tough question to answer. We're getting to the net, our net-front presence is good. We're getting there for rebounds, we're doing a lot of the things we should do.

"There are some nights when it seems like it is puck luck. You can look at the whole year and say it's puck luck. We're focused again now on the stretch run and doing our part. We need a lot of help here but we're focused on doing our part."

Hakstol didn't get much offseason help. The Flyers' only two free-agent signings among AHL/NHL players were Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon. Gordon is now a Phantom.

Weise? He has four goals and eight points. Two goals in his last three games since coming back after being a healthy scratch for six games.

"When you sign guys, we signed Dale Weise, I assume that is what you are talking about, to a four-year deal," Hextall said. "If you are evaluating right now, you say, 'It hasn't exactly been ... he hasn't put up the type of numbers we hope.'

"He's playing pretty well lately. He is certainly a better player than he has shown over the course of the year. At the time, we added depth to our lineup. We expect 12 to 15 goals and he is nowhere near that. So, in a nutshell, we know Dale can play better."

Could Hextall have done something to help Hakstol earlier rather than waiting until the NHL trade deadline to acquire Valtteri Filppula?

Essentially, the only moves Hakstol has been able to make this season involve shifting personnel around in the lineup.

"Yeah, that's the game today," Hextall said. "We're in a cap world. There's 30 teams. There's not a lot of players, players sitting out there that are going to come in at a low number. That's the game today and that is why I believe in building an organization through draft and development and bring your players up.

"Have your depth players be your young players. You get two or three injuries, your young players come up and fill in and hopefully, you don't lose anything and that is the direction we are headed. That is where we are right now. The Taylor Leiers of the world. If a defenseman, God forbid, gets hurt, we have our young guys coming up."

As things now stand, the Flyers won't have anyone coming up for these final 11 games. Hextall wants to see how his young Phantoms do in the AHL playoffs. He wants to evaluate them there, not here.

"It's very important to let your kids develop in a winning atmosphere," Hextall said. "It's important. The other side of that is you want your kids to have a big chunk of the pie and that's how it is in Allentown. We've got a good team, but there's quite a few kids down there with a big chunk of the pie.

"They're playing regular shifts, power play, penalty kill. That's important. You don't want to overload too much with veterans so that the kids get pushed down and don't get in roles. There's that fine line with handing it to them and making them earn it.

"Scotty (Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon) has done a great job down there and they've really hit it well with the kids being a big part of it and still being a competitive team. The Phantoms are in a good spot."

Hextall was asked about his own self-evaluation of the job he's done as GM.

"I let other people talk about stuff like that," Hextall replied. "At the end of the year, I'll sit down and look at everybody, including myself. If I'm not evaluating myself, I'm not doing a very good job."

Since club chairman Ed Snider's death, there is no Comcast executive with a broad hockey background to oversee Hextall.

Snider was notorious for calling or -- in later years -- texting his GMs during games, after games, in the middle of the night, to rant or inquire about what he liked and didn't like about his team.

There is no one like that within the organization, even allowing for Comcast president Dave Scott.

"It's not a lot different," Hextall said. "Mr. Snider, he was very understanding with where we were and where we were headed. He asked great questions.

"I talk to Homer (club president Paul Holmgren) on a regular basis and I talk to [Scott] on a fairly regular basis and we all know where we're headed. We're not very excited about the spot we're in right now but going to keep battling and do what we can do on our part.

"I can tell you that [Scott] is very into it. He watches all the games, sends texts after the game, whatever. He's latched onto it. He's engaged. We meet on an every other week basis and talk about the team. He's been great.

"Obviously, Mr. Snider had 50 years of experience and [Scott] doesn't have that. But [Scott's] a very sharp guy and he's doing a good job."

Loose pucks
It was unclear whether Nick Cousins was making the trip. He did not practice. He took a high hit during the Pittsburgh game and remains under concussion watch.

Flyers-Islanders preseason thoughts: NHL defense highlights Allentown roster

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Flyers-Islanders preseason thoughts: NHL defense highlights Allentown roster

Flyers vs. Islanders
7 p.m. on TCN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App

We'll have to wait another day to see if the Flyers truly plan on experimenting with Claude Giroux on the wing … if we ever see it at all in a game situation.

Giroux is not playing in tonight's split-squad game against the Islanders either in Allentown or Brooklyn. Tonight's rosters are heavy of players competing for spots.

Here are a few reasons to watch tonight:

• We'll get a look at the majority of the Flyers' defense tonight in Allentown as Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim are suiting up.

Gostisbehere is a lock, and Manning is as close to a lock as you can get. He could still lose his NHL job, but it appears unlikely at this point.

There are two open spots on the blue line. Hagg and Morin came into training camp as the favorites, and they appear to have taken a stranglehold on their competition.

Many thought Sanheim would push for a job, along with Phil Myers, but neither Sanheim nor Myers have done enough in camp to make the team. Things can change, but they're behind.

What I'll be watching: Gostisbehere and Hagg will be paired together. This could be a pairing when the Flyers open their season in San Jose on Oct. 4.

• Nolan Patrick has yet to find the scoresheet in last week's rookie game and last Sunday, but the 19-year-old — his birthday was Tuesday — hasn't looked out of place.

Patrick's spot on the Flyers has yet to be secured. As in they haven't said he's on the team yet. But he's had a steady camp and looked too good to play with kids his age in the rookie game and didn't look misplaced in his first preseason game.

Tonight gives us another look at the 2017 No. 2 overall pick. For many, it will be their first glimpse at Patrick. I'd bet on him getting on the scoresheet tonight.

On Sunday, the Islanders sent out a largely veteran lineup filled with most of their star players. Patrick passed that test. Tonight in Allentown, it's a little less star-studded Isles team. Patrick will be playing with Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

Michal Neuvirth will be in net tonight with Leland Irving backing him up, and with the Flyers banking a lot on Neuvirth this season, it'll be worth watching.

Neuvirth has never stayed healthy throughout his career. When he has, he's largely been a solid goalie. Last season was a different story. Neuvirth had the worst save percentage among qualified goalies, and he simply wasn't good.

The Flyers moved on from Steve Mason and signed Brian Elliott this summer. It's going to be a tandem with Neuvirth and Elliott, who isn't playing tonight in either Allentown or Brooklyn. How it works is a big question mark.

What you want to see from Neuvirth tonight is a steady performance. It's his first action of the year, so there will probably be rust. But you don't want to see too much rust, and you want to see him get steadier as the game goes on.

We don't know how much he'll play tonight, whether they'll split the game with Irving. But Neuvirth is definitely a player to watch tonight.

• Here are the rosters for tonight's split-squad game:

Comcast Spectacor adds Philadelphia to Overwatch League

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USA Today Images

Comcast Spectacor adds Philadelphia to Overwatch League

Comcast Spectacor is bringing an Overwatch League team to Philadelphia.

Making the move into the esports space from its sports management roots, Flyers owner, Comcast Spectacor, has bought into Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming Overwatch League. 

“Comcast Spectacor is thrilled to play a central role in the Overwatch League’s inaugural season and energize the growing esports community in Philadelphia and beyond,” Dave Scott, president and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said.  

Joining the budding esports league for a reported $20 million, the team will represent Philadelphia when the inaugural campaign begins a full season on Jan. 10, 2018. Comcast Spectacor and Philadelphia joins Team Envy and their investor, Hersh Interactive Group in Dallas and OpTic Gaming in Houston as the final three teams to join the 12 team league.

The investment is Comcast Spectacor’s first dive into esports, joining Robert Kraft (Boston), Jeff Wilpon (New York), Kroenke Sports & Entertainment Group (Los Angeles), Neil Leibman (Houston), Andy Miller (San Francisco) and more, as Overwatch League owners. Other locations featured in the league will include London, England, Seoul, South Korea and Shanghai, China.

“An esports franchise is a great addition to our portfolio of sports and entertainment assets," Scott said. "We believe that Overwatch League is uniquely positioned to succeed.” 

The investment into esports rivals the Sixers’ ownership group, which acquired esports teams, Team Dignitas and Team Apex, in 2016. Nearly identical to the Overwatch League setup, the Sixers bought into the NBA-run NBA 2K League, which is set to begin in its inaugural season in spring of 2018.

Similar to any of the five major U.S. sports leagues, Overwatch League will be powered by owners that will recruit, build and fund a roster of players to compete in a scheduled season. And like any expansion franchise, Comcast Spectacor will create a new team, including roster and brand.

What makes Overwatch League different from most esports competitions is its geo-based foundation. Most esports leagues and tournaments feature club teams, like Sixers-owned Team Dignitas, which are labeled more by country than city or state. With Overwatch League, Philadelphia will be represented by the Comcast Spectacor franchise and will face off against other cities.

But while Philadelphia will act as home to the team, the inaugural season will take place solely in Los Angeles at the newly minted Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, the converted Burbank Studios that formerly played host to the Tonight Show. Eventually, the players are expected to live and practice in their host city.

Overwatch is a popular multi-platform Blizzard Entertainment first-person shooter that surpassed the 30 million player milestone earlier this year. Matches pit six human players against six human players with an objective to attack and defend.