Berube: Flyers will test their mettle out West

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Berube: Flyers will test their mettle out West

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Anaheim Ducks occupy first place in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. The San Jose Sharks are in second. The L.A. Kings currently sit in third.

And over the next week, the Flyers will face each team -- as the visiting squad.

“It’s a big road trip,” coach Craig Berube said. “It really is. I think we’re going to see what we’re all about here.”

It’s been said plenty of times this season: Certain games, or stretches of games, can act as measuring sticks and show what kind of team the Flyers really are.

How they fare against three of the NHL’s best teams will go a long way in demonstrating their true identity.

“It’s going to be a tough trip, with the time change, the tough buildings, teams that have been playing well -- not just at home but on the road, as well,” Steve Mason said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us to see where we stack up against some of the best teams in the Western Conference.”

The trip kicks off Thursday night in Anaheim, against a surging Ducks team that has lost just twice in regulation at the Honda Center this season. The Ducks are the best team in the NHL at the moment, with an intimidating 39-11-5 record.

And it won’t get much easier from there. The Sharks are 7-3 in their last 10, and while the Kings have taken a dip in the standings recently, they’re 16-7-3 at home this season.

“It’ll be hard hockey,” Berube said. “You got to really grind it out against these teams, and you’ve got to give it your best, because they’re big and talented. It’ll be tough games.”

Of course, there are benefits to being on the road. Historically, the Flyers have used their time away from the Wells Fargo Center to regroup and focus on the basics. On their most-recent Western road trip, the Flyers went 5-1. On a three-game Canadian tour in December, they went 2-0-1.

Though the Flyers dominated Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the games that had preceded the victory were some of their worst of the season on home ice. It's not unreasonable to believe getting out of Philadelphia will help them continue to dig their way out of their slump.

“It’s not a bad thing, going on the road,” Wayne Simmonds said. “All the guys are together all the time, so I think it helps build up the team a little more. We’re with each other, having meals together, probably playing a lot of practical jokes on each other. Just keeps it light."

After their California swing, the Flyers will return home to play two games before the fast approaching Olympic break. They'd like nothing more than to return home having proved they can hang with the league's top talent.

“Anytime you play against a hot team, a team that’s good on the road, good at home, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go,” Claude Giroux said.

“If you don’t bring your A-game, that’s when you’re going to get in trouble.”

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.