Berube talks Del Zotto, adjusting Flyers' defense

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Berube talks Del Zotto, adjusting Flyers' defense

Training camp for the Flyers won’t open until mid-September, but already coach Craig Berube has some major readjusting to do with his blue line.

Tuesday’s shocker -- Kimmo Timonen is out indefinitely with multiple blood clots -- left the Flyers without their top defenseman on a blue line already a tad old and too slow.

By nightfall, general manager Ron Hextall had signed Michael Del Zotto to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

That kind of contract screams prove yourself again, and we’ll talk long term.

Yet it also set into motion what Berube must do moving forward more than a month before training camp opens in adjusting his defensive pairs.

“He has lots of skill, speed,” Berube said of the 24-year-old Del Zotto. “He gets up in the play offensively. [He] worked the power play before in New York. He has a lot of skill.”

Berube’s first order of business now is figuring out where Del Zotto fits.

Timonen spent nearly all last season -- and most of his Flyers career -- paired with Braydon Coburn.

Berube tried Coburn with Andrew MacDonald at Pittsburgh late in the season and was intrigued by what he saw. That could be a pair to start the season.

“MacDonald and Coburn played together some games last year and I really liked what I saw there as a shutdown pair,” Berube said.

“[Mark] Streit and [Nick] Grossmann played together for quite some time. We’ll see. Maybe with Luke Schenn. Just going into camp you’ve got to look at some combinations and see what looks good.”

So for starters, Berube seems inclined to use Del Zotto with Schenn. He wants a stay-at-home defenseman with a mobile player on every pair. Nick Schultz is the sixth man going into camp.

“I always like a puck mover with a stay-at-home guy, but there are always games when we put two big guys together,” Berube said.

The loss of Timonen can’t be downplayed. His play on the ice, his leadership in the dressing room, his work on the power play, etc. Even at age 39 with declining skills, the Flyers will miss Timonen.

“Definitely, I know what we will miss without Kimmo,” Berube said. “We’re obviously concerned with Kimmo’s health. That is always first and foremost. We wish a good recovery and see him get back on the ice. His health is first.

“I can’t sit there and worry about Kimmo not being on the ice. Just get better. He’s been a great Flyer, but the most important thing is his health and not hockey.”

Del Zotto is not in Timonen’s caliber. He was a rising, young star when he came into the NHL in 2009 with the Rangers. Since then, Del Zotto’s stock has dropped dramatically.

He played parts of five seasons on Broadway with 26 goals and 95 assists for 121 points in 292 games. His breakout year was 2011-12 with 10 goals and 41 points in 77 games, while earning a plus-20 rating.

Much like with the signing of goalie Steve Mason back in April 2013, the Flyers see this as a fresh beginning for Del Zotto with a chance to earn a better contract in the future.

“Absolutely,” Berube agreed.

Future Flyers Report: Shorthanded in net, Phantoms on brink of elimination, lose Alex Lyon

Future Flyers Report: Shorthanded in net, Phantoms on brink of elimination, lose Alex Lyon

The Future Flyers Report lives to see another week.

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers' prospects still playing in the AHL playoffs, SHL final, and the CHL playoffs. There is not much promise left for the Phantoms, while a pair of Swedish prospects find themselves tied in the SHL final. 

Alex Lyon, G, 24, 6-1/201, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
The Phantoms are on the brink of elimination after losing Games 1 and 2 of their best-of-five series with the Hershey Bears last Friday and Saturday night, and things do not appear to get any easier for Lehigh Valley. Lyon needed to be helped off the ice with 11:22 left in the third period of Lehigh Valley's 5-4 loss to the Bears on Saturday night. Hershey forward Travis Boyd made incidental contact with the Phantoms' goalie. Lyon could not put weight on his right leg, according to Highland Park Hockey. With Lyon out for the rest of the Hershey series, Lehigh Valley's season could come to an end Wednesday night. Already down Anthony Stolarz, the Phantoms would likely turn to Martin Ouellette as their starter instead of forcing Carter Hart into an impossible situation facing elimination. Before suffering his injury, Lyon stopped 10 of 13 shots against the Bears. He was excellent in Game 1 Friday night, turning away 20 of 21 shots but the Phantoms lost, 1-0, in overtime.

Carter Hart, G, 18, 6-1/181, Everett (WHL)
As expected, Hart joined the Phantoms last week for Lehigh Valley's playoff run. He did not dress in either Game 1 or 2 against Hershey. Hart told CSN's John Boruk last Wednesday that Montreal's Carey Price and Washington's Braden Holtby are two of his favorite goalies and that he has studied both of their games. Phantoms coach Scott Gordon raved about the structure in Hart's game. "More times than not, the puck will hit him and he'll have the appropriate response after the save is made to make the next save," Gordon said.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 20, 6-1/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
Lindblom has had a quiet SHL final for Brynäs IF, which finds itself tied, 2-2, to HV71 after four games in its best-of-seven series. Last week, Brynäs won Game 2, 3-2, in overtime Tuesday, Game 3, 4-3, in OT on Thursday and lost, 6-4, in Game 4 on Saturday. Lindblom was pointless in all three games and was a combined minus-4 in Games 3 and 4. He did register 10 shots on goal and was credited with seven hits last week. Through four SHL final games, Lindblom has just one goal and is a minus-6. Game 5 is Monday.

Felix Sandstrom, G, 20, 6-2/187, Brynäs IF (SHL)
Sandstrom started just one game last week for Brynäs. The 20-year-old goalie stopped 14 of 16 shots in 63:19 during Brynäs' 3-2 OT win last Tuesday. He missed Game 3 on Thursday because of an illness. David Rautio got the start Thursday and Saturday. If fully recovered from his illness, Sandstrom should be back in net for Game 5 on Monday.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-3/214, Kitchener (OHL)
The Flyers signed Bunnaman to an entry-level contract last Friday. He was the team's fourth-round pick (109 overall) in 2016. He scored 37 goals and 52 points as an 18-year-old this season with the Rangers, up from 19 goals and 38 points in 2015-16. He turned 19 on Easter. An interesting observation from CSNPhilly.com contributor Ryan Bright, Bunnaman was drafted at 6-foot-1, 207. He is now listed at 6-3, 214.

Philippe Myers, D, 20, 6-5/208, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Myers' junior season is over. The 6-5 defenseman joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during their playoff run. He did not play in Games 1 or 2 over the weekend. It is unlikely he will play at all during the AHL postseason unless the Phantoms have to deal with injuries. Rouyn-Noranda lost its playoff series with Chicoutimi in five games last week. Myers had a goal and was a minus-5 in five playoff games against the Saguenéens. He had nine points and finished as a minus-2 in 13 playoff games. As a 20-year-old, he is no longer eligible for juniors. He will turn pro next season, either playing for the Flyers or the Phantoms.

Carsen Twarynski, LW, 19, 6-2/198, Kelowna (WHL)
Twarynski is the Flyers' lone CHL prospect still playing, as Kelowna is tied, 1-1, in its best-of-seven series with Seattle in the WHL Conference Finals. Twarynski was pointless in both Games 1 and 2 for the Rockets. Through 12 playoff games -- he was suspended one game -- he has three goals, two assists, a game-winning goal and 15 penalty minutes. Kelowna and Seattle face off on Tuesday night in Game 3 in Kelowna.

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Defensemen

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Defensemen

We continue our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with a look at the defensemen. This is the second part of a four-part series. For our goaltending review, click here.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said during his end-of-the-season news conference that he blamed himself for keeping eight defensemen on the roster.
 
Hextall acknowledged keeping eight D-men caused problems on the back end and limited coach Dave Hakstol in terms of juggling his forward group, as they were often short one reserve.

When the Flyers report to training camp this fall, they will return five starters on defense. That leaves room for two more blueliners.

Right now, the incumbents to those spots are Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, both of whom made their NHL debuts during the final week of the regular season.

Then again that could change in camp given the presence of Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. Nothing is certain except that there will be seven -- not eight -- defensemen next season.

"Just looking at it on paper right now," Hextall said, "I don't know the two kids or the one kid that's going to be in our lineup next year, but they're going to dictate that. But I like the pieces we have surrounding them.

"Robert's progression has been really, really impressive. He came over as a 19-year-old, played up in Glen Falls there and was OK. The American League is a tough league to play in at that age and he held his own. As a 20-year-old, he was not bad. And this year, he's taken it to another level.

"Sam understands more than ever what his game is. I remember seeing Sam back in junior, and Sam was on the power play. Sam knows what he is as a player and he's done a really good job of working hard, getting better every day. They've both done a real good job.

"Well see where it leads to in September. They have to fight for a spot."

Here is our take on the defense (alphabetically) this past season, minus Hagg and Morin who weren't here long enough.
 
Michael Del Zotto
Age: Turns 27 on June 25
Stats: 51 GP; 6G, 12A, 18 Pts.; minus-5; 19:30
Cap hit: UFA who earned $3.875 million

When Del Zotto signed here in free agency in 2014, he was a reclamation project. When he met with Hextall two weeks ago, he thanked him for rejuvenating his career and said he understood the club had even younger players than himself waiting in line. The irony is, Del Zotto's best overall season was his first one in 2014-15 when he scored 10 goals and 32 points with far fewer turnovers with the Rangers. He averaged 23 minutes last year, but because of rookie Ivan Provorov, every other D-man's ice time dipped this season. In Del Zotto's case, that was a four-minute hit. While he can move the puck, he is simply not as strong defensively as he needs to be, which is why he's gone through benchings the last two seasons. Del Zotto did finish third on the team in hits with 173. He will go to free agency.
  
Shayne Gostisbehere
Age: Turned 24 on April 20
Stats: 76 GP; 7G, 32A, 39 Pts.; minus-12; 19:35
Cap hit: RFA who earned $925,000

Though he finished just seven points shy of what he totaled in his rookie season (46 points), Gostisbehere's sophomore year was nothing like his first. He'd be the first to tell you it was a nightmarish season, though he finished on an upbeat note. For starters, last year's offseason surgery on his hip and abdomen caused havoc on him right into the second half of this season, much as it did for Claude Giroux, who had identical surgery. "Ghost" was a ghost of himself in terms of his ability to pivot quickly on the ice, recover off the wall or in transition while his once deadly-accurate shot sprayed all over from the point. His inability to cover one-on-one was compromised as well. He was a turnover machine at times. Much of it had to do with his lengthy recovery from surgery. Hakstol benched him three separate times. It wasn't until early March -- just like Giroux -- when he started to resemble his former self. He finished second among the Flyers' defensemen in ice time. "Ghost" remains the first piece of the blue-line rebuild that began under Hextall and should be re-signed in weeks ahead.

Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 27 on June 5
Stats: 67 GP; 6G, 1A, 23 Pts.; plus-5; 19:18
Cap hit: $3.35 million

There is a reason why teammates voted Gudas the Pelle Lindberg Memorial Award winner as the club's most improved defenseman. Gudas was able to transform his game into legitimate, tough blue-line hockey minus all the cheap shots, reckless hits and dumb plays that ruined his 2015-16 season. His 93 penalty minutes were down from 116 a year ago. Gudas finally realized you can play hard without playing as a liability on defense and he turned in a career season (six goals and 23 points). He was the only defensive regular who was a plus player on a roster where virtually everyone was a minus. Gudas led the Flyers with 280 hits -- third most in the NHL -- and was third on the club with 124 blocked shots. He had the fourth-highest ice time on the blue line, but missed the final four games concussed. Coincidentally, that injury came off a blind hit -- the kind he used to dish himself.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 31 on September 7
Stats: 73 GP; 2G, 16A, 18 Pts.; minus-5; 20:06
Cap hit: $5 million

MacDonald has become the whipping boy among Flyers fans because of his salary, which has prevented the club in the past from making certain improvements. If he were an offensive juggernaut, no one would complain about his contract every time he turned a puck over. And therein lies a falsehood. He was fourth on the team in giveaways (50), not first as fans would suspect. He was also the one veteran the Flyers felt confident could play with Ivan Provorov and play effectively, while allowing the rookie to develop. MacDonald's 151 blocked shots were second on the team. Again, given others' plus/minus and the fact he again averaged 20 minutes, it's not as bad as it looks on paper. He could remain with Provorov or be split to assist either Morin or Hagg next season in their transition.
 
Brandon Manning
Age: Turns 27 on June 4
Stats: 65 GP; 4G, 9A, 12 Pts.; minus-12; 18:03
Cap hit: $975,000

Some people wondered why Manning didn't receive the Flyers Fan Club's Gene Hart Memorial Award given to the player with the most heart because it was an award that Manning richly deserved. No Flyer has stood up for others on this club like Manning, who had to work his tail off just to become an NHL player and then hold onto his job. Manning isn't expected to fight and yet he did nine times this season. True, he's not very good at it -- one win -- but he is always willing and that's why teammates lauded him. Over the past three seasons, Manning has worked his way up the ladder from an AHL call-up to a seventh or eighth defenseman to an every night regular on the roster, while his ice time has risen accordingly. Manning's 121 hits were sixth most and third among Flyers defensemen. He will have to work even harder to retain his starting position if Morin and Hagg make the roster.

Ivan Provorov
Age: Turns 21 on January 13
Stats: 82 GP; 6G, 249A, 30 Pts.; minus-7; 21:58
Cap hit: $894,167

For the second consecutive season, the Flyers had a dynamic rookie defenseman. Provorov plays the game -- as Hextall has noted -- like he's a 30-year-old veteran, not someone who began the season as just a 19-year-old. He led the team in ice time and established a rookie record for such by a Flyer. His 27:17 single-game record against Pittsburgh will be tough to break. He was second in the NHL among all rookies in ice time, too. Provorov has the physical strength and advanced skills you simply don't see very often at this age. He is a franchise defenseman and the only player on the Flyers' roster you can pinpoint as untouchable. It's been a long time coming for this franchise, but Provorov will be on this blue line for at least 10 more years. He led the team with 166 blocked shots. He also led the team with 81 giveaways. Yet given his ice time, the fact he plays in all situations and that he was a rookie, that was entirely expected. The only question is whether he remains with MacDonald next fall.
 
Nick Schultz
Age: Turns 35 on August 25
Stats: 28 GP; 0G, 4A, 4 Pts.; plus-1; 15:15
Cap hit: UFA who salary was $2.25 million

Schultz closed out his three-year career as a Flyer where he was expected to be: a seventh or eighth defenseman who was a gap filler to buy time for younger players. But he actually became a starter for two seasons because of injury and trades. While he wants to lace them up for his 16th season, Schultz said he also doesn't want to move his family cross-country for one year. If that's the case, he said he would simply retire and move back to Western Canada with his family. Hextall thanked him for doing more than what was expected of him. Despite limited ice time and game action in 2016-17, Schultz had 61 blocked shots -- eighth most on the roster -- and every player above him was a full-time starter.
 
Up next: A look back at Part I of the forwards.