Don't expect Flyers to be busy in free agency

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Don't expect Flyers to be busy in free agency

Most times when July rolls around, you have a pretty good idea of where the Flyers are headed in free agency.

This summer, not so much.

Usually, the Flyers are dealing from a position of strength: A good team with stability and dollars in hand.

This summer, it’s topsy-turvy. For starters, the Flyers’ stability as an organization has been rocked with a series of buyouts, trades, organizational upheaval and, most of all, zero dollars to spend.

And all eyes around the NHL are watching to see how the club resolves its Vinny Lecavalier dilemma. New general manager Ron Hextall all but tried to give away the 34-year-old centerman at the NHL draft and could not move him.

Lecavalier gets his $2 million bonus Tuesday and the club will again try to rid itself of his $4.5 million cap hit, or perhaps even buy him out at some point if they can’t move him.

On Monday, they tried in vain to move him to Nashville (see story).

One agent suggested it might help the Flyers with potential free agents by announcing their intention in advance to buy Lecavalier out “if” they can’t deal him.

The Flyers need his contract money to sign other players. Yes, they can go 10 percent over the cap for now, but at some point, they need his millions back.

At least one former league official and two agents remarked this weekend that Hextall is dealing with other issues that affect what he can do this summer as well.

“You got to try to find ways every day to make the organization better and that is what I strive to do every day,” Hextall said.

“Next year, if we get $15 million in cap space and there are free agents out there, the focus might be a little bit different. We’re still going to do our due diligence in free agency because we don’t know what is going to happen between now and then.”

There is a feeling of uncertainty among some agents about what the Flyers' real plan is because of their spend-and-dump policy.

• They sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a gargantuan nine-year deal, then buy him out early into it.

• They sign Lecavalier, a guy who didn’t fit, to a five-year deal when they needed a left wing, then attempt to trade him.

• They give Scott Hartnell a six-year extension, then trade him.

Some agents wonder: Will my client get traded or bought out two years into any deal we sign with them?

“They don’t have a dollar to spend,” one prominent agent said.

“Everyone knows they have issues with the cap and it’s going to affect anything Hextall tries to do,” another said.

One agent said he was “nervous about many teams,” but especially nervous about the Flyers because of what has happened in recent years with failed signings, coaching changes and so forth.

That could very well impede Hextall’s ability to sign the players they really want -- assuming they can scrape together some dollars.

The Flyers would have had a lot of interest in 27-year-old Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, but he is likely going to command $6 million or more. They’re out. Niskanen only earned $2.3 million against the cap last season.

That’s why they appear to be targeting Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by Buffalo on Sunday and will have so many suitors that the price will inflate on him.

They need a left wing. Matt Moulson would be perfect to play with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. He earned $3.1 million last year and is going to get a nice bump, although nothing like Jussi Jokinen, who earned $3 million but had a tremendous playoff run for the Penguins and substantially increased his value in free agency.

A possible cheap fit for backup goalie -- if Ray Emery is not re-signed -- would be Anders Lindback, who earned $1.8 million in Tampa Bay.

Again, however, the Flyers have no money under the cap. They might actually be better served allowing their prospects a chance to play and mature at the NHL level, something they have been very reluctant to do in the recent past.

“Hextall’s hands are really tied,” an agent said. “It will be interesting to see how he deals with it.”

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

NEW YORK -- Riley Nash scored twice and backup goalie Anton Khudobin made 18 saves as the Boston Bruins beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Nash broke a 1-1 tie with his second goal of the contest at 4:12 of the third period, beating Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss from the slot for his seventh goal of the season. Dominic Moore assisted on the decisive goal, which lifted Boston two points ahead of the Islanders for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares scored for New York and Greiss finished with 16 saves.

Tavares had a golden chance to knot the score with just over six minutes left in the third period but rang the puck off the crossbar with the Islanders on their sixth power play of the game (see full recap).

Eichel, Sabres slow Leafs' push to clinch playoff berth
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored twice and set up another goal in the Buffalo Sabres' 5-2 win that slowed the youth-laden Toronto Maple Leafs' late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth.

Ryan O'Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov each had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane also scored in a game the Sabres took control of by scoring three straight times in the second period. Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots, and the Sabres continued their home dominance over their cross-border rivals by improving to 18-2-1 against Toronto in their last 21 games at Buffalo.

The Maple Leafs' hold on third-place in the Atlantic Division dwindled in having a three-game winning streak end and losing in regulation for just the second time in their past 10 (7-2-1). With 85 points, Toronto has a one-point edge over Boston after the Bruins beat the New York Islanders.

Auston Matthews scored his 34th to tie Toronto's single-season rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86. Connor Brown also scored for Toronto (see full recap).

Marchessault's hat trick helps Panthers blow out Blackhawks
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third (see full recap).

Caps top Coyotes as Ovechkin reaches 30 goals for 12th straight season
WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 30th goal of the season and Daniel Winnik scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period, as the Washington Capitals overcame listless stretches to beat the lowly Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday night.

Ovechkin became the third player in league history to score 30-plus goals in each of his first 12 seasons, joining Mike Gartner (15) and Wayne Gretzky (13).

Winnik scored with 4:39 remaining, Justin Williams added another goal not long and Winnik sealed the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory with an empty-netter.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves for Washington, which has won five of six to reach an NHL-leading 106 points and keep pace atop the competitive Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are three points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Smith stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced and Peter Holland scored the lone goal for Arizona (see full recap).

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

From Winnipeg to Minnesota to Columbus, the Flyers' final long road trip made its third stop Saturday afternoon in Ohio against a rather imposing Blue Jackets team.

The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth earlier in the week and in this one, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky earned his seventh shutout with a 1-0 victory -- his 40th this season, which is a career-high and a Columbus franchise record (see game story).

Dave Hakstol's team played a ferocious game -- two in succession now -- and demonstrated the urgency needed, even though its playoff odds took another turn for the worse.

The overall impact on the wild card remained temporarily unknown because of the Bruins-Islanders game to be played later Saturday night, but regardless of who wins, the Flyers will fall eight points out of the wild card.

The Flyers end their four-game road trip Sunday night in Pittsburgh in the back end of the back-to-back, where Steve Mason is expected to start in net.

Here are 10 things I think, I think.
 
1. Nationwide Arena hasn't been kind to the Flyers, who are now 0-5-5 in the building since December 2008. To say the Blue Jackets own the Flyers would be an understatement given they've won 13 of the last 15 games going back to Dec. 21, 2013.
 
2. Hakstol dusted off Michal Neuvirth for the front end of this back-to-back. Neuvirth's only start before Saturday was March 9 in Toronto, when Hakstol came under criticism for using him instead of riding Mason, who was on a 3-0-1 hot streak at the time. Saturday was just Neuvirth's third appearance in March, including in relief at New Jersey on March 16. He's been understandably rusty, yet he was very good in this game.
 
3. Hakstol, as he often does after a win, stuck with the same lineup he used during Thursday's 3-1 victory in Minnesota, which meant that rookie Travis Konecny -- who played less than 10 minutes against the Wild -- was again buried on the fourth line. He finished with 12:17 against the Blue Jackets.
 
4. Hakstol has pulled his goalie many times in the past with almost two minutes left on the clock. Why did he wait until the final 48 seconds Saturday to pull Neuvirth? What did he have to lose with a playoff berth on the line?
 
5. There is little question the Flyers' trading of Bobrovsky ranks among their top five worst trades in club history orchestrated just because of the team's enormous monetary commitment to Ilya Bryzgalov, who is chasing bears in the woods of South Jersey these days. All "Bob" has done in Columbus is win a Vezina Trophy and is the favorite for the award again this season. He is also among the candidates this season for the Hart Trophy. Bobrovsky came into the game 7-1 against the Flyers all-time with a 1.85 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Bobrovsky had three saves on Wayne Simmonds alone in a scoreless first period and finished with 36 overall.
 
6. Nick Foligno has always been a Flyers killer over his career. The talented winger came into play with 21 points (14 goals) in 28 career games against the orange and black. The flyers shut him down Saturday, as Foligno had just two shots in the game.
 
7. The Flyers' penalty kill units were active with their sticks and attacking the puck on Columbus from all sides -- not allowing the Jackets a good setup. Ian Laperriere's PK units improved toward the end of this trip. The Blue Jackets were 0 for 2.
 
8. An unfortunate break of the stick for Simmonds led to Columbus' only goal late in the second period off an Alex Wennberg redirection. If Simmonds had his stick, Kyle Quincey doesn't outreach him for the puck near the blue line. Instead, it's a shot on net that's deflected for the eventual game-winner.
 
9. The Flyers' second power-play unit with Jordan Weal and Konecny produced four shots in the closing minutes of that second period, but again Bobrovsky was the ultimate difference then and in the final eight seconds with a save on Jakub Voracek and subsequent rebound scrum in front. Joey Mullen's power play has collapsed at the end -- 3 for 43 during the month of March. It was 0 for 3 in this game.
 
10. No criticism of the Flyers in this one. They did everything they could to win. That's all you can ask against a goalie that outright owns you. Again, however, the level of desperation they showed in this and the Wild loss should have been exhibited over a month ago.