Philadelphia Flyers

Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Flyers' tandem of the future? Count on it

Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Flyers' tandem of the future? Count on it

VOORHEES, N.J. — When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall played, the former goaltender always viewed his partner and himself as a part of a tandem. Or so he says 18 years later.

By studying Hextall’s goaltending decisions during his time in his current post, his philosophy has become indisputable: draft a ton of goalies and tandems are imperative.

Hextall has drafted five goalies in the four drafts he’s been in charge, signed a college free agent (Alex Lyon) and the Flyers currently have nine netminders in their organization.

The effectiveness of platoons played a factor in the Flyers’ biggest free-agent move of the summer and immediate future in net. Brian Elliott welcomes tandems. Steve Mason didn’t.

Elliott will partner with Michal Neuvirth for the next two seasons in Philadelphia, but then what? We all expect one of the Flyers’ highly-touted prospects to be here in three years.

Whether that’s either Carter Hart or Felix Sandstrom, two goalies drafted by Hextall with bright futures, or either Lyon or Anthony Stolarz will be determined in the next two years.

Hart and Sandstrom are the two prospects everyone expects to compete for the No. 1 job when they’re seasoned enough to be in the NHL, but the question turns to their role.

Does Hextall envision either Hart or Sandstrom taking a stranglehold of the No. 1 job, while the other either serves as the backup or gets squeezed out of the equation?

You can bet on that being the case.

“The goalie dictates that,” Hextall said last Friday during development camp at Flyers Skate Zone. “You still need two goalies. I never want to have a backup that you say, ‘OK, he’s a 10- or 15-game guy.’ What if your guy gets hurt, where do you go? It’s always a tandem.

“You need someone capable of playing 30 games. Fifty-thirty, that’s a tandem. Fifty-five-twenty-five, that’s a tandem. The goaltender will dictate the games to some degree.”
 
On Day 1 of development camp last Friday, Hart and Sandstrom were paired together during the first goalie session at 8 a.m. and the second in the afternoon.
 
If the vision going forward includes them splitting time between the pipes, it doesn’t hurt that the goalies were positioned two stalls from each other at camp.
 
It also doesn’t hurt that they were at development camp last summer and they’ll likely be together again next summer. Building a rapport now should pay off in the long run.
 
“I was here last year with [Sandstrom],” Hart said, “so I got to know him pretty well. We were on the same volleyball team for the Trial on the Isle. We didn’t have great partners.

“I don’t know who they were. I don’t want to say any names. I think we finished last.”

Hart, who turns 19 next month, received a taste of pro life at the end of last season, when he joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms largely as a spectator in the AHL playoffs, though he did back up once.
 
The 2016 second-round pick will spend the 2017-18 season in the WHL with Everett before making the jump full-time professionally in 2018-19 when he’s 20 (see story).
 
As for Sandstrom, the 20-year-old had the option to jump overseas this season to play at Lehigh Valley with his contract with Brynäs IF expiring after last season.
 
Instead, the Swede decided to re-up for one more year with Brynäs, while his teammate, winger Oskar Lindblom, opted to come to North America full-time. Lindblom is expected to make the Flyers’ roster in training camp, but beginning the year in the AHL is an option too.

“I’m in a good position at home in Sweden,” Sandstrom said. “I get to play a lot. Really like my goalie coach there, too. I’m in a good position at home. No reason to rush. I think I need one more year to develop more and be even more ready to come over here.”

Leaving Sweden didn’t really compute much for Sandstrom, a 2015 third-round pick who in 2016-17 posted respectable numbers for Brynäs in his second full season in the SHL.

There is a numbers game in Lehigh Valley with Lyon and Stolarz, both restricted free agents. There wasn’t much playing time available with the Phantoms.

In 46 regular-season games last season, Sandstrom compiled a 14-7 record, 2.25 goals-against average and .908 save percentage with two shutouts. During the postseason, he had a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage in 13 games as Brynäs lost in the finals.

Sandstrom reiterated his desire to play in the NHL and “be a reason why the Flyers win games” at development camp. With the logistics, it just didn’t make sense this year.

When he does come over — as it is with all European players — the rink will be his biggest adjustment. The smaller rink creates for different angles for goalies. It takes time to adjust.

“It’s a different type of game with the rinks,” Sandstrom said. “More shots, more straight to the net. I like that. I think I can handle that. It’s pretty good. I’m a pretty good skater, too.

“It’s more often that they shoot from places [here], where, in Sweden, they often don’t shoot. Because when you go on the boards here, it’s a scoring chance. If you shoot from there in Sweden, it’s not as dangerous.”

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.