Figuring out the Flyers: Defense Part II

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Figuring out the Flyers: Defense Part II

Note: This is the second piece of a two-part series. For Part I, click here.

As we discussed in Part I, if general manager Paul Holmgren does nothing else this summer, he simply must make improvements to the Flyers' blue line. They struggled in 2013, a shortened season during which 13 different players spent time on D for the Flyers.

Here’s a look at our second installment of players under contract, plus pending restricted free agents expected to be re-signed:

Oliver Lauridsen
Age: 24 
Games played: 15
Stats: two goals, one assist
Plus/minus: even
Average ice time: 15:08
Cap hit: restricted free agent this summer
 
His agent said it best: if only he had the meanness of Chris Pronger. He certainly has the size and reach, though he needs to pack more muscle onto that 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame -- 20 pounds would be ideal.
 
Lauridsen handled himself well under trying conditions over the final five weeks of the season when pressed into a starting role because of the team's continual injuries.
 
He scored a couple of goals, had some hilarious quotes about one of them, which was scored off of Bruins D-man Zdeno Chara, and gave the Flyers 15 minutes a night with 36 hits and 24 blocks in 15 games.
 
He’s only going to get better. He could be the team’s seventh man next season, yet the Flyers usually don’t like sitting younger players. He would likely benefit from expanded play with the Phantoms.
 
Like Erik Gustafsson, Lauridsen is an RFA this summer.
 
Brandon Manning
Age: 22
Games played: six
Stats: no goals, two assists
Plus/minus: plus-4
Average ice time: 14:48
Cap hit: restricted free agent this summer
 
Incomplete. Manning played six games in the final month of season because of injuries. He remains a call-up from the Phantoms. Also an RFA this summer.
 
Andrej Meszaros
Age: 27
Games played: 11
Stats: no goals, two assists
Plus/minus: minus-9
Average ice time: 18:27
Cap hit: $4 million (final year)
 
Meszaros was a physical wreck for the Flyers. His long-term durability is the No. 1 concern among all returning defensemen. Worse, he seems convinced he’s under a dark cloud. It can be dangerous if a player goes on the ice thinking he might get hurt.
 
The young Slovak defenseman has had one injury after another since being traded to the Flyers in July 2010. In the summer of 2011, Meszaros had right wrist surgery. In 2011-12, he missed the final 19 games recovering from surgery to remove disk fragments in his back.
 
Last August, while working out in Slovakia, Meszaros suffered a freak right Achilles tendon tear. He returned after the lockout and quickly suffered an AC joint injury to his left shoulder on Jan. 24.
 
That injury saw Meszaros miss the next 21 games though he did not have surgery.
 
Meszaros returned to the Flyers' lineup on March 9 at Boston and played seven games with two assists before being injured again. That’s three times he has injured his left shoulder, going back to 2009 when he was in Tampa.
 
How can the organization not be alarmed at his health? The Flyers say he will be fine, but that is looking at things through rose-colored glasses at this point.
 
Given his cap hit and injury history, it makes him very hard to trade.
 
Yet keeping Meszaros around and healthy is just as dicey at this point, too.
 
Luke Schenn
Age: 23
Games played: 47
Stats: three goals, eight assists
Plus/minus: plus-3
Average ice time: 21:51
Cap hit: $3.6 million for next three years
 
Schenn is not Pronger.
 
What he is, though, is a young, healthy (can’t say that about most of the Flyers' D-men), big blueliner who is going to get his hits and blocked shots but will forever remain a one-on-one liability in tight spaces.
 
Schenn had a very poor start, giving rise to fan outcry about the trade of James van Riemsdyk for him at the conclusion of last summer’s NHL draft in Pittsburgh.
 
These are the kind of deals that take several years to play out. For instance, remember the Flyers traded Ruslan Fedotenko et al., including picks to Tampa Bay the night before the 2002 draft in Toronto to get the Bolts’ top pick (Joni Pitkanen)?
 
Everyone said Flyers GM Bob Clarke had fleeced Jay Feaster.
 
All Fedotenko ever did was score two of the most dramatic Game 7 goals in Stanley Cup history to give the Bolts the Cup over Calgary in 2004. Point? These deals require time to evaluate.
 
Schenn picked up his game in the second half of the season and finished as the Flyers’ leader in hits (187) and blocked shots (102).
 
He’s best protected when playing with a mobile partner who can cover up for him. That was Timonen for much of the season, and then Lauridsen. Schenn won’t ever make up for his lack of speed, but his positional play should improve as he gets older.
 
Depending upon what happens this summer, Schenn’s partner could change again, but you can definitely ascertain there is a development curve with him.
 
Kimmo Timonen
Age: 38
Games played: 45
Stats: five goals, 24 assists
Plus/minus: plus-3
Average ice time: 21:45
Cap hit: $6 million (final year)
 
Much like Meszaros, the Flyers’ reigning blue-line veteran (he has 14 NHL seasons under his belt) represents a considerable health risk next season.
 
That really takes away from the $6 million contract extension Timonen signed in February, as well, because for the most part, he has been banged up at the end of every season he’s been a Flyer.
 
Sometimes, it’s bad. Before being shut down, he played 29 games with a bothersome right foot that turned out to a compression fracture likely suffered on Feb. 16 in Montreal.
 
No one doubts this former Iron Man’s integrity or desire never to be removed from a lineup, but the Flyers need to find a way to cut Timonen’s minutes and keep him healthy. His ice time was higher this year (21:46) than last (21:14).
 
Though he is noticeably a step or two slower, Timonen still won his fourth Barry Ashbee Trophy and finished tied for sixth in points among NHL defensemen.
 
Timonen has incurred seven injuries since 2008-09: a concussion, a chip fracture to his ankle, a broken toe, injuries to both feet that did not require surgery, a hip flexor and herniated disk surgery.
 
The Flyers need to identify a younger No. 1 to take his spot after next season. That has to happen this summer. They tried last summer and failed.

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, the projected top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, on Saturday afternoon added some CHL hardware to their trophy case.

Patrick won the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award, beating out Hischier and Windsor's Gabriel Vilardi, while Hischier edged Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi and Guelph's Ryan Merkley for the CCM Rookie of the Year Award.

Injuries forced Patrick to play just 33 games this season, but he still produced at a point-per-game pace for Brandon. He finished with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists).

Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads, his first season in the QMJHL after coming over from Switzerland.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. If the draft goes as projected, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier, whoever the New Jersey Devils do not pick.

The 2017 NHL draft is June 23-24 in Chicago.

Missing history
Flyers prospect Carter Hart had a chance to become the first goalie in CHL history to win the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Award twice, but this year's award went elsewhere.

Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven on Saturday afternoon took home the 2016-17 CHL Goaltender of the Year Award. McNiven was 41-9-4 for the Attack this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with six shutouts.

McNiven led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, and his six shutouts were tied with Windsor's Michael DiPietro for the league lead. His 41 wins were tops in the OHL.

Hart, 18, posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games with the Everett Silvertips in 2016-17. His 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and nine shutouts were all ranked No. 1 in the WHL.

Despite missing out on the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award this year, Hart previously did win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year for the second straight season. He was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week and had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 48 seconds during the regular season.

Hart was one of three second-round picks by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft.

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.