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.

With Brandon Manning signed, what's next for Flyers?

With Brandon Manning signed, what's next for Flyers?

Now that young defenseman Brandon Manning has been re-signed, the Flyers wiped the table clean of any unfinished business with potential arbitration hearings this summer.
 
For now, they are done with their in-house reorganizing, but could still do a deal for a scoring winger at some point moving forward.
 
Manning’s signing left the club with 23 players for the coming season on the NHL roster — 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
 
More significantly, it also left the Flyers with little salary cap breathing room — $1.038 million, according to generalfanager.com.
 
They still have to lose a forward even though they opened with 14 last season. General manager Ron Hextall might start with eight defensemen, which brings us to 13 forwards.
 
Right now, the top target among the forwards to be sent to the AHL would be Jordan Weal ($650,000 cap hit).
 
That gives them the right number of forwards, but what about creating a spot for prospect Travis Konecny if — and that’s a big if — he’s ready to make the NHL cut out of training camp?
 
Hextall has said several times since the season ended that regardless of how his roster stands, if a prospect is ready for the NHL, he’ll find a spot for him.
 
Which brings us to the defense. Manning is the perfect seventh man on the defense. He was both that and a regular last season while playing 56 games. He also helps the Flyers in another way.
 
If he plays 14 games this season (70 overall in two seasons), he would be eligible to be exposed in next summer’s NHL expansion draft because he is also under contract for the following year, another stipulation in the expansion rules.
 
That doesn’t mean he won’t be exposed. Under the NHL’s expansion rules, teams will have the option of protecting one goaltender, three defensemen and seven forwards. Or they can protect one goalie and eight skaters, four of which can be defensemen.
 
Given Andrew MacDonald’s $5 million cap hit, you can be sure he will be exposed.
 
The issue for the present, however, is how will the Flyers fit defensive prospect Ivan Provorov onto the roster, if he can make the club out of camp?
 
Provorov was impressive in development camp. When compared against fellow prospects Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg, he was easily above them in terms of overall development.
 
The simple solution here would be to move veteran defenseman Mark Streit, who turns 39 in December. Streit has a no-trade clause but would likely waive it to remain in the NHL. Except there hasn’t been any interest in Streit since last winter.
 
Streit doesn’t have a no-movement clause, so like MacDonald, he could go to the AHL Phantoms, but because of his salary ($5.25 million), the most the Flyers can save off their cap is $950,000.
 
The Flyers could also move Nick Schultz, even to the minors, and save $950,000. Schultz, however, played very well in the playoffs and Hextall has said more than once he likes what he brings off the ice in terms of leadership around younger players.
 
The easy move would be to send Manning ($975,000) to the Phantoms and promote Provorov. Because of his age (19), Provorov either plays with the Flyers or returns to his WHL club this fall. His NHL cap hit would be less than Manning — $894,166.
 
Yet seeing how things unfolded last season, it’s more likely that MacDonald would again be a cap victim and return to the AHL rather than have him sit there as the seventh defenseman, which doesn’t do him any good unless the Flyers carry eight defensemen and 13 forwards.
 
At present, generalfanager.com has the Flyers at $71,961,666 out of the $73 million cap, including the buyout of R.J. Umberger. Eliminating Weal and Manning while adding Provorov leaves them at $71,230,832. Their cap space would be $1.76 million.
 
All the above assumes Hextall doesn’t make any trades, plus Nick Cousins, Scott Laughton and Boyd Gordon all make the final roster. It’s not a given all three do. Gordon's cap hit is $950,000 — almost as much as Manning's.
 
Because the Flyers could go with an extra forward or defenseman, it sets up all kinds of possibilities with the final roster come training camp.
 
At least one player figures to lose their job.

End to End: Analyzing Brayden Schenn's contract

End to End: Analyzing Brayden Schenn's contract

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

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

Is Brayden Schenn's contract a good deal for the Flyers?

Dougherty
It's understandable why some portion of Flyers fans have responded to Schenn's contract extension with caution; the $5.125 million is a bit high for what he's done consistently. But we live in a salary cap world in which the cap is not rising at the rate we would like.

We have to consider that when analyzing contracts. As Sportsnet's Colton Praill eloquently opined about bridge contracts back on July 13, we've seen teams get burnt by bad contracts. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who have had to move players to fit under the cap.

Part of surviving the cap world is making smart bets on players, and that requires breaking down what they have done already but more importantly, what you believe they'll do in the future. And Ron Hextall has done a decent job of that in his tenure as GM.

A perfect example of that is Sean Couturier's contract. It was a higher cap hit than his offensive production warranted at the time, but a deal we would look back on as a steal.

Now, Schenn's development is nearly complete. It's a different situation, but the same idea. If Schenn is a 26-goal, 59-point player, his $5.125 million AAV is fair.

If there's another level we haven't seen from the 24-year-old, then this is a totally different conversation in a few years.

In the end, the Flyers are betting on Schenn being the player he was from Jan. 1, 2016, through the end of the season, and living in the cap world, it's a smart play.

Hall
The Flyers were going to re-sign Brayden Schenn, through an arbitrator or not.

And when it was all said and done, no matter if the average annual value was slightly lower or higher than the $5.125 million of Schenn’s new four-year contract, the Flyers were still going to be handcuffed by the cap.

So the Flyers avoided what can be a messy arbitration process by finding a happy medium with a strategic deal that behooves the Flyers long term, as Ron Hextall explained.

Now they have longer team control over Schenn, who could have signed for fewer years, upped his game and ballooned his payday as an unrestricted free agent.

Like Hextall said, top-six forwards entering their prime "are hard to find."

Yeah, the Flyers probably overpaid just a bit, but that’s the NHL market — it’s far from perfect.

Paone
There’s a reason these kinds of things are categorized as negotiations. There’s give and take involved. In the case of Brayden Schenn’s contract, there was probably a little more give than Ron Hextall and the Flyers would have liked. The numbers reported over the weekend tell us the Flyers didn’t necessarily want to go over the $5 million per year threshold with Schenn, even though the 24-year-old forward is coming off a career year of 26 goals and 33 assists.

But just because the Flyers went over their projected budget by going a smidge over $5 million doesn’t mean this is a terrible deal for the team. Not by any means. By now, you’ve probably read or heard Hextall use the term “market deal” when describing this contract. And that’s accurate because that’s the way the NHL is going these days. Yes, Schenn has had inconsistency issues over his first five seasons in Philadelphia. But young scorers don’t grow on trees. You have to pay to keep the ones you have. New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider and St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz are just a few examples. Schenn is just the latest. There will be more young scorers out there, flaws be damned, who will get paid sooner rather than later.

Sure, Schenn picked a great time last year — a contract year — to have a career season. And that pushed the Flyers to reward him. Now, it’s up to him to reward the Flyers’ faith.

NHL Notes: Red Wings sign Danny DeKeyser to 6-year contract

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NHL Notes: Red Wings sign Danny DeKeyser to 6-year contract

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings have avoided arbitration and signed defenseman Danny DeKeyser to a $30 million, six-year contract.

DeKeyser will count $5 million against the salary cap throughout the length of the deal. Agent Don Meehan confirmed the terms of the contract Tuesday, including modified no-trade protection beginning in the 2017-18 season.

The restricted free agent and the club were scheduled to have their arbitration hearing on Thursday in Toronto.

Instead, the 26-year-old has a long-term deal. The Western Michigan product has 14 goals and 61 assists in 234 regular-season NHL games and has averaged over 21 minutes of ice time.

Rangers: Zborovskiy inked to entry-level contract
NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed defenseman Sergey Zborovskiy on an entry-level contract.

General manager Jeff Gorton announced the signing of the team's third-round draft pick in 2015 on Tuesday.

Zborovskiy skated in 64 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League this past season, collecting eight goals and 17 assists along with a plus-15 rating. The 19-year-old established WHL career-highs in goals, assists, points, and power play goals (two), and he tied his WHL career-high in plus/minus rating.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder skated in 12 playoff games and had five assists this past season.

Zborovskiy has skated in 135 career WHL games over two seasons with Regina, registering 11 goals and 33 assists.