Flyers-Blackhawks: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blackhawks: 5 things you need to know

And so it continues.

The Flyers (35-25-7) host the Chicago Blackhawks (39-15-14) in the third game of a 12-game stretch against teams in playoff position.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Level elite
CBC’s Elliotte Friedman pens a column each week called “30 Thoughts.” It is one of the best reads of the week for hockey fans. In this week’s piece, Friedman praises the Flyers for the contracts of Sean Couturier and Matt Read, while also titling Couturier an “elite shutdown player.”

High praise from a well-respected media member, and how can anyone disagree with him after this weekend's sweep of the Penguins?

Couturier marvelously shut down Sidney Crosby, who was pointless in both games (only the second time in 47 regular-season games against the Flyers Crosby went pointless in back-to-back games).

At 21, Couturier's offensive game still hasn't peaked, but he has proven since he entered the league he is a strong defensive forward. He proved Saturday and Sunday he's among the league's best.

The Flyers will need Couturier against Chicago, the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Blackhawks score goals and a lot of them. They lead the NHL in scoring, potting 3.32 goals per game. The Hawks tallied seven in their win over the Flyers on Dec. 11.

Couturier will have his hands full but he's capable of handling the challenge.

2. MVP watch
Claude Giroux had a terrible start to the season -- so bad some Flyers fans questioned his captaincy. He went the first 15 games without a goal and the first five without a point.

That feels like years ago, because Giroux is now among the top scorers in the league. With 69 points, Giroux is tied for fourth in the NHL with Tyler Seguin and Kyle Okposo.

Since Dec. 11, Giroux has the most points in the NHL -- 49 in 38 games. He has 23 points in his last 15 games. He had four in the weekend sweep of the Pens.

Giroux has more points than Patrick Kane (68), Alex Ovechkin (68), Corey Perry (67) and Evgeni Malkin (66).

The 26-year-old has carried the Flyers from in the basement after a franchise-worst start to second place in the Metropolitan Division.

He won't win the Hart Memorial Trophy, but you can bet he will be a finalist.

3. Remember me?
Everyone remembers Patrick Sharp in Philadelphia. He's the guy who netted the Flyers Matt Ellison. Pretty obvious who won that exchange.

Sharp: 218 goals since being traded to Chicago in 2005; two Stanley Cups (2010, 2013); one All-Star appearance; one NHL All-Star MVP; 2014 gold medalist with Team Canada.

Ellison: Seven career games with the Flyers.

Everyone knows that was a bad move, even Bobby Clarke.

Sharp is one of the game's finest goal scorers and he's at it again this year. The 32-year-old has 29 goals and five multi-goal games -- including two hat tricks -- this season. His 65 points are tied for 14th in points with San Jose's Joe Thornton.

When the Blackhawks scored seven against the Flyers earlier in the year, seven different players scored. Sharp was one of them, but he also contributed to two other goals. He finished with a goal and two assists.

The good news? He hasn't scored in six games, but that probably means he gets three tonight. The Flyers have to play tight defense when he's on the ice.

4. Special teams
One of the biggest reasons the Flyers swept the Penguins this weekend was the play of their special teams. The Flyers were 3 for 7 on the power play against a penalty kill in Pittsburgh that entered the weekend as the top unit in the league and left as the third-best.

But more impressively, the Flyers were 9 for 9 on the penalty kill against the NHL's top power play. The Penguins weren't able to get anything going on the man advantage. A lot of that had to do with Couturier and Read, but the entire units were dominant.

Since Feb. 1, the Flyers have killed 87.0 percent of their opponents' power plays.

They'll have another huge test tonight as Chicago enters as the third-best PP in the league, scoring at a 20.8 percent clip.

5. This and that
• The Flyers are 9-2-1 since the start of February and 31-15-6 since Nov. 9.

• Chicago will play its second game at the Wells Fargo Center since winning the 2010 Stanley Cup here. The Flyers beat the Blackhawks, 5-4, on Jan. 5, 2012 -- the last time Chicago was in town.

• Somewhat shockingly, the Blackhawks enter tonight's game in third place in the Central Division. They were atop the NHL in points for most of the season.

• The Blackhawks' 106 road goals are the most in the league, their 88 second-period goals are second to Anaheim and their 77 third-period goals are second to Boston.

• Flyers milestone watch: Vinny Lecavalier needs two goals for 400 in his career; Jakub Voracek needs three for 100 in his career; and Luke Schenn needs three points for 100 in his career.

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.

Flyers, RFA Brandon Manning agree to 2-year deal

Flyers, RFA Brandon Manning agree to 2-year deal

Ron Hextall has finished taking care of his own.

The Flyers on Tuesday morning agreed to a multi-year contract with restricted free agent defenseman Brandon Manning, avoiding an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 2. The deal is worth two years, $1.95 million, a source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman first reported the figures.

On Monday, the Flyers re-upped Brayden Schenn, their other remaining RFA.

With Manning's $975,000 average annual value, the Flyers now have about $1.04 million in salary cap space, according to generalfanager.com. Last season, Manning made $625,000.

The 26-year-old is coming off his first full NHL season in which he totaled seven points (one goal, six assists) in 56 regular-season games while also appearing in all six of the Flyers’ playoff contests.

After playing just 10 games over January and February, Manning, a lefty shot, gelled with the righty-shooting Radko Gudas to form the Flyers’ third and final defensive pairing the rest of the way. Gudas, who was a pending restricted free agent, re-signed with the Flyers on June 23.

“When you start playing every night, you get comfortable and you start getting that confidence,” Manning said at his end-of-the-season press conference in late April. “It kind of took off from there."

Flyers general manager Hextall liked what he saw down the stretch from his youth, including Manning.

“The younger guys like Brayden showed growth this year, [Sean Couturier] showed growth this year, Manning, [Scott] Laughton at times,” Hextall said after the Flyers’ first-round playoff exit to the top-seeded Capitals. “Obviously [Nick] Cousins, so we showed a lot of growth, but we need to continue to grow in that group.”

Once again, competition will be prevalent on the Flyers’ blue line come training camp in September. The team currently holds seven defensemen in Michael Del Zotto, Shayne Gostisbehere, Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, Manning, Nick Schultz and Mark Streit.

Of course, there’s topflight prospect Ivan Provorov, who will legitimately push for a roster spot at 19 years old, as well as fellow prospects Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin, who could be in the mix at some point this season. The Flyers also signed T.J. Brennan, a 27-year-old with NHL experience, to a two-way contract this summer.

Manning, who joined the Flyers’ organization in November 2010 as a free-agent signing, says he’s accustomed to fighting for a job.

"I mean, it's been the same thing for me the last five years,” Manning said in late April. “You just play as hard as you can. It's been like that for me all along. It doesn't matter who's making the most money or which prospects are coming, you just worry about yourself and come in and play the best and it usually works out for yourself.

“The Flyers have been good to me. [Hextall] has been a straight shooter over the few years he's been running the show here. I'm definitely happy here and the way things have been going with [head coach Dave Hakstol]. Everything moving forward, it's going to be a good time to be a Flyer.”