Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers need more offense this season … after all, they're paying for it

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Flyers need more offense this season … after all, they're paying for it

In a salary cap-baked world, every NHL team has a pie that’s no bigger than the next one.  

Some teams prefer the shepherd’s pie recipe in which you pack as much into the crust as possible like the Flyers typically do, while a handful of small-market teams play it more on the conservative side.

More importantly, how that pie is sliced up is what truly differentiates the 31 general managers and the rest of their cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.

In sifting through the Flyers' financials, you will notice a seismic shift in the organization’s spending just in the past four years.

During Paul Holmgren’s final season as general manager in 2013-14, the Flyers' defense was more of a green line than a blue one. According to NHLnumbers.com, the team allocated more money to the back end than any other team in the league: $29.5 million, accounting for 42.5 percent of its total cap dollars. Kimmo Timonen led the way at $6 million. Chris Pronger was still on the books despite a career-ending injury, and the team added Mark Streit at just over $5 million for four years. Interestingly, the Flyers' cap hit for Luke Schenn ($3.6 million) was more than their two goalies combined (Ray Emery + Steve Mason = $3.1 million).

That was Homer’s homemade way of building a team. He made some big trades and spent even bigger dollars to whip up the most expensive defense money can buy. The final product proved to be a little burnt around the edges, as the Flyers ranked 20th in goals allowed during a season in which Peter Laviolette was fired after three games before assistant Craig Berube stepped in and led the Flyers to a first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.

Whereas Holmgren’s method was more of a short-term, throw-it-in-the-microwave approach, Ron Hextall has proven to be the connoisseur of the Crock-Pot. Turn the knob on low and let it gradually work its way to a boil. Lift the lid, soak in the aroma, and then cover it back up because these things take time.

As the Flyers enter the 2017-18 season, Hextall is slicing his pie much, much differently than his predecessor — although not necessarily by choice.  

Prior to free agency this summer, the Flyers actually led the NHL in spending at the forward position. Now they’re currently third with 13 players signed at a total of $47.5 million, behind only the Blackhawks (who added Brandon Saad in a trade with Columbus) and the Maple Leafs (who signed Patrick Marleau). It’s actually a little more if you include the buyout of R.J. Umberger, whose $1.5 million is essentially dead money but doesn’t factor in the total.

However, the Flyers are the only team in the league spending two-thirds of its cap money on forwards at 68 percent, just ahead of the Devils. That percentage may deviate depending on which rookies make the team, but not much.

The most noticeable difference between 2013-14 and 2017-18 is the Flyers eventually had to pay market value for their two proven star players: Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who comprise roughly $16.5 million, or a third of what the Flyers are spending at the position. Four years ago, Scott Hartnell and Vinny Lecavalier were tops at just over $9 million. Throw in pay raises for Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Michael Raffl, and just like that, the Flyers are spending about $15 million more in their forward portfolio than they were paying in 2013-14.

In some ways it’s cyclical. Five years from now, Hextall may very well revert back to the Holmgren days if the prospects pan out to be legitimate NHL defensemen.  

As for this season, the Flyers have put a lot of eggs in that forward basket. Toronto and Chicago finished in the top 10 in scoring last season and made the playoffs, so their spending was justified. The Flyers were 20th in goals scored and missed the postseason with a minus-17 in goal differential. For what the Flyers are spending, you should expect more offense and, at the very least, a playoff team that outscores its opponent. 

It’s a franchise that hasn’t missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1993-94. If that happens, Hextall may need a rolling pin and start from scratch.

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

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BOSTON — The last time Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott started a game, things ended quickly and didn’t end well.

Starting for the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round series last April against the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott gave up one soft goal on three shots and was pulled 5:38 into a 3-1 series-ending loss.

It was only preseason, but Elliott made a Flyers debut that helped him forget that lackluster performance and get off to a fresh start with his new team Thursday.

Elliott stopped all 18 shots he faced during his two periods on the ice in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (see observations).

“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “Just trying to see pucks and basically get acclimated in a game situation. We haven’t seen that in camp at all. So playing a game is fun, to get back in there, you forget how actually fun it is to play a game.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1 for more than just fun. They want him to combine with Michal Neuvirth to give them the type of successful goaltending tandem they’ve lacked for a while.

Elliott, in turn, wants to prove they were wise to move on from Steve Mason and bring him in. Elliott had some highlights during his season with the Flames, including an 11-game winning streak and a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over his last 21 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was a bust with an 0-3 record and .880 save percentage.

In addition to getting back into action, Elliott wanted to impress his new team.

“A little bit. You just want to play the same anyways, doesn’t matter what team you’re on or how long you’ve been with the guys,” he said. “But for sure when it’s your first time, you want to make a good impression. You only get one first impression, right. But it’s just a stepping stone, working towards that first game of the season here.”

The Flyers had several power plays early in the first period and Elliott wasn’t tested much until he gloved a shot from Bruins forward Anders Bjork on a 3-on-2 at 8:46.

After a television timeout, the Bruins put more pressure on the Flyers and Elliott remained sharp. He blocked away a point shot from Brandon Carlo and then gloved Bjork’s attempt on the rebound from the slot at 9:18.

Elliott made 10 saves in the first period.

During a power play early in the second period, Elliott had to be at his best as the Bruins kept the puck in the attacking zone for the first 90 seconds. Elliott made five saves during the penalty kill, including two difficult ones on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron from around the slot.

The Flyers' attack picked up the pace in the second half of the second period and took some of the heat off Elliott. He had earned the respite and then coach Dave Hakstol switched to Alex Lyon to start the third.

Hakstol has seen Elliott live up to the Flyers’ expectations so far in camp and in his preseason debut.

“I think he got in early and I just think I’ve seen every day at camp him kind of building his game,” Hakstol said. "I don’t think he tried to come in with a finished product on Day 1. I think he kind of started on the ground floor of building his game, obviously, after a good summer. And every day he seemed to ... kind of build his game. His last couple of days of practices have been really good, really clean and he carried that into the game tonight. So it’s a good start for him. It’s nice to see that.”

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

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BOSTON — It's still early in preseason, so the Flyers have a lot of time to iron out their power-play problems.

And they have a lot of problems.

Even with their most veteran-laden lineup of the preseason on the ice against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Flyers went 0 for 9 on the power play and lost, 2-1, in overtime at TD Garden.

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch had most of the Flyers’ weapons but the man-advantage didn’t score, didn’t threaten and did little to build momentum.

Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim scored a 4-on-4 goal at 4:57 of the third period to make it 1-0. The Bruins answered at 6:39 with a goal by defenseman Paul Postma to tie it 1-1. Kenny Agostino scored the game-winner 3:20 into overtime, as the Flyers fell to 1-1-2 in preseason action.

On to the observations:

• The loss and the power-play struggles aside, the Flyers avoided one potential nightmare. Second-year forward Travis Konecny had to leave the game after just 18 seconds of first-period play. But he returned to action later in the period.

Konecny was hit late and high at the red line away from the puck by Bruins rookie forward Jesse Gabrielle just before the whistle came 18 seconds into the game. Konecny returned with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first period.

Konecny looked himself when he nearly scored in the final minute of the first period, but his redirection of a Sanheim pass on a 3-on-2 went wide of the Boston net.

Gabrielle, trying to make the Bruins as a bottom-six forward, should hear from the NHL department of player safety, although Konecny’s return might’ve gotten Gabrielle off the hook.

• Goaltender Brian Elliott made his Flyers preseason debut and made 18 saves on 18 shots through two periods before Alex Lyon replaced him at the start of the third (see story). Lyon made nine saves, including one on Anton Blidh on a 2-on-1 late in the third period and one on Zach Senyshyn on another 2-on-1 in overtime to preserve the 1-1 tie.

• Sanheim was strong at both ends throughout the game, getting active on offense even before the game. He made a big play to break up a 2-on-1 with a Flyers power play late in the second period. Sanheim could make it difficult for the Flyers to pick among their three rookies for two spots on defense. Of course if Brandon Manning isn’t ready to start the season, there could be three spots available.

• Despite practicing as a left winger on Tuesday, captain Claude Giroux made his preseason debut at center between Oskar Lindblom and Jakub Voracek.

Giroux looked himself throughout the night, both 5-on-5 and on special teams. Early in the second period he canceled out a Boston power play by drawing a holding penalty on Bruins defenseman Postma during a race to the puck in the Boston end. He was also in the box for Sanheim’s goal and just exiting the box when Postma scored for Boston.

Coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday morning he would like to test Giroux out on the wing during a game later in the preseason.

• Voracek made his preseason debut and had his skating legs early as he won a race with Bruins forward Blidh into the Boston zone and drew a slashing penalty with a drive to the net.

• The Flyers dodged a miscommunication in the first period shortly after the Gabrielle penalty expired. When Konecny’s linemates Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier jumped on the ice for their shift, no one jumped over the bench with them and the Flyers played with four skaters for about 10-12 seconds. The puck changed possession a couple times in safe areas of the ice. And one could say the strategy worked because during the next shift, Voracek drew a penalty.

• Flyers forward Colin McDonald nearly joined Konecny on the sidelines near the three-minute mark. Off a faceoff win, Andrew MacDonald’s slap shot hit his teammate. McDonald hobbled to the bench. The Flyers didn’t need any more friendly fire considering they were already without Konecny.

• Lindblom joined Giroux and Voracek on the Flyers’ first line and that carried over to the power play, where Lindblom was part of the first unit along with Giroux, Voracek, Ivan Provorov and Wayne Simmonds until late in the second period. After the Flyers' power play had gone 0 for 5, Hakstrol switched Lindblom with Valtteri Filppula and that seemed to jump-start the man advantage. The Flyers didn’t score but put more pressure on Tuukka Rask during their sixth power play.

• Thursday morning the Flyers reduced their roster by 18 players. Forwards Connor Bunnaman (Kitchener — OHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville — QMJHL), Ivan Kosorenkov (Victoriaville — QMJHL), German Rubtsov (Chicoutimi — QMJHL), and goaltender Carter Hart (Everett — WHL) were returned to their junior teams.

Then the Flyers assigned forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Tyrell Goulbourne, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev; defensemen James de Haas, Mark Friedman, Maxim Lamarche, Phil Myers, Reece Willcox; and goaltenders Leland Irving and John Muse to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley (more on moves here).

Here’s a look at how the Flyers lined up to start the game:

Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Taylor Leier-Valtteri Filppula-Colin McDonald

Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg