Flyers offseason: Get ready for a wild ride

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Flyers offseason: Get ready for a wild ride

Since the Paul Holmgren era as general manager began, most of the Flyers' summers have been filled with great expectations, surprises and incredible uncertainty.
 
It usually begins with rumors here and there during the Stanley Cup Final, then heats up as we head into draft week and, by the end of the NHL draft, the Flyers have done something outrageous or pulled off a coup.
 
The signing of goalie Ray Emery out of Russia began during the 2009 Cup Final between Detroit and Pittsburgh.
 
Then there was when the Flyers tried and failed to land Jay Bouwmeester in a trade at the 2009 draft in Montreal. They got Chris Pronger and stole the entire draft’s glitter.
 
They traded for the rights of Dan Hamhuis and even Evgeni Nabokov at the 2010 draft in Los Angeles. And were unable to sign either of them.
 
No one will ever forget two years ago in Minnesota when Holmgren traded both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards within minutes of each other the day before the draft began. And also signed the previously acquired Ilya Bryzgalov.
 
That was then followed by a wild free-agent frenzy a week later, as the club signed Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot and Andreas Lilja.
 
Last summer at the draft in Pittsburgh, the Flyers dealt Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for three draft picks then traded for Luke Schenn hours after the draft ended and everyone had packed up and gone home.
 
Schenn had an impact here in his first season. And Bobrovsky? He won the Vezina.
 
No one knows what’s going to unfold next weekend at the draft in Newark, N.J. Teams are staying in New York City, so a lot of the pre-draft action will take place there.
 
The Flyers’ wheels are spinning already with the acquisition and signing of Mark Streit, the trade talk with Los Angeles (about goalie Jonathan Bernier) and Anaheim (winger Bobby Ryan), the buyout of Danny Briere, and the still-to-be-determined status of Bryzgalov.
 
“It’s going to be a crazy week at the draft,” Flyers president Peter Luukko noted earlier, referring to all the buyouts that will unfold around the league, plus the noise his own club is going to make.
 
The craziness has already begun.
 
Some thoughts …
 
• Holmgren really needs to ask himself whether Bryzgalov wants to play in Philadelphia. His breakup day comments seemed to indicate he’s very unhappy here. He might as well have said, "Get me out of here." And yet, there are those with the Flyers who stand behind him and believe he will be fine as a goalie if the defense gets fixed.
 
• The L.A. Kings have some cap issues themselves. GM Dean Lombardi wants prospects and picks from some teams -- not all -- in the Bernier talks. He can start by asking the Flyers for Jakub Voracek, which helps his scoring issues on the wing, but hurts his cap. The better route is Matt Read and a prospect. And that doesn’t hurt the Flyers, either. Read is an unrestricted free agent next year and the Flyers already wonder whether they can re-sign him.
 
• You can make a very good case that the Flyers never exercise patience with young players. They’re too quick to jettison them. Patrick Sharp is a great example. I asked a scout about that. “The philosophy is win now, and they always try to win every year,” he said. The Flyers have potential stud goalie prospect in Anthony Stolarz, who won’t be ready for likely three years. If they get rid of Bryzgalov, do they find an older veteran to fill the gap waiting for Stolarz, or do they really try for Bernier? And if the answer to fill the gap with an older guy, then the list of potential UFA goalies that might fit that bill would be Nick Backstrom, Tim Thomas, Nabokov and Emery.
 
• If the Flyers think Cosmonaut Bryzgalov draws too much attention to himself, my buddy Al Morganti asks: Can you imagine the daily media circus in the dressing room if the NHL’s most outspoken political rightwinger, Thomas, were here?
 
• Every summer, we hear the Ryan rumors. This one is no different. But if Anaheim GM Bob Murray is expecting the Flyers to give up their 11th overall pick in the first round along with Braydon Coburn, that’s too much. The Flyers need to retain that pick. Several scouts I talked to since May have been saying there is unanimous agreement that they can’t fork over that first-round pick unless they’re getting another first-rounder back in any deal at the draft. And while the philosophy has always been to draft based on “best available athlete,” there is also a feeling that this is one draft when the Flyers ought to acknowledge they really are thin on NHL-caliber defensive prospects and need to bulk up in that department.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.