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.

End to End: Expectations for Scott Laughton in 2017-18

End to End: Expectations for Scott Laughton in 2017-18

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 reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: What are your expectations for Scott Laughton?

Boruk
Ron Hextall certainly raised a few eyebrows when Laughton was one of seven forwards the Flyers protected in the Vegas expansion draft despite playing just two NHL games last season. Struggling to find his place with the Flyers during Year 1 of the Dave Hakstol era, Laughton spent 2016-17 in Lehigh Valley refining his game, his mental approach and learning how to contribute without necessarily putting up numbers.

At the NHL draft in Chicago, Hextall said, “This kid took a step in terms of his dedication, his attachment to the game, his passion for the game, the way he plays the game. … Last year I think he figured it out.” Translation: He developed more into the type of defensive-minded player required on a Hextall-constructed team. A couple of weeks later, the Flyers and Laughton agreed on a two-year contract worth $1.925 million.

I think Laughton will have a strong training camp and will begin the season sliding into the fourth-line center role left by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (selected by Vegas). Laughton should also pick up some of Bellemare’s penalty-killing role, an area he worked on and improved during his time with the Phantoms. If Laughton can chip in with 15-20 points playing primarily on the Flyers' checking line, he’ll prove to be a nice upgrade over Bellemare.

Dougherty
We can connect the dots. The Flyers expect Laughton to make the team when training camp breaks in October. Hextall protected Laughton over Bellemare in the expansion draft.

Makes sense, right? Protect the 23-year-old over the 32-year-old. Easy decision. Hextall didn't draft Laughton, but by protecting him, it shows they still believe in Laughton. Earlier this summer, Hextall said Laughton grew up a lot in Lehigh Valley last season.

Laughton signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. He is no longer waiver exempt. That's important to note. They no longer have the option to send him to the AHL without subjecting him to waivers first. I don't see any scenario he passes through.

So, Laughton will be with the Flyers on Oct. 4 in San Jose. Has to be. The Flyers respected Bellemare way too much to protect Laughton in the expansion draft and then risk losing the Oakville, Ontario, native on waivers. The question is will he be a regular?

The Flyers lost the dynamic duo of Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde this summer. All three spots on the fourth line are open for business. Laughton will be in consideration.

We can count seven players competing for three spots in the lineup: Laughton, Dale Weise, Jori Lehtera, Mike Vecchione, Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula and Taylor Leier. I expect Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom to have top-nine roles. Filppula probably also has a top-nine role as well, but he's also a candidate for the fourth line.

That means six players for three spots. Then there will be one or two extra forwards. The other guy isn't here. Laughton will be here. In what capacity, I just don't know.

Hall
Following 2015-16, Laughton's first full NHL season in which he played mainly on the third line, the 2012 first-round pick said he had goals of being a top-six forward.

I think that's where he could actually show his true colors, but wouldn't everyone love top-six minutes?

Of course, but more often than not, you have to earn them and Laughton has not shown enough to climb the ladder with the Flyers. So what does he have to do? Be ready to capitalize on a fourth-line job, a role with not as much glamor and more dirty work in shorter minutes. He first needs to prove he can be such a player, especially now given the Flyers have an overcrowded group of forwards.

If Laughton can find his niche there, then maybe he sees more opportunity. The Flyers are smart, though, to not totally give up on Laughton. Think about it? He's only 23 years old and has had some bad luck with injuries to go along with just 109 games on his NHL résumé. He needs more time — and with it, he could turn out to be a nice scoring threat in a depth position, something the Flyers have needed.

Considering he was protected in the expansion draft and is now on a new two-year deal, it's likely Laughton makes the roster out of training camp. As for playing time, he'll have to earn it and then keep it if he does.

Paone
This upcoming Flyers training camp, in so many ways, is about opportunity. It will be abound for Patrick, Lindblom and the rest of the team's prospects … including Laughton.

It feels weird to still call Laughton a prospect, but he still just turned 23 in May and he spent basically all of last season reinventing himself in the AHL so he can become a better NHL player than he was before, no matter what the role may be.

That year of hard work last season obviously left an impression on Hextall and the Flyers' brass, who ultimately decided to protect Laughton from Vegas in the expansion draft despite the fact he played just two NHL games last season and has just 27 points in his NHL career. He impressed them so much so that he even got that two-year extension a few weeks ago.

So what does the immediate future hold for Laughton? Well, there is now a renewed sense of trust there that didn't exist before between player and organization. If there wasn't, the Flyers wouldn't have protected him and handed him that extension.

That makes me believe the organization prefers a defensively rounded Laughton in a bottom-six NHL role and that's where I believe he'll start the season. From there, it's up to him where things go and how he uses that year in the AHL to prove he really is a better NHL player. I see him starting on the fourth line and being a guy who could be a candidate to move up the lineup if the situation calls for it. The Flyers will need a solid defensive game from Laughton and if he can chip in points-wise, too, that's even better, obviously.

But Laughton now has something many thought he might not get again in Philadelphia — an opportunity. It's up to him on how he takes advantage of it.  

End to End: The state of Claude Giroux

End to End: The state of Claude Giroux

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 reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The state of Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

Boruk
The state of Giroux is more of a state of mind at this point of his career. There was one very revealing quote that surfaced following his breakout day when he said, “Your mind wants to do something but your body doesn’t do it, it’s frustrating.” That tells me the dynamic part of his game that we came to expect and admire for much of his career is perhaps no longer there, and he’s searching for a way to reinvent himself. He still has a big-time slap shot, terrific vision and an unbelievable set of hands.
 
The bigger worry here is that Giroux, who turns 30 in January, hasn’t performed as a No. 1 center (despite being paid like one) at even strength for the past three seasons, where he’s ranked 81st, 60th and a mind-blowing 189th last season in even-strength points. It’s an accumulation of facing the top lines and defense pairings every single game, and eventually, it takes a toll.

If this trend continues, I would give thought to moving him back to wing where he started his Flyers career during the Mike Richards-Jeff Carter era. I agree to some extent with Jeremy Roenick’s assertion that he lets too much get into his head, and that probably includes all facets of life, even off the ice. Giroux needs to come to camp like a finely-tuned Ferrari, and if he can start strong, it will go a long way toward a rebound season.  

Dougherty
The numbers tell a cautionary tale. Since the 2014-15 campaign, Giroux’s goal, assist and point totals have been in a consistent decline. What makes that season important?

That was when his eight-year, $66.2 million contract extension began. Giroux’s decline over the last three seasons should concern the Flyers. He’s not the same player he was in 2013-14. But I don’t believe he’s the player he was in 2016-17, either. I think there’s a happy medium here, and I expect Giroux to have a much better season in 2017-18.

It’s two-fold as to why I believe so. One, Giroux's confidence was rocked last season after undergoing hip and abdominal surgery last summer. Was he fully healthy all season? He’ll never say, but toward the end of the year, I thought he was much better. I think with a full summer of training and added motivation, Giroux will come in with a chip on his shoulder.

More importantly, there will be less pressure on Giroux to carry the workload because the talent level at forward will be deeper. I expect Nolan Patrick to be a Flyer. I also expect Oskar Lindblom to be here too. Then there is Jordan Weal and Travis Konecny. Weal will be here all season, and I expect Konecny to make a big jump in Year 2. Those four should lessen the demand placed on Giroux.

We may never see Giroux reach 70 points again. But with expected scoring depth incoming, the Flyers can live with Giroux in the 60-65-point range, which I think he’ll be in. The contract could be a cap problem in a few seasons, but I don’t think the Flyers are there yet.

Hall
Giroux's right — he's his toughest critic, which can be a blessing and a curse.

Any organization wants a driven player. With Giroux, it's not so much about what outsiders think, but it's his own expectations. So when he struggles, he sort of creates his own pressure because he expects a lot of himself — just like the fans and media expect a lot from him.

What I expect this season is an ultra-motivated Giroux, maybe the most fueled we've ever seen him. It didn't look or sound like Giroux was healthy last season, which only added to his frustration when he didn't perform. A summer full of recouping and training — he's pretty excited about both — should help Giroux's chances of rebounding.

I don't think he'll ever put up 80-plus points again, but that doesn't mean he can't be productive — say 20 goals and close to 50 assists? Giroux needs a supporting cast, not all the weight on his shoulders, because it has a negative affect on the captain.

The supporting cast should be better in 2017-18, and so should Giroux.

Paone
Is Giroux still an upper-echelon, high-level NHL player? Absolutely he is. The skill is still there and the guy isn't a former Hart Trophy finalist and four-time All-Star by accident. But after last season's woeful campaign where the captain, in many ways the sparkplug of the Flyers' offense and arguably the team's most important player, struggled mightily, it's more than fair to question just which echelon and level he is on these days, especially as he enters his age 29-30 season.

In so many ways, as Giroux goes, so does the Flyers' offense. And it's been that way for the last several years as he is still the main guy other teams gameplan for when preparing to play the Flyers. But the decline in production has been steady over the last few years and the Flyers' offense has suffered because of that.

In 2014-15, Giroux posted 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) and the Flyers averaged 2.59 goals per game. In 2015-16, Giroux put up 67 points (22 goals and 45 assists) and the Flyers averaged 2.57 goals per game. Last season, the captain notched 58 points (14 goals and 44 assists) and the Flyers averaged 2.59 goals per game again. All of those goal-per-game numbers the last three seasons were in the bottom half of the league's numbers. Compare all that to 2013-14 when Giroux, a Hart finalist that year, posted 86 points (career-high-tying 28 goals and 58 assists) and the Flyers tallied 2.84 goals per contest, seventh in the league.

That Giroux may not be there any more. It's a legitimate question with the the decline shown over the last several seasons. That's why this season is all about answering questions for Giroux. And he couldn't answer those questions for the better part of last season as that hip surgery turned his hockey world upside down. He couldn't get a full summer of training in and then jumped right into the World Cup of Hockey, where he took this hit from Joe Pavelski in an exhibition. That's an injury that lingers, especially for a hockey player, and Giroux was basically stuck in mud the for most of the year as he tried to get his motor going. The quote John mentioned above from breakout day is so telling with that. Shayne Gostisbehere knows the feeling. But much like Gostisbehere, Giroux started to turn it on more and more and showed flashes of his more productive self as the season wound down.

Giroux is a guy who takes his play to heart and he can be very hard on himself. The way you see him break his stick over the bench every so often is proof of that. He expects so much more out of himself than he gave last season.

But now healthy, with a full offseason of training and a year's worth of motivation under his belt, I expect him to be much better and much more productive. The Giroux of five years ago? No, probably not. But with another year of young talent surrounding him and a healthy slate, I really don't feel there's a reason Giroux can't be a top-line threat again and I even look for him to be reckoned with as the season gets underway. But he's the guy who will provide the answers that both he and Flyers fans have been looking for.