Flyers offseason: Get ready for a wild ride

061913-bryz-ryan-bernier-usa.jpg

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.

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

The struggling New York Islanders fired coach Jack Capuano on Tuesday, ending his tenure in the middle of its seventh season.

General manager Garth Snow named assistant GM/coach Doug Weight as Capuano's interim replacement. Snow told reporters Tuesday that the Islanders weren't where they wanted to be in the standings and that everyone's disappointed in their performance his season.

"At the end of the day organizationally I don't think Jack was probably going to be a coach that we were going to bring back," Snow said, adding that the team will begin a full-time coaching search now.

Snow said the halfway point of the season played a role in the timing of firing Capuano a day after beating the Boston Bruins 4-0. The Islanders were 17-17-8 and are in last place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points (see full story).

Predators: Hunt claimed, Fiala sent to AHL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have claimed defenseman Brad Hunt off waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Predators assigned forward Kevin Fiala to their American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee and have placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve.

Hunt had one goal and four assists in nine games for St. Louis this season. He has appeared in a total of 30 NHL games over parts of four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis. He has two career goals and six assists.

Fiala has six goals and three assists in 32 games for Nashville this season.

Granberg has played in 10 games for the Predators and has 10 penalty minutes.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.