Flyers-Oilers: 5 things you need to know

flyers-oilers-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Oilers: 5 things you need to know

It’s been a rough week for the Flyers.

They suffered an overtime loss Tuesday to a Carolina Hurricanes team that had dropped five straight entering the game. The orange and black followed that up with a 3-0 loss Thursday to the New Jersey Devils, who had been shut out in their previous two contests.

Now, the Flyers (4-10-1) are set to face the Edmonton Oilers (4-11-2), who have just one win in their last seven games and agreed to sign Ilya Bryzgalov on Friday. Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center (CSN), and here are five things you need to know:

1. Still no offense
At this point, you can’t even say the Flyers’ offense is struggling. It’s non-existent.

The Flyers enter Saturday as the NHL’s worst team offensively. They are averaging just 1.47 goals per game and have scored more than twice just once in 15 contests this season.  

It’s pretty easy to figure out why the Flyers aren’t finding the back of the net. They can’t keep possession of the puck. They’re not getting pucks deep and forechecking. They’re not testing opposing goaltenders. Heck, they’re not even moving their feet.  

What’s the solution? Get back to basics. Yes, easier said than done, but the Flyers need to master the little things -- breakouts, offensive-zone entry, puck battles etc. -- if they want to get back into the win column consistently.

Head coach Craig Berube has repeatedly talked about his players needing to think and react quicker. When the Flyers start doing that, they will be able to enter the offensive zone easier, get pucks deep, win more battles along the boards and create more scoring chances. It’s all about fundamentals, folks.

2. Long time, no G
Hard times have fallen on Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

It’s been 21 games since the Flyers’ franchise player last scored a goal. He’s a team-worst minus-11 so far this season. He was so frustrated Thursday that he left the Wells Fargo Center without talking the media. This is not the 93-point Giroux that we saw two seasons ago.

The 25-year-old has been lackadaisical at times this season. Giroux blew his coverage on Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal in the final minute of regulation that led to the game-tying goal Tuesday. He was also on the ice when Carolina scored in OT.

In other games, Giroux has shown plenty of effort. Against the Devils on Thursday, he won 11 of the 16 faceoffs he took and recorded five hits.

Where the Flyers need to see Giroux’s name on the scoresheet, however, is in the goal and assist column. He has just seven helpers in 15 games. Sure, the Flyers need other players to step up, but a high-scoring Giroux can go a long way for a team lacking confidence.
 
3. More changes
Berube has again shuffled up the Flyers’ lines.

At practice on Friday, Giroux skated with Brayden Schenn and Matt Read on the top line. Vinny Lecavalier was given Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds on his wings, leaving Sean Couturier to center Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek on the third line (see story).

“Just trying to find some life and some spark offensively, and moving it around a bit,” Berube said. “Still got guys playing together that have been together for a while, though. Just trying to find some combinations that get some offense going.”

You can’t blame Berube for continuing to mix and match players in an attempt to find some chemistry. The Flyers have been outscored 12-2 over their past five games and have been shut out in their past two games at the Wells Fargo Center.

This is a game the Flyers’ anemic offense needs to capitalize on. The Oilers are allowing an NHL-worst 3.82 goals per game. This is the perfect opportunity for the orange and black to bust out of their scoring slump.

4. Injury report
Steve Downie participated in his first full practice Friday since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 1, his first game with the Flyers this season. He won’t play against Edmonton and is considered day to day.

For the Oilers, forwards Steve MacIntyre (knee), Corey Potter (back), Ryan Hamilton (knee) and Tyler Pitlick (knee), defensemen Justin Schultz (groin) and Anton Belov (lower body) and goaltender Richard Bachman (lower body) are on injured reserve and will not play against the Flyers. Forward Jesse Joensuu is listed as questionable.

Edmonton, however, is expected to get a key forward back Saturday. Former Blues winger David Perron, who has missed the past four games with a neck injury, could return to play against the Flyers. He practiced Friday on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

5. This and that
• The last time these two clubs met, Devan Dubnyk registered 35 saves to give the Oilers a 2-0 win over the Flyers in Edmonton on Feb. 23, 2012.

• Dating back to the 2003-04 season, Edmonton has gone 6-1-0 against the Flyers. Three of those victories came via shutout.

• Lecavalier, who hasn’t had a point in three games, has five goals and four assists during his current six-game scoring streak against the Oilers.

• The Oilers have lost 26 straight when scoring two or fewer goals, dating back to Feb. 25 of last season.

• The Flyers are 2-7-0 at home this season and have totaled just 11 goals at the Wells Fargo Center.

Brayden Schenn out to prove himself after new deal with Flyers

Brayden Schenn out to prove himself after new deal with Flyers

 Shortly before 9 a.m. Monday in Toronto, Brayden Schenn was already sitting in the arbitration room, awaiting his agent Don Meehan and Flyers general manager Ron Hextall.

This was a first for the soon-to-be 25-year-old forward. He wasn’t necessarily nervous or even excited.

“It was a matter of my agent talking to Hexy outside and if they were coming into the room or I was going out and a deal would be done,” Schenn said.

They entered. He exited.

Within the hour, Schenn had a new four-year, $20.5 million contract, avoiding arbitration (see story).

“I’m extremely happy to be signed on for another four years," Schenn said. "I don’t think anyone wants to go through the arbitration process.

“It’s all part of the business. Whatever happens, happens in arbitration. I don’t think whatever is said [in hearings] is meant. It’s just part of the business. The money side of things.

“I think the Flyers like me as a player and to take it to arbitration, I don’t think it’s anything against me. It’s just part of it.”

While Schenn had never been through this, Hextall has. As a player here, the former goaltender took the Flyers to arbitration two decades ago, but settled in a marathon, six-hour meeting the day of his hearing.

“I would not have had an issue with it,” Hextall said when asked if he was prepared for the bad feelings that often accompany such hearings (more from Hextall here).

“Arbitration is part of the process … sometimes it can be difficult for the player. If you can avoid, you want to avoid it.”

The Flyers were prepared for a two-year ruling which would have left them having to attempt to re-sign Schenn as an unrestricted free agent after 2018-19.

Hextall said the club has seen consistent improvement in Schenn, even though this contract overpays him at the start for just one very good year of the past five he’s had as a Flyer.

Obviously, the Flyers are banking on him to become a 30-goal, 70-point player from here.

“Four years is showing confidence in me that they believe in me,” Schenn said. “For me, four years I have to continue to prove myself and get better year by year and I expect to be better next year.

“I’m happy with a four-year deal at a fair number. The team is only getting better and I’m happy to be part of the plan.”

Consistency will be the key as to whether the Flyers' investment in Schenn was worth it.

From a points standpoint, he’s increased his production every season as a Flyer, from 18 points, to 26, to 41, to 47 and this past season, 59. But his every-night play on the ice has often waffled. Then again, the club has waffled, too, as to whether he’s a center or winger.

He spent the bulk of the past season proving he could play on the wing with Claude Giroux in Dave Hakstol’s system. That wasn’t always the case under Craig Berube or even Peter Laviolette.

“Every player has his ups and downs through 82 games,” Schenn said. “Consistency, you try to find it as much as you can throughout the year. I feel I’ve continued to get better at both ends of the ice.

“I still feel I can get better defensively and be more reliable. That is something I definitely will improve on. This past year, I had great opportunity to play with great players.

“Guys like [Sean] Couturier, Giroux, [Wayne] Simmonds, whoever it may be. It’s all about opportunity and I got opportunity last year.”

Which resulted in career highs in goals, assists and points. Hextall expects Schenn to make bigger strides over this contract as he reaches the prime part of his career.

When the Flyers held breakup day in April, Schenn said he enjoyed the pressure of being “counted upon” as a core player. He is now the third-highest paid Flyers forward behind Giroux and Jakub Voracek, so the “core” sticker is on his jersey for good.

“I said at the end [of the season], I have to be counted on each night as part of the core group,” Schenn said. “There’s a bunch of us who have been there for a while now.

“I’ve gotten better year after year. I expect to come in and improve my game in all areas of the ice. When you get the chance to play with good players, they obviously make you better, as well.

“We’ve got some good pieces. We have a good team moving forward … you want to get better individually, but I think the team will be better as a whole this year, as well.”

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Expensive at the start, cheaper at the finish.
 
That’s how Flyers general manager Ron Hextall views the four-year, $20.5 million contract he gave Brayden Schenn on Monday morning to avoid salary arbitration (see story).
 
Hextall admitted the club is overpaying up front on the deal, but believes it got a “fair” number for the final two years, when Schenn would have become an unrestricted free agent.
 
“We took a higher cap hit for the first two years and essentially a lower hit than we would have taken in Years 3 and 4 if we piece meal it together,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall said he was walking into the 9 a.m. Toronto hearing with agent Don Meehan already deep in a conversation on a deal but prepared to go through with arbitration.
 
Both parties asked arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier for additional time and completed the contract by 9:45 a.m.
 
Schenn, a restricted free agent, turned down the Flyers’ two-year offer of $4.25 million for this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That averaged to $4.3 million.
 
His new contract averages $5.125 million.
 
“The benefit for us is our cap number stays flat for four years rather than having have a cap at a lower number, then taking a run at him for two years, if in fact he’d sign for two years at a higher cap number,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall denied he was concerned he might get whacked in arbitration. Yet Schenn has had just one very good season in five years as a Flyer. That was last season with 26 goals and 59 points.
 
Hextall described Schenn as a player who has been “average” in his development, yet has improved in the subtle “intricacies” of the game such as finding open spots, avoiding shot blocks and coming cleanly across the blue line without turning the puck over.
 
Schenn’s true market value is closer to what New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right winger, signed earlier this month: a five-year deal worth $23.25 million with an AAV of $4.65 million.
 
Then again, St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz signed a five-year, $26.5 million deal with a $5.35 million AAV. That’s above market value.
 
Meehan originally sought an AAV of $5.5 million for Schenn. In arbitration, it’s likely the Flyers would have received a two-year award in the middle of both numbers.
 
“Nothing really concerned me [about arbitration],” Hextall said. “We had a range and in the end our range was close to what Brayden’s camp felt the range was. Both sides had a range on a two-year deal.

“It’s a market deal. ... Brayden has been a good player. Top-six forwards are hard to find and there’s a premium to pay. There’s no question we paid a premium for a top-six forward who's 24 years old and essentially coming into his prime.”
 
While Hextall labeled Schenn a top-six forward, he tap danced around whether he sees him as a “core” player for the Flyers, even though this makes him the third highest-paid forward behind Claude Giroux ($8.275 million) and Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million).
 
“What is a core [player]?” Hextall asked. “That’s arguable. ... What we do know is Brayden is a very good young player who is getting better and we hope he continues to get better.”
 
This signing leaves the Flyers with just $1.38 million in salary cap space, but with 14 forwards, the club will lose at least one by the end of training camp.
 
Thinking ahead, Jordan Weal could be sent to the Phantoms, shaving $650,000 off the cap. That’s the most likely option for the Flyers, but not their only option.
 
Scott Laughton, whose role was diminished by a strong presence from Nick Cousins, is a lesser possibility. His cap hit is $863,333.
 
Losing either of those two salaries would provide the Flyers over $2 million in cap space.
 
Schenn’s contract lacks a no-trade/no-movement clause that he would have been eligible for starting in 2018-19. He turns 25 in August.
 
The Flyers have one more arbitration to settle: defenseman Brandon Manning on Aug. 2.

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

In the end, the Flyers blinked and avoided arbitration Monday morning by overpaying Brayden Schenn with a four-year, $20.5 million contract.
 
The contract leaves the club in a precarious salary cap situation, as the Flyers have just $1.38 million in space now, according to generalfanager.com.
 
The 11th-hour settlement saw the Flyers and Schenn’s agent, Don Meehan, avoid arbitration, which was set for 9 a.m. in Toronto.
 
Meehan was seeking a deal worth $5.5 million for Schenn, who was a restricted free agent.
 
The one Schenn signed will average $5.125 million, according to a source, which still seems excessively high for the 24-year-old, who has had just one excellent season in five full years in the NHL, excluding two partial seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.
 
Schenn had his most productive year last season with career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), while showing he could play wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Wayne Simmonds.
 
The Flyers and Schenn were more than $1 million apart going into Monday morning with no progress having been made over this past weekend.
 
Why general manager Ron Hextall didn’t risk the arbitration process remains unanswered. The contracts of some players in comparable situations favored a settlement less than what the Flyers agreed to.
 
The Flyers had offered Schenn a two-year deal that would have paid him $4.25 million this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That’s an average of $4.3 million.
 
New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed a five-year deal earlier this month worth $23.25 million. His AAV is $4.65 million. That’s the figure the Flyers could have gambled on getting from an arbitrator.
 
They may have been scared away from going through with the arbitration because of the five-year, $26.5 million deal fellow RFA Jaden Schwartz signed with St. Louis earlier that carried a $5.35 million hit.
 
Hextall was not immediately available for comment.
 
TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported the financials of the contract.