As Flyers stumble to finish line, where does responsibility fall?

As Flyers stumble to finish line, where does responsibility fall?

NEWARK, N.J. -- Dave Hakstol has never hidden from responsibility.
 
He didn't on Monday after his team's third straight loss.
 
"Starting with me, we've got to do better," he said.
 
On Thursday, the Flyers were arguably their worst -- an unjustifiable 6-2 loss to the lowly Devils, who had dropped 10 consecutive games before having their way with Hakstol's bunch.
 
Such a performance begs for responsibility, right? It's getting to that point and time in the Flyers' season, as the playoffs look farther out of sight.
 
Ultimately, the players have to perform, but can the coach do more?
 
Can he push a few different buttons?
 
Can he send a message through the locker room?
 
Can he still motivate his players?
 
Hakstol, in just his second NHL season, is already facing trying times and questions.
 
"I'm going to work -- work to prepare and fight and battle every single night," Hakstol said Thursday when asked if he feels his seat getting warmer. "That part of it doesn't even enter my mind. I'm worried about wins and losses and the performance of our team."
 
After his team's third loss in as many games against New Jersey, which has outscored the orange and black, 14-3, Hakstol wouldn't address the Flyers' bewildering problems with the Devils, who they play twice more this season.
 
"I haven't given much thought to that," Hakstol said. "Tonight, we lost a hockey game. I'll get into that at another time after the season when I have some time to think about it. Right now, I'm worried about this one tonight and the next one coming up."
 
The Flyers still have fire in their bellies, according to captain Claude Giroux.
 
"Yeah, we're angry," he said (see story). "We know we're a better team, we know we can be in a better position. That's not the case and we need to keep working, keep working to be a better team."
 
Brayden Schenn, on the other hand, wasn't having it when asked about his coach's job security.
 
"It's not my job to start worrying about the coaches and stuff like that," Schenn said. "It's on us players to go out and play better. I'm not even going to start commenting on that. Us players have got to be better and we know it. We've been inconsistent all year and that's on the players."
 
The Flyers are 7-10-2 since the start of February and have scored the NHL's second-fewest goals since the start of December (102 in 46 games). Inconsistency has been general manager Ron Hextall's biggest gripe, oftentimes having him feel at a loss.
 
"It does sometimes because you're sitting there going, 'It's the same team every night, right?'" Hextall said pregame Thursday. "You're going to have peaks and valleys, that's reality. You're dealing with human beings, not robots. We understand that. But our valleys have been a little too low for me."
 
Hextall said he wants to see growth every season. In the points column, that will not be the case with 2015-16 to 2016-17. The Flyers would have to win their final 12 games to match last season's point total of 96.
 
"We want to get better every year, get younger every year," Hextall said. "That's the goal. If we can get better this year … we've got a few games to let that play out.
 
"You learn lessons as players and I think the lessons for us is, if you're not going to be consistent, it's hard to stay in a playoff spot. We're good enough. You look at a lot of nights, we're good enough."
 
Can the leadership group be better?
 
"I think there's responsibility for [the whole team]," Hextall said.
 
That goes for the coach and his staff, too.
 
Going the college route?
NCAA free-agent players often sign with NHL teams around this time of year as their collegiate seasons come to a close.
 
Last season, the Flyers signed Yale goalie Alex Lyon in early April. Lyon is currently playing for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
 
Will the Flyers make a signing this season?
 
"Yeah, it would be nice," Hextall said. "We'll see."
 
The decision is heavily dictated by the college player finding his best fit.
 
"You can never have enough depth," Hextall said. "Offensively, I think we do have some good players coming and I don't think they're that far away, but you can never have enough. You can never have enough young players. You can never have enough guys that can score or make plays. If we can add to our pool, that would be great. Unfortunately, when you have a lot in your pool, sometimes they're looking and going, 'Hmm, is this the right spot?'
 
"In the end, college free agents, they typically get the best fit for themselves and typically it's with an organization that's a little bit thin. Not always."

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.  

NHL Notes: Penguins sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin to 6-year contract

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Penguins sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin to 6-year contract

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin has turned his steady play for the Stanley Cup champions into a new contract.

Dumoulin and the team agreed to a six-year deal on Monday that will run through the 2022-23 season and will pay him an average of $4.1 million per year.

The 25-year-old Dumoulin had three goals and 11 assists during Pittsburgh's run to the Cup this spring and hasn't missed a playoff game during the team's sprint to back-to-back titles.

Dumoulin averaged a team-high 21:59 of ice time this postseason, and his plus-9 rating was best among Penguins defensemen. Dumoulin was forced to take on a larger roll this spring after injuries forced Kris Letang to miss the playoffs.

Predators: Watson signs 3-year, $3.3 million deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year $3.3 million deal keeping him under contract through 2019-20.

The Predators announced the deal Monday.

Watson will earn $1 million this season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in the third year.

The 25-year-old forward is coming off his best season yet with Nashville. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound Watson had a career high with five goals and seven assists in 77 games this past season. Watson scored four goals and had nine points in 22 playoff games helping Nashville reach the Stanley Cup Final.

The 18th pick overall in the 2010 draft, Watson had three goals and 10 points in 57 games during the 2015-16 season.

Now, center Ryan Johansen is Nashville's lone restricted free agent awaiting a new deal.

Sabres: Okposo says he’s healthy after concussion
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said he is fully healthy after a concussion led to sleeping trouble, significant weight loss and a trip to intensive care last March.

Okposo missed the final few weeks of Buffalo's season with a previously undisclosed illness. In a letter posted on the team's website Monday, Okposo said a routine hit in practice caused his mood to change and other problems that required hospitalization.

The 29-year-old said he lost his appetite, had a negative reaction to sleep medications and that at one point he weighed less than 200 pounds. He spent time in the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital to be stabilized. Okposo's playing weight is listed at 218 pounds.

Okposo played in a 4-on-4 summer league game in Minnesota with other NHL players last week and reported feeling great. New general manager Jason Botterill said Okposo was on track to be ready for training camp.

"I've worked with a lot of different people -- concussion experts and people who have dealt with concussions themselves -- and I feel confident in the fact that I can play hockey again," Okposo said in the letter. "In fact, I know I can play again. I know I can play and not worry about hitting my head, which is a major hurdle for someone who's dealt with this. If I didn't feel 100 percent right now, that probably wouldn't be the case."

Okposo's last NHL game was March 27 against Florida. He had 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points in 65 games during his first season with Buffalo. He signed a $42 million, seven-year contract with the Sabres last summer.

NHL: Gamble to get back Hall of Fame ring
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A scuba-diving treasure hunter who found an American Hockey League Hall of Fame ring in one of New York's Finger Lakes is returning it to its owner.

Gary Gavurnik, of Auburn, New York, plans to return the prized ring to former AHL star Dick Gamble on Monday. Gavurnik found it with a metal detector in Canandaigua Lake over the Fourth of July weekend.

The 88-year-old Canadian-born Gamble starred for the AHL's Rochester Americans and retired early in the 1969-70 season. He was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2007.

Instead of wearing the ring, though, he gave it to his son, Craig, who wore it every day for seven years before losing it in the lake. He never told his dad and ordered a replacement.