Flyers training camp: 6 things you need to know

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Flyers training camp: 6 things you need to know

Training camp with a twist.

Starting on Wednesday, Flyers veterans will report for team pictures and physicals -- not at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. -- but at the Wells Fargo Center.

Training camp begins in full on Thursday with three groups of players on the ice from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many of the Flyers’ prospects will also be part of those sessions, which last through Friday.

Although general manager Paul Holmgren didn’t rip up the roster after failing to make the playoffs last season, he did make several moves that figure to greatly impact whatever success Peter Laviolette’s club has this season.

Heading into camp Thursday, here are six things to watch for:

1. Who’s the starting goaltender?

It’s easy to look at the Flyers’ two goalies -- Ray Emery and Steve Mason -- and simply say: The former has the starting job, hands down. But to do that would dismiss how impressive Mason was last season with the Flyers.

If ever a guy seemed totally reborn coming to Philadelphia and trying to put the past behind him, it’s Mason, who had a superb 1.90 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in seven games for a team going nowhere fast at the end.

Yet, the battle in camp is one where there is no clear-cut winner going in.

Emery has the edge given his 17-1 record, 1.94 GAA and .922 save percentage in just 21 games last season with Chicago. Plus, he’s a traveled veteran with a Stanley Cup now.

Assistant general manager Ron Hextall believes this is going to be a fascinating battle to watch and Hexy’s not willing to say who wins it. Both are hungry to be named No. 1.

2. Where does Vinny Lecavalier fit?

You can imagine the look on Jakub Voracek’s face when told that the ex-Tampa Bay captain would very much like to play the right side on Claude Giroux’s line, which would mean Voracek would have to go to left wing and Scott Hartnell would drop down to the second or third line.

Voracek shrugged, noting he’s never played left wing before and this is something that has to be settled in camp. Indeed. The Flyers’ lines are up in the air as camp gets underway.

For one, Giroux has not been cleared to use his wrist, so he’s not a factor initially, but he is expected to be in the lineup for the season opener -- Oct. 2 at home against the Maple Leafs.

The Flyers have a contingency plan, but do you ignore the obvious chemistry Giroux and Voracek have cultivated since Jaromir Jagr left? You can’t, even if Lecavalier wants to play right wing with those two players.

What about Lecavalier between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds? That makes sense. It all has to be figured out, and it’s a challenge since Giroux’s status is unclear.

3. Who’s the starting six on defense?

Assuming Andrej Meszaros (multiple left shoulder injuries) passes his physical, the Flyers have a real challenge on defense in terms of who will be their starting six are and who wins the seventh spot.

Because Meszaros was the most injured of last year’s group, he comes into camp as the sixth or seventh defenseman. If he’s the sixth, then who is your No. 7? Erik Gustafsson? Nick Grossmann?

There are actually too many bodies and we haven’t included Hal Gill, who is in camp on a tryout. Nine defensemen are on one-way deals, meaning they have to clear waivers if sent down. Right now, the odd man out at No. 8 would appear to be Bruno Gervais.

The Flyers are looking for a way to unload both salary and a defenseman during camp given that they have committed $34.2 million to the blue line and remain $2 million over the $64.3 million salary cap.

It seems safe to say the group that begins camp won’t be the same when it ends.

So who loses out?

4. What is Dan Cleary’s impact?

The Flyers agreed to a three-year contract with the former Detroit left wing late Monday night, but because of salary cap constraints, they can’t actually sign him until October.

Cleary is expected here on a PTO -- a tryout. With him around, that means one less forward makes the roster. The Flyers are expected to carry 14 forwards. It’s likely Cleary takes a spot that would have gone to Tye McGinn or Scott Laughton.

5. Will new goalies alter the Flyers' style of play?

It almost took an earthquake to get Ilya Bryzgalov to leave the sanctuary of his net and go after a puck being dumped or shot into the Flyers’ zone. Not so with Mason, and more than a few defensemen, most notably Kimmo Timonen, mentioned how much easier it was to play in front of Mason knowing how aggressive he was at handling pucks. Emery is the same way.

The Flyers have a legit chance to totally revamp their breakouts and transition game with two goalies that play the puck -- saving the defense at least 10 feet in turnaround distance. This should allow a quicker, smoother transition up ice this season and it’s something that has to be nailed down in camp.

6. Will Scott Laughton be among the top nine skaters?

Holmgren said going into camp that the organization owes it to give Laughton every opportunity to make the roster. He stuck around for five games last season before going back to junior.

And because of his age -- 19 -- he has to play either with the Flyers or go back to junior -- no Phantoms. Assume for a minute Laughton, a natural center, makes the roster.

Where does he fit?

If Sean Couturier, who is noticeably bigger with added muscle, is your third-line center, you can’t find decent minutes for Laughton on the fourth line. He’d have to move to wing. Or you put Lecavalier on the wing and use Laughton at center.

Max Talbot was the fourth-line center and heads into camp there. Whatever the Flyers do with Lecavalier will have a trickle-down effect on Laughton, not to mention Cleary’s presence. Again, it would be a waste to keep Laughton here if he’s not among the top nine. He needs ice time if he’s going to stick around.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.