Philadelphia Flyers

Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

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Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

Paul Holmgren is fond of saying how much he “likes” his roster.

He’ll say it three or four times a season.
 
And then go out and make a couple of changes.
 
You can always “like” something else better out there. Given the Flyers' multitude of problems this season, it would be foolish to assume the roster will remain the same, regardless of how much he “likes” it.
 
It can’t.
 
To do so would only doom the franchise to another non-playoff season.
 
“We need a few changes on the back end,” one source said recently, referring to the Flyers' blue line.
 
The Flyers’ defense will change. Even Holmgren alluded to that.
 
“We’re always looking to get better on the back end,” he said of the blue line. He also mentioned getting “bigger,” which was interpreted to mean bigger up front, perhaps at center where the Flyers are a trifle small right now.
 
“I still like our team,” Holmgren said. “When we are healthy, we’re a good team. We had a lot of unhealthy players this year. I think we will be better next year. We will look around and makes ourselves better. Let’s see what we can come up with.”
 
Holmgren gave full support behind coach Peter Laviolette’s “attack” system even though the club’s five-on-five play was horrific until the final 15 games of the season.
 
“We didn’t perform to the level we needed to perform,” he said. “Not any individual or system. We just didn’t get the job done.”
 
Scoring off the rush was a problem the entire season at even strength (see story). The Flyers had just 83 goals playing five-on-five.
 
At times, the Flyers looked slow at even strength. By season’s end, however, they were just as quick, if not quicker, than the opposition despite a depleted lineup. No one really can figure out why that happened.
 
“There were times this year I would agree,” Holmgren said when told the club seemed slow at even strength.
 
“Other times, especially in the last little stretch, we looked faster than other times in the year. Some of that is understanding how we play defensively. There is a little bit of a catch-up.
 
“We had a tough time in our zone a lot this year. When you have tough time in your own zone, you don’t get the puck up into the forward’s hands. Maybe you don’t get opportunity to attack on the rush with speed.”

With the problems the club had on the back end and injuries up front, the defensive schemes attempted to slow things down to prevent goals off transition, and that affected five-on-five rushes.

The Flyers lost a ton of everything when they didn’t re-sign Jaromir Jagr. Not the least of which was someone trusted –- a future Hall of Famer –- who had a profound impact on their younger players. One reason for the sophomore slumps of Brayden Schenn and in particular, Sean Couturier, was not having Jagr around. Look what Jagr did for Jakub Voracek (see story).
 
“Probably not as good as they had hoped or we would [have hoped],” Holmgren said of both players’ slumps.
 
“We didn’t have Jagr, so why even talk about it. We didn’t have a chance to get him. Lots of guys didn’t have the years we wanted them to have or they wanted to have. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
 
Holmgren said he was very happy with the Flyers’ compete level at the end of the season and the almost instant transformation of Steve Mason as a competitive goalie again, one who should lend stability to what was a non-rotation this year with Ilya Bryzgalov being worked into the ground.
 
He also said that prospect Nick Cousins will need more seasoning to work on his defensive game and won’t be NHL-ready for a while.
 
Scott Laughton? He’s expected to challenge for a spot next fall.
 
“He dominated at his level, at times, and that is encouraging,” Holmgren said.

NHL Notes: Devils lose Travis Zajac for 4-6 months with pectoral injury

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NHL Notes: Devils lose Travis Zajac for 4-6 months with pectoral injury

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have lost top center Travis Zajac for four to six months with a pectoral injury.

Devils executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero announced that Zajac had surgery to repair the pectoral muscle on Thursday.

Shero said the Zajac was hurt last week during offseason training.

Dr. Jonathan L. Glashow performed the surgery and estimated that Zajac's recovery time could last until February. The season starts in October.

The 32-year-old Zajac had 14 goals and 31 assists last season. He has 155 career goals and 280 assists. He has played for the Devils since the 2006-07 season.

The 20th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Zajac signed an eight-year, $46 million contract in 2013.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons to 2-year deal

Sabres: Team signs forward Girgensons to 2-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres have signed forward Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year contract.

The team announced the deal Thursday that carries an average value of $1.6 million.

Girgensons, from Latvia, is the last of the Sabres' restricted free agents to sign with the team. Buffalo's first-round pick in 2012 has 37 goals and 49 assists in 277 career games over four seasons.

He skated in a career-best 75 games last season after signing a one-year extension last September.

NHL Notes: Oilers sign star Leon Draisaitl to mega 8-year contract

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NHL Notes: Oilers sign star Leon Draisaitl to mega 8-year contract

EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers have signed center Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year contract extension with an average annual value of $8.5 million.

The extension runs through the 2024-25 season, similar to the eight-year, $100-million extension superstar captain Connor McDavid signed with the team in July.

With the signings, the Oilers are banking on McDavid and Draisaitl providing a potent one-two punch for the team as it looks to build on last season's return to the playoffs after a decade of futility.

Draisaitl, a 21-year-old German, had 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) last season, his third in the NHL.

He finished eighth among NHL scorers, and second on the Oilers behind McDavid.

He led the Oilers in scoring during the 2017 playoffs, posting 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 13 games.

Draisaitl was selected third overall by the Oilers at the 2015 draft (see full story).

Avalanche: Hobey Baker winner Butcher now free agent
College hockey's top player is an NHL free agent after former University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher allowed a deadline to pass without signing with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche selected Butcher in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and had until Tuesday to sign the Hobey Baker Award winner who led Denver to a national championship in April.

A person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Butcher already has had discussions with the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and NHL-expansion Vegas Golden Knights. The person said Butcher has not yet narrowed his list, and is also talking with other teams.

The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

The Denver Post first reported the three specific teams expressing interest in Butcher (see full story).

Wild: Cullen comes home for 21st NHL season
The Minnesota Wild and center Matt Cullen have agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract, bringing him back to his home state for a 21st season in the NHL.

The Wild announced the deal, which includes $700,000 in potential performance bonuses, on Wednesday.

Cullen played the last two years with Pittsburgh, winning consecutive Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He played three seasons for the Wild from 2010-13, his first return to Minnesota since launching his career at Moorhead High School and St. Cloud State.

Cullen, who will turn 41 on Nov. 2, had 13 goals and 18 assists in 72 games in 2016-17 for the Penguins, plus two goals and seven assists in 25 playoff games. He has played in 1,366 career regular season games, the sixth-most among active players (see full story).