Rangers faced with even more issues than Flyers

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Rangers faced with even more issues than Flyers

Who would have thought that both the Flyers and Rangers would be in the tank this early in the season?
 
As bad as things have been in South Philly, it’s been even worse up on Broadway, even though the Rangers have been seeded ahead of the Flyers.
 
While both of these clubs are starved for goals, the Rangers have been starved for bodies to replace key players:

• Carl Hagelin has been out since last offseason’s shoulder surgery.  

• Rick Nash has been out with a concussion that led to San Jose’s Brad Stuart being suspended. 

• Ryan Callahan’s been out with a broken thumb.

• Henrik Lundqvist has been out with a mysterious minor injury that forced head coach Alain Vigneault to use Cam Talbot in his NHL debut against the Flyers.
 
And that is just the tip of the iceberg that has sunk the Rangers thus far, including their 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Thursday (see game recap).
 
Lundqvist has always been a slow starter. His 3.45 goals-against and .890 save percentage are horrific, but in the past he was able to manage because the Rangers' defense saved him. Not in October.

Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been brutal -- a combined minus-11 on the ice. Marc Staal? He’s minus-8.
 
With the Rangers' defense having a rough go of it under a new coaching staff and system, there hasn’t been much margin for error in goal.
 
Yet the bottom line is, when you’re missing a Hagelin, Nash and Callahan, you’re missing a sizeable portion of offense, and the Rangers’ roster -- very much like the Flyers -- isn’t deep enough with suitable offensive replacements.
 
Without Nash and Callahan, the team has had to pull back.
 
“We have to play closer to the vest -- there is no doubt about that,” Vigneault said. “In Jersey, we gave that team just eight scoring chances. That’s two games in a row, as far as scoring chances to the other team, where we played well.
 
“But we had no push. When we got down, we did not have a strong enough pushback offensively. With those guys out, you have to play closer to the vest in certain areas.”
 
Translation: You play conservatively, stress defense and avoid getting your defense caught pinching at the other end.
 
Yet there’s even more to this ugly picture and it has to do with their venue, Madison Square Garden.
 
The final phase of the Garden’s three-year, $1 billion renovation forced the Rangers to start the season playing their entire preseason on the road, plus the first nine games of the regular season.
 
General manager Glen Sather decided to host training camp in Banff, Alberta, where he owns an offseason home.
 
From there, the Rangers hit Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Las Vegas with four exhibition games in five nights, then boarded their chartered flight home for a few days before heading West again to open the regular season in Phoenix.
 
All that crammed travel left the club fatigued coming out of the gate. Again, all of this, so that The Garden could be completed.
 
And it irked many of the players, as well, who had their personal lives greatly disrupted and still haven't been with their families.
 
“It’s been mentioned, it’s been talked about,” Vigneault said. “At the end of the day, it was the training camp that we were dealt with. The schedule we were dealt.
 
“We tried to handle it the best we could. Obviously, we didn’t get results we expected. We had three good days of practice this week to get ready.”
 
Western clubs handle travel better than Eastern teams and have to go West to East far more than Eastern clubs go East to West. Vigneault knows that first hand from his seven years coaching Vancouver.
 
“That would be an easy excuse,” he said. “Traveling is traveling. We travel in a first-class environment. I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
 
It’s not the total picture, but stacked with everything else, it’s a significant factor as to why the Rangers have looked bad early in the NHL schedule.
 
The only comfort for Flyers fans has been that, outside of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Metropolitan Division isn’t very good. In fact, a large portion of the division right now is mediocre.
 
Which gives both the Flyers and Rangers a chance to claw their way up the standings ladder.
 
Whether the top rung reaches into the playoffs, however, is another story.

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

We conclude our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the second part of evaluating the forwards. You can find Part 1 here, as well the goaltending here and defensemen here.

Matt Read
Age: Turns 31 on June 14
Stats: 63 GP; 10G, 9A, 19 Pts.; plus-3; 13:46
Cap hit: $3.625 million

No Flyers forward has been more disappointing than Read during his six seasons here. Signed out of college, he scored 24 goals and had 47 points his first season and hasn't come close to matching those numbers again. Read broke his right forearm late in the season and missed the final five games. He missed 11 games earlier in the season with an oblique injury. He has averaged fewer than 10 goals over the past three seasons, which doesn't cut it with his salary. Will undoubtedly be exposed in the expansion draft.

Brayden Schenn
Age: Turns 26 on Aug. 22
Stats: 79 GP; 25G, 30A, 55 Pts.; minus-13; 17:48
Cap hit: $5.125 million

Often criticized for not fitting in or not delivering enough offensively, Schenn has demonstrated continued improvement every season as a Flyer. He was four points under last season's point total, yet among all forwards except Wayne Simmonds, he was the closest Flyer to having a season as good or better than his previous season. Tied for the NHL lead in power-play goals (17). Has a long way to go at 5-on-5 in terms of goal production. After years of being tried at various positions under three head coaches, it appears the organization has finally settled on Schenn as a winger, not center. And like so many others on this team, coach Dave Hakstol used him all over the lineup. If GM Ron Hextall decides to break up his core this summer, Schenn offers the most possibilities for a trade given his offensive output at a young age.

Wayne Simmonds
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 26
Stats: 82 GP; 31G, 23A, 54 Pts.; minus-18; 18:58
Cap hit: $3.975 million

Led the Flyers in goal scoring for the fourth consecutive season and was right behind Schenn in power-play goals with 16. Simmonds was unquestionably the club's MVP this season and many feel he should be wearing the "C," because he's often the guy on the ice intervening with the officials. He offers the most bang for your buck on the Flyers. By his own admission, Simmonds is the "bad" cop to Claude Giroux's "good" cop. He plays a hard, power forward game despite his skinny legs. If he were an NBA player, he'd be a shooting guard. Simmonds wears his heart on his jersey and sometimes avoided the media this season after games because he was fearful of saying something he would later regret. Every Flyers club has had at least one player who defines orange and black and Simmonds is this team's rep. Was very effective on Valtteri Filppula's line with Jordan Weal this season. Like Giroux, however, Simmonds can't afford to be a minus player next season.

Chris VandeVelde
Age: Turned 30 on March 15
Stats: 81 GP; 6G, 9A, 15 Pts.; minus-5; 11:33
Cap hit: UFA who earned $712,500

For whatever reason, VandeVelde was totally immune from being benched by Hakstol this past season while others suffered at the drop of a puck. It wasn't until the very last game that Hakstol sat him. The fact is, VandeVelde tended toward disappearing in many games this season and his overall effectiveness with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the penalty kill was muted because he simply didn't generate shorthanded chances like he had done in the past. Although he tied his career high with the Flyers in terms of points, it's unlikely the club re-signs him. The Flyers have too many grinders and need scoring at this point with others waiting in line. 

Jakub Voracek
Age: Turns 28 on Aug. 15
Stats: 82 GP; 20G, 41A, 61 Pts.; minus-24; 19:05 
Cap hit: $8.25 million

The only number fans are going to remember from Voracek's lost season is "minus-24." That was worst on the Flyers. Since signing that gargantuan, eight-year, $66 million contract in 2015, the Czech winger has had two poor seasons in succession. Everyone -- himself included -- assumed a bounce-back year this past season, and while Voracek had 20 goals and more points -- five more than 2015-16 -- he remained well short of what he should have provided for his salary. This truly was a season in which the Flyers' big guns -- Simmonds and Schenn being the exceptions -- came up fairly lame. Even more distressing, however, was Voracek's being bounced off the second power-play unit, and not finding a set line. Truth is, his best production came with Michael Raffl and Giroux -- 24 points. He had six goals playing right wing on Giroux's line and six playing there on Sean Couturier's line. Hakstol needs to find Voracek a permanent line.

Jordan Weal
Age: Turned 26 April 15
Stats: 23 GP; 8G, 4A, 12 Pts.; plus-4; 14:18 
Cap hit: UFA who earned $650,000

Weal was more or less a "throw-in" as part of the Luke Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier deal with L.A. in January 2016. He got his chance this season when Travis Konecny suffered his knee and ankle injury in February against St. Louis. The Flyers discovered that Weal can play. And play above his size, with grit and skill, and an attitude that resembles a pit bull gnarling on a puck. Weal could get a contract close to or right at $2 million from someone this summer if he elects free agency. Hextall says he wants to re-sign Weal but isn't sure when. Weal can't be exposed because he's a free agent. Yet under the expansion draft rules, Vegas will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to sign free agents. Weal would be a perfect player for Vegas GM George McPhee to sign and grow with an expansion club. If Hextall signs him before that window opens, he will have to protect Weal on June 21. If he waits, he is potentially competing with a lot of clubs. Filppula's line with him and Simmonds was very good in the second half. Hextall has no choice but to re-sign this kid. The Flyers are already lacking in the skill/creativeness department and Weal provides both. 

Dale Weise
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 5
Stats: 64 GP; 8G, 7A, 15 Pts.; plus-1; 12:52 
Cap hit: $2.35 million

Essentially, Weise was signed last summer to replace Ryan White. Things began poorly for him -- a three-game suspension and no goals through the club's first 20 games. His game never picked up until late in the second half when Hextall admitted he was disappointed in the production he had gotten from him. That's when Weise came alive -- after sitting six straight games -- with some excellent play on Couturier's line with Schenn. Weise scored six goals with four assists (10 points) over his final 14 games. He was vocal and noticeably moody much of the second half because of his benchings (twice for multiple games) and lack of production. It didn't seem to have an impact in the room. The Flyers need more from him next season. Will be exposed in the expansion draft.

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

It appears another prospect has signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers.

Mikhail Vorobyov has now done so, according to a report by TVA Sports' Renaud Lavoie on Tuesday night. Fellow prospect Connor Bunnaman signed last Friday.

Vorobyov, a 20-year-old center selected by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, played in the KHL for parts of the past seasons. With Salavat Yulaev, the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder had three goals and eight assists in 44 games this season.

Vorobyov was on the final year of his KHL deal.

Playing for his native Russia in the World Junior Championships, Vorobyov opened eyes with 10 assists and a plus-6 rating in seven games.

At 20 years old, he's more than likely headed for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2017-18.