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.

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.