Who stays and who goes: Flyers free agent forwards

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Who stays and who goes: Flyers free agent forwards

Five forwards will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. But which ones will stick around for 2013-14?
 
Flyers coaching and management personnel were consulted in advance of this piece. What follows is CSNPhilly.com’s best guess at what happens, taking into account those discussions.
 
Ruslan Fedotenko
Wing/center
Age: 34
Games played: 47 (four goals, nine assists)
Plus/minus: plus-8
Contract: $1.75 million  

If you had to pick one Flyer from the roster who gave them exactly what was expected when he signed, it would be Fedotenko. He's a veteran third/fourth-liner, who imparts strong defensive ability, bolsters your penalty killing and gives you a couple of goals, and he was successful at doing just so in 2013.
 
Having won two Stanley Cups meant he would bring a strong influence into the dressing room and be able to demonstrate what it takes to become a winner.
 
Fedotenko delivered in every area, but was disillusioned at how he was used this season and had expected more of an offensive support role. He was a solid plus-8 on a bad team, played 12:34 a night and had 34 blocks and 52 hits in a limited role. He won’t want to come back, but he won’t have trouble finding work, either.

Stay or go? GO
 
Simon Gagne
Left wing
Age: 33
Games played: 27 (five goals, six assists)
Plus/minus: minus-3
Contract: $3.75 million
 
If you have to pick three gentlemen on the Flyers' roster of high character, Gagne would among the trio along with Mike Knuble and Danny Briere. Gagne was a very visible, trustworthy and adored member of this franchise for a decade before being traded to Tampa Bay.
 
When injuries began to pile up in late February to Matt Read and then Tye McGinn, Gagne was brought in from Los Angeles where he was sitting around as a healthy scratch.

Gagne averaged 26 goals a season throughout his 10-year career with the Flyers. Over the last three, it’s down to 11. He had five goals and 11 points in 27 games this season, and on many nights, was the Flyers’ best skater, even if he didn’t deliver points.
 
He would be ideal in a lesser role, but his only chance at re-signing would be to accept a substantial pay cut. Gagne admits winning a Cup in Los Angeles fulfilled his dream, and he would like to retire as a Flyer.
 
Gagne was excellent in the faceoff circle, winning 78 percent of his draws during the few times he either played center (one game) or had to take a faceoff for someone being thrown out.
 
Of his 597 lifetime points, 535 have been as a Flyer. He says he will take less money for himself and family to be “comfortable” remaining in the area. If that’s the case, he gets re-signed. Otherwise, he’s gone.

Stay or go? STAY (with a pay cut)
 
Adam Hall
Center
Age: 32
Games played: 11 (0 points)
Plus/minus: minus-1
Contract: $650,000
 
No Flyer has traveled more to earn the title “journeyman” than Hall, who at age 32, has been with nine NHL clubs.
 
A very likeable person in the dressing room, he was a comfortable fourth-line fit at center and might have been the best defensive draw on the team. Hall won 59 percent of his faceoffs, which is one reason why he logged an average 2:02 a game on the ice playing on the penalty kill.
 
The problem the Flyers face is that they can’t re-sign him and Gagne. As one club official said, you can only have so many guys who are designated fourth-liners. Gagne can play up and down the lineup; Hall, who had no points in 11 games and averaged less than 11 minutes per game, can’t.

Stay or go? GO
 
Mike Knuble
Right wing
Age: 40
Games played: eight (four goals, four assists)
Plus/minus: minus-4.
Contract: $750,000
 
A 16-year veteran and second-time Flyer, Knuble is going to make a very good coach or scout some day.
 
It was interesting to hear Knuble say last weekend in Ottawa that he has spent the past two seasons taking mental notes of situational play on the ice and why certain guys fit certain roles -- why coaches do this or that, etc.
 
Knuble said he wanted to expand his knowledge of the game and try to analyze it from the perspective of a coach, not as a player. He admits he’s at the very end of a long career. In his prime, he was exactly what the Flyers hoped James van Riemsdyk would become: A physical net presence.
 
Knuble didn’t have the legs this season that he had when he last played for the Flyers. Yet, his savvy for the game remains unchanged.
 
It was a classy move by coach Peter Laviolette to allow him one final appearance in the Flyers' season-ending game at Ottawa. Retirement seems next. Everyone wishes him well.

Stay or go? GO

Flyers returning from World Cup enjoyed playoff-like atmosphere

Flyers returning from World Cup enjoyed playoff-like atmosphere

VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s as if the season began right where it left off for the handful of Flyers players that participated in the World Cup of Hockey. 

Five months removed from their first round series with Washington, the group that played in the international tournament says it was nearly identical to the tempo they saw in the NHL playoffs.

“Our division was really tight so right from the get-go you couldn’t afford to lose a game,” said Sean Couturier, who suited up for North America. “It definitely felt like playoffs, and it definitely didn’t feel like September.”

Couturier was joined by his World Cup teammate Shayne Gostisbehere, along with Team Czech Republic’s Jake Voracek and Michael Neuvirth, in their return to Voorhees for their first practice with the Flyers on Monday. Team Canada’s Claude Giroux and the Team Europe duo of Mark Streit and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will be competing in the finals this week.

While it may have been an early exit for the first wave of Flyers who reported back, the experience of playing in a tournament with that high of intensity has left them more confident than they’ve ever felt at this time of the year, particularly for Gostisbehere. 

The Calder Trophy runner-up underwent offseason hip surgery following his 46-point season. Having missed a season two years ago because of a torn ACL, Gostisbehere is thankful for how much the World Cup prepared him for his second year. He says he feels better now than he ever has in his career after picking up four assists in the tournament.

“You don’t play in those games in September normally so it was pretty cool to do,” Gostisbehere said. “I think the tournament was a good stepping stone for me and to branch off my injury and give yourself the confidence that you’re feeling good for the year.”

Like Couturier and Gostisbehere, Voracek said the World Cup gameplay mirrored that of the NHL postseason. 

“When I look at the season for the Flyers, it was the best thing that could have happened for me,” Voracek said. “The World Cup was high level… I’m six games in before training camp even starts.”

After what he calls a “good offseason” of training, Voracek saw this opportunity as almost a saving grace – a chance to regain form before embarking on his sixth season in Philadelphia. The winger had one goal and one assist in three games that “felt like I was playing in the playoffs.”

Had this tournament occurred in 2015, the mindset coming back may have been different. Dave Hakstol was coaching his first professional season and as evidenced by their record to start the year and the comments made throughout, things took a little longer than expected when it came to picking up the new coach’s system.

That process is behind the Flyers, and it makes missing the first weekend of camp and possibly the first week of preseason games an easier obstacle to overcome.

“It’s always better when you know the system and what Hak wants in you,” Voracek said. “It’s obviously going to get better and better.”

The best-of-three World Cup finals will begin on Tuesday with the third game (if needed) commencing on Saturday. If the teams go the full distance, the remaining three Flyers involved would likely not play their first preseason game until Oct. 6 if not Oct. 8, the final exhibition game. 

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.

Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kind of make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 20th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kind of like we finished the last couple games there against Washington [in the playoffs]. We kind of got burnt there, 6-1 [in Game 3]. We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power-play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minnesota, over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”