Re-signing Brayden Schenn shouldn't be the Flyers first offseason priority, but it should be near the top of the list

Re-signing Brayden Schenn shouldn't be the Flyers first offseason priority, but it should be near the top of the list

The Philadelphia Flyers’ first-round playoff loss to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers proved that the Orange and Black need significant upgrades at certain positions – most notably speed and puck movement along the blue line and a true finisher to play alongside Claude Giroux – in order to truly reach the upper echelon of the NHL.

But new general manager Ron Hextall came out a few weeks ago and said re-signing restricted free agent Brayden Schenn, the team’s second-line center for most of last season, is the Flyers’ top offseason priority.

Should it be THE top offseason priority?

Probably not.

A top offseason priority? Sure. But not THE top offseason priority.

That distinction belongs to trying to improve and start a youth movement on the blue line, as it has been for years now. It will be interesting to see how that plays out this summer with a new general manager who has played a hand in rebuilding a defensive corps for a team that’s still playing right now. But that’s another story for another day.

Back to the topic at hand, the younger Schenn.

Schenn, as you may recall, was originally considered the crown jewel of the package the Los Angeles Kings sent back to the Flyers in return for Mike Richards prior to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

That accolade instead belongs to Wayne Simmonds, who has burst into NHL stardom with 72 goals in his first three seasons in orange and black and has endeared himself to Flyers fans with his spirited and physical style of play.

That’s not to say Schenn has been a bad player during his tenure so far in Philadelphia. He’s been quite a good one with 40 goals – including his first 20-goal campaign this past season - and 45 assists for 85 points in three seasons as a Flyer.

But Schenn has been inconsistent at times, gone stretches without goals and can disappear on defense at times as he’s a combined minus-15 over the last three seasons. In fact, his usual line of him centering Simmonds and Vinny Lecavalier finished last season minus-20 combined.

Fair expectations or not, one can assume that Flyers fans and management expected more than they’ve gotten so far out of the guy the team’s captain – and arguably most popular player at the time – was traded for.

Add those facts in with the glut of centers the Flyers currently have on the roster and prized center prospect Scott Laughton ready to challenge for spot with the big club come training camp in the fall, and the question of what to do with Schenn, who is no doubt a valuable trade piece if that option crossed Hextall’s mind, is a somewhat legitimate one.

But he should be re-signed unless Hextall is blown away by an offer that will help the Flyers in the long-term, specifically along the blue line. There’s no way the Flyers should just let him walk to another team’s offer sheet. (Remember, the Flyers would have the right to match any offer Schenn agrees to with another team because he is a restricted free agent.)

The main reason is that Schenn, who will be 23-years-old when the new season starts in October, is an incredibly skilled player with a boatload of potential that has yet to be tapped.

There’s a reason he was the fifth-overall pick in a 2009 draft that included first-rounders such as the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Rangers’ Chris Kreider.

Schenn hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be at the NHL level. Part of that is because of the way he has had to jump around lines and positions during his short NHL career. He’s played on all four lines and on the wing despite the fact he’s a natural center. But it’s the NHL and things like that happen.

Another part of the questions surrounding Schenn could do with the market he plays in.

Philadelphia, at its very core, is hockey-crazed. When a player with the popularity and caliber of Richards is traded and a guy as highly touted as Schenn comes in, superior results are wanted almost immediately. It may not be fair, but it comes with the territory.

A lot of the time, superior results don’t come immediately, especially from a young player.

Young players have to find their respective games.

Schenn just finished his third season – his second full season, one of which was lockout-abbreviated – as a Flyer, is still in his early 20s and is finally getting a chance to play his natural position alongside other talented players on a consistent basis. It takes time.

Sure, more may have been expected sooner, but the Flyers would be foolish to give up on such a high level of young talent. They’ve done that before with disastrous results during previous general manager regimes. (See: Williams, Justin and Sharp, Patrick)

Hextall knows what holding on to young talent can do for franchise. Take a look at what the Kings team he helped build and develop has accomplished not only this season, but over the past few seasons. Sure, additions from the outside were made to push them over the top, but that happens with every successful team. Their core was developed from within.

And, whether you agree or not, Schenn is a major building block as Hextall tries to develop the Flyers in his image from within.

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

Union-Crew 5 things: Jim Curtin's depleted club begins crucial home-and-home series

Union-Crew 5 things: Jim Curtin's depleted club begins crucial home-and-home series

Union at Crew
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Looking to rebound from a disappointing road loss on Wednesday to the Montreal Impact, Fafa Picault and the Union (6-8-5) kick off a crucial Eastern Conference home-and-home series at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night against the Columbus Crew (9-10-1).

Here are five things to know:

1. Fighting a slump
All of the Union’s losses this season have come from a pair of lengthy losing streaks, one of four games and one of three. After dropping Wednesday’s match against the Impact, 2-1, the club hopes to avoid its third consecutive losing run in 2017.

“Consistency is what we’re striving for,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “You see around the league all different kind of streaks, the highs and lows, and it’s something you definitely want to avoid. Consistency is what we’re working for, it was something we were pretty good at last year in terms of bouncing back and not being a team that loses two in a row.”

Despite that lack of consistency and streaky nature of his team, Curtin does see positives. He believes that when the Union do slip down the losing path, they never let the bottom completely fall out.

“We’ve been in every game if you look over the course of the season,” he said. “We’re in every game but it is clear we have to all be pretty darn good on the night for us to get a win.”

Avoiding another losing streak is crucial for the Union’s playoff hopes. Six points out of playoff position with 15 games remaining, the Union, who have an extremely tough stretch of matches to finish the year, can’t afford to drop games in bunches this late in their campaign.

“We can’t have long losing streaks,” Curtin said. “We’re at the stage in the year where if you go on a long losing streak, that could be the end of it. There’s still a lot of games to play and we have a good team, but the series here versus Columbus is one where we need to get results.”

2. Roster recovery
Between injuries and international call-ups, the Union enter Saturday’s match with a uniquely lean roster. 

“It’s a hard time for us in terms of personnel,” Curtin said. 

The club will be without Derrick Jones (concussion) and Fabian Herbers (sports hernia), but will also miss Andre Blake and Chris Pontius to Gold Cup duty.

“The good thing is you have guys getting called into the national team, which is a real positive,” Curtin said. “The international call-ups are one thing, the freak injuries, losing Herbers, losing Jones to the concussion, that can compound things and make it harder.”

What limits the Union even more is the suspension of Roland Alberg, who was dinged by MLS for a reckless tackle against the Impact. Losing Alberg means the Union are limited at both center attacking midfield and the right wing position. 

“The suspension to Roland makes it difficult, it makes your group thin,” Curtin said. “The one thing we do have is not a huge drop-off from our starters to our second-teamers, we do have that depth. But you do worry though that if you lose your top-end guys, it becomes challenging.” 

That means young talents like Marcus Epps and Adam Najem will see significant action.

“It’s a big opportunity for them,” Curtin said. “Two guys that have been very close to getting a starting nod regardless of injury or whatever it is.”

3. Potent Crew 
If the Union want to make the playoffs, they’ll have to get through the Crew. Gregg Berhalter’s club is currently outside looking into the postseason picture but sitting five points ahead of the Union, who have a game in hand but face the Crew in an upcoming home-and-home series. 

“We need to do it now with urgency and it has to start this weekend against Columbus,” Curtin said of his team playing with consistency. “This will be a big two-game stretch for us.”

But that’s easier said than done. Although Higuain is listed as out with a knee sprain, the Crew still possess a potent attack featuring Ola Kamara and Justin Meram. The club has tallied 30 goals in 20 games this season, good for fifth in the conference.

“They’re a team that really pass out of the back well, they’re one of the best passing teams,” Curtin said. “You have to disrupt that, you can’t let them walk the ball up the field because they are coached too well and they can pick you apart. We have to do a good job in terms of how we handle them in possession. They’ve conceded some goals but they’ve scored a lot of goals, too — they can really attack.” 

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Alejandro Bedoya is back from Gold Cup duty with the U.S. men’s national team and is expected to help his club on Saturday in Columbus. The Union captain will be a welcome sight for Curtin. “Getting Alejandro back in our group is very important,” Curtin said. “We have a group that will go on the field able to get a result against Columbus.”

Crew: Ranking sixth in MLS in saves, Zack Steffan, who was born in Coatesville and grew up in Downingtown, was on the Union’s Homegrown Player radar before he left the country for Germany’s SC Freiburg. The goalkeeper has since returned and is motivated to impress in front of his hometown club.

5. This and that
• Union speedster Picault tweaked his hamstring on Wednesday and was pulled from the game as a result. Although the club is tentative about the injury, Curtin expects Picault to play on Saturday. “There is an injury there but we’re confident it’s one he can play with,” the coach said. “That would be another difficult one to lose at this time.”

• The Union are 7-10-1 against the Crew all-time and 2-6-1 on the road in the series.

• Road struggles continued for the Union on Wednesday, as their record away from Talen Energy Stadium moved to 1-5-3 on the season. The Crew are 6-3-1 at home in 2017.