Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.

End to End: Will prospective youth movement result in more scoring depth?

End to End: Will prospective youth movement result in more scoring depth?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall, and Greg Paone.

The topic: Will prospective youth movement result in more scoring depth?​

Dougherty
One of the main criticisms of coach Dave Hakstol has been his lineup decisions. Specifically dressing Chris VandeVelde 97.6 percent of the Flyers' games the last two seasons.

Yes, we're talking about the third and fourth lines today. I touched on this when we evaluated Hakstol's second season as the Flyers' head coach. I don't think Hakstol dressed the best possible lineup on a nightly basis last season. But that should change.

With the prospective youth movement in 2017-18, the Flyers will have more young blood and skill in training camp competing for roster spots and playing time. We already expected two more defensemen injected into the mix and winger Oskar Lindblom.

Let's add the No. 2 pick too. I think either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick will be given a fair shake to make the team during camp. If either one makes it, it's more arduous for Hakstol.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing, though. This is good. It means Hakstol has more skill to choose from. It also fuels competition in training camp. All good things.

We have a general idea of seven forwards who will be in the lineup on opening night. That leaves five spots virtually up for grabs and one or two extra forward openings too. Adding the No. 2 pick into the fold gives the Flyers 10 forwards competing for those six/seven spots. If we factor in the expansion draft, that number could decrease to nine players.

On Saturday, we discussed what landing the No. 2 pick meant for Mike Vecchione (see story). I'm not sure he'll crack the lineup, especially if Hischier/Patrick make the team. Jordan Weal and Michael Raffl — assuming Vegas stays away from him — should be in on a nightly basis.

And we can probably pencil Pierre-Edouard Bellemare into the lineup too. Should he be an every night fixture of the Flyers' lineup is a debate for another day. But the Flyers love him and we shouldn't expect Hakstol to bench him. The rest of the spots are wild cards.

Does Scott Laughton show enough to grab a bottom-six role in training camp? I'd prefer him on the fourth line than Bellemare. He's still very much in the mix here.

Dale Weise came on at the end of 2016-17 and showed chemistry with Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. He's likely to be in the lineup, but I wouldn't say it's a definite.

Then there are Nick Cousins, Matt Read and Vecchione. What we know is the Flyers' forward depth looks a lot stronger going into the summer than it did this season. With that, scoring should be sprinkled throughout the lineup. Something that wasn't the case this season.

Competition will ultimately decide who will be here and who will not. But here is my way-too-early prediction for the Flyers' 2017-18 opening night forward lineup:

Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds

Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Brayden Schenn

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Nico Hischier/Nolan Patrick-Michael Raffl

Extra forwards: Dale Weise, Mike Vecchione

Hall
On paper, you would think so, but we won't know until we see how fast the youth develops. If anything, though, it will create excitement as we see more of the future in front of us.

At his end-of-the-season press conference, general manager Ron Hextall was pretty adamant about it being time for the kids, so I expect to see some youth infused into the group of forwards.

Similar to Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny last training camp, I think Patrick or Hischier will force Hextall's hand by showing they're ready to contribute at the NHL level. Hextall also sounded optimistic about Lindblom competing for a roster spot. However, it would not surprise me to see the Swede get some work at Lehigh Valley first.

Although not a fan favorite, Read is valued by the Flyers for his work ethic and professionalism. I don't think he'll see a ton of the ice in 2017-18 (his final year under contract), but the Flyers will want him around to be an influence on the younger players and a reliable veteran backup.

It will be interesting to see what the organization's plans are for Raffl. I could see him being dangled on the trade market and exposed/possibly selected in the expansion draft.

Also, Hakstol really liked Couturier's line at the end of the season and, less than an hour after the finale, even foresaw it together at the start of 2017-18.

So, with all that said, here's my early look for next season:

Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds

Dale Weise-Sean Couturier-Brayden Schenn

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Nico Hischier/Nolan Patrick-Mike Vecchione

Extra forwards: Michael Raffl, Matt Read

Paone
Is it too early to talk about the Flyers' line combinations for next season? Of course, it is. We haven't even hit the expansion draft, the entry draft, free agency or the summer trade market yet. Heck, we're still in the conference final round of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But as far as the Flyers are concerned, depth is an issue to look at now considering the dearth of secondary scoring last season that was magnified with Claude Giroux's struggles. The "Big 4" of Wayne Simmonds, Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Giroux accounted for 90 goals last season. The rest of the team accounted for just 122. So, Simmonds, Schenn, Voracek and Giroux accounted for 42.5 percent of the Flyers' goals last season.

So, yes, depth is certainly worth looking at right now. 

And now the question is: who will fill out the lineup behind the "Big 4?"

To me, that answer points in the direction of youth, for a couple reasons. First, the Flyers are still hamstrung by their cap issues, so the odds of a free-agent splash are slim and they likely won't be able to make a big trade unless a team is willing to take some salary back. Second, the organization's youth has another year of seasoning under its belt and the timing could be right for a few of those players to join the big club.

And we do know the Flyers are going to lose a player or two to Vegas in the expansion draft.

If I had to guess here on May 21 what the Flyers' line combos will look like come October, here's what I would guess (I'd like to stress that these are bound to be totally wrong):

Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek

Brayden Schenn-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds

Jordan Weal-Nico Hischier/Nolan Patrick-Valtteri Filppula

Oskar Lindblom-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Dale Weise

Extra forwards: Mike Vecchione, Matt Read

End to End: What does No. 2 pick mean for Mike Vecchione?

End to End: What does No. 2 pick mean for Mike Vecchione?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The question: What does the No. 2 pick mean for Mike Vecchione?

Dougherty
The Flyers' leap to No. 2 is bad news for Vecchione, the Hobey Baker finalist who signed here as a college free agent March 31. 

Vecchione chose the Flyers over signing elsewhere because of the opportunity to play right away, and the team's future at forward was not as promising as its blue line.

That changed on April 29, when the Flyers were awarded the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery.

The Flyers will now add either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. Either one is expected to compete for a roster spot, and there is a fair chance either one cracks the lineup in 2017-18.

Add in Oskar Lindblom, who still has to sign his entry-level contract but will be coming over from Sweden, and the Flyers' forward picture is a lot different than it was March 31.

Many expect Lindblom to make the Flyers out of training camp. There are as many as 17 forwards (more on this Sunday) competing for 12 forward spots.

During the Flyers' exit day, Vecchione said, "The opportunities were talked about, but not promised." He knew he would have to earn his spot regardless of the draft lottery.

But the water is murkier for Vecchione today than it was when he signed here. It makes you wonder if he still would have signed here had he known the Flyers would get the No. 2 pick.

I bet he wouldn't have.

Hall
What it means for Vecchione is simple: more competition.

And that's the NHL, exactly what Vecchione expected. He didn't sign with the Flyers because he knew a job was being handed to him on a silver platter.

There was going to be competition and now there's more.

He was cognizant of that even before the No. 2 pick fell in the Flyers' lap.

"It's the big leagues now and you've got to work for it," Vecchione said back in early April. "Everything's really in my hands now. I have to go off and have a great offseason, come back in top shape and battle for a job.

"I've always based my success off hard work and dedication, heart and all that stuff. It's going to be a pretty long offseason. I'm going to be focused, come back and win myself a job."

The Flyers have plans for Vecchione. He's a smart and mature kid with experience thanks to four years at Union College. And he's right, his success has always been predicated on work ethic. After all, he's only a generously listed 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds.

With things as they are now, there will likely be one to two spots open among the Flyers' line combinations. In training camp, Vecchione will now have to show even more to win a job with the big club and earn playing time.

But he's certainly not on the outside looking in.

Paone
Ron Hextall said it best a few weeks ago when he met with the media for the first time after the Flyers fell into the No. 2 overall pick in this coming June's draft.

"It's a game-changer," he said.

It's something that will have a ripple effect throughout the entire organization, from the Flyers' top line to the Phantoms' checking lines. 

That, of course, includes Vecchione, the prized college free agent who was inked by the Flyers toward the end of the season and saw action in two of the team's final three games of the year.

He knew there were no guarantees in signing here, but he, and no one else, could have expected what has happened in recent weeks.

So what does it mean for him heading into the season?

Simply put, his trek to stay with the big club come October just got plenty steeper.

The Flyers desperately need more scoring, so enter whomever the No. 2 overall pick may be and likely enter Lindblom, as well. And then who knows who else will make an impression during camp. But Vecchione certainly has the ability to pack a scoring punch. After all, he scored 29 goals and added 34 assists for 63 points last season at Union College.

Hextall and Dave Hakstol have always said no guarantees are given during camp and that players, especially younger ones, have to earn their spot.

The decision to come to Philadelphia may have been a little different for the Union product had he known the Flyers would hold the No. 2 pick. An RFA whose rights the Flyers control, Vecchione will have to be at his best come camp. But, to me, even though the sledding will be tougher, there's still no reason he can't be with the big club come October.