Flyers

Petr Mrazek in strange yet familiar territory

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AP Images

Petr Mrazek in strange yet familiar territory

DETROIT — Petr Mrazek knew the day he was traded to the Flyers wouldn’t be the last time he’d be in Detroit. Looking at the Flyers’ schedule, Mrazek noticed one more game left to be played against his former team.

Tonight, Mrazek will make his 12th start with his new team against the organization that drafted him in the fifth round in 2010.

Prior to the morning skate, Mrazek spent time talking with former teammates and fellow netminders Jimmy Howard and Jared Coreau. But it was a little strange walking into Little Caesars Arena for the first time as a visitor.

“A little different, different entrance, but it’s a fun building and one of the nicest visitor locker rooms in the league,” Mrazek said. “Every game is different. I wouldn’t know who’s got more of an advantage. I talked with Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou) this morning and asked if he’s going to do the same move as he always does or if he’s going to go backhand. But when the puck drops, we've just got to focus on ourselves.”

Mrazek won his fifth game in orange and black with a 6-3 victory over the Washington Capitals Sunday. If the Flyers advance to the playoffs, the Red Wings would receive a third-round draft pick as compensation.  

The Dead Wing era
With a win tonight, Mrazek and the Flyers can eliminate the Red Wings from postseason contention. It will mark the second straight season Detroit has failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which hasn’t happened in Hockeytown since the early 1980s.
 
The current-day Red Wings have completely tanked since the trade deadline. They’ve dropped 10 straight (0-9-1) since Feb. 26, and have just one regulation victory over the last 15 games.

The Flyers will be looking for a three-game season sweep of the Red Wings while being mindful of a dreaded letdown game against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s important for us to be ready from the start,” center Sean Couturier said. “We don’t want to get surprised. They’re still a good team. They’ve got some talent, probably some guys who want to prove themselves. These games are never easy. We’ve got to be prepared for that and just focus on what we’ve got to do.”

The Dead Wing era is a period in Detroit hockey from the late 1960s to the early 1980s when the Red Wings failed to reach the postseason in 15 of 17 seasons. 

Passing 'Big E'
With a point tonight, Claude Giroux can pass Eric Lindros for fifth place on the Flyers' all-time scoring list with 660 points. Whenever his career ends, Giroux will join Lindros one day in the Flyers' Hall of Fame.

The current and former Flyers captains spoke briefly in Voorhees, New Jersey, earlier this season prior to Lindros’ No. 88 retirement ceremony on Jan. 18. Overtaking “Big E” is an accomplishment Giroux holds in high regard.

“Just for what he’s done for the organization, it means something. He’s had a great career,” Giroux said. “Just talking with him was pretty special. He talked about what experiences he’s had, talking about things he was going through as a team. To be able to pass him, it’s pretty special.” 

This season alone, Giroux has worked his way from 11th on the franchise’s career scoring list to where he is now. Once he moves past Lindros, Giroux will be 38 points shy of passing Rick MacLeish for fourth place, which in all likelihood, will come next season.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.