Flyers

A talking-to? Dave Hakstol still teaching, Travis Konecny still learning

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AP Images

A talking-to? Dave Hakstol still teaching, Travis Konecny still learning

Sitting on the ice right by the end boards, Travis Konecny slammed his broken stick in anger, the victim of a physical play during the final minute of the second period.

After methodically getting back up on his skates and fetching a new stick, Konecny wasted no time channeling that frustration into a massive hit on Jets 19-year-old star Patrik Laine.

Konecny, all of 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, laying out Laine, a 6-5, 206-pound stud.

And boom, that's the energy and feistiness any coach would love.

But when Konecny committed a costly and ill-timed tripping penalty nearly midway through the third period Saturday, he never saw the ice again. The Flyers were leading, 2-0, and looking to close out arguably the most lethal power-play team in the NHL. Laine scored 32 seconds later and Konecny watched the rest of the way as the Flyers survived for a desperate 2-1 win (see observations).

Moments after the final buzzer sounded, Hakstol was seen talking to Konecny in the Flyers' dressing room. Given Hakstol's guardedness, it was surprising the scene ever made the light of day.

"I guess you guys beat me into the room tonight," Hakstol said with a slight laugh, "so that's just how it is.

"I won't get into my conversation with him a whole lot. There are a lot of those conversations that go on with individual players."

Was it a reminder to harness that aggression?

"It's all in the situation. T.K., he's a huge part of our team. That energy that he plays with, he's always got to be on the line," Hakstol said. "Tough part, this time of year, is navigating not going over that line. The penalty was obviously not good timing and something that can't happen, and he knows that. But he's a huge part of our team and unfortunately, we didn't get the kill on that one.

"But this time of year, little things make a difference. I don't want T.K. to change his game at all. There are a couple little adjustments he has to make in the third period, nothing more."

Sounds like a good ole teaching moment for a 20-year-old that has ridden nothing but highs since late December (27 points in 32 games). While Konecny has blossomed in his second season, it doesn't mean he's exempt from a coach's lesson.

Konecny, who committed two of the team's four penalties, said the tripping wasn't a matter of becoming too free from his success.

"I don't think I've played perfect every night," Konecny said. "He stepped on my stick. It's not like it's too loose, it's just a fluke thing."

As for what was said between player and coach …

"That's just between him and I," Konecny said. "Not going to comment."

And the discussion should be the end of something that really wasn't much.

"You guys are a little bit focused on the penalty that he took," Hakstol said, "but there are just little parts of the game that, at this time of the year, get ramped up — and it's not just him, it's our entire team."

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.