Flyers

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe there was a false sense of reality right from Wayne Simmonds' opening hat trick to the eight-goal outburst against the Washington Capitals in the home opener.

“Just remember, after eight games, the media was all giddy about our team,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said a month ago in Calgary. “We were like, ‘It’s a little early about getting too giddy about this team.’ We were a pretty good team then. Pretty good.”

Perhaps the giddiness (if that truly existed) was a result of having some giddyap to their game in that first month when the Flyers received contributions up and down their lineup while displaying an ability to transition out of their zone efficiently and effectively.

Offensively, the Flyers were ranked in the top five in goals per game, but the “O" was more of an oasis, the illusion of a balanced offensive attack.

Earlier this week when I asked certain Flyers about the team’s identity or lack thereof, head coach Dave Hakstol pointed directly to “depth” as that identifiable trait.

Coming out of training camp, that may have been the case. Oskar Lindblom, who many believed was NHL ready, was assigned to Lehigh Valley, while Samuel Morin was essentially the eighth defenseman when the season started. The Flyers had a certain degree of depth, but as we’ve discovered over the past six weeks, it’s not the organizational depth needed to carry them over an 82-game schedule.

Through those first 10 games, Jordan Weal had five points and was averaging nearly 14:26 a game. In the 23 games proceeding October, Weal has just five more points, averaging just 11:51.

Fourth-liners Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton have seen their ice time take a significant hit as well. Combined, they were logging over 25 minutes through the first month of the season to just under 21½ minutes in December. Some of that decrease in ice time has been Hakstol’s decision to take Leier off the penalty kill.

Laughton agreed a handful of the Flyers' supporting cast just haven’t been relied upon as much as they were during the opening weeks of the season.

“Yeah, I’m not sure. I guess it’s just the situation and you've got to know your role,” Laughton said. “That’s the biggest thing. I knew my role coming into the year was going to be this and you've got to stick with it. Even though you’re not playing the big minutes, I think it’s an important role to try and create momentum.”

However, it’s been the role players of the Flyers' opponents who have provided that momentum recently. On Tuesday night, the Penguins received a pair of goals from fourth-liners Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl. Last week in Florida, the Panthers' Jared McCann and Derek MacKenzie chipped in with decisive goals.

Hakstol has been forced to shorten his bench to protect third-period leads and has resorted to double shifting some of his skilled players when trying to make up a third-period deficit.

From a forward standpoint, you have Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula earning the bulk of the playing time, and then there’s every other forward in one collective clump. Compare that to the NHL’s top team, the Lightning, who have a perfect balance with eight forwards averaging in the 16-20 minute range.

Sure, few teams have the luxury, but it wasn’t that long ago the Flyers were in that same boat. It just happened to be the last time they won a playoff series in 2012.

Only on defense has the Flyers' depth been tested through injury, as Hakstol has been forced to play 10 different blueliners, the same number they played with all of last season. Collectively that unit has a plus-10 rating, a respectable sum considering the injuries and suspension to Radko Gudas, plus the growing pains of a handful of rookies.

Depth has been an issue within this organization since the lockout in 2013. And unless the Flyers stage an impressive turnaround in the second half of this season, they’ll miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

Perhaps when Hextall starts to feel giddy about this team again will we truly know they have the depth to compete for a championship.

Roster move
The Flyers on Wednesday night called up forward Tyrell Goulbourne from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. He will be available for Thursday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-foot, 200-pound winger was drafted by the Flyers in the third round of the 2013 draft and has spent parts of his last three seasons with the Phantoms.

In 34 games with Lehigh Valley this season, the 23-year-old has six goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

Wayne Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

VOORHEES, N.J. — There were so many, Wayne Simmonds even lost track.

"I actually forgot about that one," he said with a laugh.

The Flyers' power forward was referring to the torn ligament in his thumb, the lone injury to declare victory with Simmonds this season.

And don't think he didn't have his battles.

As Simmonds sat down at his end-of-the-season press conference Wednesday, the list of injuries could have unrolled from his chair and out the door.

With some picking and prodding, one by one he ran them off.

In total?

A tear in his pelvic area, fractured ankle, pulled groin, busted mouth (twice) and the torn ligament in his thumb.

Simmonds missed only seven games in 2017-18, with the thumb finally dragging the unbreakable man off the ice.

Call him crazy, call him naïve, but don't question his dedication or toughness.

"I think for me, I don't know if it's the right thing, but I can't not play," Simmonds said. "It's just geared in my head to where if I'm not dead or I'm not deathly sick, I'm going to try and get out there and do whatever I can. Whether the coach is going to play me, or whatever minutes he wanted to play me, that was up to him. I'm definitely going to sacrifice my body for the team, that's for sure."

The trigger to the mess came well before his season-opening hat trick. Simmonds' pelvic tear was diagnosed in training camp, an injury he believes was suffered prior to report day.

"But I had no idea," Simmonds said. "You start doing all the skate testing and everything like that, and you find out pretty quickly."

The 29-year-old, coming off back-to-back 30-plus-goal seasons, was then faced with a dilemma. Surgery to repair the tear was an option, but that meant missing a month to a month and a half of action.

"It wasn't something I wanted to do," Simmonds said. "I thought I'd be able to play through it and do a decently good job. I didn't play up to my expectations this year. It was a very frustrating year. Things didn't go the way I wanted but if I can play, I'm going to play."

The decision boiled down to something pretty simple.

"They showed me the MRI and I was like, 'Can I play?'" Simmonds said. "Yeah, I can play."

The problem was the injury brought side effects.

"Having that, that leaves other things," Simmonds said. "Your body is overcompensating and other stuff starts breaking down. It wasn't good."

Because of it, Simmonds said he then pulled his groin in October before fracturing his ankle not long after following a power-play shot to the foot.

"It kind of just broke," Simmonds said. "It wasn't a weight-bearing bone, so you're still able to play with that."

However, he wasn't able to play from Feb. 20 to March 4. He also underwent serious dental work in February.

In all, it sounded like hell.

"When everything's piling on top of one another, it sucks," he said.

Simmonds finished the regular season with 24 goals, 22 assists and a minus-16 rating in 75 games. During the first-round playoff exit to the Penguins, he had two assists in six games.

He seldom looked like himself.

"That was the biggest thing. It didn't allow me to have the power I usually have," Simmonds said. "It was extremely frustrating. Obviously you want to be able to do something and you're able to do it usually, and then your brain is telling your body to do it and your body's not doing it."

Simmonds, who said surgery on his pelvis is likely, now faces an offseason in which he's eligible for an extension starting July 1 ahead of his 2018-19 contract year.

"I know this year wasn't ideal for me and they probably didn't see from me what was required for an extension," Simmonds said. "This is definitely where I want to be.

"This is where I want to be for the rest of my career."

Banged up or not.

Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

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Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

Over the next three days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. First up, goaltending: 

Brian Elliott

Regular Season:
(23-11-7, 2.66 GAA, .909 save percentage)

Playoffs: C- 
(1-3, 4.74 GAA, .856 save percentage)

Elliott seized the starting job at the beginning of the season and helped pull the team out of the depths of a 10-game winless streak. His quality start percentage of .476 was below league average, but he was solid in games when given a lead until he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery in February. Dave Hakstol pulled “Moose” in two of the four playoff games he started in the playoffs.

Elliott admitted he needed to tear up the scar tissue once he resumed hockey activities to gain a full range of motion. A month ago, the pain was so unbearable it prevented him from putting on shoes and socks. He certainly wasn’t healthy in the six games he played in April, which contributed to his poor play and he’s still dealing with issues. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Philadelphia and expects to be 100 percent by training camp.

2018-19 outlook: Elliott has one year remaining on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2017 and will enter 2018-19 as the Flyers’ starting goaltender as long as he’s healthy.  

Michal Neuvirth

Regular Season: B- 
(9-7-3, 2.60 GAA, .915 save percentage)

Playoffs:
(1-1, 4.40 GAA, .847 save percentage)

How unreliable was Neuvirth this season? At no point did Neuvirth start three consecutive games as he was plagued with a multitude of injuries. Had the Flyers won Sunday, Game 7 would have been the first time. Neuvirth was solid in the Flyers’ Game 5 victory in Pittsburgh, but he wouldn’t have overcome the Flyers' defensive breakdowns over the course of an entire series.   

Neuvirth will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips and his injury frequency has now led him to hire sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, Neuvirth's third different trainer over the past three years. Francilia has been instrumental in the offseason conditioning of goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Devan Dubnyk. “It’s going to be hard for my family,” Neuvirth said. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Kelowna, British Columbia. 

2018-19 outlook: Like Elliott, Neuvirth is signed through next season and will likely start the season as Elliott’s backup. However, if the Flyers feel Neuvirth’s injury risk is too high, they may be more inclined to trade Neuvirth and bring in someone more reliable.

Petr Mrazek

Regular Season: C-
(14-13-6, 3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade
(1 GP, 3.87 GAA, .857 save percentage)

With three wins in his first three starts, Ron Hextall appeared to have engineered one of the great goaltending heists in Flyers history. However, reality set in and Mrazek’s game quickly tanked. In his final 13 regular starts, Mrazek allowed three or more goals in all but two of those games and was he pulled in the second period in one of those two. His only playoff action came in relief of Elliott in Game 1.

While Mrazek stated in his exit interview he was able to show teams what he could do once he got a chance to play, he ultimately cost himself millions of dollars by slumping in March.

2018-19 outlook: Mrazek is a restricted free agent and the Flyers can qualify him at 105 percent of his $4 million salary for next season. No way that happens, so the Flyers can attempt to trade Mrazek to a team that will qualify him or he will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. 

Alex Lyon

Regular Season: B-
(4-2-1, 2.75 GAA, .905 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade

With injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth, Lyon provided stability during a stormy period when the Flyers’ season could have gone off the rails. He earned his first win in relief on Neuvirth at Madison Square Garden, and for whatever reason, Lyon had considerably better numbers coming off the bench. He had a tendency of lunging for pucks and he looked unsettling at times, but still found a way to get the job done.  

2018-19 outlook: Lyon is the Phantoms’ starter in the AHL playoffs, but with the addition of Carter Hart next season and the impending health of Anthony Stolarz, there’s a chance Lyon could be third on the depth chart as the Flyers could have a rare surplus in goaltending at the minor league level. Don’t be surprised if Lyon is traded this summer to a team that may view him as an NHL backup or an AHL starter.