Flyers

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Defensemen

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Defensemen

We continue our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with a look at the defensemen. This is the second part of a four-part series. For our goaltending review, click here.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said during his end-of-the-season news conference that he blamed himself for keeping eight defensemen on the roster.
 
Hextall acknowledged keeping eight D-men caused problems on the back end and limited coach Dave Hakstol in terms of juggling his forward group, as they were often short one reserve.

When the Flyers report to training camp this fall, they will return five starters on defense. That leaves room for two more blueliners.

Right now, the incumbents to those spots are Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, both of whom made their NHL debuts during the final week of the regular season.

Then again that could change in camp given the presence of Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. Nothing is certain except that there will be seven -- not eight -- defensemen next season.

"Just looking at it on paper right now," Hextall said, "I don't know the two kids or the one kid that's going to be in our lineup next year, but they're going to dictate that. But I like the pieces we have surrounding them.

"Robert's progression has been really, really impressive. He came over as a 19-year-old, played up in Glen Falls there and was OK. The American League is a tough league to play in at that age and he held his own. As a 20-year-old, he was not bad. And this year, he's taken it to another level.

"Sam understands more than ever what his game is. I remember seeing Sam back in junior, and Sam was on the power play. Sam knows what he is as a player and he's done a really good job of working hard, getting better every day. They've both done a real good job.

"Well see where it leads to in September. They have to fight for a spot."

Here is our take on the defense (alphabetically) this past season, minus Hagg and Morin who weren't here long enough.
 
Michael Del Zotto
Age: Turns 27 on June 25
Stats: 51 GP; 6G, 12A, 18 Pts.; minus-5; 19:30
Cap hit: UFA who earned $3.875 million

When Del Zotto signed here in free agency in 2014, he was a reclamation project. When he met with Hextall two weeks ago, he thanked him for rejuvenating his career and said he understood the club had even younger players than himself waiting in line. The irony is, Del Zotto's best overall season was his first one in 2014-15 when he scored 10 goals and 32 points with far fewer turnovers with the Rangers. He averaged 23 minutes last year, but because of rookie Ivan Provorov, every other D-man's ice time dipped this season. In Del Zotto's case, that was a four-minute hit. While he can move the puck, he is simply not as strong defensively as he needs to be, which is why he's gone through benchings the last two seasons. Del Zotto did finish third on the team in hits with 173. He will go to free agency.
  
Shayne Gostisbehere
Age: Turned 24 on April 20
Stats: 76 GP; 7G, 32A, 39 Pts.; minus-21; 19:35
Cap hit: RFA who earned $925,000

Though he finished just seven points shy of what he totaled in his rookie season (46 points), Gostisbehere's sophomore year was nothing like his first. He'd be the first to tell you it was a nightmarish season, though he finished on an upbeat note. For starters, last year's offseason surgery on his hip and abdomen caused havoc on him right into the second half of this season, much as it did for Claude Giroux, who had identical surgery. "Ghost" was a ghost of himself in terms of his ability to pivot quickly on the ice, recover off the wall or in transition while his once deadly-accurate shot sprayed all over from the point. His inability to cover one-on-one was compromised, as well. He was a turnover machine at times. Much of it had to do with his lengthy recovery from surgery. Hakstol benched him three separate times. It wasn't until early March -- just like Giroux -- when he started to resemble his former self. He finished second among the Flyers' defensemen in ice time. "Ghost" remains the first piece of the blue-line rebuild that began under Hextall and should be re-signed in weeks ahead.

Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 27 on June 5
Stats: 67 GP; 6G, 17A, 23 Pts.; plus-8; 19:18
Cap hit: $3.35 million

There is a reason why teammates voted Gudas the Pelle Lindberg Memorial Award winner as the club's most improved defenseman. Gudas was able to transform his game into legitimate, tough blue-line hockey minus all the cheap shots, reckless hits and dumb plays that ruined his 2015-16 season. His 93 penalty minutes were down from 116 a year ago. Gudas finally realized you can play hard without playing as a liability on defense and he turned in a career season (six goals and 23 points). He was the only defensive regular who was a plus player on a roster in which virtually everyone was a minus. Gudas led the Flyers with 280 hits -- third most in the NHL -- and was third on the club with 124 blocked shots. He had the fourth-highest ice time on the blue line, but missed the final four games concussed. Coincidentally, that injury came off a blind hit -- the kind he used to dish himself.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 31 on Sept. 7
Stats: 73 GP; 2G, 16A, 18 Pts.; minus-5; 20:06
Cap hit: $5 million

MacDonald has become the whipping boy among Flyers fans because of his salary, which has prevented the club in the past from making certain improvements. If he were an offensive juggernaut, no one would complain about his contract every time he turned a puck over. And therein lies a falsehood. He was fourth on the team in giveaways (50), not first as fans would suspect. He was also the one veteran the Flyers felt confident could play with Ivan Provorov and play effectively, while allowing the rookie to develop. MacDonald's 151 blocked shots were second on the team. Again, given others' plus/minus and the fact he again averaged 20 minutes, it's not as bad as it looks on paper. He could remain with Provorov or be split to assist either Morin or Hagg next season in their transition.
 
Brandon Manning
Age: Turns 27 on June 4
Stats: 65 GP; 3G, 9A, 12 Pts.; minus-12; 18:03
Cap hit: $975,000

Some people wondered why Manning didn't receive the Flyers Fan Club's Gene Hart Memorial Award given to the player with the most heart because it was an award that Manning richly deserved. No Flyer has stood up for others on this club like Manning, who had to work his tail off just to become an NHL player and then hold onto his job. Manning isn't expected to fight and yet he did nine times this season. True, he's not very good at it -- one win -- but he is always willing and that's why teammates lauded him. Over the past three seasons, Manning has worked his way up the ladder from an AHL call-up to a seventh or eighth defenseman to an every-night regular on the roster, while his ice time has risen accordingly. Manning's 121 hits were sixth most and third among Flyers defensemen. He will have to work even harder to retain his starting position if Morin and Hagg make the roster.

Ivan Provorov
Age: Turns 21 on Jan. 13
Stats: 82 GP; 6G, 24A, 30 Pts.; minus-7; 21:58
Cap hit: $894,167

For the second consecutive season, the Flyers had a dynamic rookie defenseman. Provorov plays the game -- as Hextall has noted -- like he's a 30-year-old veteran, not someone who began the season as just a 19-year-old. He led the team in ice time and established a rookie record for such by a Flyer. His 27:17 single-game record against Pittsburgh will be tough to break. He was second in the NHL among all rookies in ice time, too. Provorov has the physical strength and advanced skills you simply don't see very often at this age. He is a franchise defenseman and the only player on the Flyers' roster you can pinpoint as untouchable. It's been a long time coming for this franchise, but Provorov will be on this blue line for at least 10 more years. He led the team with 166 blocked shots. He also led the team with 81 giveaways. Yet given his ice time, the fact he plays in all situations and that he was a rookie, that was entirely expected. The only question is whether he remains with MacDonald next fall.
 
Nick Schultz
Age: Turns 35 on Aug. 25
Stats: 28 GP; 0G, 4A, 4 Pts.; plus-1; 15:15
Cap hit: UFA who salary was $2.25 million

Schultz closed out his three-year career as a Flyer in which he was expected to be a seventh or eighth defenseman who was a gap filler to buy time for younger players. But he actually became a starter for two seasons because of injury and trades. While he wants to lace them up for his 16th season, Schultz said he also doesn't want to move his family cross-country for one year. If that's the case, he said he would simply retire and move back to Western Canada with his family. Hextall thanked him for doing more than what was expected of him. Despite limited ice time and game action in 2016-17, Schultz had 61 blocked shots -- eighth most on the roster -- and every player above him was a full-time starter.
 
Up next: A look back at Part I of the forwards.

Flyers recall Matt Read from Phantoms

ap-matt-read-flyers.jpg
AP Images

Flyers recall Matt Read from Phantoms

Everyone's favorite Flyer is back.

That's right, the team has called up Matt Read from the Phantoms ahead of tonight's game vs. the Predators.

The addition puts the Flyers' roster at the max of 23. For now, Read is likely just an extra forward.

It makes sense to add Read, 31, over a young prospect. General manager Ron Hextall has repeatedly said he will not he will not call a prospect up if he will not get regular playing time. He reiterated as much today (see story). Read provides the Flyers with additional depth — and solid depth at that — but does not require playing time like a younger player would.

Wayne Simmonds, who exited Tuesday's win during the third period, looks slated to play tonight vs. Nashville so don't expect any changes in the lineup or for Read to play tonight, for that matter.

Flyers-Predators thoughts: Looking for best start since 2007-08

Flyers-Predators thoughts: Looking for best start since 2007-08

Flyers (4-2-0) vs. Predators (3-2-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers felt like they let one go last week against the Nashville Predators.

They'll have a chance at a little redemption Thursday night as the Flyers welcome the defending Western Conference champions to the Wells Fargo Center.

It's Game 3 of the Flyers' five-game homestand, and Game 7 of the season.

Let's get into some thoughts before puck drop.

• The Flyers should be happy to see the Predators again so soon. Last time these teams met, the Flyers had a 5-4 lead turn into a crushing 6-5 loss over the final 1:17 of regulation. How it transpired was wild. The Flyers were done in by two penalties and a failed coach's challenge resulting in a third. A victory would have capped a season-opening four-game road trip at 3-1-0. Credit to the Flyers, though, for moving on and winning the first two games of their extended homestay.

• Speaking of which, the Flyers have been ultra impressive on the homestand thus far. In wins over the Capitals and Panthers, the Flyers have outscored their opponents by a combined 13-3. Claude Giroux has three goals and three assists, Shayne Gostisbehere a goal and four assists, Sean Couturier three goals and an assist, while the penalty kill has been strong (7 for 8) along with the goalies (Brian Elliott, 21 saves on 23 shots faced; Michal Neuvirth, 40 saves on 41 shots faced). The Flyers are seeing their potential when all key phases are executing.

• With a win over Nashville, the Flyers would improve to 3-0 at the Wells Fargo Center. The last time they won their first three home games was the 2007-08 season, when they started 6-0 on home ice. A victory would also mark the Flyers' best start through seven games since that same season, when the club opened 6-1-0. Giroux made his NHL debut during the 2007-08 campaign, playing a pair of games in February.

• A huge reason for the Flyers' early success is sustaining energy and skating from the second period to the final buzzer. In fact, it looks like the Flyers take it up notch after the first intermission. They've gotten stronger as the game wears on and the numbers show it. The Flyers have scored the NHL's most second-period goals with 12 and are outscoring the competition, 20-11, in the final two periods.

• It doesn't look like Predators center Nick Bonino (lower body) will play tonight while defenseman Ryan Ellis (knee surgery) remains out and on injured reserve. A player to watch is winger Filip Forsberg, who put up three points (two goals, one assist) in Nashville's 6-5 win over the Flyers last week. That game, which included the winning goal, kick-started a stretch of four markers and four assists in his last four contests. Also, Scott Hartnell is back in town tonight.

• Wayne Simmonds, who missed most of Tuesday's back end of the third period because of a lower-body injury, said Thursday that he's fine.

He's expected in the lineup, as is rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim, who was a healthy scratch the last two games.

And a roster note: Matt Read has been recalled from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, which was expected. The Flyers' roster is now at 23 and he'll be a routine extra.

Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Jori Lehtera and Matt Read, and defenseman Brandon Manning.