Flyers

Don't expect Flyers to be busy in free agency

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Don't expect Flyers to be busy in free agency

Most times when July rolls around, you have a pretty good idea of where the Flyers are headed in free agency.

This summer, not so much.

Usually, the Flyers are dealing from a position of strength: A good team with stability and dollars in hand.

This summer, it’s topsy-turvy. For starters, the Flyers’ stability as an organization has been rocked with a series of buyouts, trades, organizational upheaval and, most of all, zero dollars to spend.

And all eyes around the NHL are watching to see how the club resolves its Vinny Lecavalier dilemma. New general manager Ron Hextall all but tried to give away the 34-year-old centerman at the NHL draft and could not move him.

Lecavalier gets his $2 million bonus Tuesday and the club will again try to rid itself of his $4.5 million cap hit, or perhaps even buy him out at some point if they can’t move him.

On Monday, they tried in vain to move him to Nashville (see story).

One agent suggested it might help the Flyers with potential free agents by announcing their intention in advance to buy Lecavalier out “if” they can’t deal him.

The Flyers need his contract money to sign other players. Yes, they can go 10 percent over the cap for now, but at some point, they need his millions back.

At least one former league official and two agents remarked this weekend that Hextall is dealing with other issues that affect what he can do this summer as well.

“You got to try to find ways every day to make the organization better and that is what I strive to do every day,” Hextall said.

“Next year, if we get $15 million in cap space and there are free agents out there, the focus might be a little bit different. We’re still going to do our due diligence in free agency because we don’t know what is going to happen between now and then.”

There is a feeling of uncertainty among some agents about what the Flyers' real plan is because of their spend-and-dump policy.

• They sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a gargantuan nine-year deal, then buy him out early into it.

• They sign Lecavalier, a guy who didn’t fit, to a five-year deal when they needed a left wing, then attempt to trade him.

• They give Scott Hartnell a six-year extension, then trade him.

Some agents wonder: Will my client get traded or bought out two years into any deal we sign with them?

“They don’t have a dollar to spend,” one prominent agent said.

“Everyone knows they have issues with the cap and it’s going to affect anything Hextall tries to do,” another said.

One agent said he was “nervous about many teams,” but especially nervous about the Flyers because of what has happened in recent years with failed signings, coaching changes and so forth.

That could very well impede Hextall’s ability to sign the players they really want -- assuming they can scrape together some dollars.

The Flyers would have had a lot of interest in 27-year-old Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, but he is likely going to command $6 million or more. They’re out. Niskanen only earned $2.3 million against the cap last season.

That’s why they appear to be targeting Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by Buffalo on Sunday and will have so many suitors that the price will inflate on him.

They need a left wing. Matt Moulson would be perfect to play with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. He earned $3.1 million last year and is going to get a nice bump, although nothing like Jussi Jokinen, who earned $3 million but had a tremendous playoff run for the Penguins and substantially increased his value in free agency.

A possible cheap fit for backup goalie -- if Ray Emery is not re-signed -- would be Anders Lindback, who earned $1.8 million in Tampa Bay.

Again, however, the Flyers have no money under the cap. They might actually be better served allowing their prospects a chance to play and mature at the NHL level, something they have been very reluctant to do in the recent past.

“Hextall’s hands are really tied,” an agent said. “It will be interesting to see how he deals with it.”

Andrew MacDonald out 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury

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Andrew MacDonald out 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury

A roster spot for Samuel Morin appears to have opened up.

Andrew MacDonald will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Sunday. MacDonald will likely land on injured reserve.

The injury likely occurred midway through the third period against the Oilers on Saturday, when MacDonald blocked a Mark Letestu slap shot with 10:48 left in regulation and 1:44 left on an Edmonton power play.

MacDonald hobbled around on basically on one leg before being able to clear the puck and make it to the bench after 44 seconds. MacDonald blocked a game-high six shots Saturday.

“You just got to get up,” MacDonald said after the Flyers’ 2-1 win. “If you don’t get up, it’s 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. Everyone battles through it.

“You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys.”

With MacDonald injured, the Flyers now have six defensemen. Brandon Manning has been a healthy scratch the past two games as Travis Sanheim drew back into the lineup.

The Flyers have yet to make a corresponding roster move, but considering Morin nearly made the team out of training camp and hung around for the four-game season-opening West Coast trip, it’s a safe assumption that Morin will find his way back to the NHL.

Morin had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms on Saturday night, an assist Friday night and points in all his three games in Lehigh Valley.

If Morin does come back up, the question is will he play?

The Flyers were reluctant to play three rookie defensemen on their season-opening trip and scratched both Sanheim and Morin for the season opener.

Things have changed now, though. MacDonald is third on the Flyers in ice time, averaging 19:36 while playing with Ivan Provorov, who will now find himself with a new partner.

Dave Hakstol could insert Manning into the lineup, which is a strong possibility. How Hakstol draws up his pairings remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely he’ll break up Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie Robert Hagg. It’s possible Provorov finds himself with Manning or Morin, or perhaps Radko Gudas. We’ll know more after Monday’s practice.

Calling up Morin is not Hextall’s only option. The Flyers also have T.J. Brennan in the AHL, who is a better fit as a seventh defenseman.

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

After spending nearly the entire 2016-17 campaign at Lehigh Valley, Flyers center Scott Laughton looks like a whole different player this season. But the demotion and time spent in the minor leagues aren’t the only reasons behind his NHL rebirth.

Laughton also became a far better skater.

Through eight games, Laughton has two goals and one assist with a plus-one rating – hardly the kind of numbers that typically garner a lot of attention. However, the former first-pick is centering a quality fourth line for the Flyers, a grouping that has been strong in its own end while also generating impressive offensive opportunities at the other. Laughton leads the club’s forwards in shorthanded time on ice as well, playing a huge role in a penalty-killing unit that’s managed to ward off all but one of the last 13 power plays it’s faced.

The difference is apparent, and Laughton knows it, too. Some of that comes with age and experience – he’s only 23, with 117 NHL games under his belt. Yet Laughton directs much of the credit for his growth on the ice to his longtime skating coach, Dawn Braid.

“Worked with the same skating coach I have been for the last six, seven years,” Laughton said Friday of his offseason regimen. “She actually just got hired with Arizona. She was a skating coach there.

“I've been working with her. I did a lot of tight edges, a lot of tight work, and I did a lot of crossovers to try and develop speed. I think everything kind of comes together though — your off-ice training combined with that — and just getting stronger as I get older. I'm getting older and coming into my body.”

A former figure skater, Braid was named the Coyotes' skating coach in August of 2016, become the NHL’s first full-time female coach in the process. From the sound of things, the hiring was long overdue.

Braid had built a following around the league, and from players vastly more acclaimed than Laughton.

“She works with (Islanders center and four-time All-Star) John Tavares and helped him,” Laughton said. “She's got (Stars center Jason Spezza). She's got a bunch of guys. A lot of guys go to her. She's like Barb Underhill in Toronto. They were partners.

“I've been skating with her since I was in first year of juniors, so I really like her.”

It sounds like Laughton is getting an education in more than how to be better on his skates. As Braid has worked with more NHL stars and teams, she’s began teaching more than just being quicker and more fluid on the ice.

There are applicable hockey lessons and techniques involved in their training.

“I think she's really incorporated puck work,” Laughton said. “It used to be no pucks. She watches game film and things like that, and sees what's going on in the game and tries to help you that way.”

Whatever Laughton is doing, it appears to be working. A year ago, he couldn’t crack the Flyers’ main roster, managing to appear in just two games. He finished with 19 goals, 20 assists and a plus-17 rating in 60 games for the Phantoms in 16-17, with an additional two goals and one assists in five playoff tilts. Despite finishing with a 39-33-10 record and missing the postseason, the big club never felt as though Laughton was needed.

It’s early into the 17-18 campaign, but it’s already difficult to imagine this Flyers squad without Laughton’s contributions – so give the assist to Baird on this one.