With final cuts looming, Flyers' lineup at practice may give glimpse of roster

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With final cuts looming, Flyers' lineup at practice may give glimpse of roster

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall is still sweating it out.

With three days remaining before the NHL roster deadline, the Flyers elected not to make final cuts prior to Saturday’s lengthy practice, keeping their extended roster through Sunday’s preseason finale against the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center. 

“We’ve got a lot of good players here,” the Flyers' general manager said. “Two players have to go for your roster size, we’ll see how tomorrow night’s game goes, see if we have injuries and then we’ll finalize a couple decisions.”

Hextall said he will the final cuts following Sunday's game.

It seems as though the Flyers will use Sunday’s game as less of a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener Wednesday and more of a final exam for bubble players. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol denied that assumption.

“I wouldn’t read into it,” he said. “We’re going to try to get as close to our game night lineup as we can but we still have some pretty tough decisions to make.”

Hextall also pushed back. 

“You don’t make decisions based on one game,” he said. “It can play a small part of it but not a big part.” 

Either way, the decisions are expected to be grueling on both sides of the ice. 

On defense, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning are expected to make the roster in some capacity, leaving prospects Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim battling for two potential spots. 

“There’s a lot of factors that factor into these decisions,” Hextall said. “It’s not just the obvious of who played best. A lot of things play into it — the future, the past, a role, the type of player we need to finish off our roster. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”

As of Saturday, those things were looking good for Hagg. The 22-year-old was working with Gostisbehere, signaling that the team views him as a regular. Meanwhile, bubble players Morin and Sanheim were matched together as an extra pairing.

“I think I had a pretty good camp so far and seems like the coaches and staff are happy with me,” Hagg said. “I’m still here, so I guess I’m doing something good. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far.” 

At forward, it’s a more complicated picture.

Two of Taylor Leier, Jori Lehtera, Oskar Lindblom and Matt Read will not make the starting roster Wednesday, with 21-year-old Lindblom, exempt from waivers, appearing like the odd-man out. The highly touted winger spent practice on an extra line with Lehtera and Read.

“Everyone wants to play in the NHL,” Lindblom said. “If the coaches want you here, you stay. I haven’t thought about it too much. Coaches decide. Hexy decides.” 

Meanwhile, Scott Laughton centered the fourth line featuring Leier and Michael Raffl.

“That line brings a lot of speed and it’s pretty exciting,” Laughton said. “Raffl gets in there on the forecheck. Leier is pretty good at making plays and finding you, so it felt good out there.”

Leier, who is not waiver exempt, appeared to be the big winner Saturday, working on the fourth line and heading the Flyers' 5-on-3 penalty kill unit. 

“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “Like I’m ready.”

But like many of the young guys pressing for an NHL job, Leier enters Sunday's finale feeling an elevated sense of urgency.

“There’s been anxiety throughout the whole camp,” he said. “That comes with the territory and business we're in. Everyone goes through it, but it’s something you have to push aside and get through.”

Breaking down why Flyers traded Cooper Marody

Michigan Athletics

Breaking down why Flyers traded Cooper Marody

The Flyers on Wednesday traded NCAA prospect Cooper Marody’s rights to the Edmonton Oilers for a 2019 third-round draft pick that originally belonged to the New Jersey Devils.

Marody enjoyed a breakout junior season at Michigan University in 2017-18. The 21-year-old led the Wolverines with 32 assists, 46 points and 1.24 points per game.

His 32 assists were tied for third-most in the nation, while his 46 points were tied for ninth most. He made the Big Ten All-Tournament team and was the Big Ten scoring champion.

Let’s make sense of why the Flyers moved Marody and why it’s a good return.

One, he was a 2015 sixth-round draft pick with little NHL upside. Essentially, this boils down to a sixth-round pick netting you a third-rounder, which has a higher probability of hitting.

Two, the Flyers’ pipeline is loaded with forwards, and the book on Marody doesn’t project him to be a top-six forward. Think of him as a solid AHL player with bottom-six NHL potential.

Three, the contract limit. The Flyers are currently at 47 contracts, three under the limit. Sure, four players are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer with four more hitting restricted free agency. They could easily fit Marody under the contract limit but it goes back to No. 2.

Another potential factor is the 2019 third-rounder the Flyers owe the Red Wings if they make the playoffs since Petr Mrazek has won five games already with the team. They now have a third-rounder in that draft.

Any way we slice it, the Flyers turned a sixth-rounder into a third-rounder. If Marody proves the Flyers wrong, so be it. If not, it's no big deal. The chances of winning this trade are higher than losing it.

Why Flyers should ride Alex Lyon, not Petr Mrazek

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Why Flyers should ride Alex Lyon, not Petr Mrazek

When the Flyers acquired Petr Mrazek from Detroit out of necessity in February, Ron Hextall explained the trade as a reward for his players’ hard work.

“We’re in a tough situation — you lose your top two goalies when you’re fighting for a playoff spot,” Hextall said then, “and our players have worked hard for a long time now. I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.”

One month later, Mrazek has been erratic, and the Flyers’ grip on a playoff spot is loosening. With eight games remaining, Dave Hakstol owes it to his players to ride the steadier goalie, and that's not the proven NHL goaltender.

For the second time in six days, Hakstol was forced to pull Mrazek on Tuesday night, and for the second time in six days, Alex Lyon battled in relief, giving the Flyers a chance in a game they otherwise had no business being in.

Lyon stopped 11 of 12 shots Tuesday, holding off a determined Red Wings team and allowing the Flyers to fight back from a 3-1 deficit and force overtime. They lost, 5-4, in a shootout, but the point was huge.

We’re tired of hearing that too. But at this stage, and with how the Flyers have played in March, any point is needed. The goal is the playoffs, and right now, the Flyers cannot trust Mrazek.

What we’ve seen from Mrazek in his short time here explains why the Red Wings soured on him.

Mrazek showed glimpses of his potential in his first three starts as a Flyer, but since, he’s been inconsistent and unreliable.

In his last nine games, Mrazek’s 2-5-1 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .865 save percentage. He's allowed fewer than three goals just once. There have been far too many bad goals along the way too.

Last Thursday, Mrazek was pulled after yielding his fourth goal against the Blue Jackets, a team the Flyers are jockeying with for playoff position in the Metropolitan Division.

That relief appearance earned Lyon the start Saturday in Carolina, where he was again steady. Hakstol went back to Mrazek on Sunday and then again Tuesday.

Now, it’s time to ride Lyon until the rookie shows wear on his tires and until either Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth is healthy enough to return, which likely will not be until closer to the final week of the season.

Lyon has not looked out of place since his second call-up of the season Feb. 11. In six games — three starts — he has a .933 save percentage.

The 25-year-old passes both the numbers and eye test, and it’s time to show faith in him.

After Tuesday’s loss, the Flyers dropped to the top wild-card spot, with Columbus leapfrogging them to third in the Metro. Both teams have eight games left. The Flyers are four points ahead of the Devils, who have one game in hand.

Then, there are the Panthers, five points behind the Flyers with three games in hand. Per Hockey-Reference, the Flyers have an 88.8 percent chance at the postseason.

We’ve seen crazier collapses happen, though. When March began, the Flyers were one point behind the first-place Capitals. They’ve picked up just eight of a possible 22 points this month.

At this point, it’s about surviving, and Lyon gives the Flyers a better shot to stay above the line than Mrazek.