Flyers

Flyers need more offense this season … after all, they're paying for it

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Flyers need more offense this season … after all, they're paying for it

In a salary cap-baked world, every NHL team has a pie that’s no bigger than the next one.  

Some teams prefer the shepherd’s pie recipe in which you pack as much into the crust as possible like the Flyers typically do, while a handful of small-market teams play it more on the conservative side.

More importantly, how that pie is sliced up is what truly differentiates the 31 general managers and the rest of their cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.

In sifting through the Flyers' financials, you will notice a seismic shift in the organization’s spending just in the past four years.

During Paul Holmgren’s final season as general manager in 2013-14, the Flyers' defense was more of a green line than a blue one. According to NHLnumbers.com, the team allocated more money to the back end than any other team in the league: $29.5 million, accounting for 42.5 percent of its total cap dollars. Kimmo Timonen led the way at $6 million. Chris Pronger was still on the books despite a career-ending injury, and the team added Mark Streit at just over $5 million for four years. Interestingly, the Flyers' cap hit for Luke Schenn ($3.6 million) was more than their two goalies combined (Ray Emery + Steve Mason = $3.1 million).

That was Homer’s homemade way of building a team. He made some big trades and spent even bigger dollars to whip up the most expensive defense money can buy. The final product proved to be a little burnt around the edges, as the Flyers ranked 20th in goals allowed during a season in which Peter Laviolette was fired after three games before assistant Craig Berube stepped in and led the Flyers to a first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.

Whereas Holmgren’s method was more of a short-term, throw-it-in-the-microwave approach, Ron Hextall has proven to be the connoisseur of the Crock-Pot. Turn the knob on low and let it gradually work its way to a boil. Lift the lid, soak in the aroma, and then cover it back up because these things take time.

As the Flyers enter the 2017-18 season, Hextall is slicing his pie much, much differently than his predecessor — although not necessarily by choice.  

Prior to free agency this summer, the Flyers actually led the NHL in spending at the forward position. Now they’re currently third with 13 players signed at a total of $47.5 million, behind only the Blackhawks (who added Brandon Saad in a trade with Columbus) and the Maple Leafs (who signed Patrick Marleau). It’s actually a little more if you include the buyout of R.J. Umberger, whose $1.5 million is essentially dead money but doesn’t factor in the total.

However, the Flyers are the only team in the league spending two-thirds of its cap money on forwards at 68 percent, just ahead of the Devils. That percentage may deviate depending on which rookies make the team, but not much.

The most noticeable difference between 2013-14 and 2017-18 is the Flyers eventually had to pay market value for their two proven star players: Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who comprise roughly $16.5 million, or a third of what the Flyers are spending at the position. Four years ago, Scott Hartnell and Vinny Lecavalier were tops at just over $9 million. Throw in pay raises for Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Michael Raffl, and just like that, the Flyers are spending about $15 million more in their forward portfolio than they were paying in 2013-14.

In some ways it’s cyclical. Five years from now, Hextall may very well revert back to the Holmgren days if the prospects pan out to be legitimate NHL defensemen.  

As for this season, the Flyers have put a lot of eggs in that forward basket. Toronto and Chicago finished in the top 10 in scoring last season and made the playoffs, so their spending was justified. The Flyers were 20th in goals scored and missed the postseason with a minus-17 in goal differential. For what the Flyers are spending, you should expect more offense and, at the very least, a playoff team that outscores its opponent. 

It’s a franchise that hasn’t missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1993-94. If that happens, Hextall may need a rolling pin and start from scratch.

Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

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Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

WASHINGTON -- Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and an assist to extend his career-best point streak to 10 games and the Calgary Flames beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Monday night.

Gaudreau scored and assisted on Sean Monahan's goal, one of two on the power play for Calgary, which has won four of its past five. Mikael Backlund and captain Mark Giordano also scored for the Flames, who got 29 saves from Mike Smith.

Gaudreau, nicknamed "Johnny Hockey," has eight goals and 11 assists during his point streak. Led by the Carneys Point, New Jersey, native, the Flames are 7-3-0 in that time.

Lars Eller scored the only goal for the Capitals, who took five minor penalties and lost for the third time in four games. Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 39 shots.

The Flames came in feeling good after a comeback victory in Philadelphia and a 1950s-themed train ride to Washington. But the Capitals took a 1-0 lead just 62 seconds in when Jakub Vrana found Eller for his fourth goal of the season.

Calgary controlled much of the play from that point on, tying it on Gaudreau's goal 4:49 in and taking a lead on Monahan's power-play goal 5:22 into the second. Monahan had a goal and an assist after a power-play hat trick Saturday against the Flyers.

Washington's parade to the penalty box gave the Flames momentum and then their third goal at 4:38 of the second when Backlund buried a loose puck. Giordano's goal to make it 4-1 was effectively a third power-play goal as it came 1 second after ex-Flames forward Alex Chiasson's penalty expired (see full recap).

Blue Jackets edge Sabres for 4th straight win
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sergei Bobrovsky made three of his 30 saves on a power play in the final two minutes, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.

Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets. Markus Nutivaara had two assists.

Buffalo dropped its sixth straight game. Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart scored for the Sabres, and Robin Lehner stopped 25 shots.

Bobrovsky made his biggest save when he slid across the crease to kick away a Ryan O'Reilly one-timer with 1:49 remaining. Bobrovsky got a piece of Kyle Okposo's shot off the rebound and the puck trickled across the goal line while Okposo fell into the net. Officials determined on replay that the goal did not count.

The Blue Jackets scored first for the fifth straight game when Dubois collected a loose puck in the slot and lifted a wrist shot over Lehner four minutes into the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand set up Dubois' third goal of the season with a pass from behind the net.

Panarin scored his fifth on a high wrist shot from the right circle 5:47 into the third. Jenner added his third goal of the year on a play in front of the net midway through the period (see full recap).

Raanta, Coyotes end Maple Leafs' win streak
TORONTO -- Antti Raanta made 26 saves and the Arizona Coyotes ended the Toronto Maple Leafs' winning streak at six games with a 4-1 victory Monday night.

Brendan Perlini, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi and Tobias Rieder scored for the Coyotes (5-15-3), who have won three in a row for the first time this season.

Arizona rookie Clayton Keller had two assists to give him 20 points in 23 games.

James van Riemsdyk scored for the Maple Leafs (14-8-0).

Frederik Andersen had his shutout streak snapped at 1:41:28 when the Coyotes scored in the first period. Andersen, who made 28 saves, had blanked the opponent in back-to-back games.

Toronto star Auston Matthews, playing in his 100th career game, appeared to tie it 2-all with 3:50 to play but the goal was overturned after a replay review because of goalie interference by Zach Hyman (see full recap).

Wayne Simmonds issues timely reminder about Flyers

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Wayne Simmonds issues timely reminder about Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Wayne Simmonds would make a pretty good salesman.

He speaks with conviction and knows how to convey a point.

On Monday, he was selling the 2017-18 Flyers.

None of it was fluff. In fact, the sales pitch was completely valid.

Many clamored for the Flyers to become younger, and they did. Nolan Patrick, 19, is just getting healthy again after missing nine straight games. The fourth line features two 23-year-olds (Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier) that developed last season in the AHL. And half of the current defense is made up of rookies.

That's not to mention Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are only 20 years old, while Jordan Weal is in his first full NHL season.

After losing four straight games, the Flyers are 8-8-4 and still only five points out of first place despite sitting in last in the Metropolitan Division.

Things could be worse. Really, they're not all that bad.

"The season's not even close to being over," Simmonds said after practice at Flyers Skate Zone. "That's the way I'm thinking about it, guys. There's no need to be worried, we're a .500 hockey team right now, we've played 20 games, we have 62 games left, we've got a really young team and we're growing every single day. Yeah, we're going to have our struggles, but we're also going to have points in the season where we make huge strides. We've got to stick with it and we've got to keep going and going."

The Flyers were 9-8-3 after 20 games last season. Two games later, they were starting a 10-game winning streak. The run didn't accomplish much by season's end, but it's an example of how quickly trends can turn in the NHL.

Simmonds is experiencing his own negative trend of 12 straight games without a goal after scoring six in eight games to start the season.

"Sometimes you score 10 goals, then you don't score again for 20 games or something like that," Simmonds said. "Like I said, it's a long year, you keep going, you keep grinding, you guys want to jump to conclusions, that's your job. You guys have got to make decisions on a game-to-game basis, but for us, we just have to make sure we're coming to the rink and doing our job every single day and continuing to try and get better."

Throughout much of his drought, Simmonds has not looked himself, likely banged up from the style in which he plays and excels.

With time and patience, Simmonds is building himself up again physically.

"You think you can do some things and sometimes your body just tells you no," Simmonds said.

"I've been feeling better the last little bit. I feel like I've started to play better, things aren't coming offensively for me. I think as an individual, I've just got to keep working hard. The only way to break yourself out of a bad streak is to continue to work hard and hopefully things eventually go your way."

When does he know his game is coming to him?

"When I'm aggressive," Simmonds said. "When I'm battling in the corners, I'm hitting — I think earlier this year, I wasn't fully engaging in battles and stuff like that, and that's not me, that's not my game. I think the last little bit here, I've felt a lot better, I've been doing a lot more battling, a lot more hitting, a lot more physical things. It's nice and we've got to continue that. As a team, we've got to continue to do the same thing, to get to the front of the net and continue to put pucks in."

Aside from the first line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, scoring struggles have permeated the middle six and secondary options. Konecny and Weal, two players the Flyers expected jumps from in production, have combined for four goals and nine assists. Konecny is without a goal over his previous 10 games, while Weal has scored one in his last 12.

"It's been a lot of hard work and not much to show for it," Weal said. "No matter what line we've been on, it seems like we've been getting three or four chances every game to put something in and nothing right now seems to be going in. It's one of those things that happens during a season.

"When it breaks open, hopefully it'll break wide open.

"When we have all four lines scoring, we're a really dangerous team."

Both Konecny and Weal are frequently the last two players off the practice ice.

Monday was no different.

"I just need to make sure I'm battling and creating more offense," Konecny said. "I feel like the opportunities are there, I'm not worried about that."

Nor is Simmonds worried about the Flyers with 62 games to go, the next coming Tuesday night at home against the Canucks.

Similar to building up strength and good health, patience is important to a season, especially with the makeup of this Flyers team.

Simmonds believes you'll buy in … just give it some time.

"You can look at the standings, you can do whatever you want, but we've played 20 games," Simmonds said. "There's still a long time to go in the season. We've got work to do.

"I'm definitely feeling better. It's up to me to get going."

When he does, the Flyers hope the rest follow.