Flyers

Who's next in net for the Flyers?

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Who's next in net for the Flyers?

Who replaces Ilya Bryzgalov in the Flyers' net is a bit muddled right now, especially given that the Flyers recently lost out on the Jonathan Bernier sweepstakes.
 
The former Kings goalie was traded to Toronto on Sunday.
 
That the Flyers were in fact pursuing Bernier tells you they were going to make it a competition for the No. 1 job next season -- if they got him.
 
Who comes next may result in Steve Mason being forced into the top role regardless. Or maybe not.
 
With Bryzgalov’s buyout, the Flyers now have an extra $5.67 million off the salary cap to find a far less expensive veteran free agent goalie.
 
Or they can pursue a trade with someone else, even though their options aren’t easy should they choose that route.
 
The obvious free agent candidates are Jose Theodore (who is 36); Ray Emery (30), whom the Flyers are fond of because of how well he played here before; and Tim Thomas (39), who -- despite his political outspokenness -- is viewed by the Flyers in a favorable light.
 
Thomas was a huge reason the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Emery was not a huge factor in Chicago winning the Cup this year.
 
“I have ideas what I want to do,” general manager Paul Holmgren said during a new conference at Flyers Skate Zone.
 
“It’s going to be a crazy ride here in the next [several days] and first five days in July. We know we have needs. We have to work out how we can fill those needs.”
 
Holmgren quickly shot down suggestions about 34-year-old Roberto Luongo, citing complications.
 
If Vancouver buys Luongo out, however, then the Flyers have a shot at him in free agency. But the problem is Holmgren may not want to wait until July 5 to do that if something else presents itself right now.
 
Recall, Holmgren likes to make deals in advance of the NHL draft to corner the market, so to speak, without competition.
 
“I don’t see how that would work,” he said of Luongo. “Probably not an option. That’s not one of my ideas.”
 
What if Luongo is bought out?
 
“Who knows?" Holmgren replied. "I can’t speculate on other teams’ business.”
 
Here’s one possibility, in theory: Anaheim is still looking to move Bobby Ryan. The Flyers are still in the poker game there. Maybe the Ducks expand a trade to include Jonas Hiller.
 
It’s still more likely the Flyers go the free agent route.
 
Among all free agents, Phoenix’s Mike Smith, 31, is the most attractive free agent option, but it’s unlikely he will leave the Coyotes.
 
Smith is very close to Phoenix’s goalie coach guru, Sean Burke. Burke has children in college in Arizona and is not leaving the area. Smith wants to stay with Burke.
 
What remains to be seen is whether the Flyers really believe Bryzgalov’s backup, Mason, is ready to be a No. 1.
 
As good as Mason looked in seven games last season here, it would be a mistake to assume he’s ready to carry the mantle right now.
 
“I’m a big Steve Mason fan,” Holmgren said. “Moving forward, he is a very good young goalie in our league for his age, has a lot of experience. It was a short window watching him here, but he played well, even in the games he lost. Ideally, I’d like to get a guy who will work in tandem with him with the bulk going to Steve.”
 
Does he trust Mason as a No. 1?
 
“I trust him as one of the two goalies,” Holmgren replied.
 
Though there is no mistaking Bryzgalov’s personality and antics rubbed many -- but not all -- players the wrong way, Holmgren kept stressing Tuesday that this was a business decision and that the team needed money to get Claude Giroux re-signed long-term next season.
 
Giroux is expected to command as high as an $8 million salary cap hit.
 
“It was a very difficult business decision to make. But moving forward, it makes the most sense for us to start looking down the road and trying to keep other players in the fold, like Claude Giroux,” Holmgren said.
 
Holmgren would like Giroux signed this summer. Talks with agent Pat Brisson have already begun.
 
“We’ve had conversations,” Holmgren said. “We know where Claude stands on our team. His agent and I know where he stands in the league. It’s important for us to get Claude locked up in the very near future.”
 
Brisson said Tuesday night the two sides are still talking. Holmgren would like Giroux signed before free agency opens on July 5.
 
Brisson said he was “hopeful” a deal could be struck by then as well.

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.

Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

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Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

On the first day he was officially a member of the Flyers, Jori Lehtera was literally pumped. So much so, the weight room warrior hit the gym that morning and slapped on a few extra plates on each side of the barbell.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘Do you know we’re going to Philadelphia?’” Lehtera said Sept. 11, after the first day he skated with his new teammates in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I said, 'That's good.' I went to the gym and had a little bit bigger weights than normal. It was good. I needed some change because my game wasn't that good there."

Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers from the Blues at the 2017 NHL draft in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the span of one year, Lehtera’s status has plunged from a top-line center on a playoff team to the 13th forward on a non-playoff team.

That’s not to say the Flyers have failed to recognize Lehtera’s skill set and utilize him effectively, he just didn’t show enough in the preseason to warrant playing time.

The fourth-highest paid forward on the Flyers’ roster has started the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. Dave Hakstol has opted for the speedier Dale Weise, who’s earning roughly half of Lehtera, who has a $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

Lehtera's opportunity could come as early as Thursday against the Predators. Wayne Simmonds left Tuesday's game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury.

If Simmonds can't go — the Flyers will have an update on Simmonds Thursday — Lehtera is the next guy up as Hakstol would have to shuffle his lines.

“I’m still excited,” Lehtera said recently. “Camp wasn’t good. I wouldn’t say terrible, it was OK. I’m kind of still looking to find my spot. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take my spot. Where it is, I don’t know.”

Lehtera bolted St. Louis, the city he spent his first NHL seasons, in a cloud of dust. His "Spirit of St. Louis" was completely sucked dry during his time there, as he finished the 2016-17 season with just seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.

“The whole season was a struggle,” Lehtera said. “I just couldn’t get everything out of myself. It wasn’t just a couple of things. It was a lot of big things, and a lot of small things together.”

Playing for Ken Hitchcock, who just passed Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has a way of wearing down a player’s psyche.

According to Hitchcock, who rejoined the Dallas Stars this summer after he was fired by the Blues back in February, Lehtera’s struggles were partly a result of centering the team’s top line with superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

“First couple of years there was no attention being paid [to Lehtera]," Hitchcock said in the summer, "and last year, there was a lot of attention of being paid. He lost his confidence because he was in and out of the lineup, so the line wasn’t that effective. The line got special attention for the first time. Because of the way our lineup was built, we were really able to take advantage of matchups.”

Lehtera and Tarasenko developed a lethal chemistry as teammates for Novosibirsk in the KHL, but it didn’t translate to the smaller NHL rink, where time and space to operate with the puck are at a premium. Tarasenko’s reputation quickly earned the attention of the NHL opposition and its top defensive players.

“You saw that chemistry right away,” said Brian Elliott, a teammate of Lehtera’s for two seasons in St. Louis. “They were a dynamic duo and then they were split up, and I think he was looking for that guy to pass to and things like that.”

Compounding Lehtera’s struggles was a concussion he suffered that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks in February. Once Lehtera returned, he was never quite the same, as he struggled with the speed of the game.

“We played him at wing after he came back from being injured, but his natural position is at center, and that’s where he played his best hockey,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a guy strong on the puck, good down-low player, he protects the puck well.” 

Interestingly for a guy listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and lacking quickness, Lehtera would appear to be more suited at the wing position.

And the potential opportunity Thursday alone may have Lehtera pounding out a few more extra reps in the gym.