Flyers

Why haven't Flyers drafted and kept top defensemen?

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Why haven't Flyers drafted and kept top defensemen?

If there is one thing the past two seasons have shown the Flyers, it’s that their gaping holes on defense have finally caught up to them.

Club chairman Ed Snider was accurate in his March assessment when he labeled the loss of Chris Pronger as “devastating.”
 
Snider likened Pronger’s absence to what it would be like for the Boston Bruins to lose their franchise defenseman, Zdeno Chara, for the rest of his career.
 
This is less devastating, but its impact is significant: The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active defenseman that they drafted since the decade began playing regular minutes for them – not someone else.
 
Think about that. Thirteen Flyers drafts. Not one every-day player on the Flyers' blue line to show for it.
 
Oliver Lauridsen? The stay-at-home D-man played well as a late-season call-up from the Phantoms, appearing in 15 games. Yet he wasn’t a regular and only played because four of the top six were injured.
 
The lack of bonafide drafted NHL defenseman on the Flyers is an embarrassment. And it remains a huge obstacle to legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup, even if you have the right goaltender, which is always up for debate in Philadelphia.
 
That’s why the Flyers attempted last summer to sign Ryan Suter to a long-term contract. When that failed, they rendered a Group II offer sheet to restricted free agent Shea Weber, which Nashville matched.
 
It was the only way the Flyers believed they could land an impact defenseman.

Is this the year?
The 2013 NHL draft in New Jersey might be the most crucial draft the Flyers have had in quite a while to find a defenseman who can develop into an everyday NHLer.
 
Right now, the only everyday blueliner the organization has who would be close to being considered their own draft pick is Erik Gustafsson, who was signed as a free agent in 2010 out of Northern Michigan University, developed via the Phantoms, and averaged 20 minutes this season.
 
Gustafsson is the scouting staff’s best example of finding a defensive gem outside the draft, which is ironic since they can’t find one inside of it.
 
A major part of the Flyers' inability to produce defensemen is rooted in the organizational philosophy of drafting the best player available instead of drafting based on need.
 
“We try to take the best available player,” said Chris Pryor, director of hockey operations, who oversees all incoming talent - amateur and pro.
 
“It might happen to be this year a defenseman. You don’t know. You could have three defensemen where you think you will be picking and all of a sudden someone from a group of [forwards] is still on the board. We’re going to take the best guy available with that pick.”
 
Clearly, the Flyers' needs are on the blue line. The flip side is, it’s hard to argue with the forwards they’ve picked with their first-round selections in recent years: Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (2003); Claude Giroux (2006); James van Riemsdyk (2007); Sean Couturier (2011); and Scott Laughton (2012).
 
While the Flyers' pick this year is No. 11, there should be several defensemen available, possibly Ryan Pulock, Rasmus Ristolainen, Darnell Nurse or Robert Haag.

Even a strong 2013 draft, however, won’t impact the Flyers immediately next season. General manager Paul Holmgren will have to make a trade this summer (Phoenix’s Keith Yandle?) or submit a Group II RFA sheet (Alex Petrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk) to land a young impact defenseman.
 
Unrestricted free agency doesn’t offer much, although there are some older defensemen, such as Mark Streit (he's 35).

History shows ...
Honestly, you have to go back to 1990 to find a defenseman drafted and developed by the Flyers who lasted here a significant amount of time and established himself on a No. 1 pairing.
 
That one player would be Chris Therien, who lasted a decade.
 
Since Therien was taken with the 47th pick (in the third round), the Flyers have drafted 198 players, including supplemental picks.
 
Of those 198 players, only three remain as surviving defensemen playing somewhere in the NHL:

    •    Dennis Seidenberg (2001), who played a key role in winning a Stanley Cup with Boston
    •    Joni Pitkanen (2002) now with Carolina
    •    Luca Sbisa (2008) who become the centerpiece for Anaheim in the Pronger deal.
 
The Pronger deal was born of the Flyers “win it now” philosophy, given how close they were to a Cup, as it would become apparent in 2010.
 
Yet “win it now” has long-term developmental consequences when the organization fails to achieve its ultimate goal – the Cup.

By comparison, some NHL clubs have fared considerably better in the draft, just from 2000 forward.
 
The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, have drafted six current NHL defensemen playing somewhere, including Nicklas Hjalmarsson (2005), Brent Seabrook (2003) and Duncan Keith (2002), all of whom are still with them.
 
Montreal and Ottawa each have five. Montreal’s most-prized possession is P.K. Subban (2007). Ottawa had four first-rounders, including Andrej Meszaros (2004), who would eventually land in Philadelphia via trade with Tampa Bay, and Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (2008), who is the envy of every NHL club.
 
Closer to home, the New York Rangers have drafted six such players, among them: Marc Staal (2006) while the Flyers' most-hated rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have five such players, including Kris Letang (2005) and Brooks Orpik (2000).
 
Not every one of these players were first-rounders, either. Hjalmarsson was a fourth-round pick; Keith a second-rounder; Subban a second-rounder; Letang a third-rounder.
 
Players the Flyers could have drafted these players themselves and didn’t, either because of poor judgment, or more likely, their “best player” mantra.

Forwards-focused
Simply put: the Flyers might have done well selecting a center or winger in the first round in recent times, but they remain an abysmal failure finding a defenseman, developing that defenseman, and then keeping that defenseman around.
 
“It’s a fair statement when you analyze it,” Pryor said of emphasizing forwards. “I have a tough time with the draft book sometimes because hindsight is always 20/20. It’s easy to look back. At the time, we try to pick the best player available and minimize the risk. In saying that, we drafted defensemen. We’ve taken more forwards than defensemen. Have we taken [many] defensemen? No, not as many as forwards. But the body of work, as a whole, if you look at drafts, we’ve done pretty good from a drafting standpoint.
 
“We’ve got the young kid coming up from Union College, [Shayne] Gostisbehere, and he’s a third-round pick, and [Oliver] Lauridsen is a seventh-rounder. We acquired Mark Alt. We signed [Matt] Konan. We’re doing it a bit of a different way. We’ve had to supplement things because we’ve done things differently and we’re well aware of that as a group. We’ve got some kids coming from Europe and college. We’re aware of that as an organization.”
 
One defenseman, Dmitri Tertyshny, drafted in the sixth round in 1995, could very well have gone on to a long successful career. But Tertyshny died in a boating accident in 1999.

The organization’s future hopes now rest primarily with Gostisbehere, currently at Union College, and Alt, who left Minnesota this spring after three years to sign with the Flyers.
 
Even more remarkable is that Lauridsen was a seventh-round pick (196th overall) and could be among the Flyers’ top seven or eight next season.
 
Quite often, the Flyers have flipped a forward in a trade for a defenseman. Van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn is the most recent example, and appears to be a win for both organizations.
 
The Flyers' use of trading for defensive help rather than drafting is not a recent phenomenon, either. It didn’t begin with general manager Bob Clarke or even his successor, Holmgren.

The naked truth
The naked truth is, trading for help on the blue line has been part of the Flyers' legacy for a very long time - longer than most current season ticket holders have been alive.
 
Three of their all-time best defensemen – Mark Howe, Brad McCrimmon and Brad Marsh - came here via trade under GM Keith Allen in the 1980s.
 
Allen’s legacy was that of a shrewd GM whose deals always paid dividends, which is why he earned the nickname “Keith the Thief.”
 
The consequences of Allen’s moves, however, were the organization's false illusions for generations to come that the Flyers could keep pace with other Cup contenders on the blue line merely by picking up the phone and making a deal.
 
These days, you can’t win a Cup in the NHL without impact players developed in your own organization.
 
Whenever the Flyers needed a defenseman, they either traded for one, or to a lesser extent, signed one via free agency, which exploded in the NHL under new rules in 1995.
 
Since the late ‘80s, there’s been a staggering number of imported defensemen that wore orange and black.
 
Keep in mind that the Flyers' only two drafted defensemen from that era to make an impact were the moody, often-inconsistent Behn Wilson, who had two strong years and some average ones, and Jimmy Watson, who retired because of injury shortly before his 30th birthday.
 
Look at the revolving door on the blue line since the late ‘80s (this is only a partial list):
 
Terry Carkner (trade); Kjell Samuelsson (trade); Garry Galley (trade); Yves Racine (trade); Eric Desjardins (trade); Karl Dykhuis (trade), Petr Svoboda (trade), Dave Babych (trade); Luke Richardson (free agent); Dan McGillis (trade); Steve Duchesne (traded twice here); Danny Markov (trade); Derian Hatcher (free agent); Mike Rathje (free agent); Braydon Coburn (trade); Kimmo Timonen (trade); Matt Carle (trade); Andrej Meszaros (trade); Nick Boynton (trade); Nick Grossmann (trade); Pavel Kubina (trade); Chris Pronger (trade); Matt Walker (trade); Andreas Lilja (free agent); Luke Schenn (trade); Bruno Gervais (free agent); and Kurtis Foster (free agent) ... you get the point.
 
Flyer fans are so accustomed to other teams' D-men bolstering their roster that when CSNPhilly.com conducted its All-Time Flyers poll last summer, the top four vote-getters on defense were all players acquired through trades except one: Ed Van Impe, who came in the 1967 expansion draft when left unprotected by Chicago.
 
The others? Howe (No. 1), Desjardins (No. 2) and Pronger (No. 3).
 
So what’s next? The situation isn’t hopeless, especially if the Flyers start getting help out of the draft and make it a priority this summer to pull off a trade or offer sheet for an established younger defenseman.
 
“We all know what is out there and what we need to do,” Pryor said. “We usually figure out a way to do it.”
 
Unless the Flyers do, they won’t ever win that elusive third Cup.

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.