Flyers

5 takeaways from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's 2018-19 end-of-season press conference

5 takeaways from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's 2018-19 end-of-season press conference

VOORHEES, N.J. — Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke for 35 minutes Monday morning addressing the coaching search, his pursuit of free agents and the continuous problems plaguing the Flyers.

Here are five takeaways from his press conference: 

Coaching search starts today

Fletcher was asked if he was disappointed that Joel Quenneville chose the Florida Panthers, but only responded by saying, “I'm happy for Joel.” There’s been speculation surrounding Quenneville and the Panthers for several months, so I believe Fletcher knew the Flyers were never really on Quenneville’s radar.

“I’m not going to speculate on names or people who may be available or were available or available in past years. It’s a big decision for the Flyers,” Fletcher said. “Obviously, I’m going to take the time to get it right.”

Fletcher said the process of finding the team’s next head coach started Monday, a list that includes interim head coach Scott Gordon.

“I had a conversation with Scott this morning, who remains a strong candidate,” Fletcher said. “Talked to him about what I’m going to do. My plan is start my due diligence and reach out to some people and also spend some time with Scott. Hopefully at the right time, name the right person."

'OK, not elite free-agent market'

Fletcher will be looking to add a second-line center, a top-four defenseman and a backup goalie. Those will be the priorities heading into the offseason. How he acquires those players will be the interesting element to this offseason, whether it’s through trades or free-agent signings. The Flyers' general manager also labeled this year’s free-agent crop as “OK, not elite.”   

Right now, the biggest potential UFAs are defensemen Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman, and forwards Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner and Kevin Hayes.

“We’re going to be active in trying to improve our team,” Fletcher said. “How that translates this summer, we’ll find out. You can’t control the marketplace, you can’t control the trade market."

In nearly 10 years as an NHL GM, Fletcher has never extended an offer sheet to a restricted free agent and I don’t see him traveling that path this summer, even with some high-end RFAs (Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brock Boeser, Zach Werenski, Patrik Laine) looking for that next contract.

Fletcher very critical of team's bad habits

I considered this a reflection against the previous regime, especially head coach Dave Hakstol and how the Flyers haven’t been ready at the start of games (falling behind 2-0 in 32 games) and even slow starts to each season.

“We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things,” Fletcher said. “It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.

“It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset and have a good start. A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals. It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.” 

Don't have players in Lehigh Valley who can challenge for jobs now

When asked directly whether some of the current Phantoms can challenge for full-time positions with the Flyers next season, Fletcher redirected his answer toward the need for outside help. 

“Obviously, somebody can come in and make the team, but they’re going to have to earn it,” Fletcher said. “We’re not looking just to put players on the team. I hope we’re a little deeper up front and on the blue line and it will be a little tougher to make the team. That would be ideal.”

A lack of forward depth at the AHL level is one reason why Fletcher re-signed Michael Raffl as there really isn’t a player ready to step up and fill that role.

No surgeries and likely no buyouts

Outside of goaltending, the Flyers were relatively healthy this season with the majority of players dealing with minor issues throughout the course of the season. The Flyers don’t anticipate any offseason surgeries, but they should know definitively after some follow-up exams. 

Fletcher also added he’s "not a big fan of buyouts." In buying out contracts, teams stretch out the cap hit over future seasons and that’s not an ideal situation for the Flyers' GM. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald would appear to be the likely candidate with one season at a $5 million cap hit. 

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How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

NHL talent evaluators couldn't miss Cam York's offensive exploits.

The catch-me-if-you-can defenseman lit up score sheets and caught all eyes during his draft year. When a teenage blueliner skates as smoothly and handles the puck as dynamically as York does, pro clubs watch in bunches and envision big things for the future.

Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said the team's entire scouting staff had seen York 10 to 15 times during the 2018-19 season. The Flyers then drafted York at No. 14 overall last summer after he set a U.S. national team development program single-season record with 65 points (14 goals, 51 assists) in 63 games.

For John Wroblewski, the head coach of the loaded USNTDP under-18 squad that year, he didn't want NHL suitors hypnotized by just the offensive gifts.

He emphasized York's defensive strengths.

"One of the things I kept telling scouts that I was so impressed with Cam was how the game was always in front of him," Wroblewski said last month in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "The puck hardly ever advanced behind him, you couldn’t beat him 1-on-1 — I could probably count on one hand how many times he got actually beat 1-on-1 over two years — and his strength around the net; he just understands.

"He has innate defensive ability, it’s natural. It seems effortless. Some guys you know they’re competing in their defensive zone and they have to, they scratch and claw — he just always has the right spots. His gap control, his stick detail, it’s all organic.

"I think he’s going to be rock-solid offensively in the NHL, but his prowess will be how reliable he is defensively. Working around him and watching his video on a daily basis, he never got beat." 

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

York is now with Michigan and his upcoming sophomore year could be his last at the collegiate level. Because of two impressive years in the USNTDP, he went to the draft and Ann Arbor with hype.

"I think if you asked him, he would want to turn pro tomorrow," Flahr said after the Flyers drafted York. "He's going to a good program at Michigan, we'll take it year by year. I don't see him as a four-year guy, let's put it that way."

In 2018-19, York was the go-to defenseman on a U.S. team that produced eight first-round draft picks last June — Jack Hughes (No. 1), Alex Turcotte (No. 5), Trevor Zegras (No. 9), Matthew Boldy (No. 12), Spencer Knight (No. 13), York (No. 14), Cole Caufield (No. 15) and John Beecher (No. 30).

York, a 5-foot-11, 174-pound lefty shot, was third on the U.S. in assists (behind only Hughes and Zegras), fifth in points and sported a team-best plus-56 rating.

"He just hit the ground running at the program, he was such a student of the game, he’s smart in practice, his instincts were outstanding," Wroblewski, who led the U-17 team this season, said. "He never really hit any type of a speed bump throughout his two years with the program. He seamlessly went from being our top defenseman to running the power play for the U-18 team in February and beyond, and then of course he set defensive scoring records at the program.

"Really kind of a seamless two years, but a kid that never really took it for granted, either. He always showed up, he had a workmanlike attitude in regard to practice. He was like a pro from a young age — he showed up, did his job, low maintenance, but a fiery competitor at the same time."

Just how skilled and electric is he with the puck on his stick?

"It’s interesting, for as much talent as we had on that team, I think Cam might have been our best shootout guy," Wroblewski said. "We didn’t utilize him because of the star power that you had with those top-five scorers — Boldy, Zegras, Cole, Jack and Alex Turcotte. We never utilized him because this just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’ve got that firepower up front, but he was probably our best shootout guy."

As a defenseman on that team.

"The things that he would do to our goalies and Spencer Knight, he would make them look silly with the edgework," Wroblewski said. "He looked like a video game the way that he could come in, carve his edges and then just like sling it underneath the crossbar. It was really cool to watch. I’d never seen anybody be able to create on the shootout like he did."

(Rena Laverty/USA Hockey)

In his freshman season at Michigan, York dealt with a pair of injuries but still put up 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and a plus-9 mark through 30 games. The 19-year-old led the Wolverines in secondary assists (eight) and was third in blocked shots (54).

A healthy and stronger York as a sophomore will bring him closer to the Flyers. He'll play a ton of minutes — which is what he's shooting for at the pro ranks, as well — and an even bigger role on what should be a formidable 2020-21 Michigan team.

York's strength and developmental curve at the Division I level, especially next season, will determine how quickly he signs his entry-level contract.

“Defensemen are always going to take a little bit longer," Wroblewski said. "Goalies take the longest, defensemen are the next, you look at the middle of the ice, centermen, that’s next and then wingers transition the quickest to the NHL obviously.

“I think any opportunity, as long as he’s being challenged at the college level, he should stay. But I also appreciate the challenge of the American Hockey League. I know a lot of guys don’t want to go there, ride the bus, but after having worked in that league, that buffer zone between there and the NHL is very important and can be pivotal for defensemen and young players.

"You look at [Casey] Mittelstadt in Buffalo as an example of how college wasn’t challenging enough for him, the NHL might have been too much — that American League is a really, really, really pivotal spot for a lot of young players. ... It can be a huge tool and not one that prospects should be scared of or feel slighted if they end up there.”

But Wroblewski doesn't see York far down the ladder.

"Just from his past, the way that he came into the program, U-17 and was able to fit right in, and then really thrive at the U-18 level as an underager and then set the scoring records that he did," Wroblewski said. "He looks at home in the college game and displays the same offensive characteristics. A kid that truly appreciates keeping the puck out of his net first and then letting the offense come to him — those are characteristics that should prove worthy of him making a quick climb to the NHL.”

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Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with most 'heart'

Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with most 'heart'

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Predicting who wins the Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with the most “heart.”

Destra

Looking back at the season, no one is more deserving of this award than Oskar Lindblom. 

When the news was given back in December that Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, the whole NHL community was in shock. Through the news and the process since, the 23-year-old has continued to be a positive light for the organization and fans. 

Though his season on the ice was cut short, his impact remained just as important as the year progressed. The team went out and played for him every single night. Those moments when he was in Wells Fargo Center — whether the team knew, it was a surprise or even when he popped up on team picture day, he always made it better. 

Head coach Alain Vigneault says it best whenever Lindblom is mentioned, always commenting on his “beautiful smile.”

Emmer

The player to win the Gene Hart by the end of the season should be Sean Couturier.  

Couturier is so clutch for many reasons. We always talk about his strong 200-foot abilities and simply put— his marvelous abilities with the puck. On top of that all, he’s consistent.  

Couturier is always stepping up for this team and bringing heart to the game in times the team needs it most. Specifically, games following defeat. 

Couturier in games following a loss: 

26 games, 13 goals, 19 assists, 32 points, plus-13

Couturier is a game-changer and I think there’s something to say about how he’s been such a consistent key component for the Flyers. 

I completely believe Couturier deserves to be awarded the Gene Hart for the third consecutive season because of that passion he brings to the Flyers, and the sport of hockey in general. 

Hatcher

The Gene Hart Memorial Trophy has to go to Lindblom.

Lindblom is a phenomenal teammate according to every single person who plays alongside him, a guy who is tremendous to work with in every interaction I’ve had with him (and every other reporter who covers the team will say the same), and a player who was seemingly taking a massive step in his career this season before it was so unfairly cut short.

Despite Lindblom being forced to take a step back from the ice to battle Ewing’s sarcoma, he has become a key piece in the force that drives this team. This team has made it clear that it fights for him while he’s forced to fight for his health. 

I’d pull up stats for how the team has played on days when Lindblom has been at morning skate, or quotes on all the wonderful things the Flyers have said about what Lindblom means to them, but honestly this video of him surprising the team (and specifically Jakub Voracek’s reaction) says more than I could adequately say. 

Hall

It would be really cool to see Robert Hagg win this award.

The 25-year-old Swede is a low-key guy who does the unglamorous things and never aims for recognition. Instead, he plays with a huge heart and always puts his teammates first.

Hagg has found his niche on this 2019-20 team, all while dealing with the shocking news of his good friend Lindblom being diagnosed with cancer. He has pushed forward for Lindblom and the Flyers.

Hagg is a player that doesn't make the headlines. He deserves this one.

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