Flyers

After players-only meeting, Flyers unable to put a finger on issues

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After players-only meeting, Flyers unable to put a finger on issues

VOORHEES, N.J. — If a players-only meeting lends the appearance the Flyers are grasping at straws, that’s probably because the team can’t explain how it has managed to lose nine in a row. Or, more importantly, how exactly it's going to turn its season around.

Back at practice on Thursday, the Flyers divulged little from the closed-door conversation that followed a 3-1 loss to the Sharks two days earlier. But they did put on a united front and promised there will be no finger-pointing to come.

“It’s frustrating going through this stretch, but it was more or less we have each other’s backs,” Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We got into this together, we’re going to get out of it together.”

With the defeats beginning to pile up, and concerns over Flyers coach Dave Hakstol’s job security intensifying, perhaps players simply felt the need to address the atmosphere inside the locker room.

“It’s not nice air around here when you don’t win for nine games in a row,” said Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, who’s currently serving a 10-game suspension. “The guys have a little better feeling of which way we’re going to head and what we need to do to get the two points in our next game.”

As far as solutions to halting a skid that’s almost three weeks in the making, it didn’t sound as though the Flyers touched on anything overly specific during the meeting.

“No one is happy about what’s going on, but we’re sticking together,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said. “Everyone has their part of responsibility during this stretch. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and be better.”

The question is: Better at what exactly?

To be honest, the Flyers don’t seem entirely certain of the answer.

The Flyers have lost games when they couldn’t score goals, others when they couldn’t hold leads. There have been games when the power play has failed them, others when they weren’t able to kill enough penalties.

It’s little things. And it’s a little bit of everything.

“There’s probably a couple of areas of our game where we have to simplify things for sure, even mentally, trying to do things with a real clear purpose,” Hakstol said. “But we still have to continue adding detail to our game.”

Even when looking at one phase under the microscope, such as a struggling Flyers penalty kill that’s allowed 10 goals over the last six games, the dilemma is multifaceted and complex.

“We’ve looked at trying to change it up a little bit with some of the personnel, but it’s not that easy,” Hakstol said. “If it was that simple, you would flip that switch right away.

“You can say we’ve given up PK goals, but it’s different areas that we’ve given them up in terms of the type of goals.”

Despite inconsistencies across the board, some Flyers players also don’t necessarily feel the team has played as poorly as the 0-4-5 record would indicate.

“We’re not playing bad for nine games,” Couturier said. “There’s a bit of bad luck. We have to keep working hard, sticking together and create our own bounces, creating our own luck. Things eventually have to go our way.”

The proliferation of overtime and shootout losses might support Couturier’s case. Just one play here, one play there, and we’re not talking about how the Flyers have merely been mediocre in November as opposed to being mired in a weeks-long losing streak.

Others feel while the performance on the ice hasn’t been as unsatisfactory as the results, players are pressing as the slump drags on.

“Even though we were playing well during the start of this drought, we weren’t getting wins, we weren’t scoring goals, and during those kinds of times, you tend to reach a little bit more,” MacDonald said. “Guys maybe tried to do too much.

“It’s certainly not a fault for effort or anything like that. It’s more than anything wanting to help the team win even more. It’s tough when those things happen. You try to do a little bit too much, then you’re out of position and it kind of snowballs a little bit.”

Still, the only common thread here is the lack of a common thread at all. It’s the little things, and it’s the big things. The game plan is neither simple nor detailed enough. It’s mental, but it’s bad luck.

Maybe the Flyers, with a young, retooling roster that missed the playoffs last season, are growing through some inevitable growing pains.

“We just have to be better,” Couturier said. “It’s plain and simple. It’s a lot of little things, but we just have to be better overall.”

Stuck in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points in 25 games, the Flyers need to get a lot better — and that’s not going to be easy if they haven’t figured out what the problem is.

Hakstol on Martel, Weal
Despite returning Danick Martel to the Phantoms on Wednesday, the Flyers were impressed with the rookie forward’s speed. The 22-year-old’s stamina, on the other hand, is still a work in progress.

“He really added a ton of energy, especially early on,” Hakstol said. “The last game here we had a lot of tired legs, and he was one of them, but he showed he has that burst that can impact games a little bit offensively.”

Martel appeared in four games for the Flyers, registering a minus-1 and six shots on goal. However, he was limited to just 12 shifts and under nine minutes of ice time in each of his last two contests, a decision Hakstol made as the winger’s speed diminished.

“I didn’t think he was all that effective as we were going through that game,” Hakstol said of Tuesday’s contest against the Sharks. “He has to have that burst in order to play the way he needs to play to generate offensive opportunities. Back end of a back-to-back, he didn’t have that burst.”

With Jordan Weal ready to return to the lineup after sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch, it sounds like we’ve seen the last of Martel with the Flyers for a little while.

“He just needs to keep working towards it,” Hakstol said. “It was a real good opportunity for him to play his first National Hockey League games, and we saw a lot of things we liked in him.”

As for Weal, the Flyers are hoping the second-year player can get back on track. After recording two goals and four assists over his first 14 games this season, he is scoreless with a minus-3 rating in his last seven.

“He needs to hit the restart button and have a fresh start, and that’s exactly what this opportunity should provide for him is a fresh start,” Hakstol said.

“His work ethic, his passion, none of that is lacking, nor has it ever been. It’s a little bit of a restart for him so he can get back in the lineup and have that fresh feel and fresh start.”

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Boruk
There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to Spotrac.com, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Dougherty
Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hall
Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

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Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Ron Hextall knows how these things can work out.

He remembers plucking Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Not much was made of the pick, barely even a peep, because, well, the 138th overall selections don't typically draw heaps of praise.

Lindblom quietly slipped back to Sweden. Three summers later, Flyers fans couldn't stop talking about him.

"Oskar went away, no one knew who the hell he was, fifth-round pick, over there getting better and better and better and bang," Hextall said last July. "He's the SHL Forward of the Year."

One has to believe Lindblom's name popped in the general manager's head when the Flyers saw Marcus Westfalt still available and the clock ticking on their 2018 seventh-round pick. At 205th overall, Westfalt became the Flyers' final selection, making for eerie similarities to Lindblom, who forced his way to the big club in 2017-18.

Westfalt plays for the same Swedish junior team (Brynäs IF J20) and SHL squad (Brynäs IF) as Lindblom did when he was taken by the Flyers. Both prospects are from Sweden and dropped in their respective drafts. Lindblom, a left winger, stands 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, while Westfalt, a center/left winger, comes in at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds.

Another Lindblom in the works?

"Hopefully, that's my dream, of course," Westfalt said three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "But he's a really good player, he's got a lot of skill. But, yeah, hopefully."

The 18-year-old was well aware of Lindblom. It was hard to not hear or see his fellow countryman transform from fifth-round pick to ballyhooed Flyers prospect. In 2016-17, when Lindblom really took off with Brynäs IF and won Swedish Hockey League Forward of the Year, Westfalt witnessed the rise.

"I watch him a lot," Westfalt said. "His last year in Brynäs before he got here, I watched him a lot. He's a [role model] because I think he's really good, he's good with his hands, his speed, he uses his body well. I watch him a lot."

In his draft year, Lindblom played only four SHL games compared to 43 for Brynäs IF J20. For Westfalt, it was a bit different. He appeared in 39 SHL games, including playoffs, while playing 26 contests at the junior ranks, where he put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-19 rating.

Westfalt's goal for 2018-19 is to play the whole season in the SHL. Lindblom did a bit later than Westfalt, but once the jump was made, he impacted games.

"Try to get more ice time," Westfalt said. "Bigger role in the game.

"[Brynäs IF] told me that I have some things I need to work on and if I do that, I can get to play."

Westfalt, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in those 39 SHL games, said he tries to be "a smart, two-way centerman," and feels his "play in the D-zone is better than the offense."

"I'm strong without the puck and with the puck," he said.

While the goal is to stick in the SHL, he's uncertain which level will be best for his on-ice growth at this stage of his development."

"When I play in junior, I get more ice time, I get to play a lot more with the puck, I get to play the power play and stuff like that," he said. "I want to play in the juniors, too, because I want to work on my skills, but my big goal is to do the same thing I do in the juniors in the SHL."

Lindblom eventually did, carving out his path to the Flyers at 21 years old.

"I just think about it by myself, like fifth-rounder, I just felt like I can play and I can be on this level," Lindblom said last summer.

With Westfalt, there is no chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round pick.

"No, for me, I'm just glad that I'm here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's fun to go earlier [in the draft], but I'm just happy to be here."

And eager to climb like Lindblom.

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