Flyers

Analyzing Flyers' free-agent class, Part 1

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Analyzing Flyers' free-agent class, Part 1

While the hockey world awaits July 1 and the start of free agency, the Flyers are still looking to get their own house in order as they make the crucial financial decisions with a handful of restricted and unrestricted free agents. The organization has between now and the June 25 deadline to make qualifying offers to their RFAs.

We break down the Flyers’ free agents and their futures moving forward with Part 1 of our two-part series:

Valtteri Filppula (UFA)
Filppula simply doesn’t have the speed to keep up with the league’s younger, more skilled forwards. However, he proved he can still be a valuable asset on a penalty kill, a mentor to younger players and capable of that occasional big game (Game 5 vs. Penguins).

Comparable player: Tomas Plekanec, Maple Leafs
You have to think these two players will be watching to see what the other does when free agency starts on July 1. Both are in their mid-30s and play a very defensively-responsible game, while their offense has receded significantly over the past few years. Interested teams would be looking at both players as third or even fourth-line checking forwards.

Outlook: I’d be really surprised if the Flyers lock up Filppula before free agency starts. Filppula will be looking for a multi-year contract, which in all likelihood would be the last contract he signs. The Flyers can afford to wait out the situation and sign him to a more team-friendly one-year deal that would be at a 50-75 percent reduction over his most recent $5 million cap hit. 

Robert Hagg (RFA)
Hagg surprised many by earning a full-time role with the Flyers straight out of camp. A bruising defenseman who’s a good complement to a more offensive-minded blueliner, although he can be sneaky offensively as well. Hagg’s game tailed off over the second half of the season, but as a rookie, that’s not uncommon. Expect Hagg to bounce back in Year 2. 

Comparable player: Derek Forbort, Kings
Forbort plays a similar game to Hagg, although not quite as punishing with his checks and hits along the boards. Over the past two seasons, Forbort averaged just over 20 minutes per game for the Kings, who have considerably more depth on their blue line. Forbort signed a two-year RFA deal after seeing action in 14 games as a rookie.  

Outlook: General manager Ron Hextall would like to lock up Hagg for at least two seasons around the $1.25-1.5 million range and keep him under club control as a restricted free agent. You have to think Hagg’s agent would also like a short-term bridge, which would give his client a chance to prove his worth and then cash in with a more lucrative deal next season or in 2020.   

Taylor Leier (RFA) 
Leier showed potential as a valuable fourth-line forward who brings quickness and skill to the bottom six. Leier needs to develop into a more reliable penalty killer and provide that consistent jolt of energy he showed in the first 20-25 games of the season while maintaining defensive responsibilities.

Comparable player: Tomas Hyka, Golden Knights
Drafted two rounds after Leier in 2012, Hyka went unsigned by the Kings before he eventually latched on with the Golden Knights. Both Leier and Hyka are smaller, energy guys still looking to prove they belong in the NHL.

Outlook: Under club control, look for the Flyers to offer Leier a short-term contract with the expectation that he takes the next step in his development as an NHL regular.

Alex Lyon (RFA)
Lyon can take pride in his first two pro seasons coming out of Yale. He progressed from 2016-17 to this past season and gave the Flyers some decent play in net over his 11 appearances following injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. Lyon wasn’t rattled when he was called upon at a moment’s notice to join the Flyers in a pinch this past season.   

Comparable player: Garret Sparks, Maple Leafs
Interestingly, these two AHL goalies battled each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. While Sparks didn’t take the collegiate route that Lyon did, the Leafs have shown patience with the 24-year-old netminder who has played just 17 games with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16. He will have earned between $575K-675K in the three years after signing his entry-level contract.  

Outlook: Somehow, I find a way to keep Lyon in the organization on a two-year, two-way deal around $750K annually. Lyon understands his role and how he fits in. He’s perfect as a backup to Carter Hart, who I expect to start the season with the Phantoms. 

Grading the Flyers' forwards at the bye week

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Grading the Flyers' forwards at the bye week

After dissecting goaltending and the defense over the past two days, we turn our attention up front to the point producers.

In our final bye-week installment of the midseason report cards, we break down the Flyers' forwards.

Sean Couturier

Grade: B+
Stats: 19 G, 20 A, 39 P, minus-3

Couturier, proving that 2017-18 wasn't a fluke as the Flyers' No. 1 center, is on pace for back-to-back 30-goal seasons. It took a while for his season to get going following a knee injury he suffered during a charity game prior to training camp. He had eight scoreless games in October alone but just 11 in the three months since.

Defensively, not as flawless as last season when he finished second in Selke voting, but he still does all the little things required of a two-way center. Currently playing some of his best hockey with four goals and six assists and a plus-6 during his six-game point streak.

Claude Giroux

Grade: B+
Stats: 14 G, 38 A, 52 P, plus-4

Would you believe that Giroux has just four fewer points through 48 games than he had at this point last season on his way to a 102-point season? Actually, Giroux has been a better point producer this season at 5-on-5 with 2.94 pts./60 min. compared to 2.81 a year ago. Continues to be a monster in the faceoff circle.

Has already exceeded his shorthanded TOI from last season and his inclusion on the PK has been one reason for the turnaround. Giroux’s move back to center has helped balance the lines. Still has some occasional defensive lapses and his backchecking is lukewarm at times.

Scott Laughton

Grade: B
Stats: 7 G, 12 A, 19 P, plus-5

Currently on pace to become the first Flyer since Joel Otto in 1996-97 to score 30 points in a season — all at even strength or shorthanded. Personally, I think Laughton is more effective at left wing than at center, where he plays a tougher, hard-checking game along the boards and doesn’t have to worry as much with the defensive responsibilities.

So far, 2018-19 has been another positive step in Laughton’s development to become a complete player that can be counted on at both ends of the ice. No Flyers forward has logged more time on the penalty kill than Laughton. He’s had some assignment breakdowns defensively but has shown improvement.

Travis Konecny

Grade: B-
Stats: 12 G, 14 A, 26 P, minus-3

Konecny has been paying more attention to the small details while eliminating high-risk plays and low percentage passes from his game. Still gets caught at times abandoning his defensive responsibilities, looking for that breakaway attempt. Even though Konecny leads the team with 99 shots on goal at even strength, his shooting percentage is down from last season. Expect his goal total to pick up over the second half of the season.  

Oskar Lindblom

Grade: B-
Stats: 5 G, 10 A, 15 P, minus-2

After a very productive road trip in early December that included a five-game point streak playing alongside Nolan Patrick, Lindblom seemed to hit a wall, produced very little offense and was banished to the fourth line, where he went scoreless for the entire month of December. He's starting to rediscover his game again, including playing some hard minutes on the PK with his TOI back in the 17-minute range.  

Jake Voracek

Grade: C+
Stats: 11 G, 28 A, 39 P, minus-13

Voracek, arguably the most frustrating player on the team, has the ability to dominate at times and is an absolute force with the puck, but it comes sometimes at the expense of trying to force plays that simply aren’t there. Turnover prone and doesn’t exert max effort on the defensive side of the puck as well.

No forward has been more greatly affected by the Flyers' horrific power play than Voracek, who’s offensive output was dependent on the PP. Last season, 41 percent of his production came on the power play, compared to just 21 percent this season. 

Wayne Simmonds

Grade: C+
Stats: 15 G, 8 A, 23 P, minus-11

Simmonds’ season has been a rollercoaster one with contract negotiations and trade rumors swirling heading into a summer of free agency. Still doesn’t seem to have that explosiveness that he once had and doesn’t carry much speed through the neutral zone. 

As much as the Flyers need his edge, grit, power forward mentality of crashing the net and working the dirty areas, Simmonds still gets caught up with not making the smart, simple play in his end of the ice that can lead to a turnover and eventually a goal. Simmonds also needs to cut down on penalties, leading all Flyers with 12 minors. 

James van Riemsdyk

Grade: C
Stats: 12 G, 10 A, 22 P, minus-5

Suffering a leg injury in the second game of the season derailed JVR’s start to the season. Played very passively trying to understand his role while learning on-the-fly. Could bear down a little more defensively in his own zone. 

Following a meeting with Scott Gordon, JVR has turned it loose with six goals and eight points over his last five games, displaying a net-front presence with an excellent set of hands capable of scoring in a myriad of different ways.

Nolan Patrick

Grade: C-
Stats: 9 G, 8 A, 17 P, minus-3

After having a full offseason regimen without dealing with a major injury, Patrick started the season with nine points in his first 14 games before enduring a major dropoff. From there, Patrick played with no speed and no attacking mentality in the offensive zone, and as a result, the Flyers' second-year center went through a profound slump from mid-November to mid-January with no goals over a 24-game stretch. 

Defensively, Patrick is rarely out of position and plays like a third defenseman at times. Better suited as a third-line center. Now that he has racked up four goals over his last three games, we’ll see if he carries that confidence over from the bye week. 

Michael Raffl

Grade: C-
Stats: 3 G, 5 A, 8 P, plus-1

If the Flyers can somehow manage a sixth-round pick in a trade for Jordan Weal, it will be interesting to see how the Flyers handle Raffl for the remainder of the season. He could be moved for a mid-round draft pick.

Raffl has been much more involved when playing with more talented forwards like Voracek and Couturier and seems less engaged in a fourth-line role. However, he has been a solid contributor on the penalty kill as he’s been on the ice for just four power-play goals in 36 minutes of PK time.

Dale Weise

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 6 A, 11P, minus-6

It’s been a tale of two Dales. The Dave Hakstol version of Weise saw second-line minutes back and played some solid hockey with three goals in five games, but under Gordon, Weise has been appeared to be going through the motions, not playing with exerted effort and with very little energy. Now that he’s been told to stay at home and wait for a trade, it will be interesting to see how the situation plays itself out.

Phil Varone

Grade: D
Stats: 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, minus-4

Now 18 games played with the Flyers, Varone is one of those “tweeners” where he excels at the AHL level but it doesn’t translate to the NHL. While he has been mindful of playing solid defensively, Varone also spends the majority of his shift in the defensive end. He had a burst to his game early into his call-up but has slowed down since. Doesn’t win too many board battles.

Jori Lehtera

Grade: F
Stats: 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, minus-7

There’s really no value Lehtera brings to the Flyers. Not agile and aggressive enough to help kill penalties. Lacking the necessary foot speed to play center. As a winger, Lehtera is physical but can’t establish himself as an effective forechecker. Much rather see Nicolas Aube-Kubel in that fourth-line role.

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

Throughout the first half of this season, the Flyers have been relatively injury free on defense, but as a group, they’ve regressed from last season. However, under assistant Rick Wilson and new coach Scott Gordon, we’re beginning to see signs of improvement. 

After breaking down the goaltending Monday, we grade out the Flyers' blue line.  

Radko Gudas

Grade: B+ 
Stats: 2 G, 11 A, plus-10, 18:00 A/TOI

Dare I say that Gudas has been the Flyers' steadiest defenseman this season. While some writers like to use Corsi as a barometer for puck possession, I like to utilize goals against/60 minutes during 5-on-5 play to determine the strength of a player’s overall defense. Gudas’ 1.76 goals allowed/60 min. is the best of any Flyers defenseman … by far. Perhaps most impressively is how Gudas has adapted his physical game without taking foolish penalties.

Offensively, Gudas’ philosophy seems rather simple. When given the opportunity, just put the puck on net as he leads the team with 16 rebounds created at even strength while contributing 13 points — a nice total considering he barely strays from the blue line.

Robert Hagg

Grade: B
Stats: 4 G, 9 A, plus-5, 17:43 A/TOI

Hagg has gained a reputation as such a hard hitter that other teams' forwards have altered their forechecking approach with the Flyers' defenseman on the ice. Hagg had his most consistent month in November and has cut down on some of the positioning flaws in the defensive zone that were a problem area in his rookie season.

Hagg has even chipped in some additional offense this season. His 15 primary points (goals, first assists) at 5-on-5 is second on the Flyers behind Travis Sanheim’s 16, and he’s currently on pace to finish with seven goals and 22 points, which would more than double last season’s totals. 

Travis Sanheim

Grade: B-
Stats: 4 G, 11A, minus-6, 17:56 A/TOI

I like the decision from Wilson in placing Sanheim on the top pairing Ivan Provorov. Not only was the Provy-Shayne Gostisbehere combination simply not working, but it has given the Flyers a chance to see how much responsibility Sanheim can handle. Sanheim was tested early against the opposition’s top forwards with a minus-12 rating in 13 games but has had periods of steady play. Has seen his ice time jump by five minutes from October into January. 

Overall, Sanheim has made a conscious effort to refine the defensive aspect of his game with improved positioning but can still get beaten one-on-one and along the boards. Would also prefer to see Sanheim on one of the two power-play units.

Ivan Provorov

Grade: C-
Stats: 4 G, 13 A, minus-14, 24:54 A/TOI

It’s beyond baffling to see Provorov’s struggles with his puck management this season. It began over a 10-15 game stretch last season, and it’s been a problem area for the entire season. The new coaching staff has worked on eliminating some of those errant passes and making that first pass up the boards. Provorov’s 3.28 goals allowed/60 min. at even strength is up significantly from 2.18 last season. 

For a player many expected to work his way into the Norris Trophy conversation, it’s been quite the regression offensively as well. Provorov is projected to finish with seven goals after leading all NHL defensemen with 17 last season. As he simplifies his game, look for Provorov to have a much better second half.

Shayne Gostisbehere

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 15 A, minus-12, 20:12 A/TOI

Everything came together for Gostisbehere last season, and conversely, nothing worked over the first few months of this season. Ghost was an NHL-worst minus-18 when Dave Hakstol was fired. Since then, he’s had much more favorable matchups and has settled in playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as the team’s third pairing.

However, the most alarming aspect to Gostisbehere’s season has been his lack of efficiency on the power play, so much so, he’s no longer part of that top unit. Last season, he averaged 7.03 pts./60 min. on the PP compared to just 2.86 this season, a 59 percent dropoff. A big reason to Gostisbehere’s lack of success on the power play has been a failure to get pucks through traffic and his shot on net.

Christian Folin

Grade: D+
Stats: 0 G, 1 A, plus-4, 16:13 A/TOI

After some obvious struggles in the opening month, Folin has settled in but still can’t be counted on to play extensively. Interestingly, Gordon is much cautious in his use of Folin than Hakstol and Gord Murphy were. After averaging over 17 minutes in October and November, Folin is playing just under 13 minutes in January. 

Will be interesting to see how much the Flyers utilize Folin over the second half of the season with Phillippe Myers possibly getting a look with the big club. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to invest in Folin as he won’t be with the team beyond this season and the Flyers can fill that role with a Phantom next season.

Andrew MacDonald

Grade: D
Stats: 0 G, 5 A, minus -5, 17:55 A/TOI

Quite frankly, MacDonald came back way too early from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout and that seemed to throw off the first half of his season. Has been limited to 27 games and has been a healthy scratch as a result of ineffective play. More turnover prone than last season, MacDonald has also really struggled early on with the penalty kill this season.

Last season was the first time MacDonald TOI dipped below 20 minutes per game, and this season, it’s a career-low 17:55. Hasn’t been nearly as active jumping in offensively as well. Zero goals in 27 games with no shots on net in 10 of those games.

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