Decision time for Hextall as trouble hits Flyers' net

Decision time for Hextall as trouble hits Flyers' net

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will explore all options, including the possibility of making a deal to acquire a goaltender prior to the NHL’s Feb. 26 trade deadline.

“I can’t say I’ll go with the 23 guys on the roster right now," Hextall said Tuesday. "I’ll repeat what I always say — if I can make our team better at any position, we’ll look at it. The deadline is two weeks away. I guess things could change between now and then.”

Hextall was addressing the media a little over an hour after the Flyers announced starting goalie Brian Elliott would miss five to six weeks following core muscle surgery Tuesday (see story).

The possibility of adding someone outside the organization would likely be as a complement to Michal Neuvirth and not necessarily someone who will step into Elliott’s role as a No. 1 netminder. Hextall would also be looking at a goalie on a short-term contract.

“We believe in Michal Neuvirth. He has showed at times he can be a very good goalie,” Hextall said. “We’re pretty confident that Neuvy is a guy who can carry us through the short term.”

Elliott is expected to be sidelined for the next 17 to 22 games and Neuvirth should start the majority of those games. If Hextall elects to stand pat before the deadline, Alex Lyon will have to see some action, as well.

“Alex has proved capable at the American League Level. Here, he hasn’t proved it,” Hextall said. “Up here, I think he’s been OK. He can play a little better than he’s played for us up here. I have no doubt in my mind he will. Whenever you have your two goalies and you get down to one, you’re nervous no matter what.”  

Elliott underwent the successful core muscle surgery after sustaining the injury during last Saturday’s shootout in Arizona. If the five-to-six week prognosis holds up, Elliott should return to action by the end of March and be ready for the playoffs.

“I’ve got a high level of confidence,” Hextall said of Elliott’s return. “First off, I believe in our training staff. I believe in our doctors. I know Brian Elliott is a warrior and he’ll do everything he can to get back as soon as possible. It won’t be the work or a pain threshold.”   

Dr. William Meyers, renowned core muscle surgeon at the Vincera Institute, performed the surgery at Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. Elliott’s injury was a reaggravation from a previous injury he suffered in January, and the Flyers knew at some point following the season, the problem area would need to be corrected. 

Elliott missed four games sandwiched around the All-Star break and the Flyers struggled in net, giving up 18 goals with an 0-3-1 record during that stretch.   

If the Flyers are forced to dig deeper into the organizational depth chart, Hextall has a certain level of confidence in 28-year-old Dustin Tokarski, who has played 25 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season. Tokarski’s NHL résumé includes extensive time with the Montreal Canadiens in 2014-15, including five starts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“He’s got experience. He’s got playoff experience,” Hextall said. “We wanted to add another layer of depth to our goaltending position. Dustin’s been good up there. Would I be comfortable if he came down here to play some games for us? Yes.” 

Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

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Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

Samuel Morin is taking the long and winding road to the NHL, one that’s now more rugged and elongated than ever.

The Flyers confirmed Thursday that Morin tore the ACL in his right knee when his skate caught a rut on the ice in Charlotte while he was attempting to check an opponent. The injury took place in the first period of the Phantoms' epic five-overtime game against the Checkers two weeks ago.

General manager Ron Hextall told the Courier-Post's Dave Isaac that Morin is facing a nine-month recovery process and that the 6-7 defenseman is “probably out until February” as he recovers from surgery — which Morin will undergo sometime in the near future.

Morin’s 2018-19 season will now be spent rehabbing from injury and utilizing what’s left of the regular season working his way back with the Phantoms.   

The Flyers' 2013 first-round pick is also a restricted free agent after playing out the final year of his three-year entry-level contract. In the five years since he was drafted, Morin has suited up for just three NHL games. 

Expect the two sides to reach an agreement on a one- or- two-year extension rather easily since Morin doesn’t have much leverage in negotiations at this point. Since Morin signed his rookie deal at the age of 18, he also had a five-year (or 160-game) waiver exemption that has now expired.

In other words, the Flyers will no longer have the luxury of shuttling Morin back and forth from Lehigh Valley without exposing him to the rest of the league if they attempt to send him back to the minors.

The Flyers have no choice but to give Morin the necessary time to ensure he’s not only ready physically, but also that his game can be trusted at the NHL level.  

Hextall has preached patience in the deliberate development of the organization’s prospects.

Right now, Samuel Morin is the poster child for that process.

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

Flyers/USA Today Images

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers' general manager who was able to construct an entire blue line through trades and free-agent signings was once asked, "What's the number one trait you look for out of a defenseman?"

Paul Holmgren’s response was decisive and to the point. Paraphrasing, Holmgren said, "The one who can get the puck out of his zone as quickly as possible."

As much as the game of hockey has been broken down into advanced metrics and analytics, it’s rather simple at its core. The more time a team spends in its end of the ice, the greater likelihood it'll be on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

The AHL playoffs have served as an ideal test site for Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, who have been stalwarts throughout the Phantoms' postseason run. 

However, Game 3 at the PPL Center Wednesday night further exemplified the necessary strides the Flyers' defensive prospects must take in order to develop into reliable, everyday NHL blueliners.  

Oftentimes, less is more when you have the puck in the defensive end of the ice, and it took roughly 62 seconds into the game on Sanheim’s opening shift for the 22-year-old to make a major gaffe that gave the Toronto Marlies a 1-0 lead. 

Instead of making the simple play of a quick pass up the boards, Sanheim elected to keep it, reversing his field and was suddenly stripped with the attacking forward trailing. Roughly two seconds elapsed from the moment Sanheim lost the puck to when it was behind goalie Alex Lyon in the net. 

“On that particular play, we have full possession of the puck and the opportunity to advance it," Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. "Instead, we go back behind the net to where their guy is. That’s just playing into their hands. In that situation, and in a few of our breakouts, there were opportunities to move forward with the puck and we didn’t.”   

However, the gaffes involving the Sanheim-Myers pairing didn’t stop there. Sanheim was stripped of the puck at his own blue line during the first Phantoms' power play. Myers inexcusably lost his edge skating with the puck through the neutral zone. Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson muscled his way around Sanheim to generate a quality scoring chance, and then another terrible pass and turnover inside the Phantoms' zone.

And that all came in the first seven minutes of the game. 

If Dave Hakstol had been behind the bench (he was actually watching from the PPL Center press box), Sanheim is likely sitting in front of him for the remainder of the game. That’s essentially what transpired in mid-January at the Prudential Center in New Jersey when Sanheim’s play landed him back in the minors for a month and a half. 

Chalk this up as one bad game. Game 3 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals was simply another teaching moment as the Phantoms were blown out, 5-0, falling behind 3-0 in the series. Both players will be back there together logging close to 25 minutes as the Phantoms try to avoid elimination Friday night.    

As exciting as it is to watch Sanheim and Myers generate offense within the Phantoms' system with their size and skating ability, there’s no way Hakstol and the Flyers can depend on that pairing defensively next season. Together, they’re still young, inexperienced and unreliable. 

If anything, expect the competition between Myers and Sanheim as something worth watching when Flyers camp opens in September. Myers has closed the gap in his first full season in the AHL. 

And the guy who can clean up their play defensively will likely be the one that starts next season with the Flyers.