Felix Sandstrom hungry to prove he's not the 'other' goalie in Flyers' system

Felix Sandstrom hungry to prove he's not the 'other' goalie in Flyers' system

Felix Sandstrom stood there surrounded by a pack of reporters and cameras pointed at him after the first on-ice session of the Flyers’ development camp in Voorhees, New Jersey.

This time around, Sandstrom wasn’t the other goalie in camp, even if, in a way, he still was.

Sandstrom answered question after question about what happened in 2017-18.

Was it an abdominal injury? No, stomach issues.

Did he require surgery? He did not.

Was it even an injury? It wasn’t.

Instead, what plagued Sandstrom last season was an illness in his throat and stomach connected to the mononucleosis that he battled during his draft year in 2014-15.

“It was tough, but I learned a lot,” Sandstrom said. “You get stronger in the tougher times. I think I grew as a person. I learned a lot about myself, how I handle stuff and how I should handle stuff.”

Times have changed. During last summer’s development camp, Sandstrom sat at his stall and answered questions from a handful of reporters while the rest of the pack was with Carter Hart.

The Flyers have a goalie problem. Don’t stop if you’ve heard that before. You have. They have too many or too few depending on your worldview. But everyone’s waiting for Hart to solve it.

Hart has become somewhat of a legend in Delaware Valley, kind of like Bigfoot, except Hart has better hair. Flyers fans soon will see firsthand what Hart can do. He turns pro in 2018-19.

It’s easy to lump Sandstrom and Hart together, and it’s even easier after last season to forget about Sandstorm. Last July, there was talk about the two being the Flyers’ future tandem.

Now? Sandstrom is almost an afterthought when it comes to the goaltending picture.

At least from the outside.

“Sometimes with the way the world is today,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said, “people talk about one person and not another person, especially at that position. We all know there’s only one in the net so you only need one. So people talk about one. We’re very high on Felix. He’s a real competitor. He’s a really hard worker. He’s a hungry hockey player right now.”

While it’s true Sandstrom had a difficult 2017-18, it’s unfair to say he took a step back without heavily prefacing it with the circumstances — he missed two months because of the illness.

On the surface, the numbers dipped but not by much if we look at save percentage. Sandstrom played a total of 18 games between three teams — Brynäs IF and HV71 in the SHL and IK Oskarshamn on a loan to Allsvenskan — and had a combined .900 save percentage. But if we look at the save percentage in the SHL, Sandstrom posted a .904 save percentage in 11 games. In 22 games with Brynäs IF in 2016-17, he had a .908 save percentage.

That’s not to say Sandstrom did not struggle. His goals-against average increased and did so considerably. Combined, he had a 2.85 GAA. In the SHL, it was 2.73, a far cry from his 2.25 clip in 2016-17. We’ll find out soon enough how much the illness affected the 21-year-old goalie.

Sandstrom signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Flyers on March 28 but has one year left on his contract with HV71. The plan is for him to spend another year in Sweden.

Sound familiar? Perhaps it should. Last summer, many believed Sandstrom would come overseas for 2018-19, but the illness and missed time pushed that timetable back another year.

“You’re a young kid and you’ve never really been this before and how you handle it, how much of a pro you are, how you are with your teammates,” Hextall said. “It makes you hungry as a goalie. You can never really let your level drop. … I think he’s going to have a bang-up year.”

As Hartmania only gets louder now that he’ll very likely be a short hour-and-a-half drive away, Sandstrom will return to the SHL with a chip on his shoulder.

To prove that he still remains a highly-regarded NHL goalie prospect.

That he isn’t just the other goalie in the Flyers’ organization.

Don’t sleep on Sandstrom. As Jason Kelce says, hungry dogs run faster.

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If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here