Flyers

Flyers' defensemen grades and outlook for next season — Part 1

Flyers' defensemen grades and outlook for next season — Part 1

Over the next several days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. Next up, Part 1 of the defensemen:

The 2017-18 season was one of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After the Flyers' three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the defensive core will look like over the next few years. 

Shayne Gostisbehere

Regular season: A-

Playoffs: D     

Gostisbehere’s season took off when he was paired with Ivan Provorov in the second half of the season. His defensive stickwork and positioning improved significantly and he even developed a physical side at times. Had a terrible six-game playoff against the Pens, forcing Dave Hakstol to break up his top pair. Interestingly, his goal production dipped as the power play struggled. "Ghost" scored five goals in December, or the same number from January through April.

2018-19 outlook: He enters the second year of his six-year, $27 million extension he signed last summer. A deal that looks very team friendly comparative to the other contracts of players his age. I expect "Ghost" to start next season on the top pair with Provorov after showing great improvements in the defensive side of his game. 

Robert Hagg

Regular season: B-

Playoffs: Incomplete

Surprisingly solid while playing in the Flyers' first 70 games of the season. A strong physical presence that still needed work positionally as he hit a wall midseason. Didn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch over the final month of the regular season, but the Flyers liked what they saw out of Travis Sanheim throughout March and refused to break up the Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas pairing. Played only the final two games of the playoffs.  

2018-19 outlook: A restricted free agent, Hagg should get a two- to three-year deal for next season and should start the season out of camp. Playing three seasons in the AHL was a significant part of Hagg’s development and he should comprise one of the Flyers' three defense pairings next season. 

Ivan Provorov

Regular season: A

Playoffs: C+  

When asked to assess his season, Provorov said there were three to five games during the regular season in which he didn’t play like himself. He experienced some puck-handling struggles during the second half, but nothing that impaired the team defensively. He suffers the occasional bad read or breakdown in his own end, but the Flyers are blessed that Provorov hasn’t been forced to miss any time over his first two seasons. A shoulder separation was a tough way to end the season (see story).

2018-19 outlook: Provorov is the workhorse on the blue line after displaying an immunity to the sophomore slump. Can he expand on his offensive numbers and potentially reach the 20-goal mark? If so, Provorov’s third NHL season could be the year he enters the Norris Trophy discussion.   

Travis Sanheim

Regular season: C

Playoffs: B-

Sanheim looked like a different player once he returned to the team from Lehigh Valley on March 10, with four points and a plus-7 rating in his first eight games back. He started seeing the ice much better and making the smart, low-risk plays that the coaching staff was looking for out of a young player. Did not look out of place throughout the first four games of the Flyers' first-round series. Unfortunately, his best game was part of a 5-1 loss in Game 4. 

2018-19 outlook: With one more season remaining on his entry-level contract, Sanheim will be expected to make the season-opening roster straight out of training camp. He should be paired with a steady veteran while also seeing time on the second power-play unit.

In Friday's Part 2, we will look at Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

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

usa_brayden_schenn_blues.jpg
USA Today Images

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