Flyers

Flyers had been eyeing Matt Niskanen trade and it's clear why

Flyers had been eyeing Matt Niskanen trade and it's clear why

When the 2018-19 season arrived, everyone looked at Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov as the Flyers' top pair defensemen.

Much was going to be placed on their shoulders and understandably so. Gostisbehere was coming off a career year in which he scored 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists), fourth most among all NHL blueliners, while Provorov scored as many goals as any defenseman in the league with 17, ate up minutes and was a plus-17.

The two were expected to spearhead a growing youthfulness within the Flyers' D corps. They were so good that it was easy to forget how young they still were themselves. Gostisbehere entered the season at 25 years old and Provorov at 21. There was little wiggle room for if things didn't go as planned.

Who could Gostisbehere or Provorov turn to if they struggled? In fact, what would the Flyers do if their young pillars stumbled? The Flyers lacked alternatives and experience to answer those questions when reality hit and the team was allowing goals at an alarming clip.

"The experience the young guys got this year is critical," Chuck Fletcher said in April, "but I think that's a fair question: do we have enough experience in our back end?"

In his first offseason as Flyers general manager, Fletcher made it clear he wanted to add a veteran defenseman. Not just a guy that is older, but a player with a winning pedigree and qualities that can supplement the Flyers' young defense.

It's not a knock on Andrew MacDonald or Radko Gudas, but those two are not Matt Niskanen.

Fletcher acquired the 32-year-old defenseman Friday in exchange for Gudas. Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals and has played in 125 career postseason games. Over the past six seasons, his plus-91 is fifth best among all NHL defensemen, behind only Ryan McDonagh (plus-126), Zdeno Chara (plus-99), Victor Hedman (plus-97) and Ryan Ellis (plus-94). He plays big minutes and is a skilled and smart puck mover. As a result, his teams have prevented goals.

In 2018-19, the Flyers surrendered the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41.

Fletcher did not have ties to Gudas, who was acquired by former general manager Ron Hextall and signed a four-year, $13.4 million extension in June 2016. Fletcher was so keen on adding Niskanen that the Flyers are reportedly retaining some of Gudas' $3.35 million cap hit in 2019-20 on top of paying Niskanen's $5.75 million, which he's owed annually over the next two seasons (see story).

"[Fletcher] said I was a player they were looking at for a while now and he was excited to have me," Niskanen said Friday in a conference call.

The move makes the Flyers better immediately, which is Fletcher's goal. He has the resources to do so and is utilizing them. Good timing after Gostisbehere and Provorov went through mentally draining seasons.

"There have been times where I've tried a little too much from a personal standpoint, from the team standpoint, and trying to do everything I can to help the team win," Provorov said in April. "We're not perfect, none of us are perfect."

Niskanen will help them feel like they don't have to be perfect. He can influence the entire group of defensemen, which features plenty of youth outside of Gostisbehere and Provorov. Robert Hagg is 24, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin are 23, and Philippe Myers is 22.

"I think they have two or three young studs that are offensively talented, gifted, they have good instincts, they move the puck well, assist in the offense," Niskanen said.

"I envision myself being a really good partner for one of these young studs. Trying to give them confidence to do the things that they do well, and I'll be right beside them. I think I can help one of these guys or maybe a couple of them at different points in the year, to keep getting better, do the things they do well, play a more rounded game, play some hard minutes. I think I can fit in well with these young kids that can skate and move the puck. It'll be good for our team. I think I'll fit in well."

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Flyers Talk podcast: Head of strength and conditioning Chris Osmond gives insight on team's adjustments

Flyers Talk podcast: Head of strength and conditioning Chris Osmond gives insight on team's adjustments

On the latest Flyers Talk podcast, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Katie Emmer and Jordan Hall are joined by special guest Chris Osmond, the Flyers' head of strength and conditioning.

From Osmond's insight on the Flyers' fitness to our analysis on prospects/awards, let's dive in:

1:00 — Which defenseman will climb the fastest to the Flyers — Egor Zamula, Wyatte Wylie, Linus Hogberg or Wyatt Kalynuk?

7:05 — Osmond discusses the Flyers' daily questionnaire with players

9:40 — Ivan Provorov has a unique style of working out

11:45 — The big adjustments Osmond has had to make with players in quarantine

15:45 — What will be the toughest challenge for the Flyers leading up to a possible resumption?

• 17:25 — The importance of a good diet for Carter Hart and the team

• 19:00 — "None of us have been through this" 

20:10 — Osmond loves the Flyers' victory song

24:50 — Is Sean Couturier the Selke Trophy winner?

29:20 — Who is Alain Vigneault's biggest competition for the Jack Adams Award?

40:00 — Which former Flyer would we pick to be our favorite teammate?

• 45:15 — A taste of the "Marathon on Ice"

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Flyers lose rights to prospect David Bernhardt

Flyers lose rights to prospect David Bernhardt

Two days after signing one of their 2016 draft picks to an entry-level contract, the Flyers lost the rights to a prospect from the same class.

The club opted to not sign David Bernhardt before Monday's 5 p.m. deadline. As a result, the 22-year-old Swedish defenseman has become a draft-related unrestricted free agent.

Bernhardt was a 2016 seventh-round draft pick of the Flyers, when Ron Hextall was general manager and Chris Pryor was director of player personnel. Linus Hogberg, another blueliner from Sweden who was taken by the Flyers in the fifth round of the same draft, inked his ELC on Saturday.

The Flyers' decision to let Bernhardt's rights expire is not considered surprising. Below the pro surface, the club is pretty well-stocked at defensemen with prospects Egor Zamula, Wyatte Wylie and Hogberg set to join AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2020-21, while the signing of Wisconsin product Wyatt Kalynuk could be around the corner. Kalynuk is an offensive-minded defenseman who has developed a ton with the Badgers. His rights were set to expire next summer. Now that it appears he will forgo his senior season at Wisconsin, it would be surprising if he's not signed soon by the Flyers. If, for some reason, both sides don't agree to terms, Kalynuk can eventually become a free agent.

Furthermore, the Flyers have unsigned blueliners Cam York, Mason Millman, Adam Ginning, Ronald Attard and John St. Ivany in the system. York, a 2019 first-round pick at Michigan, is the most touted, while Millman, a 2019 fourth-round selection, is coming off a 44-point, plus-31 junior season with the OHL's Saginaw Spirit.

Bernhardt, a 6-foot-3, 203-pound, lefty-shot defenseman, had seven points (one goal, six assists) through 33 games in the Finland pro league Liiga after opening 2019-20 in the SHL.

Here's a look at the Flyers' 10-player 2016 draft class:

First round — German Rubtsov (Flyers/Phantoms)
Second round — Pascal Laberge (Phantoms/Royals) 
Second round — Carter Hart (Flyers)
Second round — Wade Allison (Phantoms) 
Third round — Carsen Twarynski (Flyers/Phantoms)
Fourth round — Connor Bunnaman (Flyers/Phantoms)
Fifth round — Linus Hogberg (Phantoms)
Sixth round — Tanner Laczynski (Phantoms) 
Sixth round — Anthony Salinitri (no longer in organization)
Seventh round — David Bernhardt (no longer in organization)

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