Flyers

Flyers have questions after lousy Florida trip

Flyers have questions after lousy Florida trip

The Flyers are done with the state of Florida, and aside from receiving a reprieve from paying state income tax, there weren't many rays of hope to come out of the Sunshine State over the weekend. The Flyers allowed 10 goals over the weekend set against the Lightning and Panthers and have now surrendered 14 goals over their last three games, all losses. It's clear the Flyers have some warts to fix, and the first chance for fixing? Wednesday when the rival Penguins come to town.

Sanheim time?
Defensively, the Flyers were a mess over the weekend for a myriad of reasons. Against the Lightning, it came down to poor collective execution in the defensive zone exits, which were a problem area going back to last Thursday’s clunker against the Hurricanes. Ivan Provorov’s errant pass led to Dan Girardi’s goal in the second period and Andrew MacDonald’s blatant third-period giveaway led to Victor Hedman’s go-ahead goal.

Against the Panthers, the curse was the Flyers' self-inflicted wounds and failures to contain the Panthers' skilled forwards, coupled with more of those pesky turnovers that resulted in stretch passes and breakaways. With injuries to MacDonald (upper body, day to day, per GM Ron Hextall) and Johnny Oduya (left Sunday's game, no official update yet), the Flyers may be looking to dip into their Lehigh Valley depth to add a defenseman. Travis Sanheim has played exceptionally well with 16 points in 18 games and an eye-popping plus-14 rating since he was sent down. While Sanheim can be more assertive offensively at the AHL level, it’s critical that his defense has improved for him to earn a spot on the Flyers' blue line, but I don’t think there’s much of a downgrade with him over Oduya.

Sure, Oduya has veteran experience, but there’s a reason why the Senators weren’t able to trade him for a low-round draft pick and why roughly two-thirds of the league passed up on the 36-year-old defenseman before the Flyers claimed him off waivers last week. It’s naive to think Oduya could just settle in and fortify the Flyers' defense corps. Oduya needs practice time, but the early results in Florida weren’t favorable.   

Power-play Patrick
One of the biggest decisions looming for head coach Dave Hakstol is the personnel on his top power-play unit as Wayne Simmonds looks set to return from injury this week. Nolan Patrick has excelled since he was inserted onto that unit in Simmonds' place. In fact, the Flyers' rookie center has scored the team’s last three power-play goals. The last Flyer outside of Patrick to score on the power play was Claude Giroux on Feb. 13 in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Devils.

Patrick’s net-front presence is different from what Simmonds brings. Patrick has a knack for finding the open seams down low that require quick, inside looks on plays from the perimeter. He has soft hands and is capable of accurately redirecting and elevating pucks sent in his direction. The "Wayne Train" prefers a more blue-collar approach as a disruptive force, taking away the goaltender’s vision while redirecting shots from the point and hammering away at rebounds.

Both styles have proven to be equally effective on the Flyers' setup. My hunch is that Hakstol reinserts Simmonds on that top unit once he’s healthy. He’s a leader and you can’t discount the 85 power-play goals he’s scored since joining the Flyers in 2011-12 (second to Alex Ovechkin in that span). It’s not as if the power play has been clicking over its past seven games with Simmonds out of the lineup. The group is just 3 for 22, or 14 percent efficiency.

Ghost and the gang
Regardless of the outcome, Shayne Gostisbehere was all smiles after the Panthers game as he met with with the Florida state championship hockey team from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty members were fatally shot on Feb. 14. Gostisbehere attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas for two years.

“It’s the least I could do,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve got to thank the Panthers for setting it up and obviously the Flyers for going with it. It’s just something to take their minds off. They’ve had a rough past couple of weeks here."

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Ron Hextall

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Ron Hextall

This is a peculiar time for Ron Hextall.

In one facet, it's his time, precious for a build-from-within disciple who must feel like a kid on Christmas when the NHL draft arrives.

Then again, it's a weird time. Shortly after the Flyers' general manager unwraps his gifts and adds them to the toy bin, NHL free agency hits. Not a time when Hextall likes to play. Quickly, Christmas turns into the first day of school.

It's that time of year again for Hextall. The question is, have the times changed for the GM?

With the Flyers entering Year 4 under Dave Hakstol and looking to take the next step forward, some wonder if Hextall is ready to make free agency his new time. After all, much of the organization's youth is here and contributing, the core isn't getting any younger and the Flyers have more financial wiggle room — thanks to Hextall — with $17.2 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

But if Hextall's vision was ever in danger of shifting, an expansion team's marvelous story lent credence to his plan, reinforcing the belief in the way he operates and constructs his own hockey team.

When asked Thursday about the constant chatter regarding his core's clock and the team's youthfulness catching up to it, Hextall spoke with conviction and at length.

"They might have different roles; you almost might not depend on them quite as much because your younger guys are coming up and taking a bigger piece of the pie," Hextall said. "So all of a sudden you don't need one guy scoring 85 points, he can score 75 points or 70 points because we've got these kids coming up that are scoring more and more. 

"That's how you build a team. You don't build a team by having three top players and they go out every power play and they win you games. It's just not the way it works. You saw — Vegas is a good example. They were the best team in the league. Not the best talent, they were the best team. Teams still win. Teams still win. And that's what we've got to continue to build."

So if you were hoping Hextall was tinkering with the thought of making a free-agent splash, think again. He will stick to his guns and always has, constantly stressing the importance of never deviating from the course set at the journey's start.

None of which is to think Hextall won't utilize free agency to improve. He will make additions strategically and judiciously, but doling out money and years to a stud won't happen.

And the moment Hextall reaffirmed his M.O., the pressure picked up.

On all levels.

On Hextall's faith in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and the mainstays delivering star-like production.

On the young foundation pieces taking heftier strides to lighten the loads for the veterans.

On the scouting and development personnel finding and molding game-changing talent.

And on the confluence of Hextall's motives and ultimate goal.

"We are still the ultimate team sport and I think Vegas proved that to all of us this year. The more we move along here, the more society, pro sports seem to put a spotlight on a star, and that's fine, but that star has got to have his teammates in our sport or you're not going to win," Hextall said. "You look at Washington, they had a lot of really good players in the playoffs. Devante Smith-Pelly. Do they win without Devante Smith-Pelly? A couple guys get all the credit but look what this guy did. We are still the ultimate team sport, we really are."

The ultimate test will be the Flyers proving it themselves.

More on the Flyers

2018 NHL draft profile: Rasmus Sandin, a defenseman Flyers should know and like

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Terry Wilson/OHL Images

2018 NHL draft profile: Rasmus Sandin, a defenseman Flyers should know and like

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how those players would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.

The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.

Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.

Rasmus Sandin

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 185
Shoots: Left
Team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Scouting report
The Swedish blueliner is a slick skater who looks like a pro with the puck on his stick. The 18-year-old sees the ice extremely well and can shoot and pass with precision.

As good as he is handling the puck, Sandin is also adept without it. He exploits gaps in the opposition's defense and attacks the net when the opportunity is ripe to create more offensive chances instead of simply floating around the perimeter.

His decision to come to North America and play for the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds did wonders in his vital draft year. Sandin's plus-35 rating was best among all OHL rookies, while his 12 goals, 33 assists and 45 points over 51 regular-season games led all first-year defensemen. He also had a strong postseason with 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 24 contests.

Sandin isn't the biggest or quickest skater, but he makes up for it in many other ways.

Fit with Flyers
General manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers need to "restock a little bit" on defense given their previous prospects are either with the big club or flirting with making the NHL jump.

"I would be shocked if we don't draft a couple of defensemen," Hextall said Thursday.

Sandin could be an option at both Nos. 14 and 19. He projects to go in that range or possibly a tad later. Hextall's staff likely saw a good bit of Sandin while checking in on Flyers prospect Frost's 112-point season with the Greyhounds.

So Sandin has had the eyes of the Flyers and will have them watching on draft night as defensemen start going off the board.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

Profile: Ryan Merkley

• Profile: Dominik Bokk

• Profile: Noah Dobson

• Profile: Rasmus Kupari

• Profile: Martin Kaut

• Profile: Grigori Denisenko

• Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

• Profile: Serron Noel

• Profile: Joel Farabee

• Profile: Barrett Hayton

• Profile: Isac Lundestrom

• Profile: Joseph Veleno

• Profile: Vitali Kravtso