For Flyers, it's not a popularity contest — and it shouldn't be

For Flyers, it's not a popularity contest — and it shouldn't be

While the Eastern and Western Conference Final series pick up, the Flyers will continue to outline their offseason plan as much as possible.

One thing that won't sneak into Ron Hextall's agenda is outside pressure.

If it did, he wouldn't be doing his job.

But Hextall is human. From the seat in which he sits and dissects decision after decision, he feels the daily stresses of general managing a hockey team with such a passionate following. Those fans haven't seen a playoff series victory since 2011-12 and a Stanley Cup championship since 1974-75.

That isn't lost on him.

"We all have pressure," Hextall said last month. "Pro sports is pressure. There's pressure on all of us. Now how you handle that pressure, you better handle it right. My philosophy is I do what I believe is right.

"I'm not going to do something to make me popular. I'm not going to do something that's going to take away from the success of our team to put a few more people in the stands."

Nor should he — that's not how you general manage.

Don't like him? Tough. 

Hate his patience? Sorry.

Hextall can't care about that — he made it clear he's not here to be liked. Even as the Philadelphia sports scene rises back into contention, Hextall will stay the course he carved out from the start and the one that ownership has faithfully backed.

"We're not going to change what we set out to do four years ago," Hextall said. "We put a plan in place. To go sideways now would be the wrong thing to do.

"It sort of took two years to get the wheels in motion and we're on plan. Are we happy where we're at right now? Hell no."

There's merit behind the Flyers' belief in their pace and path to an ultimate goal of contending for multiple Stanley Cups, not just one.

Dave Scott, the president and CEO of the team's ownership group, Comcast Spectacor, expressed no concern following last season in which the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third time over the past five campaigns. Despite the drop-off in 2016-17, Scott said it was "a terrific year from the business perspective."

"It was probably one of the best years we've ever had," Scott said in April 2017. "Ron's our guy. We believe in the system, we like the vision, we like the strategy, the pipeline. These young players coming up, there's a lot of excitement. From the business side, it's been terrific."

During the 2017-18 regular season, the Flyers were third among the NHL in average attendance at 19,517, according to multiple websites. They were sixth in 2016-17 with 19,644. This season, the roster also became younger and more competitive (trends that should continue), resulting in 42 wins and 98 points, both highs under Dave Hakstol, who will be entering his fourth year in 2018-19.

These are reasons why Hextall won't make reactionary moves this offseason.

He never does and won't start now just because the pressure gauge is ticking to new heights. If fans haven't yet comprehended the Flyers' motives, they'll have to start trying.

Or they can make their own decision, a power they've always possessed.

"If we're successful, the people are going to be in the seats," Hextall said. "If you look around the league, we’ve got very good attendance. That's a little bit harsh when you talk about attendance. Our attendance has been very good. Our fans are terrific.

"We're not going to make a change to appease people or because we are supposed to or for whatever reason. We're going to make changes to get better."

Popularity be damned.

Different roads meet for Flyers prospects Carter Hart, Anthony Stolarz

Different roads meet for Flyers prospects Carter Hart, Anthony Stolarz

VOORHEES, N.J. — The locker room designated for prospects at Flyers Skate Zone is starting to become bleak.

It's a natural occurrence as the days of preseason dwindle.

There wasn't much to see Saturday. With a small group of reporters hovering near a specific locker stall, a few prospects quipped about which player was being awaited.

"I've got 79 ideas," Anthony Stolarz said.

Carter Hart is No. 79. You get the joke.

Hart is the kid in net dominating the discussion of goalies, a beloved topic in Philadelphia — always. The noise is reaching a new pitch as injuries have hit Alex Lyon and Michal Neuvirth in a four-day span. Lyon (lower body) is out approximately four weeks, while Neuvirth remains a mystery. The oft-injured goalie had another issue crop up Friday and general manager Ron Hextall expects him to miss time, how much unknown.

Outside of Hart and Stolarz, Brian Elliott is the healthy goalie. And even he's coming off core muscle surgery last season and a summer of recovery.

Suddenly, the situation is breathing life into the notion of Hart cracking the roster at 20 years old.

Following a junior career full of accolades (see story), Hart owns the spotlight, one that has steadily grown ever since he was selected by the Flyers in the second round of the 2016 draft. He has stopped 45 of 47 shots during the preseason and is used to the attention, so he won't change much as the doorway widens.

"I haven't really looked at that," Hart said. "For me, just taking things day by day. For now, I'm just focusing on we have a preseason game on Monday. I'm not sure who's going to play or not, but you just have to be prepared. I have to come to the rink every day and be prepared for anything.

"Go with the flow, really."

Creeping into the spotlight is Stolarz, an outcast of sorts entering training camp. He played in just one AHL game and three ECHL contests last season because of a torn meniscus in his left knee suffered during early September.

He understands the outside perception of where he stands.

"[Lyon, Hart, Felix Sandstrom], they've had pretty good seasons and you miss the entire year, don't play any games, you're obviously going to get lost in the shuffle," Stolarz said. "But at the same time, it was more motivation for me to rehab and try to get back as soon as possible and show that I'm 100 percent and ready to go."

On Saturday, a new September represented a new Stolarz, who has made 51 saves on 57 shots throughout exhibition play. The 24-year-old looks refreshed and sounds confident. The challenge makes the climb back worth it.

"You get hurt right around training camp, you're obviously going to be a little upset, a little depressed," Stolarz said. "At first, it kind of took its toll seeing guys going back down to Allentown, guys making the big club. But I had a great support staff, my family, my teammates, Jimmy McCrossin, Sal Raffa, I worked with Jarrod Spencer, the mental coach with the Phantoms."

One of the positives Stolarz took out of the grind was going to "a ton of Flyers games," he said, getting the chance to watch and learn by studying other netminders like Carey Price and Pekka Rinne.

While he was doing so, Hart was on the ice, finishing a mastery of the junior level. They were in drastically different spots. Now, they're side by side with the same opportunity in sight.

And not just at Lehigh Valley.

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Flyers lose Danick Martel off waivers to Lightning, make more roster cuts

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Flyers lose Danick Martel off waivers to Lightning, make more roster cuts

VOORHEES, N.J. — Danick Martel will get his NHL shot.

It just won't be in orange and black.

Martel, who made his NHL debut with the Flyers last season over a four-game stint, was plucked off waivers Saturday by the Lightning.

Of all the players placed on waivers Friday across the league, Martel was the only one claimed. Cole Bardreau, T.J. Brennan, Greg Carey and Phil Varone all cleared and were assigned to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, along with Radel Fazleev.

Martel was an undrafted product in the organization. The speedy 5-foot-8, 162-pound winger put up nice numbers at the AHL level after a 102-point 2014-15 campaign (48 goals, 54 assists) at the junior level. He scored 20 or more goals in each of his three seasons with the Phantoms. Overall, he had 120 points in 199 games at Lehigh Valley, with a career-high 25 goals and plus-16 rating last season.

"He's a good player," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Saturday after practice. "It's a good opportunity for him, he's worked hard and you hate to lose a player like that out of the organization, but that's the business."

If Martel has a future at the NHL level, it will be as a bottom-six forward. His diminutive size makes it difficult for him to fill such a role that requires a bit more physicality and defensive focus.

But the 23-year-old brings positional versatility and some dynamic scoring ability. The Flyers, however, have grown their forward depth significantly and Martel ultimately did not seem seriously in the picture.

How much Martel actually plays and how long he stays in Tampa Bay is a whole different question. He joins a Lightning team that finished the 2017-18 regular season with an Eastern Conference-best 113 points and fell one series victory shy of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

The Flyers' roster now stands at 35 and it must be trimmed to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

Forwards (20)
Travis Konecny, RW, No. 11
Michael Raffl, RW, No. 12
Sean Couturier, C, No. 14
Jori Lehtera, C, No. 15
Wayne Simmonds, RW, No. 17
Nolan Patrick, C, No. 19
Taylor Leier, LW, No. 20
Scott Laughton, C, No. 21
Dale Weise, RW, No. 22
James van Riemsdyk, LW, No. 25
Claude Giroux, RW, No. 28
Corban Knight, C, No. 38
Tyrell Goulbourne, LW, No. 39
Jordan Weal, C, No. 40
Mikhail Vorobyev, C, No. 46
Oskar Lindblom, LW, No. 54
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW, No. 62
Pascal Laberge, C, No. 75
Carsen Twarynski, LW, No. 81
Jakub Voracek, RW, No. 93

Defensemen (10)
Radko Gudas, No. 3
Samuel Morin, No. 5
Travis Sanheim, No. 6
Robert Hagg, No. 8
Ivan Provorov, No. 9
Christian Folin, No. 26
Andrew MacDonald, No. 47
Shayne Gostisbehere, No. 53
Mark Friedman, No. 59
Philippe Myers, No. 61

Goaltenders (5)
Michal Neuvirth, No. 30
Alex Lyon, No. 34
Brian Elliott, No. 37
Anthony Stolarz, No. 41
Carter Hart, No. 79

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