Flyers

Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

usa-sean-couturier-flyers-knights.jpg
USA Today Images

Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

Of all the headliners that can be found on the Vegas strip, who would have imagined the Golden Knights, in their expansion year, would be right up there with Cirque du Soleil, Inferno and Chris Angel?

They shoot, they score, they entertain, and most impressively, they win. Only Tampa Bay averages more goals per game than Vegas does this season.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant has performed a miracle that’s one part Herb Brooks, another part David Copperfield.

How can a coach bring together a collection of castoffs from across the league and build not just the best expansion team in league history, but one of the top hockey teams in the entire NHL, all while playing an uptempo, fan-friendly system?

“That’s a good question,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. “They’re just skating very well, all of them. Obviously it’s hard to play against someone that’s skating so well.”

When these two teams played for the first time in Las Vegas in early February, the Flyers found out firsthand as they were outshot 39-18, the most lopsided shot total of any game this season, but were opportunistic in a 4-1 win.

Under Gallant, the Golden Knights have developed into one of the quickest puck-moving teams in the league and are constantly on the attack. Sean Couturier doesn’t believe there’s another team in the league that plays that style as well as Vegas does.

“I don’t think so,” Couturier said. “Not as good as they do. I think a lot of teams try and play like they do — spread the offensive zone, cycle the puck, control the play and get defenders out of position, but they’re really good at it.”

So if it works for the Golden Knights, why couldn’t the Flyers adopt a similar system?

For starters, Vegas general manager George McPhee was able to handpick his entire roster from a list of unprotected players — good players, at that. So if speed, puck control and skating ability were key attributes, then McPhee had the luxury of assembling that type of roster.

“What stands out when you watch them and when you play against them? Their speed presents a real challenge,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, whose team has 81 points, good for third in the Metro behind Pittsburgh (84) and Washington (83), and three points ahead of New Jersey (78). Washington hosts Winnipeg Monday night.

“You have to be ready to defend that and you have to be ready to counterattack against it.”

Secondly, the Golden Knights possess balance with no real “star power.” For most of this season, every line that Gallant has assembled has had to prove it's worthy of ice time, including the current top line of leading goal-scorer William Karlsson (35 goals) at center and Jonathan Marchessault (22 goals) and recent pickup Tomas Tatar (17 goals), formerly of the Red Wings. That trio has combined 74 goals on the season. The Knights also have 20-goal scorers in Erik Haula (24), James Neal (24) and Riley Smith (22).

“The biggest part of it is to have 23 players here, all kinda misfits who were left unprotected. So when they came with a simple system, it has to be 20 guys every night. You can’t have one line hot and the other three coasting,” said former Flyers forward Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, whom Vegas plucked in the expansion draft last summer. “[Gallant] played the guys who were working the hardest, and that was the indicator for the other guys, it doesn’t matter who your name is.”

Which probably wouldn’t work for Hakstol if Voracek, Couturier or Claude Giroux didn’t exactly bring their best effort every game. Gallant has been dealing from the same deck all season, a “use-it-or-lose-it” philosophy, you could say.

Impressively, it’s the same approach Gallant took with the Summerside Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League back in the mid-1990s.

“The way I coach is the same I coached in junior hockey,” Gallant said. “Come to the rink, have fun, work hard and be competitive. I don’t prepare my team much differently than anyone else does. For me, it’s having fun and having a good attitude and make sure your players are ready to play.”

Proof what happens in Vegas certainly shouldn’t stay there.

Trade talks or contract talks? Right now, doesn't sound like Wayne Simmonds is going anywhere

Trade talks or contract talks? Right now, doesn't sound like Wayne Simmonds is going anywhere

Last year it was Brayden Schenn who was dealt on draft night. 

Could this year be Wayne Simmonds?

According to a report Tuesday by Michael Russo of The Athletic, the Flyers are gearing to potentially trade Simmonds. Russo’s report mentions the Flyers as one of 15 different teams the Minnesota Wild could possibly swing a deal with under new general manager Paul Fenton.

While the speculation comes as little surprise, general manager Ron Hextall said last week immediately following his pre-draft press conference that he expects to have preliminary discussions with Simmonds' agent regarding a contract extension.

“Yeah, we’ll talk at some point,” Hextall said. “We had pro meetings, the week before was four days of amateur meetings. Combine before that. It’s a real busy time. That gets pushed back to later.”

Hextall certainly didn’t make it sound as if he’s gearing up to deal Simmonds this weekend, and he typically doesn’t resort to smoke screens as a way of misleading reporters. 

The Flyers' power forward has been a regular in Voorhees, New Jersey, throughout his rehab following surgery to repair a tear in his pelvis area. Hextall feels Simmonds is already on track to be 100 percent for training camp and anticipates a monster season from the 29-year-old right winger as he not only enters the final year of his contract but is also out to prove that last season was a fluke.

“I’ll be honest with you, Simmer’s a fast-twitch muscle guy, I don’t have any concern with him,” Hextall said. “I saw him [Thursday] morning, he’s gonna work his way, he’s with [team director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin]. He’s got great guidance. ... I have the expectation for Simmer to come back and be as good as new.”

Last year, Hextall mentioned he had not anticipated trading Schenn until the deal with St. Louis was pieced together on draft night. Something similar could also happen with Simmonds, who has a limited no-trade clause in his current contract, which allows him to submit a no-trade list of 12 teams. 

All of which leaves you wondering whether a big deal goes down in Big D.

More on the Flyers

What should the Flyers do with Simmonds?

• Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

• Hextall doesn't plan on trading up in draft, but ...

• How much will Flyers change? That's Hextall's challenge

Colin McDonald staying in Flyers' system, re-signs with Phantoms

usa_colin_mcdonald_flyers.jpg
USA Today Images

Colin McDonald staying in Flyers' system, re-signs with Phantoms

Every team wants an insurance policy with NHL experience at the AHL level.

The Flyers will have that again in Colin McDonald.

Lehigh Valley signed the right winger to an AHL contract Tuesday afternoon, bringing back the captain for a fourth season with the Phantoms. The team also signed defenseman David Drake, 23, who played seven games for Lehigh Valley last season.

McDonald, who turns 34 years old in September, never reached the Flyers in 2017-18, but played eight games for the big club over the prior two seasons, scoring a pair of goals. He actually appeared in three playoff games during 2015-16 because of injuries to Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton, and a suspension for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

In total, McDonald, known for making an impact with his size (6-2/219) and physicality, has 148 games of NHL experience to go with 11 postseason contests.

Last season with the Phantoms, McDonald posted 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 56 regular-season games, before helping Lehigh Valley advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where it was swept by the Toronto Marlies.

In 2016-17, McDonald had 25 goals and 44 points in 72 regular-season games.

Not only is McDonald a solid safety net for the Flyers, but he also provides a good example for the organization's prospects developing with the Phantoms. He's a likeable, mature pro and has played 628 AHL games over his career, so the franchise's youngsters will be able to rely on him for another season in 2018-19.

More on the Flyers