Flyers

Flyers should FINALLY add at NHL trade deadline

Flyers should FINALLY add at NHL trade deadline

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall has one month to decide how he’ll proceed with a team that has made a rapid ascension up the Metropolitan Division standings.

With the Feb. 26 trade deadline looming, the Flyers have 14 games to help solidly their playoff position, which would give the general manager a little more clarity into the legitimacy of the team's current stretch of solid play.

Two years ago, when the Flyers advanced to the postseason in Dave Hakstol’s first year as head coach, Hextall was content riding with his current roster without making a single upgrade. You could even debate Hextall created addition by subtraction once he dealt Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Los Angeles Kings for Jordan Weal and a third-round pick, clearing roughly $8 million in cap space.

“I guess filling a hole and upgrading might be a little different,” Hextall said Wednesday. “I’m not going to say ‘no’ because we’re going to try and get better if we can get better.”

Which leads to a more pressing question.

What area(s) can the Flyers improve through a trade?

For depth purposes, the Flyers could use another defenseman, but so would every team and they don’t come cheap.

Personally, the Flyers need more flexibility at the forward position, in particular, at center. Sean Couturier has been a rock-solid No. 1 and Nolan Patrick is an emerging No. 2. Valtteri Filppula, who Hextall added at last season’s deadline, has proven to be a serviceable third-line center who plays reliably defensively and can easily adapt to the wing, but his lack of speed will become a factor in the playoffs.

If one of those three suffers an injury, then the Flyers would be forced to shuffle personnel to make up for the loss. Hakstol could move Claude Giroux back to the middle, but considering how well he’s played working in tandem with Couturier and now Travis Konecny, you'd prefer to keep Giroux at left wing.

Scott Laughton has the ability to contribute more minutes, but he’s settled into the role of a fourth-line center, who can also contribute on the penalty kill. Hakstol has even utilized Weal and Jori Lehtera at the center position at different times, but those moves are not ideal either. Weal has speed, Lehtera has size, preferably you would like a center who combines both attributes.

Hextall, and every other GM, knows you need two solid, reliable scoring lines. As well as Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek have played, they could truly thrive with a center that brings more offensive upside.

Two years ago, when the Flyers battled the Capitals to a six-game series, their biggest downfall clearly was offensive production, having scored just six goals in six games, and never scoring more than two goals in any game of that series. The Flyers never had a chance in that series, as the Capitals were the deeper, more dominant team. Washington finished 24 points better than the Flyers in the standings.

This season is different. The Flyers are deeper and there’s considerably more parity, not just within the division but within the entire Eastern Conference. They’ve proven they can hang with the heavyweights by winning three straight games against the Capitals and Lightning. For the first time in the Hextall era, it’s a Flyers team that can not only make the playoffs but potentially win a series or two.

“Whether something is out there, I don’t know," Hextall said. "I feel like we have kids who can fill in if we have injuries or erratic play. Unless it was a nice upgrade at a reasonable price, I’m not going to trade a good young player at this point.”

Thankfully for Hextall, barring a rash of injuries to key players, the Flyers won’t need to offer up a talented prospect since they’re not in the market to add a marquee player or bonafide goal scorer, and unlike previous seasons, there appears to be a larger pool of prospective sellers, a list that includes the Sabres, Senators, Panthers, Canadiens, Red Wings, Coyotes, Canucks and Oilers.

According to SportsNet Canada’s Elliotte Friedman, Ottawa is already fielding calls on Jean-Gabriel Pageau (my preference would be Derick Brassard) and Minnesota has received inquiries into Charlie Coyle.

Still, Hextall doesn’t appear too convinced.

“If you look at the history of it, it’s not very good," Hextall said. "Name me a player, the big player the team got at the deadline and was a huge factor in them winning. It doesn’t happen very often. I don’t feel like we have to do that. Our big guys are our big guys and are playing well. Our kids are getting better.”

Flyers will face New York Islanders again in annual rookie game

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Flyers will face New York Islanders again in annual rookie game

While the Flyers have not announced the start of their rookie and training camp, they did provide an indication Tuesday of when the camps will be.

For the third straight season, the Flyers and New York Islanders will square off Sept. 12 in their annual rookie game. This time, it returns to New York.

The game will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12 at the Northwell Health Ice Center, the Islanders' practice facility in East Meadow, New York. According to Newsday's Andrew Gross, ticket proceeds will benefit the Islanders' Children's Foundation.

In years past, the Flyers have streamed the games on their official website.

Last year, the Flyers-Islanders rookie game was on Sept. 13, 2017, two days after rookie camp began and two days before the main camp opened.

The rookie game marks the official end of rookie camp, so by the process of elimination, a safe guess would be the Flyers' rookie camp will be Sept. 10 and training camp likely opening a day or two after the game.

The Islanders beat the Flyers, 4-3, in overtime last September. The Flyers won the first game two years ago. From 2007 to 2014, the Flyers and Capitals faced each other in their annual rookie games.

Rookie games are fun because they're the first glimpse of prospects and with the Flyers, there's a ton to be excited about — even if signing James van Riemsdyk accelerates their process (see story).

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Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, cracks NHL Network's top 20 active defensemen

A young Flyers defenseman cracked the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list, but it's not exactly who you are thinking.

Shayne Gostisbehere, not Ivan Provorov, was listed Sunday night as the league's 17th best blueliner as NHL Network continued its nine-part series looking at the game's top players.

That's not a slight to Gostisbehere by any means, but many would argue that Provorov's overall game is far more in tune of a top-tier player than Gostisbehere.

Here is NHL Network Ken Daneyko's explanation for "Ghost," who ranks right behind Boston's Torey Krug and ahead of Carolina's Dougie Hamilton:

"He really came into his own last year. This kid is dynamic, and for me, I think there are some defensive liabilities, but because how offensive the game has become and defensemen being part of that offense, Gostisbehere can do it all. He's shifty and can make a pass in the blink of an eye for a great scoring chance."

Gostisbehere had a frustrating sophomore season in 2016-17 after exploding onto the scene in 2015-16. Last season, though, he rebounded in grand fashion.

The 25-year-old finished fourth in the NHL among defensemen in points with 65. He led all defensemen in power-play points (33) and was tied for the league lead with seven power-play goals.

His offensive production returned — actually increased substantially — to his rookie season level, when he scored at a 0.72 points per game clip in 2015-16. Last season that number was 0.83.

But Gostisbehre's defensive game began to round into place. He credited that to "a little more snot," but the player we saw in his own end was far better than what we've seen before.

We can chalk some of that up to Dave Hakstol putting Gostisbehere with Provorov in late December. The pair became dynamic because, at any moment, either could jump up in the offensive zone and create, but Provorov was the pair's anchor.

“He’s a 1,000 of years better than me defensively,” Gostisbehere said in April. “We use that to our advantage and it really showed as a pair. Provy’s very good defensively, but offensively, he took another step.

"He’s probably one of the best, if not the best two-way defenseman in the NHL.”

Provorov did not totally get snubbed by the NHL Network. Daneyko had Provorov on the bubble and if we return to this list after the 2018-19 season, it's safe to say Provorov will likely, at least, make the leap.

"For such a young age, poise, good in all three zones and only getting better," Daneyko said of Provorov. "He moves the puck and has good offensive instinct. He's going to be a real good player for a long time."

Provorov, 21, was tied for the league lead among defensemen with 17 goals in his second NHL campaign but didn't post ludicrous overall numbers — just 41 points and not many on the power play.

But Provorov played the tough, shutdown minutes (see story). He led the team in ice time with 24:09 per game, more than 2 1/2 minutes more than Sean Couturier's 21:35 and 2 minutes and 42 seconds more than Gostisbehere.

We're splitting hairs here, really. Lists are lists and a good list often creates debate. Does it matter that Gostisbehere, not Provorov, made the NHL Network's top 20 defensemen list? Not really, but it's still a neat honor.

If anything, it's another testament that the Flyers are doing things right even if the process at the rink is slower than fans would like.

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