Flyers

If not contract situation, could anything be weighing on Ivan Provorov?

If not contract situation, could anything be weighing on Ivan Provorov?

Before watching his first game as general manager, Chuck Fletcher already had his mind made up regarding defenseman Ivan Provorov. 

"I'm convinced he's a very good player,” Fletcher said after his introductory press conference Wednesday. 

Fletcher undoubtedly understands how rare it is to find that anchor on the blue line. As GM of the Wild, he secured Ryan Suter on a 13-year, $98 million contract, locking him up until the age of 39.

Aside from determining Wayne Simmonds' future, another order of business high on Fletcher’s list of priorities is devising the framework of a deal with Provorov’s agent, Mark Gandler of International Sports Advisors. Gandler also represents Capitals defenseman Dimitry Orlov, who signed a six-year, $30 million contract on the day before free agency this past summer.

“I have a good relationship with the agency that represents [Provorov] and I'm sure we'll have some conversations and we'll just see how things go,” Fletcher said. “It's certainly not a project for this week, let's put it that way. I'll reach out to the agent this week, but it's not a project to get anything done right away."

Former GM Ron Hextall had just started to lay out the foundation with Provorov’s entry-level deal expiring at the end of the season. The two sides spoke “probably 10 to 15 times” going back to last summer, Hextall said, but neither side felt comfortable throwing out a number as it pertains to the cap.

“We worked at Provy all summer — three months on and off and we couldn’t come to middle ground," Hextall said. "It was absolutely no animosity."

Fletcher may be better off waiting as long as possible. Provorov has struggled to minimize turnovers in the defensive end of the ice in the first two months of the season, and his current projection of six goals and 28 points would be a sharp drop-off from the league-leading 17 goals among defensemen and 41 points he scored in his sophomore season.

All of which has left the hockey world wondering if these looming negotiations have affected Provorov’s performance on the ice. Both Hextall and Fletcher couldn’t say for certain.   

“I don’t know. That’s a hard one to figure out because you see other guys,” Hextall said. “I don’t think so. Provy is really strong mentally. If I had to pick one guy on our team that I didn’t think would be affected by this, he’d be the first guy."

"I don't know whether that is or not, but it's not unusual to see young players have outside things affect them and affect play,” Fletcher said. “Whether that's true with Ivan, I don't know, but we'll get to know him.”

When I caught up with Provorov earlier this week, he believed his pending (restricted) free agency hadn't had any bearing on his performance.   

“It’s not hard for me,” Provorov said. “I wasn’t really getting involved. I love hockey for everything it brings. When I came back here, I was just happy to be back with the boys and get the season going. Whatever happens, happens — and it happens for a reason. But I love playing here.”

Sources tell me that if anything has bothered Provorov, it has been two-fold: Differing opinions with former assistant coach Gord Murphy, and secondly, not having anyone outside the organization to confide in with his immediate family all living in Russia.

Even with Provorov’s degree of maturity, sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s still just a 21-year-old kid living independently on foreign soil while battling through a rough offseason, which included his recovery from a Grade 3 shoulder separation.   

Provorov will eventually figure out the hockey side, while Fletcher and Provorov’s agent will hammer out the financial side.

It’s all a reminder that it just takes a little bit of time.

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Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen will never forget his time with the Capitals.

When you give hundreds of thousands of fans a parade in a city craving a championship, it would be impossible to move on with no sentimental feelings for the past.

But Niskanen is now a Flyer and playing for a city that hasn't seen its hockey team win a Stanley Cup since 1975. Performing in orange and black is his focus, as hard as that is when facing his former teammates for the first time since being traded during June.

Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup in Washington, the city's first major championship since 1992. The Capitals visited Philadelphia to play the Flyers Wednesday night and held a morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 32-year-old defenseman hadn't yet caught up with his old buddies. Following the game might be a better time for Niskanen.

"There’s that kind of special connection that you get when you have that kind of success with a team," he said Wednesday morning.

"There’s a fine balance of wanting to say hi to these guys and also you’ve got to cut the cord a bit, too. My focus is playing well with the Flyers right now. But I’m not that far removed from playing with these guys, so if I see somebody, I’ll chat and say hi.”

Niskanen has been excellent for the Flyers, impacting the club's improved goal prevention, special teams units and young defensemen. Some of his new, younger teammates have asked him about winning a Stanley Cup.

"A bit," the unassuming Niskanen said. "It’s not something that comes up all the time, or usually not in front of a big group. I try not to bring it up too much. On occasion, a few times they have.”

Alain Vigneault knew about Niskanen from coaching against him in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers' head coach also heard from Scott Arniel — one of the Capitals' assistant coaches who was on Vigneault's staff in New York — about Niskanen.

“He told me that I was going to have a real solid leader, quiet leadership, but great role model and that’s exactly what we have," Vigneault said.

“Just by the way he conducts himself. If you watch him in practice, he’s always doing things the right way and he pays a lot of attention to details. When he talks to, whether it be a teammate or coaches, it’s soft-spoken but right to the point. We’ve got a great person there and we’ve got a defenseman that’s really helping us out.”

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Flyers vs. Capitals: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers vs. Capitals: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Two of the NHL's hottest teams clash Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

The Flyers (10-5-2) welcome the Capitals (13-2-4) for the first of four regular-season matchups between the Metropolitan Division clubs.

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

• Flyers-Capitals games are always intense and this one will have a different feeling for Matt Niskanen, even though the defenseman was reserved Tuesday when talking about the matchup.

"I was aware of who we're playing," Niskanen said.

The 32-year-old played 390 games for Washington and won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals. Wednesday will be his first game against his former club since being traded to the Flyers in June (see story).

Niskanen put up 29 goals, 127 asssists and a plus-58 rating in Washington, where he played 70 playoff games.

"We had a good group in my time there, won a lot of games," he said. "Two years ago was pretty special. Good group. ... I’m guessing it’s going to feel weird once I see them on the other side in warmups. For now, try to win the game.”

Niskanen has been excellent for the Flyers, who are off to their best start since the 2011-12 season.

Was Niskanen a go-to guy in the Flyers' pre-scout of the Capitals?

"There are some things that aren't really a secret," Niskanen said. "How their power play runs, for example, I think everybody in the country knows what they're going to do. But there's a tip here or there maybe."

• The Flyers made a statement last weekend by sweeping a back-to-back road set against the Maple Leafs and Bruins.

Things do not get easier as they return home.

The Capitals lead the NHL with 30 points and are on a 12-game point streak (10-0-2) in which they've outscored the opposition 54-35.

Washington is scoring four goals per game, most in hockey, and is 8-1-1 on the road.

Head coach Alain Vigneault sounded excited to see how the Flyers stack up against the Capitals. Vigneault's team is playing well, too, as the Flyers are on a six-game point streak (5-0-1) and have gone 8-2-1 since Oct. 21.

"We talked to Nisky about them this morning and we’ve got quite a task ahead of us," Vigneault said Tuesday. "Not only are they playing extremely well, but they’re a team that knows how to win. I’m looking forward to this game. It’s going to be a good matchup for us, we’re playing some good hockey lately. We’ll be tested and I’m anxious to see how we’re going to respond.”

• At home, the Flyers are 6-1-1, scoring four goals per game and haven't allowed a power play goal since Oct. 21.

• Capitals defenseman John Carlson leads all NHL blueliners in points with 29 (eight goals, 21 assists).

Quotable

Great guy, great teammate. It’s going to be different playing against him. Obviously going to have to keep our head up, we know what he’s able to do.

- Sean Couturier on playing against former Flyer and current Capital Radko Gudas

Projected lineup

Forwards

James van Riemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Joel Farabee
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Carsen Twarynski-Kevin Hayes-Jakub Voracek
Andy Andreoff-Michael Raffl-Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Shayne Gostisbehere-Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

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