It's not just a quick roster fix, it's a mentality overhaul with Flyers

It's not just a quick roster fix, it's a mentality overhaul with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux didn’t just go from a 102-point season to forgetting some of the most basic elements of fundamental hockey.

In the span of nine months, Sean Couturier didn’t go from a Selke finalist to rediscovering what makes a sound, solid two-way hockey player. 

But you would think after listening to general manager Chuck Fletcher’s press conference Monday that some of the most basic principles of playing hockey at the highest level were being taught for the first time under Scott Gordon.

Sure, Jakub Voracek coughs up the puck too easily at times, Giroux may be coasting on a backcheck or Couturier attempts an errant pass, but these are occasional lapses — not systematic, careless mistakes that take place on a nightly basis.

The Flyers' underlying problems go way deeper than this, starting with the younger players on the team.

“I think everybody understands theories. It’s in the heat of the moment, what are you going to do?” Fletcher said. “I’m not trying to overplay this, but it’s habits. It’s building habits in practice because you revert to what you know in stressful situations. It’s more the mindset, it’s habits. We make the game difficult at times.”

The most revealing part of two days and several hours of quotes from the players, staff and front office personnel is that the Flyers, a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four of the past seven years, have developed bad habits, some really bad habits, that require a complete detoxing.

You almost wish the Flyers could start their rehabilitation with training camp on the Monday after Labor Day weekend.

“It starts with me, then it goes to the coaches, then to the leaders and the players,” Fletcher said. “It’s not just mindset, it’s actual details. It’s doing things the right way repeatedly. That’s how you gain confidence and that’s how you learn to play the right way.”

It’s the realization that while former GM Ron Hextall appeared to be more concerned over the intake of inflammatory foods in their postgame meals or who resided in the players' lounge after games, the nuts and bolts of what really mattered was being neglected under the previous regime.  

“It’s not just systems. It's puck management, game management, being in the right spot, holding onto the puck offensively, making more plays offensively, retrieving pucks and winning battles,” Fletcher said. “There’s a whole host of things that go into it. We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things.

“It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.”

Fletcher just rattled off a laundry list of items that make it sound like the equivalent of teaching the golf swing to a 7-year-old picking up a club for the first time. It sounds alarming, and perhaps it should. Even Nolan Patrick mentioned he was exposed to parts of his game for the first time in his career.

“[Gordon] showed me things not many coaches have showed me,” Patrick said. "He helped me a lot with video and stuff I haven’t been shown in a while. Even things on the offensive side of things. It was pretty impressive to see the stuff he was showing me. He’s a smart mind."

The leadership group has to step up 

But it can’t just be on Gordon to do the preaching or whoever the Flyers eventually tab as the next head coach. 

There’s only so many times a coach can get in the ear of a younger player and repeatedly relay the same message. That’s why coaches are “tuned out” when the leadership group doesn’t reinforce the message with players who are developing bad habits or there’s a refusal of buying into a coach’s philosophy of playing the right way.

“I think it’s a question of consistency and doing the little details. We have some young players that are still learning,” Couturier said. “They’re great and they’re skilled. We’re going to have to be more consistent in doing those little things on a nightly basis. It starts from the leadership group as well. We need to be better consistently and everyone has to be pushing in the right direction.”

In doing so, it sometimes requires difficult and uncomfortable conversations.

And if the Flyers' current leadership group doesn’t feel as if it can carry out this responsibility, then it’s up to management to find those who can.

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Report: Flyers, Kevin Hayes closing in on 7-year contract

Report: Flyers, Kevin Hayes closing in on 7-year contract

It appears Kevin Hayes is nearing a payday and Chuck Fletcher is close to getting his guy.

Hayes and the Flyers are closing in on a seven-year, $50 million contract, according to a report Tuesday night by TSN's Bob McKenzie. That would be an average of $7.14 million per season.

Per Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fletcher said Tuesday night: "We are still working on things. I'm hopeful we'll get it done."

If it gets done under the reported terms, it's a hefty contract.

It shows you how much the Flyers' general manager wants Hayes, who projects to be the team's second-line center. For some context, Sean Couturier is making $4.3 million a season. James van Riemsdyk, a two-time 30-goal scorer, is making $7 million a season.

But when you have $30 million in cap space and you're looking to get better significantly and quickly, you make a splash and this would qualify as one.

Hayes, a 6-foot-5, 216-pound forward, is 27 years old, scored a career-high 25 goals in 2017-18 and a career-best 55 points this past season. That doesn't exactly meet or warrant the reported terms of the contract, but the Flyers are clearly projecting and believe his prime years are ahead. They also wanted to do their best in preventing Hayes from testing the free-agent market, starting June 23.

The Flyers traded for his rights on June 3, sending a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Jets. Without a deal, Hayes will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Hayes, who played under Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault from 2014-18 in New York, is a smart and responsible two-way forward. The Flyers want more of those qualities after putting up a minus-37 goal differential and allowing the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41 in 2018-19.

"There are not a lot of centermen in the marketplace and Kevin is a quality hockey player," Fletcher said last week. "He plays a strong 200-foot game. He's a guy who can play both specialty teams. He's familiar with our coach and our coach is familiar with him. So, we just thought it made sense to try to get ahead of it.

"He plays well away from the puck. He understands the game. He has hockey sense. He can contribute offensively. We gave up 281 goals last year, we have to get better. We have to have more players that play a strong 200-foot game. I'd like to improve the penalty kill. Having depth through the middle of the ice will make us harder to play against."

Fletcher has been busy, reshaping the Flyers' defense. Now it's time to lock up Hayes, his strategy all along.

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2019 NHL draft profile: 'Elite skater' Philip Broberg could help Flyers restock on defense

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2019 NHL draft profile: 'Elite skater' Philip Broberg could help Flyers restock on defense

The 2019 NHL entry draft is Friday and Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia. General manager Chuck Fletcher, assistant general manager Brent Flahr and the Flyers hold the 11th overall pick and eight selections in total.

"This draft's a little unique," Flahr said last week. "Especially in the top 15, there are a number of different types of players, which is interesting — some power wingers, some smaller scoring wingers, some centermen, there's a number of D, a goaltender.

"We've identified probably five or six guys that we think have a chance to be there at 11 and probably some of the other teams in front of us will dictate that. But we're really confident we're going to get a good player."

This week, we are breaking down options for the Flyers at No. 11.

Philip Broberg

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Team: AIK

Scouting report

Watch video clips of Broberg and he will wow you with his skating. He looks like an NHL forward the way he uses his powerful stride to singlehandedly push the puck up ice and create plays in the offensive zone.

The Swede is considered a top-three defenseman in the draft because of his impressive size and polished skating. He has a super high ceiling and played 41 games at the pro level in his home country, scoring nine points (two goals, seven assists).

"Good size, elite skater, played with men all year, so I don't think he had the best year statistically when you watch him, but he had a real strong April tournament," Flahr said. "He has a physical package that's really intriguing for a lot of teams. He's an NHL player, for sure. Whether he has the upside offensively as some of the others, maybe not, but he's going to be a terrific player."

Fit with Flyers

If Broberg is available at No. 11, don't be surprised to see the Flyers take him. Flahr and Fletcher emphasized drafting upside over anything else in the first round, while the Flyers have goals to replenish the organizational depth at defensemen.

With a forward-heavy top half of the first round, there's a good chance the Flyers will have an opportunity to take the second or third defenseman in the draft. Flahr said the Flyers have a couple of blueliners ranked in their top 10.

Broberg's upside would be a welcomed addition to the Flyers' prospect pool, which has steadily seen a promising crop of defensemen graduate to the big club.

More on the 2019 NHL draft

• Flyers take one of draft's best D-men in this 1st-round mock

Trading No. 11 pick? Draft dynamic? That and more here

• Flyers like 'unique' winger Boldy as option for No. 11 overall pick

• Impressive playmaking center Krebs could be there for Flyers at No. 11

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