Flyers

Moving Claude Giroux back to center may be Flyers' best move

Moving Claude Giroux back to center may be Flyers' best move

One ring down, one ring to go.

Claude Giroux is enjoying a summer of marital bliss after tying the knot with fiancee Ryanne Breton.

When he returns to Philadelphia later this summer, he’ll begin his quest once again to earn that much more elusive championship ring. Of course, few people believe the Flyers are close to winning a Stanley Cup, but with the addition of James van Riemsdyk, they’re closer.

Maybe one more stud defenseman, Carter Hart in his prime, and switching the captain back to center?

Is it possible that after topping the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career, Giroux’s left wing conversion was just a one-year experiment?

General manager Ron Hextall stated a desire to sign a third-line center who would help kill penalties, but only signing one on his terms. The players that seemingly fit that role — Tyler Bozak, Riley Nash and Derek Ryan — all signed three-year contracts elsewhere, and the concern within the organization is eventually blocking Morgan Frost’s path to the NHL (see story)

So Hextall was asked on July 1 how the Flyers find that center they weren’t able to sign through free agency and the first answer that almost immediately came to mind was moving Giroux back to center. 

I believe the Flyers' brass has already given the idea consideration, and if you move the pieces around on paper, the team looks considerably deeper with Giroux in the middle again. 

Several elements stand out when you compare and contrast the different combinations.

1. The Flyers are considerably more balanced with Giroux at center, with three lines that can do offensive damage and create matchup problems for the opposition, especially at home with last change.

2. Konecny could be buried with Giroux at wing. He’s almost guaranteed a spot in the top six if Giroux switches back to center. During the first half of last season, Konecny was paired with players that didn’t have a similar skill set, and consequently, the super-skilled winger struggled to find any offensive rhythm.

3. While effective at times last season, Laughton doesn’t seem ready to jump into the role of a third-line center. The 2012 first-round pick played some of his best hockey late in the season on the left wing with Jori Lehtera at center. 

If Dave Hakstol elects to make this change in the preseason, the biggest concern moving forward doesn’t necessarily involve Giroux’s move back to center, but rather can Couturier continue to excel by posting solid offensive numbers without Giroux on his wing? The two players were inseparable last season until the final two games of the Flyers' playoff series against Pittsburgh.  

And it may be the best option to start next season. 

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

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

Ready for some playoff-like hockey?

A home-and-home set that will feel like the postseason is on tap for the Flyers (36-20-7) and Rangers (35-24-4), starting Friday night in Philadelphia.

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• The Flyers and Rangers are two of the NHL's hottest teams.

They happen to be division rivals and play each other twice over the next three days.

The Flyers have won four straight and are 14-5-1 since Jan. 8 with an NHL-best 3.60 goals per game. The Rangers have won five straight and are 9-1-0 over their last 10 games.

These next two games are pivotal for both clubs. For the Flyers, they can continue to fortify their playoff hopes while delivering a haymaker to New York's chances.

With 79 points, the Flyers are in third place of the Metropolitan Division and only a point back of the second-place Penguins. Thanks to their surge, the Rangers are only two points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot and five behind the Flyers.

Pittsburgh, Carolina and Columbus are also in action tonight. Buckle up.

• Kevin Hayes has kept tabs on his old team.

He knows of New York's run and sees the damage Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad have caused.

Panarin, who has 32 goals and 55 assists, is on an 11-game point streak (five goals, 11 assists), while Zibanejad has scored a goal in six straight games and owns 27 points over his last 18 games (13 goals, 14 assists).

The Rangers have won nine straight road games by a combined score of 34-17.

I watch some of their games when I’m at home on the couch," Hayes said Friday after morning skate. "It looks like they’re buying in defensively, they’ve got five guys back to the house pretty much every time it’s in the zone, and then their elite players are putting up some serious numbers.

Mika was out for a lot of games. You watch him, for me, from when I first met him, he’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen on the ice. That guy is lighting it up this year. I don’t think he gets enough credit, he probably gets a lot of credit with the New York media, but around the league, I don’t think he gets enough credit. He’s an elite player in this league and he’s dominating right now.

I think taking away him and Panarin are big keys for the game tonight and on Sunday.

• Derek Grant and Nate Thompson will each play their second game with the Flyers.

In their Philly debuts, both centers played 12-plus minutes.

Grant's responsibilities could grow with each game.

“Derek Grant, we’ve got some experimenting to do there," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "We see some potential, we see a lot of smarts without the puck. We’ll let them play, see how they do tonight and we’re going to figure this out here as we move forward.”

• Carter Hart is 17-2-2 with a 1.65 goals-against average and .941 save percentage at home.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Derek Grant-Tyler Pitlick
Michael Raffl-Nate Thompson-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

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Flyers give 15-year-old fan a contract, and then the day of his life

Flyers give 15-year-old fan a contract, and then the day of his life

The Flyers announced an eye-catching transaction Thursday: a one-day contract with a young local hockey fan, 15-year-old Blake Steigauf.

Steigauf, an enormous Flyers fan and a sophomore at Manheim Central High School who was diagnosed with cancer last April, partnered with Make-A-Wish Philadelphia and on Thursday spent a dream day with the Flyers.

Currently a player for Manehim Central's high school hockey team, Steigauf hit the ice with his favorite player, Flyers captain Claude Giroux, and spent time on the ice during practice with the team.

After taking a few shots — and netting a few goals — against Flyers goalie Brian Elliott, Steigauf and Giroux were chatting when Giroux gave Steigauf his stick and told the young star it was his to keep.

When Giroux gave Steigauf his stick, Elliott swooped in from behind and chirped the Flyers captain: "You've scored more with it than he has."

After practice, Giroux talked about Steigauf's game, and leaned into the razzing.

"You can see that [Steigauf's] been playing," Giroux said. "He's got a good shot. It was good. I gave him my stick, so hopefully ... those sticks don't score a lot of goals, but hopefully he's gonna change that."

In his locker stall after practice, Steigauf was thrilled.

"I'm speechless," Steigauf said. "It was just phenomenal out there. All the guys, they're truly amazing."

Steigauf and Giroux shared lunch together, where Steigauf hopefully gave Giroux a few pointers:

After practice, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher announced the one-day contract at a press conference. Steigauf will join the Flyers on Friday for their Feb. 28 game against the Rangers, according to the team:

Blake's game-day experience will mirror that of his new official teammates, arriving at the arena through the private player's entrance, dressing in an official locker room stall, and lining up alongside the team in the player tunnel. Sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, Blake will lead the team out of the tunnel onto the ice and take an official solo "rookie lap" around Wells Fargo Center ice before watching warmups from the team bench. 

As his final game-night duty, Head Coach Alain Vigneault has requested that Blake present the night's starting lineup before he returns to the ice and stands side-by-side with the starters on the blue line during the singing of the National Anthem.

Both on and off the ice, the Flyers are on a roll.

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