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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Tomas Plekanec

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Flyers 2018 free-agent target: C Tomas Plekanec

Each day until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall will analyze some of the league's impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.

Over time, general manager Ron Hextall has freed his club from its salary cap dungeon, setting the Flyers up with greater financial flexibility this offseason. The team has $21.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

As the Flyers look to take a step forward in 2018-19, free agency will provide Hextall an avenue to fill specific holes and supplement his mix of veterans and youth. While the team hasn't been major players on the market under Hextall in the past, the GM indicated earlier this month the Flyers could be active this summer.

Hextall said the Flyers wouldn't entertain a seven-year contract on a free agent, but he expressed a desire to add a veteran or two depending on the term.

With that said, let's look at some possible fits and how/if they make sense for the Flyers.

Tomas Plekanec

Age: 35
Position: C
Height: 5-11
Weight: 193
Last team: Canadiens/Maple Leafs
2017-18 cap hit: $6 million
 
Boruk
If you’re not in the market for Valtteri Filppula, then there’s not much of a reason to pursue Plekanec, who hails from the same Czech town as Jakub Voracek. The former Canadiens center will turn 36 in the first month of the season, and he’s already publicly stated he wants to return to Montreal since his kids speak French and they attend a French-speaking school. I’m not sure you will find very many of those in Philadelphia.

Plekanec’s numbers have also taken a sharp dip over the past four seasons as he finished 2017-18 with just six goals and 26 points, which also included playing the final month of the season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Plekanec plays a well-rounded two-way game, much like Filppula does, but he’s a middle-of-the-road faceoff guy and saw limited ice time following the trade to Toronto. Still, Plekanec stepped up and performed well in the Leafs’ seven-game series against the Bruins, proving he can still elevate his game during playoff time.

If plan A and even plan B don’t pan out, then Plekanec can serve as that next option if the Canadiens indeed are no longer willing to bring back the 14-year veteran, but signing him only on the Flyers' term and nowhere close to the two-year, $12 million contract that just recently expired. 

Dougherty
Plekanec is a hard no for me because he's not exactly better than what the Flyers already had in Filppula or even Jori Lehtera at this point of his career.

Plus, all signs point to Plekanec returning to Montreal. He had a career-worst season in 2017-18 with six goals and 26 points and was largely ineffective with the Maple Leafs after the trade to Toronto.

In 17 games with the Leafs, Plekanec had just two assists. He was a little better in the postseason but not by much.

If this was a few years ago, then Plekanec would make sense. But now? He's too old and too slow. The Flyers can do better from within than adding Plekanec from outside.

Hall
Hextall on Friday mentioned how free agents must be above the Flyers' line for the team to consider them, essentially saying the club will compare that player to what the organization has internally.

"We went down our list and we drew a line," Hextall said. "Here's the line where it's not an upgrade from what we have in the system, so we're not going to go out and sign guys to three- or four-year deals that are no better than either the players that we have on our team or the kids that we have that our close to being ready."

Plekanec would not be an upgrade for the Flyers. Hextall has said the Flyers look to get younger and better each year. Plekanec turns 36 in October and has seen a steady drop in production.

The Flyers can improve down the middle by taking different avenues.

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Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

When Carey Price was at his most dominant, winning the Vezina Trophy (top goalie) and Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) in 2014-15, Carter Hart was just 16 years old. 

The precocious but innocent kid had just begun molding his game at the junior hockey level with the WHL's Silvertips in Everett, Washington.

Price was at the sport's pinnacle.

"He was my favorite goalie growing up," Hart said.

On Wednesday, the night before his 22nd birthday, Hart found himself stretching next to Price at the center-ice line in front of the scorekeepers' bench.

There was Hart, on the same NHL stage as his idol, facing him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL postseason is serious business, requiring the utmost competitiveness and focus. Hart, whose youthfulness often belies his maturity, fully understands the beast that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the postseason makes for special moments and memories. NHL players all looked up to someone at some point. For Hart, he allowed himself to appreciate the storyline ahead.

"Definitely really cool," Hart said last Sunday about the upcoming best-of-seven first-round matchup with Price's Canadiens. "Just had the chance to actually meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time, so that was something pretty cool. For your first playoff series, playing against Carey Price will definitely be a lot of fun; I look forward to it."

Price, who turns 33 years old on Sunday, was unable to spoil the youngster's birthday. By midnight, Hart and the top-seeded Flyers had a 1-0 series lead after earning a hard-fought 2-1 victory over eighth-seeded Montreal. Hart is 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage through three games in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

On the ice, the Flyers were able to celebrate around Hart after he turned away 27 of 28 shots, with 16 of those saves coming in the second period when the Flyers really needed him.

Off the ice, they made sure to celebrate Hart's birthday a little early, making the best of the circumstances in the Eastern Conference's Toronto bubble.

“I think some guys got him some ice cream yesterday after the game and just sang him happy birthday," Shayne Gostisbehere said Thursday with a smile. "He’s been pretty good.”

“Let him do his thing,” Scott Laughton chimed in about Hart.

“Yeah, let him do his thing," Gostisbehere echoed.

After a short and sweet exchange with Price, Hart did his thing in Game 1.

“Just said hello quickly in warmups, good luck and it was just time to go play," Hart said.

If Hart continues to play the way he has this season and to start the tournament, he could remember the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for much more than a memorable matchup with Price.

But there's a kid in everyone. Then again, Hart is only 22 years old.

"He’s a special kid," Derek Grant said last week. "He’s so calm. He puts his mask on, you don’t know how old he is."

With his mask off, Hart hopefully enjoyed a little ice cream and soaked in the moment.

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Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has been hospitalized because of chest pain, the team announced Thursday.

Julien is not expected to return to the bench for the Canadiens' best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Flyers. Assistant coach Kirk Muller will take over head coaching duties in the interim.

Julien was behind the bench leading Montreal in Game 1 Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Flyers beat the Canadiens, 2-1, while the series continues Friday with Game 2 at 3 p.m. ET.

Here is a statement from Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, via the team's official website:

Good afternoon. I'm here to inform you of the reason Claude Julien was not here this morning at practice. Claude experienced chest pain during the night. We immediately consulted our doctors and it was agreed to transfer him to the hospital by ambulance. He's presently there and he's undergoing tests to determine the exact nature of his condition. This has nothing to do with COVID.

We don't expect him to be back during this series against the Flyers. Kirk, Dominique [Ducharme] and Luke [Richardson] will share the responsibility, however, Kirk is the associate head coach and he will assume the responsibility of head coach until Claude's return.  

We understand that Kirk does not speak French, but these are exceptional circumstances and we're asking you for your understanding. Out of respect for Claude and his family, I will not answer any further questions about his medical condition.

The veteran coach led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The 60-year-old began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal and has been with the club for parts of seven seasons.

"There’s no doubt that there’s a deep bond and a deep respect because we know the jobs that we’re doing," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said about Julien before the series.

Vigneault, 59, also began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal. From 1981-83, Vigneault and Julien were teammates on the Central Hockey League's Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

"I didn't see him after the game," Vigneault said Thursday afternoon in a video interview following practice. "I've known Claude since I was 20, so we go way back, good friends. I'm going to reach out with him; I just found out the news, I want to say 20 minutes ago, just before jumping on the bus. I'm not aware of exactly what happened."

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