Radko Gudas discovered this week just how soft the NHL has become

Radko Gudas discovered this week just how soft the NHL has become

Flyers radio color commentator Steve Coates labeled Thursday’s scoreless first period between the Flyers and Stars as “nondescript” hockey.

Welcome to the new NHL, the Nondescript Hockey League.  

The NHL’s regular season is evolving into a product that looks more and more like an amplified version of an All-Star Game with a lot of skating and shooting and very little checking.

“Either with the puck or without the puck, I don’t know if there was a hit thrown by either team in that first period,” Stars head coach Jim Montgomery said, describing the first 20 minutes of the Flyers' 2-1 win.

Interestingly, according to the official stat keepers, somehow the Flyers and Stars managed to register 12 first-period hits between the two teams, which started with Travis Konecny bumping Esa Lindell just six seconds after the opening face-off.

As fighting has been almost entirely phased out of the game over the past ten years, one can only wonder if hitting and checking is following a similar trajectory. Apparently, we’ve now reached a point where just the definition of a hit, especially a clean one, isn’t so clear cut any longer.  

“I don’t know what to say, that’s just the way the league is right now. Every hit, everybody thinks it’s dirty right now,” Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas said. “When I was coming into the league it was way different. Guys were hitting everywhere. That’s a really big change in the sport now.”

While the line for what constitutes a clean play from a dirty one has clearly moved toward the direction of making the game safer, Gudas discovered this week that those legal hits according to the rulebook are now no longer tolerable across the league. 

Monday against the Blues, Gudas leveled Alex Steen, knocking him out of the game and leaving the benches to chirp back and forth about the physicality of Gudas’s play.

“I hit Steen at center ice and guys are going after me,” Gudas said. “There’s no hits in the center ice anymore.”

The following night in Washington, Gudas executed a perfectly timed hip check against Capitals center Travis Boyd early in the third period. Moments later, Gudas was immediately jumped by Devante Smith-Pelly, and the two bruisers dropped the gloves and settled their differences. 

Yes, we’ve entered an era in pro hockey where the tolerance level for physical play is now at a level that amounts to being grazed or nudged. Having spent the past nine-plus seasons in the American Hockey League, Flyers coach Scott Gordon believes the standard has been set years ago in the AHL, where guys once sacrificed everything to prove they were NHL-worthy. 

“The way it is now, a hard hit is almost unacceptable by the opposition,” Gordon said.  “Unfortunately, the way players are now, they don’t expect the big hits because they’re too far, few and in between. Because of the pace of the game, it’s nowhere near where it used to be. The game is so much faster. You can skate hard all the way and get there, and next thing you know, it’s now a late hit.”

Some believe it’s a 25-year evolution of the NHL’s instigator rule that was put into effect in the early 90s. 

Others point to concussions to Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, and most notably Brandon Manning driving Connor McDavid into the boards in 2015 — which led to McDavid's broken collarbone — as the turning point to where we are now.  

Either way, who initiates the hitting and who deserves to be hit seems to be a touchy subject in today’s touchy-feely game. 

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What to make of Flyers' roster moves, which have Joel Farabee on his way

What to make of Flyers' roster moves, which have Joel Farabee on his way

The Flyers challenged Joel Farabee.

The 19-year-old needed only four games to answer that challenge.

“It won't be long in the American League if he does start there,” USNTDP coach John Wroblewski said in March.

Farabee is on his way to the big club as the Flyers called up the 2018 first-round pick Sunday night, along with Mikhail Vorobyev. As a result, the Flyers sent rookie Carsen Twarynski to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Twarynski handled himself well over six games in a bottom-six role and this isn’t a demotion for the 21-year-old.

This is about the Flyers needing an early offensive jolt after losing four straight games. The Flyers outshot the opposition 91-38 over the past two games but were outscored by a combined 10-4 in consecutive regulation losses.

“At the end of the day right now, we’re having a challenging time as a group finding the back of the net,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday night.

Here comes Farabee, a point-producing winger who is a versatile goal-scorer that can play in a variety of roles. After somewhat surprisingly not cracking the Flyers’ season-opening roster, Farabee went to the Phantoms oozing with motivation.

He ripped off three goals in his first three games as a pro and added an assist Saturday night.

That was enough to tell general manager Chuck Fletcher the time was now for his call-up, especially with the Flyers having a difficult time putting the puck in the net and lacking some offensive depth.

“I had a good talk with Joel up in Europe about if he goes to Lehigh Valley with the right mindset, the right work ethic, the willingness to get better and get his game to where it needs to be, there's no doubt in my mind that at some point, if he plays well there, we'll probably see him back here,” Vigneault said Oct. 8.

Farabee will make his NHL debut Monday against the Golden Knights at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP). Expect to see Vorobyev in the lineup, as well. The 22-year-old also brings an element of skill and playmaking. The center can play on the penalty kill and totaled two goals and two assists in five games with Lehigh Valley.

Farabee has proven to be a quick starter and riser. During his draft year with the U.S. under-18 team, he put up four goals and two assists in his opening three games. As a freshman with Boston University last season, Farabee had three goals and three assists through his first eight games.

Let’s see how quickly he can impact the Flyers.

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Can (and should) Flyers fans trust Alain Vigneault's process?

Can (and should) Flyers fans trust Alain Vigneault's process?

At his introductory press conference on April 18 following a year away from hockey, Alain Vigneault made a joke about why he was ready to get back into the coaching business.

“After a year off and figuring out that I’ll never be the golfer that I thought I would be,” Vigneault said, “it’s time for me to get back to work.”

Perhaps Vigneault had a difficult time sinking putts.

Following the Flyers’ 4-1 loss Saturday night to the Stars, he put out his hands, smiled and made an analogy in relation to his team.

The Flyers had just outshot Dallas 39-16. Over their past two games, the Flyers outshot the opposition 91-38.

A 53-shot advantage.

However, they had just four goals and two losses to show for it.

“It’s like a golfer that’s in regulation but can’t putt,” Vigneault said with a chuckle.

“The process is good. If you look at our overall game tonight, take a look at the scoring chances for and against, we had a pretty dominating performance. Right now, we’re having a tough time finishing.

“At the end of the day right now, we’re having a challenging time as a group finding the back of the net. We’re doing a lot of the right things — traffic, jamming pucks, going hard to the net. But we’re having a tough time making the other team pay for their mistakes. As far as our process and how we’re playing offensively and how we’re playing defensively, you’ve got to like our game.”

Many fans haven’t loved it. The Flyers heard boos Saturday night after the Stars’ empty-net goal in the third period. The Flyers dropped their fourth straight game, which marks the franchise’s first four-game losing streak in October since the 2014-15 season, when it opened the year 0-2-2.

While the Flyers, who are 2-3-1, have dictated games, the bottom line is they have to score goals. The really good teams create the chances but also finish them. It’s hard to sell to your fans that everything is fine, the process is good, when you’re outscored 10-4 in consecutive regulation losses. These same fans have seen too many slow Octobers. The Flyers are now 28-36-7 during this month in the last seven seasons.

Then again, this is not Vigneault’s first rodeo. It is his first chance at guiding the Flyers, who have taken on his system and looked much better in doing so.

And Vigneault certainly understands the process.

If Flyers fans want to trust him and take solace in something, consider some of Vigneault’s best teams and how they started.

The 2013-14 Rangers opened the season 2-6-0 and were 16-18-2 at Dec. 20 but went to the Stanley Cup Final. It was Vigneault’s first year in New York.

The 2006-07 Canucks — another first year on the job for Vigneault — started 8-10-1 but finished with 49 wins, 105 points and a playoff series victory.

The 2014-15 Rangers began 7-7-4 but ended up with 53 wins and the Presidents' Trophy (113 points).

The 2010-11 Canucks started 2-3-2 and were 10-7-3 after 20 games but won the Presidents' Trophy (117 points) and came one win away from a Stanley Cup title.

“I know our guys are disappointed but our work ethic, you know, we’ve got our work boots on here and we’re trying real hard,” Vigneault said of the Flyers. “As a coach, when your team is giving you 100 percent of what they have — and I believe that’s what we did again tonight — you’ve got to support your players, you’ve got to be behind them and trust them, and I’m very confident things are going to work out.”

Just how confident are Flyers fans? They’ve been patient long enough.

Vigneault will have to make sure, this time, their patience finally pays off.

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