Rob's Rants —The Flyers might really miss the playoffs

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Rob's Rants —The Flyers might really miss the playoffs

Question: What’s been worse, the weather in the month of March in the Delaware Valley or the Flyers' play this month?

Tough one, but I’d have to go with the Flyers. At least you can go inside to escape Mother Nature. There’s been no escaping the storm clouds forming of late around the Flyers. They say timing in life is everything and right now time could be running out on the orange and black’s playoff chances. They are 1-6-1 in the month of March. Teams that appeared to have no chance of catching the Flyers in the playoff race are now right on their bumper.

The Flyers had won ten of eleven after beating the Canadiens, 1-0, on Feb. 26. Since then, they’ve lost games in a myriad of ways. Late in games (Boston, Vegas). Poor starts; the Flyers have been outscored in the first period during this stretch, 11-5. The power play has not been good enough. The penalty kill has been a major issue all season. They have not gotten nearly enough secondary scoring.

And players not named Claude Giroux who have been studs all year have not been producing goals. Sean Couturier does a ton for this hockey team. But the way they are built, he needs to put the puck in the net. He‘s gone without a goal in thirteen straight games.  

But more troubling is the pattern of late where they are being outworked. 50-50 battles are being lost. Careless clears, turnovers you may get away with against Montreal, cost you against Vegas.

Head coach Dave Hakstol said this after Thursday’s loss to Columbus: “I thought their team was a little bit more ready to play, and that squarely comes to me.”

Excuse me? More ready to play? This time of year? That’s a stark indictment of both him and his team. Mid-March, game No. 71 of the season at home vs. a team that is right on your heels and they were more ready than your club? His players echoed the same sentiment after the game. Inexcusable. This would be a colossal collapse if they don’t make the postseason. The fans are owed more. 

Columbus has won six straight and is now tied with the Flyers at 81 points. The Florida Panthers, who at 77 points are three out of the final wildcard spot, were 16 points behind the Flyers on Feb. 26. They now trail them by just four points with three games in hand. The Flyers are currently the sixth seed, they have eleven games left — five at home, five are against Metropolitan Division opponents, all but two are against the Eastern Conference. So they very much control their own fate. But if they don’t find a sense of urgency, it will be two straight seasons of tee times in early April.

Flyers' Danick Martel accepts qualifying offer; team re-signs Taylor Leier and Tyrell Goulbourne

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Flyers' Danick Martel accepts qualifying offer; team re-signs Taylor Leier and Tyrell Goulbourne

Three young forwards will all be staying in the Flyers organization, at least for one more year.

Sunday, the team announced that Danick Martel accepted his qualifying offer on a one-year contract, and that restricted free agents Taylor Leier and Tyrell Goulbourne signed one-year deals.

Though the team didn't include any salary details, Martel's deal is reportedly a two-way contract worth $715,000.

The 23-year-old Martel made his NHL debut last season, finishing with no points and six shots over four games. He scored a career-best 25 goals for Lehigh Valley.

With Leier, the Flyers avoided a possible arbitration hearing. According to CapFriendly, Leier's contract is a one-way deal for $720,000. Leier's hearing was scheduled for Aug. 3. The team also earlier avoided a hearing with Alex Lyon, their other player who filed for arbitration, signing the goalie to a two-year deal.

A fourth-round selection in 2012, Leier had one goal and four assists in 39 regular-season games with the Flyers as a rookie.

Goulbourne, who made his NHL debut on Jan. 6, appeared in nine regular-season contests, with 15 hits.

Robert Hagg and Anthony Stolarz are now the team's two remaining restricted free agents. 

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Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe throwing everyone a surprise party

Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe throwing everyone a surprise party

Ron Hextall looked on from his perch at Flyers Skate Zone.

He then looked over at some of his staff.

They essentially shook their heads watching this lean, 6-foot-6 winger.

The physical stature was only part of the phenomenon.

"We're standing out there, going a guy that big shouldn't have that good of hands," the general manager said two weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "He's got good hands. He moves really well for his size and his age. You look at a 19-year-old kid who's as tall as he is and as coordinated as he is, it's not the norm."

Isaac Ratcliffe has made it his norm.

In his earlier hockey days, he didn't want to stand out for just his sheer size. 

Now, he is much more than a towering presence. When he hits the ice, he turns heads with his soft touch and dexterous hands — puck skills you wouldn't expect to come out of a 6-6, 210-pound teenager.

Surprised? Good.

"When I was younger, it was a big thing that I used to work on at the end of practice or the end of a skill session," Ratcliffe said. "A guy my size, you don't usually see that and I wanted to prove guys wrong. I can bring any sorts of items to the table and I really wanted to show that I could bring my hands, as well."

In the 2017 draft, the Flyers wanted Ratcliffe so much, they traded three selections to move up and snatch him at 35th overall. Hextall and company liked Ratcliffe's ability and upside, so they're not shocked to see his progression, but they are super pleased.

Ratcliffe, wiry and mobile, jumped from 28 goals and 54 points with the OHL's Guelph Storm in 2016-17 to 41 goals and 68 points in 2017-18.

"To be that linked up at that age is amazing," Hextall said. "He's come a long ways in a year. His all-around game needs work. His wall play and things like that, which most guys at that age do. But his hands, his patience, his poise with the puck — he's got some scoring touch. He's got a reach. To have that poise and reach, developed to put it around the goalie you've seen this week. … We're excited about the prospects for him."

If Ratcliffe was ever viewed as a project, he no longer looks like one. At 19, he's also astutely aware of the NHL trends, which fuels his motivation to be different.

"I still have to get stronger. The size is there, I just need to put on that weight — really build up that core strength, build up my leg strength and definitely work on my speed a lot, too," he said. "It's a fast game and it's a game that's decreasing in size, too. I have to show that I can bring both speed and size to the game, and my skill set, as well."

For Ratcliffe, it's all about mindset. When you're 6-6 and frequently misperceived, it has to be.

"If you're going to go into a battle and you think you're going to lose it, you're going to lose that battle. If you go in and think you're going to win, you have a big chance of coming out on top," Ratcliffe said. "When you get that confidence in there and when you get that strength, pair those two together and you're going to be unstoppable. And that's what I've been trying to do — keep my confidence high and keep my strength high over the past couple of years. That's really gotten me where I am today and that's going to push me forward."

Ratcliffe's fourth junior season is ahead of him in 2018-19. He should have everyone's attention, and not just for his height.

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