Flyers

TJ Brennan one step closer to realizing childhood dream with Flyers

TJ Brennan one step closer to realizing childhood dream with Flyers

EDMONTON, Alberta — South Jersey’s TJ Brennan is as close as he’s ever been to realizing his childhood dream.

The Moorestown, New Jersey, native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, and refined his game as a teenager with the Little Flyers, joined the 23-man roster Wednesday for the first time since signing a two-year contract in the summer of 2016 (see story).

Brennan was awoken out of bed by Phantoms coach Scott Gordon early Wednesday morning. Gordon informed Brennan that he was called up to join the Flyers. Brennan gathered his gear and rushed to the airport, finally arriving in Edmonton around 2:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. EST).

With little time for sleep, Brennan was still jacked when he hit the ice for the morning skate that he snapped his stick on the first slap shot he took.

"If I'm being honest," Brennan said, "personally, I just try and keep faith. There’s a young kid inside me that has a dream and I still follow that and stay true to that. Maybe as you get older, that window shuts a little more, and sometimes that sounds negative or harsh, but it is a reality.

"With something like this happening, you just try and enjoy it as much as you can and take advantage of any opportunity and see what happens.”

Getting on a roll
It's imperative for the Flyers to string together some victories as they attempt to work their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, currently eight points back of the Penguins for the second wild-card spot.

After finally erasing a 10-game losing streak Monday in Calgary, the Flyers now must attempt to carry that momentum over and turn in a similar performance Wednesday in Edmonton.

So far, they’ve been unable to get on an extended roll.

"I think we've felt that way over a good stretch here," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said, "and obviously we've got some ground to make up to scratch and claw our way back into it. I don't think things really change.

"We had a good result [Monday] night. The group in the locker room has had a real good mindset. They're on the same page and they're together, so none of that has to change. Our reality is we’ve given up a lot of ground so we’ve got to scratch and claw in the present here to do as well as we can to gain points.”

The Flyers, in games following a win, are currently 1-5-2 and have strung together back-to-back victories just once this season — beating the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season in mid-October.

Clean-shaven Jake
Jakub Voracek rolled into Rogers Place Wednesday afternoon and was nearly unrecognizable, having completely removed his trademark red beard he’s been sporting for the past few years.

"No, didn't know who the hell it was," Hakstol said jokingly. "You don't see it too often. It's a different look for him and he's coming off a heck of a game in Calgary."

It had nothing to do with the 10-game losing streak, Voracek said.

"I just woke up around 8 o'clock and had some time because of the time change a little bit," Voracek said, "and just said, 'F--- it' and shaved."

The biggest adjustment for Voracek isn't the five years younger he looks with the beard gone, but when he straps on his helmet.

“Usually my beard is touching my chin strap, and now there’s this much room,” Voracek said, holding out two fingers roughly several inches apart. “It’s crazy.”

A different shade of Maroon
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall once said the organization needs to hit a home run with one of its late-round draft picks. Perhaps 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom will round into that type of player, but watching Edmonton power forward Patrick Maroon is a reminder of what could have been.

The Flyers, then with Paul Holmgren as GM, drafted Maroon in the sixth round (161st overall) in the 2007 draft. While Maroon brought a unique package of skill for his size (6-foot-3, 227 pounds), his lack of conditioning was a concern for teams who passed up on him during the early rounds and his lack of maturity forced the Flyers to move him to another organization.

Less than a month after Maroon had an incident that was considered "conduct detrimental to the team," Holmgren traded the winger as part of a four-player swap to the Anaheim Ducks in November 2010.

“I know me and Paul had a little falling out,” Maroon said. “We see each other and I thank him all the time. Paul’s a really good guy and he treated me well. I wish I could turn back the time in my third year when they sent me home.

“As a player that’s growing and maturing as a person, you learn how to do the right things, you learn how to take care of yourself. Without the Flyers' organization, I don’t think I’d be here in this locker room right now. They drafted me and gave me a chance to live my dream and play in the National Hockey League and the AHL.”

Maroon scored the Oilers' only goal Oct. 21 in Edmonton's 2-1 loss to the Flyers, and he's coming off his best season in the NHL, scoring 27 goals in 2016-17. However, it was two years ago, at the age of 27, Maroon finally had that light-switch moment.

“The summer I got traded to Edmonton, they gave me an ultimatum: ‘Do you want to stay in the league or do you want to commit yourself to this team and this organization?'" Maroon said. "'You can be a really good player. We’ll give you an opportunity to play with Connor McDavid. We believe you can be a really good guy, a really good depth guy for this organization.’

“A light switch hit where my time’s come to an end basically, so I’ve had to dedicate myself to nutrition and cardio. It was more getting in shape and my anaerobics. I’m 30 in April, so I’m not young anymore. The light switch hit that I want to play a couple more years in this league.”

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Boruk
There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to Spotrac.com, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Dougherty
Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hall
Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

More on the Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Ron Hextall knows how these things can work out.

He remembers plucking Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Not much was made of the pick, barely even a peep, because, well, the 138th overall selections don't typically draw heaps of praise.

Lindblom quietly slipped back to Sweden. Three summers later, Flyers fans couldn't stop talking about him.

"Oskar went away, no one knew who the hell he was, fifth-round pick, over there getting better and better and better and bang," Hextall said last July. "He's the SHL Forward of the Year."

One has to believe Lindblom's name popped in the general manager's head when the Flyers saw Marcus Westfalt still available and the clock ticking on their 2018 seventh-round pick. At 205th overall, Westfalt became the Flyers' final selection, making for eerie similarities to Lindblom, who forced his way to the big club in 2017-18.

Westfalt plays for the same Swedish junior team (Brynäs IF J20) and SHL squad (Brynäs IF) as Lindblom did when he was taken by the Flyers. Both prospects are from Sweden and dropped in their respective drafts. Lindblom, a left winger, stands 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, while Westfalt, a center/left winger, comes in at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds.

Another Lindblom in the works?

"Hopefully, that's my dream, of course," Westfalt said three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "But he's a really good player, he's got a lot of skill. But, yeah, hopefully."

The 18-year-old was well aware of Lindblom. It was hard to not hear or see his fellow countryman transform from fifth-round pick to ballyhooed Flyers prospect. In 2016-17, when Lindblom really took off with Brynäs IF and won Swedish Hockey League Forward of the Year, Westfalt witnessed the rise.

"I watch him a lot," Westfalt said. "His last year in Brynäs before he got here, I watched him a lot. He's a [role model] because I think he's really good, he's good with his hands, his speed, he uses his body well. I watch him a lot."

In his draft year, Lindblom played only four SHL games compared to 43 for Brynäs IF J20. For Westfalt, it was a bit different. He appeared in 39 SHL games, including playoffs, while playing 26 contests at the junior ranks, where he put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-19 rating.

Westfalt's goal for 2018-19 is to play the whole season in the SHL. Lindblom did a bit later than Westfalt, but once the jump was made, he impacted games.

"Try to get more ice time," Westfalt said. "Bigger role in the game.

"[Brynäs IF] told me that I have some things I need to work on and if I do that, I can get to play."

Westfalt, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in those 39 SHL games, said he tries to be "a smart, two-way centerman," and feels his "play in the D-zone is better than the offense."

"I'm strong without the puck and with the puck," he said.

While the goal is to stick in the SHL, he's uncertain which level will be best for his on-ice growth at this stage of his development."

"When I play in junior, I get more ice time, I get to play a lot more with the puck, I get to play the power play and stuff like that," he said. "I want to play in the juniors, too, because I want to work on my skills, but my big goal is to do the same thing I do in the juniors in the SHL."

Lindblom eventually did, carving out his path to the Flyers at 21 years old.

"I just think about it by myself, like fifth-rounder, I just felt like I can play and I can be on this level," Lindblom said last summer.

With Westfalt, there is no chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round pick.

"No, for me, I'm just glad that I'm here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's fun to go earlier [in the draft], but I'm just happy to be here."

And eager to climb like Lindblom.

More on the Flyers