Flyers

What the Flyers 'counted' shows the belief behind their offseason

What the Flyers 'counted' shows the belief behind their offseason

Chuck Fletcher made July 1 less stressful for himself.

As a result, he also made it less entertaining for those who love to see their team jump into the free-agent frenzy and make splashes with the rest of the 30 NHL clubs.

The Flyers made eight depth signings Monday. Nothing screamed or popped.

It's OK to be quiet on July 1.

Fletcher and the Flyers did their work ahead of the NHL free agency period. They're confident in that work. They acquired Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick, while parting ways with Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, Ryan Hartman and David Schlemko.

What the Flyers are just as confident in is their youth. Did the Flyers have enough around their young foundation pieces in 2018-19? 

It's a fair question.

Fletcher's offseason was about supplementing the youth and giving it the best chance to take the next step.

However …

"I don't think it's a very smart thing to box these kids out and take on additional cap responsibilities when we're going to have a lot of really good pieces that are just going to mature and grow through the system," the Flyers' general manager said via a conference call Monday.

Remember when everyone loved the Flyers' prospects, too? Some are here and the Flyers need them to grow. Some are coming and the Flyers will need those ones, too.

And that's what 2019-20 will be about.

Hayes, Niskanen and Braun should make the Flyers better, but the pressure is truly on the coaching staff to round everything into shape and the youngsters to prove their mettle.

"We have an exciting future ahead of us," Fletcher said. "We have a lot of very good young players. I'm not just talking about the prospects that participated this past week [in development camp]. You look at our team, we counted today, there are eight players on that NHL roster that haven't come close to hitting their peak and to having their career seasons. That's the exciting thing. That's our growth."

The Flyers' belief in their youth will be challenged against a Metropolitan Division that has gotten deeper.

The Rangers' rebuild has gone into hyperdrive with the acquisitions of Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, and drafting Kaapo Kakko No. 2 overall.

The Devils have added first overall pick Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds, to join Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier and company.

The Penguins are still the Penguins and have gotten younger with the trade for Alex Galchenyuk.

The Capitals and Islanders were 1-2 in the Metro last season and should be formidable again, while the Hurricanes are fresh off a run to the Eastern Conference Final.

We identified the players we wanted to get and we went out and got them early. We felt our priorities were adding a No. 2 center, adding a couple quality defensemen and finding a goaltender to play with Carter Hart. 

When we went through the list of all those available players, we quickly realized there were very few centers and defensemen in the free-agent marketplace. Rather than getting into a bidding war over very scarce … in a market where there just weren't a lot of players, we felt if we could get ahead of it and get the guys that we wanted, that would be a smart thing to do.

- Fletcher

The Flyers will need Ivan Provorov to look like the 2017-18 Ivan Provorov. They'll need Shayne Gostisbehere to find consistency. They'll need Nolan Patrick to produce more like a No. 2 overall pick. They'll need Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom to take bigger strides, along with Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. They may need to trust another prospect (Joel Farabee?) soon. Oh, and they'll need that elusive goalie stability from Hart, who will be 21 years old and entering his first full NHL season.

"We have some high-end talent," Fletcher said. "We not only have to slot them properly but surround them properly, to create the best environment possible — not only to develop them but to win games. I think we accomplished a lot of what we set out to accomplish."

The Flyers never had a problem building from within. Fletcher isn't straying from that philosophy. The Flyers have done more than they have in past summers, even with a quiet July 1. No matter what, it's still about the youth.

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Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers made a hefty round of cuts a little earlier than anticipated.

They changed their preseason plan Friday morning as head coach Alain Vigneault and the front office decided this was the best course of action in preparation for the Oct. 4 season opener (see story).

The Flyers trimmed the roster by 18 players.

Tyler Wotherspoon, Nate Prosser, T.J. Brennan, Kyle Criscuolo and Reece Willcox will be placed on waivers Saturday. If they clear, they'll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Felix Sandstrom, Cal O'Reilly, Greg Carey, Maksim Sushko, Kirill Ustimenko, Gerry Fitzgerald, David Drake, David Kase, Pascal Laberge, Isaac Ratcliffe, Matthew Strome, Rob Michel and Josh Couturier were assigned to Lehigh Valley.

None of the cuts are surprising. Sushko performed well in camp and is entering his first season with the Phantoms. Ratcliffe had an outside shot at winning a roster spot with the Flyers but it became clear throughout camp and the preseason that the 6-foot-6 winger needed development in the AHL. Felix Sandstrom is a promising goalie prospect. David Kase and Pascal Laberge will be forwards to watch, as well.

O'Reilly, 32, was a point-per-game player last season in the AHL and will be one of Lehigh Valley's best players, along with Greg Carey.

The competition for the Flyers' bottom six and defensive pairings heats up Saturday with the team's fourth preseason game out of seven. Nobody has knocked the door down (see story).

The Flyers' roster is at 36 players.

Forwards

Andy Andreoff
Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman
Sean Couturier
Joel Farabee
Morgan Frost
Kurtis Gabriel (injured)
Claude Giroux
Kevin Hayes
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Oskar Lindblom
Nolan Patrick (injured)
Tyler Pitlick (injured)
Michael Raffl
German Rubtsov
Chris Stewart
Carsen Twarynski
James van Riemsdyk
Jakub Voracek
Mikhail Vorobyev

Defense

Chris Bigras
Justin Braun
Mark Friedman
Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg
Samuel Morin
Philippe Myers
Matt Niskanen
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim
Andy Welinski (injured)

Goalies

Jean-Francois Berube
Brian Elliott
Carter Hart
Alex Lyon

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Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault knows how to massage a message. He coached in Montreal, Vancouver and New York; this is not his first rodeo.

When he spoke Friday about suddenly changing the Flyers' preseason plan to ramp up the preparation and concepts for the veteran players, he chose his words wisely.

But make no mistake: Vigneault can't be thrilled with the progress.

"It has nothing to do with the outcomes, it has everything to do with the process," the Flyers' head coach said. "For me, the process needs to accelerate at this time — and that's what I intend to do."

The Flyers were ready to play a mixed group of NHLers — about nine players that would likely make the team — and prospects to compete in Saturday's exhibition game against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, following a lackluster 3-1 preseason loss to the Bruins' B-squad Thursday, Vigneault met with general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr Friday morning about adjusting the approach. With four exhibition games remaining, the Flyers will expedite cuts to focus on whittling down the roster and increasing the reps for the main players ahead of the season opener.

"Between the 25 and the 30 players that I feel right now have the best chance of maybe making this team," Vigneault said. "Instead of waiting until Monday, Tuesday's practice, we're going to be at that number [Saturday]."

Is it a startling change? If anything, it's proactive. The Flyers have missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons and haven't won a series since 2012. They've notoriously started slow in recent history. Last season, the team was in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for the second straight year.

It cost people jobs and, ultimately, it's why Vigneault is in place.

After looking at the last couple of days, I feel that this is a different situation than I've been used to in the past. I've been used to coming to camp in the past and my teams have been in the playoffs. Usually I give the veteran players three of the six or seven games that we play. I feel at this time, our veteran players need more games that I originally planned. I'm going from the three that I planned to four and some might even get five out of the seven. 

I'm going on the amount of teaching that we're doing, there's a lot there, there's a lot to be assimilated by the players. I'm going by what I'm seeing about the players' performance, how they're executing, and I just feel at this time we need to make a change and that's what we're doing.

- Vigneault

In 16 NHL seasons as a head coach, Vigneault has 11 playoff berths. Eight of those teams advanced past the first round, three won the Presidents' Trophy and two went to the Stanley Cup Final. He has impressive results in Year 1 on the job (see story).

"When you're in the playoffs and you go for a round, two rounds, three rounds, four rounds, that's intense hockey, that's a longer season," Vigneault said. "This group has been off for a while and, in my mind, it just needs a little bit more preparation. There's nothing better than game situation, where games are on the line.

"With a new staff coming in and everything that we need to touch on, I need to get these guys into more games. So what we've decided to do is just accelerate the process."

Does Vigneault's track record allow him to make this change and have it stick with the players?

"They don't have a choice," Vigneault said. "That's just the way it is."

Oct. 4 is nearing and a new system from a new staff is expected to spearhead a jump back into contention for the Flyers.

"Once you get down to one group, the internal competition gets a little bit better also," Vigneault said. "That's what we need to do here, we need to get down to one group to have everybody in the same room, at the same time, and make sure that they're grasping the concepts that we're trying to apply. 

"I'm very confident that this will be better for the group."

How the Flyers start the season will provide the true answer.

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