Flyers

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe there was a false sense of reality right from Wayne Simmonds' opening hat trick to the eight-goal outburst against the Washington Capitals in the home opener.

“Just remember, after eight games, the media was all giddy about our team,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said a month ago in Calgary. “We were like, ‘It’s a little early about getting too giddy about this team.’ We were a pretty good team then. Pretty good.”

Perhaps the giddiness (if that truly existed) was a result of having some giddyap to their game in that first month when the Flyers received contributions up and down their lineup while displaying an ability to transition out of their zone efficiently and effectively.

Offensively, the Flyers were ranked in the top five in goals per game, but the “O" was more of an oasis, the illusion of a balanced offensive attack.

Earlier this week when I asked certain Flyers about the team’s identity or lack thereof, head coach Dave Hakstol pointed directly to “depth” as that identifiable trait.

Coming out of training camp, that may have been the case. Oskar Lindblom, who many believed was NHL ready, was assigned to Lehigh Valley, while Samuel Morin was essentially the eighth defenseman when the season started. The Flyers had a certain degree of depth, but as we’ve discovered over the past six weeks, it’s not the organizational depth needed to carry them over an 82-game schedule.

Through those first 10 games, Jordan Weal had five points and was averaging nearly 14:26 a game. In the 23 games proceeding October, Weal has just five more points, averaging just 11:51.

Fourth-liners Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton have seen their ice time take a significant hit as well. Combined, they were logging over 25 minutes through the first month of the season to just under 21½ minutes in December. Some of that decrease in ice time has been Hakstol’s decision to take Leier off the penalty kill.

Laughton agreed a handful of the Flyers' supporting cast just haven’t been relied upon as much as they were during the opening weeks of the season.

“Yeah, I’m not sure. I guess it’s just the situation and you've got to know your role,” Laughton said. “That’s the biggest thing. I knew my role coming into the year was going to be this and you've got to stick with it. Even though you’re not playing the big minutes, I think it’s an important role to try and create momentum.”

However, it’s been the role players of the Flyers' opponents who have provided that momentum recently. On Tuesday night, the Penguins received a pair of goals from fourth-liners Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl. Last week in Florida, the Panthers' Jared McCann and Derek MacKenzie chipped in with decisive goals.

Hakstol has been forced to shorten his bench to protect third-period leads and has resorted to double shifting some of his skilled players when trying to make up a third-period deficit.

From a forward standpoint, you have Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula earning the bulk of the playing time, and then there’s every other forward in one collective clump. Compare that to the NHL’s top team, the Lightning, who have a perfect balance with eight forwards averaging in the 16-20 minute range.

Sure, few teams have the luxury, but it wasn’t that long ago the Flyers were in that same boat. It just happened to be the last time they won a playoff series in 2012.

Only on defense has the Flyers' depth been tested through injury, as Hakstol has been forced to play 10 different blueliners, the same number they played with all of last season. Collectively that unit has a plus-10 rating, a respectable sum considering the injuries and suspension to Radko Gudas, plus the growing pains of a handful of rookies.

Depth has been an issue within this organization since the lockout in 2013. And unless the Flyers stage an impressive turnaround in the second half of this season, they’ll miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

Perhaps when Hextall starts to feel giddy about this team again will we truly know they have the depth to compete for a championship.

Roster move
The Flyers on Wednesday night called up forward Tyrell Goulbourne from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. He will be available for Thursday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-foot, 200-pound winger was drafted by the Flyers in the third round of the 2013 draft and has spent parts of his last three seasons with the Phantoms.

In 34 games with Lehigh Valley this season, the 23-year-old has six goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.

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.

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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.

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