Why Michal Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

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Why Michal Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

Michal Neuvirth, cloaked in all black with his hat backward, paused for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he was permitted to talk about what was wrong with his own body.

“I don’t know if I am allowed to tell you,” Neuvirth said last week.

The season is over and whatever in-season mandate the Flyers have about never disclosing to the public precisely what’s wrong with their players no longer applies. No more “upper-body” and “lower-body” injuries that lead to speculation and misinformation.

“My hips,” Neuvirth said.

With that, Neuvirth outlined his offseason game plan. He will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips. He’s staying in Philadelphia and then heading to Kelowna, British Columbia, for 10 weeks for training.

Then comes the most significant change, which, considering the player, might not be that big after all. Neuvirth will be switching trainers for the third straight year.

“It’s just not working out for me,” he said. “I know I can play in this league. I know I can be the difference maker. I just got to find a way to stay healthy.”

Neuvirth now turns to sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, who has worked with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, as perhaps his last resort.

Injuries have plagued Neuvirth throughout his career, especially with the Flyers. Neuvirth, in each of his three seasons in Philly, has been a constant on the upper/lower body report, and his games played have decreased each season, from 32 in 2015-16 to 28 in 2016-17 and 22 this year.

At some point, though, Neuvirth will have to stay healthy. He’s making the necessary adjustments this offseason, but on his third trainer in three years, the question will soon no longer be asked. If injuries continue to haunt him, he’ll no longer be trusted, in Philly or elsewhere. A reputation is hard to shake, and this one’s stapled to his name.

“It’s tough for me to say,” Jake Voracek said, adding he’s been lucky to avoid major injuries. “Everybody knows their body. If you are 30-years-old, you should know what to do to get better.”

Statistically speaking, Neuvirth was far better in 2017-18. After finishing 2016-17 with the worst save percentage among qualified goalies in the NHL, Neuvirth bounced back for a .915 clip.

Neuvirth started 18 games — back-to-back twice, and four straight games in February after Brian Elliott required core-muscle surgery. In that fourth start in February, Neuvirth suffered another “lower-body” injury. Then, the Flyers were forced to trade for Petr Mrazek, which brings us to the elephant in the room. Are they still comfortable with their tandem?

“I’m comfortable where we are as an organization with our goaltending,” Ron Hextall said. “I think Neuvy knows where he is at in terms of his career. He needs to have a big year next year. He needs to find a way to stay healthy. We fully support what he’s doing.”

Reading between the lines, Neuvirth’s spot next season isn’t a lock despite being under contract. Hextall views goaltending as tandems and gave a ringing endorsement for Elliott. To be fair, he said Neuvirth is a good part of a tandem too. But Hextall also sounded like he wanted to see a progress report on Neuvirth’s training program before making a decision.

Both Elliott and Neuvirth enter 2018-19 in the final year of their contracts as the Flyers wait for their kids to graduate. One can only hear Carter Hart is coming before it gets old, but the 19-year-old turns pro next season.

As for Neuvirth, he has to find a way to shed the stature as the guy who always gets injured.

“I can’t change the history. I can only change the future,” Neuvirth said. “I will do whatever it takes to stay healthy and help my team on a regular basis.”

His NHL career hinges on it.

Kevin Hayes inspired beer to be released by Yards Brewing Company

Kevin Hayes inspired beer to be released by Yards Brewing Company

There’s no question that Kevin Hayes has assimilated well to Philadelphia.

Since signing a seven-year, $50 million deal this past offseason, the 27-year-old has endeared himself to Flyers fans. From being Gritty’s roommate to his fun nicknames to playing hockey well and helping — hopefully — lead the Flyers back to the playoffs, Hayes has quickly become a fan favorite.

The next logical step: A beer made and named in his honor.

Yards Brewing Company is releasing “Big Hayes-y 13” on Friday.

The beer is a double New England style IPA. For those unfamiliar with the style, New Englands are traditionally known for being juicy and hazy — hence the name — unlike traditional IPAs which have more hoppy bitterness. It's also an ode to Hayes' roots being from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and starring at Boston College.

The Flyers take on the Rangers Friday night so you can drink it while New York second guesses letting Hayes get away. Seems like the perfect beer to suck down while watching Hayes kill penalties and score goals with fantastic cellys.

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One Flyer was reportedly a hot trade target, but Chuck Fletcher shut it down

One Flyer was reportedly a hot trade target, but Chuck Fletcher shut it down

The suddenly-ascendant Flyers pieced together a somewhat busy trade deadline, acquiring a pair of depth forwards in Derek Grant and Nate Thompson to pad a playoff run, but things could've been much busier if rival executives had their way Monday.

One young Flyers player not named Shayne Gostisbehere was attracting a lot of attention as general managers circled the wagons before the deadline, according to a report from Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

That player? Scott Laughton:

Another player I heard a lot of teams liked: Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton.

'Chuck (Fletcher) couldn’t hang up fast enough,' another exec joked.

That's a great quote. I can see Fletcher laughing to himself, and quietly hitting "end call," when Laughton's name came up.

And it makes plenty of sense for Fletcher to shut down Laughton talks, on two fronts — both of which should excite Flyers fans.

For one, Fletcher avoiding temptation at the deadline means he has his eyes on the postseason prize. The Flyers, after Tuesday night's win (see story), are just five points behind Metro-leading Washington, with 19 games left before the playoffs. It would take a serious meltdown to miss the postseason, and it seems Fletcher feels like the Flyers can make noise in April (and May, and maybe even June?) so he stood pat.

Also, and this is probably a little more obvious: Laughton has turned into a young, sought-after talent in the eyes of league execs this season.

It's no secret that the 2019-20 season has been the best of Laughton's young career. He's already tied his career high in goals with 12, he's averaging a point every two games, and he's just 25 years old. The hard-nosed 2012 first-round pick is officially coming into his own this year, and he's still under contract through the end of the 2020-21 season. Really, it's an ideal development for the Flyers.

Is Laughton currently the kind of player who defines your team? Not just yet.

But he's become the kind of player other teams want, which is always a good sign.

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