Flyers

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.

Flyers at Canadiens: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Canadiens: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Is the bye week coming at a bad time?

Maybe, considering the Flyers (18-23-6) have a chance to tie their season-best win streak of three games Saturday when they visit the Canadiens (27-17-5).

Let's look at the essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Bell Centre
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• Under interim head coach Scott Gordon, the Flyers have played noticeably better in close games. They own five wins in one-goal games through 16 contests with Gordon behind the bench. Prior to his arrival, the Flyers had three such wins in 31 games.

Their improved fortitude will be tested Saturday because the Canadiens play a lot of close games. Montreal is tied for second in the NHL with 13 wins in one-goal games, while it has 11 losses in such situations — six in regulation, five in overtime.

• After Saturday's game, the Flyers won't play again until Jan. 28 because of the bye week followed by the All-Star break.

The extended hiatus will give general manager Chuck Fletcher and the front office greater time to focus on big decisions ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline.

At the same time, the Flyers probably wouldn't have minded staying on the ice. They've scored 11 goals over the last two games and have won three of the last four, playing their best spurt of hockey since Oct. 30 to Nov. 10, when they won five of six.

To give you some context of how much 11 goals are for the Flyers in two games, they scored just 15 goals during their eight-game losing streak prior to this four-game stretch.

• The Flyers aren't expected to see Carey Price, but that might not be a huge break. Backup goalie Antti Niemi is 5-1-0 with a 1.40 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in six career games against the Flyers.

Niemi is also coming off a 52-save victory his last time out, while he's made 127 saves on 132 shots over his last three games, all victories.

The Flyers will be confident with their option in net. Carter Hart is facing too high a volume of shots, though, something the Flyers can help cut down.

• Saturday night will be a battle of the NHL's worst power-play units, with the Flyers and Canadiens ranked 30th and 31st, respectively.

However, the Flyers' five-forward man advantage has produced goals in back-to-back games. Before the unit was put together, the power play was 0 for its last 14.

Projected lineup

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Phil Varone-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Travis Sanheim
Robert Hagg-Radko Gudas
Shayne Gostisbehere-Andrew MacDonald

Goalies
Carter Hart 
Mike McKenna

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Flyers' Dale Weise staying home, waiting for a trade

Flyers' Dale Weise staying home, waiting for a trade

VOORHEES, N.J. — Dale Weise hasn’t gone to general manager Chuck Fletcher to ask for a trade, but with his skates hanging from his stall at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, it appears that Weise will be the next shoe to drop in Fletcher’s plan to reshape the roster.

Weise’s absence from Friday’s practice continued a bizarre situation in which the winger is technically on the team and the active roster, but nowhere to be found where it matters most. 

On Friday, it was confirmed that Weise has been asked to stay at home and wait for a trade to materialize. How and when that happens will be an interesting next development. Weise has cleared waivers twice — once before the season opener in Vegas, and again on Wednesday — meaning there’s not one team willing to take on his contract (signed through next season at $2.35 million).

In all likelihood, the Flyers would have to pick up a portion of that salary to help facilitate a deal, or offer a sweetener in the form of a draft pick to get a team to take Weise off the Flyers' hands.

How did it get to this point?

For one, Weise’s failure to understand his role. Former general manager Ron Hextall signed Weise on July 1, 2016, as an energy forward to bring a physical element while providing scoring depth in a bottom-six role. He came to Philadelphia following a season in which he scored 14 goals in 56 games with Montreal, but could never fit in with the Blackhawks with one assist in 15 regular-season games after he was dealt before the deadline.

That alone should have been a red flag for Hextall.

In late November, under former coach Dave Hakstol, Weise was under the impression he had a bigger role, working his way onto the second line alongside Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek. In early December, Weise was playing some of his best hockey as a Flyer, scoring three goals over a five-game stretch.

That all changed when Scott Gordon replaced Hakstol. Weise was relegated to a fourth-line checking role, which, let’s just say, he refused to embrace. In recent games at Washington and last Saturday in New Jersey, Weise played a combined 20:38 with a whole lot of nothing — no shots, no hits, no blocks and, quite frankly, no interest.

To make matters worse was Patrick’s disturbing admission: “He was really good at helping me stay positive through the slump and when everything wasn't going well. He's by far the best teammate I've ever had." 

The best teammate he’s ever had?

If Weise was this incredible teammate, then he would have spent the past two seasons leading by example on the ice as the hardest-working player on the team, and not tell a teammate all the cushy things he wants to hear when things aren’t going so well.  

As the saying goes, “Misery loves company.”

Even the media loved talking to Weise. He often would say the things that needed to be said following an embarrassing loss. But if Weise was exactly what the Flyers needed when he signed a four-year, $9.4 million contract, then he wouldn’t be at home waiting for a phone call.

“Obviously, I’ve talked to him,” Patrick said. “I know what the situation is. Things happen quick in pro sports. Obviously, it’s a tough one to swallow. He’s a good body like that. I just hope he gets to go to another team and gets a shot there.” 

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