Flyers

Will Flyers regret not spending on defense?

Will Flyers regret not spending on defense?

While we’re still sorting out the latest version of the Flyers defense, what seems clear after two games is that the Flyers' blue line may be no better than the collective unit they put on the ice last season.

Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are a bonafide top pairing that blends Provorov’s steady unflappable presence to go along with Ghost’s dazzling playmaking ability, and together they have found a successful workable chemistry.

Although not ideal, Andrew MacDonald and Robert Hägg are a serviceable second pairing as Hägg continues his development.

However, this defense could be a slight downgrade if Christian Folin continues to have the adventurous moments that led to a rough and bumpy first period in Colorado Saturday, where the Avalanche came hard at the Flyers with an aggressive forecheck. Folin appeared to wilt under the pressure with a number of turnovers and costly mistakes, including one that led to J.T. Compher’s goal and a 2-1 Colorado lead. 

By the looks of Monday’s practice, Radko Gudas appears to be the right defenseman on that third pairing with Travis Sanheim for the home opener, but it’s only a matter of time before an injury beckons Folin back into the lineup. 

Remember, last season, Dave Hakstol was forced to employ ten different defensemen through the first 14 games as they attempted to fill in the holes left by a myriad of injuries. Extreme as that may have been, it was also an eye-opener to how vital depth at defense can be. 

If you want to know how quickly the wheels can fall off, the Flyers finished with a 3-6-6 record last season just in the games Andrew MacDonald missed from October to December, so one can only imagine how the Flyers would be crippled if they had to make due without Provorov or Gostisbehere for an extended period.  

Folin’s one-year, $800,000 agreement suggests he was willing to accept just slightly more than the league minimum to stay in the league, and for the Flyers it was a depth signing to replace Brandon Manning, who the team chose not to bring back, and eventually signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for two years and $4.5 million.  

Still, there was money to spend. 

With their current 23-man roster, according to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers are a healthy $8.7 million under the cap ceiling. 

One can argue the Flyers should have looked long and hard at Calvin de Haan, who opted to sign in Carolina for four years and $18.2 million, or possibly pursued Ian Cole, who elected to join the Colorado Avalanche on a three-year contract for $12.75 million.

In all likelihood, Ron Hextall explored the idea of spending up in an effort to upgrade his defense, but only on his terms, which would have required moving outside his comfort zone of term and cost. However, that’s typically the nature of free agency, where the marketplace is one that favors the player, not the buyer.

While no one regretted Manning’s departure, there was certainly hesitation surrounding Folin’s arrival and how he could stabilize a third pairing regardless of who he was teamed with. 

Even if the Flyers had added de Haan or Cole over the next three to four years, their presence wouldn’t have necessarily held back a younger player like Phillipe Myers from making and even contributing to next year’s team. In addition, MacDonald and Gudas will be free agents after the 2019-2020 season, so unless they’re re-signed, Hextall will be searching for an alternative. 

But there’s quite the spending disparity heading into a season with increased expectations. The Flyers are paying just $16.5 million for their defense, which puts them at 25th in the league, compared to the $47.4 million allocated to the forward position, which ranks as the fourth-highest.

The Flyers can only hope that keeping that money in their back pocket won’t eventually bite them in the butt.

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Flyers weekly observations: Scott Laughton's importance, high praise for Ivan Provorov

Flyers weekly observations: Scott Laughton's importance, high praise for Ivan Provorov

While the Flyers lost their winning streak and point streak, they still put together a productive 2-1-0 week.

Alain Vigneault's team is 7-1-1 over its last nine games, a stretch in which the Flyers have allowed 2.11 goals per game. Since Nov. 1, the Flyers are 12-3-4 and tied with the Capitals for most points in the NHL at 28, continuing to make strides under the new coaching staff.

We'll get into that and more with our weekly observations:

• Scott Laughton's performance in Saturday's emotion-filled 4-3 win over the Senators served as a microcosm of his importance to the Flyers.

The team-first attitude, the hard skating, the physicality, the forechecking, the penalty killing and the secondary scoring.

He is not undervalued by the Flyers.

If I look at today’s game where it got heated, he’s one of the guys I thought that responded the best. He responded in a physical nature when the opportunity was there, but when he needed to make plays with the puck or defend, he did that — he did both of those things.

As a coach, it’s really easy to trust a player when he’s doing the right things and playing the right way on the ice.

- Vigneault

And check out these marks: the Flyers are 7-0-0 when Laughton records a point and 6-1-1 since his return following a 13-game absence because of a broken finger.

• In 30 games, Ivan Provorov has already matched his goal total from last season (seven) and set career highs on the power play (four goals, six assists).

He's projected to pass his numbers from a breakout 2017-18 season in which he scored 17 goals and 41 points. The 22-year-old's rebound from his letdown 2018-19 campaign might be the most impactful development to the Flyers' overall rebound so far in 2019-20.

Before the Coyotes' 3-1 win Thursday over the Flyers, Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet extolled Provorov.

"I think he's one of the best young defensemen in the league," Tocchet said, via Coyotes public relations.

"He plays with an edge in a sense that he doesn’t play safe. He’s up the ice, he makes plays, he’s not scared the way he plays. Not so much scared physically, just the way he plays, he’s trying to win the game. As a young guy, he wants to be in those spots. When I watch him, he wants the puck. I love young kids like that, they’re not scared.”

When asked if Provorov reminded him of anyone, Tocchet said "a little bit of Phil Housley," who is a Hall of Fame blueliner and now an assistant coach with Arizona.

• Carter Hart owns 10 wins and a 2.39 goals-against average.

By Dec. 8 of last season, Brian Elliott, Calvin Pickard, Anthony Stolarz, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon had combined for 12 wins and a 3.30 goals-against average.

As much as some people want to knock the previous coaching staff, the Flyers were a mess in net at this point last season and things predictably unraveled. Really, from the outset of 2018-19, things were problematic between the pipes for the Flyers.

• One of the biggest signs of growth with the 2019-20 Flyers has been goal prevention. They've allowed 80 goals through 30 games. In 30 games last season, the Flyers gave up 111. That's 31 more goals.

A lot goes into that — goaltending and offseason acquisitions to name a few. But Vigneault's system has turned the Flyers into a more structured team.

Much more often compared to 2018-19, the Flyers, even if they're struggling to score, look like they're controlling games instead of letting the opposition do the honors. Through 30 games last season, the Flyers had 11 losses by three goals or more. This season, they have only four such defeats.

 

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Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Suffice it to say Scott Laughton got the best of the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

He was the first star in the Flyers' 4-3 victory, scored the game-winning goal during the third period, added an assist, stood up for his teammates and got under the skin of Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk.

So much so that Tkachuk went after Laughton, crosschecking the 25-year-old forward in the back and jumping him during the final minute of regulation. The NHL reacted quickly to the play, fining Tkachuk $2,486.56, the maximum allowable under the CBA.

Following his third-period marker, Laughton had words for the Senators' bench. He was fired up, especially after Ottawa's hits on Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee, which led to some fights. Laughton could not partake in the dropping of the gloves because he recently returned following surgery on a broken finger, which is still healing.


I knew it was coming. It’s part of the game when you do that stuff and chirp the bench, you know it’s going to come. I just can’t drop my gloves right now with my finger and everything. I’ve got some padding there so once I do that, I guess it’s a penalty or something. That’s just the way it went.

- Laughton

But Laughton still had the backs of his teammates. He was physical throughout, especially after the first-period hits on Konecny and Farabee. He also allowed his game to do the talking.

Laughton has four goals in his last six contests and the Flyers are 6-1-1 since his return following a 13-game absence because of the finger injury.

Would Laughton have liked to fight?

"Yeah," he said.

He did plenty enough.

Tkachuk's crosscheck and check to the league are proof of Laughton's work.

 

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