Flyers

Claude Giroux's move to wing for Flyers keeps paying off in win

Claude Giroux's move to wing for Flyers keeps paying off in win

BOX SCORE

What many believed was just crazy science is now a proven hypothesis. Dave Hakstol’s preseason lab experiment of putting Claude Giroux on left wing has encouraging test results. 

“That’s what we were looking for, and if you think back to it, those guys had a practice together and then we went away from it a bit,” Hakstol said. “There’s obviously some big changes there for ‘G’ and a different look with those three guys together. Give credit to those three guys. They’ve dug in and they’ve worked hard at it. Looking at it tonight, for sure, it’s an option.”

With one more preseason test run, the next true phase of the “G to the wing” project alongside Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek will begin Oct. 4 in San Jose. 

Thursday night’s 5-1 win over the Bruins was the proof the coaching staff and the front office needed to see against the most complete NHL level of competition the Flyers have played against during the preseason (see observations).

“I think today was our best game,” Giroux said. “We found each other a little bit better. We keep playing together, building on what we’re doing. Obviously, we’ve got some room for improvement, but we did a lot of good things out there.”

Giroux had a pair of assists in the victory. The trio of Giroux, Couturier and Voracek combined for six points and a plus-3 rating as each player turned in multi-point nights. If you were to chart the efficiency of this line over the course of this week's three games, the unit has continued to move in an upward trajectory.

“Yeah, I think we’ve gotten better every single game, especially on the turnovers,” Voracek said. “When we turn the puck over in the neutral zone, we go forward, which is really important. I think we can do it better.”

The move from center alleviates Giroux’s defensive responsibilities. In turn, Giroux can take more chances in the offensive zone while potentially increasing his shot production from the off wing.

“It’s different with ‘G’ on the left plank. I think he can risk a little bit more than when he was at center,” Voracek said. “For his advantage I think it’s real important that he can use the boards because he’s a very smart player. If you know how to use the boards, it’s a big advantage. I think we’ve been very good and we’ve just got to keep going.“ 

From that first day of the experiment, Giroux has seemed to embrace the change. Now he has the results to show for it with a pair of assists in each of his last two games at wing.

“When you play with two good players like that, and our D corps is playing great right now, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier,” Giroux said. “We like playing with each other, so hopefully we keep playing together.”

Welcome to the fight club
Picking on someone his own age is somewhat difficult to find for 19-year-old Nolan Patrick, so Thursday night he elected to go after a veteran 12 years his senior when he dropped the gloves with Boston center David Krejci (see video). Krejci had not fought in the regular season since 2011. 

“Not that old,” Patrick said jokingly when asked who was the oldest opponent he’s fought. “Kind of happened, I really wasn’t thinking too much. It kind of happens fast on the ice. Adrenaline kicks in. I’m not scared to do it if it happens, but it’s not a huge part of my game.”

“That wasn’t a necessity, but he did what he had to do in that situation,” Hakstol said. “There’s a couple other teammates that got in there and did a real good job, and for Nolan’s part, he did his part.”

Krejci even admitted he had some respect for the rookie for being willing to fight.

“Yeah, I don’t want to speak for him, but I felt like he was little over the line. He was willing to go, too,” Krejci said. “It wasn’t like I dropped and he was surprised. He was expecting that, so I kind of got to give him respect for that. First year in the league, so good for him. But at the same time, I thought he crossed the line a little bit. We fought and now it’s over with.”

When Patrick left the box approximately 4:30 into the third period, the home crowd gave the rookie a nice applause for the effort, and somewhere, Ed Snider was smiling.

In like a Lyon
Goalie Alex Lyon skated in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Thursday morning preparing as the backup for the Flyers’ game against Boston. Afterward, Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon informed Lyon that Michal Neuvirth was sick and he would be called on to start against the Bruins. So, Lyon and Phantoms backup Leland Irving carpooled from Allentown to Philadelphia during the afternoon.

Lyon responded by stopping 31 of 32 shots in earning the win, and perhaps leaving him with some confidence that he can fill in at a moment’s notice.

“Every minute I can get in here is big for confidence,” Lyon said. “It’s nice whenever you get up here to get that chemistry going with the guys, too. I felt good tonight, but the team was fabulous tonight. They played so well in front of me and made it easy.”

Lyon was expected to be back in the driver’s seat for the car ride back to Allentown since Irving is the projected starter for the Phantoms’ preseason game at the PPL Center against the Charlotte Checkers on Friday.

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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