Flyers

Wayne Simmonds: 'It's not funny when you don't make the playoffs'

Wayne Simmonds: 'It's not funny when you don't make the playoffs'

Twenty minutes had passed since the Rangers eliminated the Flyers on a Sunday night in Madison Square Garden.

Wayne Simmonds, who had been particularly sullen and hidden from the media the entire week, was unavailable.

A volatile guy who wears his heart on his sleeve like no other on this club -- a reason he earned the team MVP this season -- was purposely avoiding the media.

"It's been kinda frustrating and I didn't want to say anything stupid," Simmonds said a few days later. "I'm pretty upset and I might say something I don't mean or I don't want to take back at a later date."

This week marks the third time in five seasons the Flyers have missed the playoffs. And under three different coaches -- Peter Laviolette, Craig Berube and now Dave Hakstol.

Which tells you it's not really about the coaches. It's the players.

The Flyers are still in the midst of a long-term rebuild that is going to stretch into next season and beyond. There are no shortcuts in general manager Ron Hextall's patient approach to rebuild the organizational depth chart and re-earn the title Stanley Cup contender.

"It's not funny when you don't make the playoffs," Simmonds said. "We had aspirations and goals going into this year to make the playoffs. We can't look any further than ourselves in who to blame here. It was in our hands."

Hakstol's club played much better down the stretch, finishing 7-3-2 over its final 12 games.

"We got hot too late," Simmonds said. "I think it’s obviously not a positive, but if we had played the way we did the last 10 games of the year, I think we would have got in.

"Now it's over, there isn't much we can do about, all we can do now is focus on the summer and getting ready for next year."

Two months -- October and February -- killed the entire season. Hakstol's club accumulated just nine points in both months.

By then, the 10-game winning streak and all the safety margin the Flyers had built in the standings had evaporated.

What if the Flyers had won 7 of 11 in February instead of losing 7 of 11? They finished this season seven points out of the wild card.

"It's a completely different story and we're sitting in a playoff spot," Simmonds said of that month. "Or we're a point out and battling. It's frustrating, but we're all in this together. It is what it is now. You can't look back now and say, 'what if?' Now it's too late.

"It was about consistency. One game we'd be unbelievable. The next game a little lower. Going into next year, we have to find our consistency level. Whether we have our legs or not certain game we got to make sure we have our brains. We like our group in here. We're capable of more."

The Flyers final road record was horrendous -- 14-22-5 versus 25-11-5 at home. The 14 victories were the fewest for a Flyers team since winning 10 in 2014-15.

How far have the Flyers fallen on the road? Well, they won a club record 25 road games in consecutive seasons under Laviolette between 2010-2012.

"If you look at our road record, whatever we were trying to do, didn't work, so pretty much we had no choice but to simplify our game," Simmonds said. "When it comes to the road games, we have to become a team that is mentally stronger.

"If we let one goal in or we're down by two, it isn't the end of the world, we can come back and win, that's not how you want to start off, if the other team scores first it is what it is."

Much has to change next season: more consistency in the power play, a major overhaul of the penalty kill, which has been poor for three years now, far more 5-on-5 scoring, and better goaltending.

Theirs is no short-term fix for the Flyers, no one thing that will put this team over the top right away.

And there will be changes.

Right now, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg should both be on the blue line next season, depending upon how Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers play in training camp.

Oskar Lindblom will come over from Sweden and play left wing. Anthony Stolarz in goal or as a backup? Maybe.

More prospects will be coming over the next two seasons. This is far from a finished product in Hextall's eyes.

"We know we have a lot of young guys coming in and we think that will be a good thing," Simmonds said.

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

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Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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USA Today Images

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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