Wayne Simmonds

End to End: What is Flyers' biggest training camp storyline?

End to End: What is Flyers' biggest training camp storyline?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is the biggest training camp storyline?

Boruk
Looking back at the 2017-18 preseason, much of the anticipation surrounded the three-way prospect battle among the young, talented defensemen of Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim.

I don’t see a similar roster battle brewing as we inch closer to September. I expect some of the Phantoms forwards to make a strong push to make the team, but their role (if they make the team) will likely be as a fourth-line player.

So the anticipation surrounds the goaltenders, and the most commonly asked question I’ve been receiving is when will Carter Hart will be ready? The answer to which all depends on Hart himself and the preseason will serve as an early-season litmus test.

Let’s keep in mind it’s also a very important season in the careers of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both in contract years and both looking to overcome injury-plagued seasons that rendered them not close to ready when the playoffs started. Elliott is the presumed No. 1, but when healthy and confident, Neuvirth is capable of making a serious push for playing time. 

If either Elliott or Neuvirth goes down with another injury, who steps in and fills that void and where is Anthony Stolarz in his progression? All of which makes for another intriguing (and yet redundant) storyline in the world of Flyers goaltending.

Dougherty
This is pretty simple.

Who is the third-line center?

The Flyers do not have a clear-cut favorite for their third-line center vacancy. Scott Laughton may have the inside track, but we can't rule out the team's prospects or even Claude Giroux returning to the middle. It will be the most intriguing camp battle this year.

We can move forward believing that moving Giroux back to center is the Flyers' last resort. It's an option, sure, but not the plan. My bet is that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is betting on either Laughton or a prospect to prove they can take the reins.

But if Laughton doesn't show he can handle a more offensively-dependent role and none of the kids are ready, then moving Giroux back to center could be in the cards.

Much like the defensive position battle last September, the third-line center will have a few prospects attempting to show Hextall they're ready for The Show.

I'm going out on a limb and saying Morgan Frost will do just that — force his way onto the NHL roster.

Hall
How about Dave Hakstol's personnel decisions within the power play and top six?

I'm most intrigued to see how those shake out during camp and preseason action because the outcomes won't come easily.

These are good problems, though. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' depth was bolstered, giving Hakstol and company much more to work with in 2018-19.

Does van Riemsdyk, who has developed a net-front prowess, jump right onto the first power-play unit? Or does Wayne Simmonds, coming off a wide range of injuries and eyeing a new contract, take back that role? Or is Nolan Patrick the sleeper to stick there after showing his skills in deep during the stretch run last season?

It will be fascinating to see how Hakstol experiments early, not only with the man advantage but also piecing together his top six, which is much more loaded.

People love to analyze the coach's decisions. It'll only pick up come September.

More on the Flyers

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.

More on the Flyers

End to End: Where should Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

End to End: Where should Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Where should the Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

Dougherty
I don't really see this as a question of where they should play van Riemsdyk but rather how should they use him.

The easy fit would be to slot JVR in on the second line with Nolan Patrick and either Jakub Voracek or Wayne Simmonds, but things aren't easy.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall kept the door open for Claude Giroux to return to center in 2018-19 last weekend, so a lot of it depends on what shakes out in training camp. van Riemsdyk figures to be with either Patrick or Giroux.

Take into account how dynamic Giroux was with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny last season, the JVR signing should be one to boost secondary scoring. Putting him on the second line does that.

van Riemsdyk isn't exactly the best defensive forward and in Toronto, Mike Babcock essentially used him as a third-line player at 5-on-5, sheltering him from facing top competition.

That will change with the Flyers considering he'll play in the top six and that means tougher competition. But Flyers coach Dave Hakstol should utilize van Riemsdyk in a similar way as Babock.

Last season, JVR started over 70 percent of shifts in the offensive zone. In fact, that's been the case in two of the previous three seasons. Since 2014-15, the zone starts have lopsided in the O-zone.

We'll see how van Riemsdyk fares against tougher competition, though he'll have better linemates too. The responsibility will fall on JVR, but Hakstol can help by getting him as many O-zone starts as possible.

Hall
In 2017-18, Giroux put up a career-best 102 points as the first-line left winger and Sean Couturier broke out for a career-best 76 points alongside him.

That should not be messed with, so van Riemsdyk's spot in the 2018-19 lineup is simple: second-line left winger, exactly where the Flyers need and want him.

The much bigger question that came to mind when news broke of van Riemsdyk's reunion was where does he fit in the Flyers' power-play picture? JVR is coming off personal highs in goals (11) and points (20) on the man advantage.

Hakstol now has a good problem.

"We feel like with this addition on our power play, we can put out two really good units," Hextall said last weekend. "It gives us another left shot, which we needed.

"Hak, we've talked long and hard about it. We know James is very good net front. He's got great hands, he's got good size.

"I don't know where that's going to shake out, but we feel pretty comfortable that our power play has taken a step here."

Simmonds has been the NHL's second-best power-play goal scorer with 86 markers since 2011-12, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and his 131. When an injured Simmonds missed seven games last season from Feb. 20 to March 4, Patrick shined in the net-front role on the first unit and kept it.

To start 2018-19, I would let a healthy Simmonds regain his spot and rediscover his forte while allowing van Riemsdyk and Patrick to bolster your second unit. If things sputter, then the Flyers have flexibility to tinker with their personnel.

However it unfolds, the overlying positive here is the Flyers will have a 30-goal scorer on their second power play.

More on the Flyers