Chuck Fletcher

Flyers weekly observations: Kudos to Chuck Fletcher, Alain Vigneault

Flyers weekly observations: Kudos to Chuck Fletcher, Alain Vigneault

The Flyers have their most points entering December since 1995-96, when Eric Lindros was scoring a career-high 115 points and Ron Hextall was holding down the crease.

The 2019-20 club capped off an NHL-best November with a perfect 4-0-0 week in which it allowed only 1.75 goals per game (see story).

Let's get into that and more with a few weekly observations:

• The season is only two months young but general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault deserve a great deal of credit.

They've answered the bell in many ways.

Fans wanted a proactive offseason. Fletcher went out and acquired Matt Niskanen and Kevin Hayes. He also added Tyler Pitlick and Justin Braun. No prospects or young foundational pieces were sacrificed in the process.

Vigneault has mentioned how important Niskanen has been for Ivan Provorov, who has turned back into the Flyers' best defenseman. The quiet, accomplished Niskanen, though, is arguably the Flyers' most vital piece on the blue line.

With the absence of Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder), Hayes' presence down the middle has become that much bigger. He has helped the Flyers significantly at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill, which is third best in the NHL (85.7 percent). The 27-year-old center is also on pace to match his career high of 25 goals.

Pitlick is healthy and performing like a dependable fourth-line winger, while Braun has played well alongside Travis Sanheim during the four-game winning streak.

On top of the additions, many clamored for the prospects to play. Joel Farabee, 19, and Morgan Frost, 20, two of the organization's prized prospects, are here right now and being relied upon, while eight rookies have played.

And lastly, fans had grown accustomed to and increasingly frustrated with slow starts to the season. Over their previous five seasons, the Flyers went a combined 23-25-6 in October and 23-29-14 in November.

This season, the Flyers matched their best-ever November (10-2-4, 24 points) and entered Sunday tied for the NHL's fifth-most points with 35 at 15-7-5.

Impressive work by Fletcher, Vigneault and the staff.

2019-20 on Dec. 1

2018-19 on Dec. 1

• The Flyers haven't just had a strong November. They've been one of the NHL's best teams since Oct. 21, earning at least a point in 17 of 21 games with a 13-4-4 record and 30 points.

Coming into Sunday, only one NHL team had more points over that span — the defending champion Blues with 31.

"Not knowing exactly what we had to work with, I believe that we’re a work in progress and I really believe that we have steps forward to make," Vigneault said on Nov. 16. "We’re not where I want this team to be, we’re not where I know our team wants to be, but we’re in a good place."

The Flyers are starting to see the results they believed would come from the process. Instead of digging out of a hole, they must build on it.

Hitting the road this week, or wasting away on the couch in a food coma? The perfect time to binge your favorite NBC Sports Philadelphia podcast! Click here for more.

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Johnny Gaudreau trade buzz? Flyers should only think about welcoming him for 1 game

Johnny Gaudreau trade buzz? Flyers should only think about welcoming him for 1 game

VOORHEES, N.J. — Johnny Gaudreau is coming to the Wells Fargo Center.

No, he did not get traded to the Flyers. He is playing them Saturday.

Moderate buzz has circulated on the beloved interwebs regarding the possibility of Gaudreau being dealt by the Flames. Rewind to 2018-19, the mere thought would have been chastised and deemed ludicrous.

However, Calgary is severely underperforming during 2019-20 after going 50-25-7 with 107 points last season, second best in the NHL to only the Lightning. The Flames are 10-12-3 and have lost six straight, a stretch in which they’ve scored 0.83 goals per game while allowing 3.83.

When a team isn’t in the vicinity of its high expectations, bold ideas come to mind and serious questions are asked.

Kevin Hayes, who said Gaudreau is one of his best friends after the two played together at Boston College, understands this is a part of the NHL in today’s world.

“We haven’t talked about the trade [rumors] at all,” Hayes said Friday after practice. “He’s one of the best players in the league. I’m sure if they were winning every game, there would be no trade talk at all.”

Flyers fans, undoubtedly, know well of “Johnny Hockey.” Gaudreau is from South Jersey and played at Gloucester Catholic High School. The electric 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger has blown up on the NHL stage, becoming a five-time All-Star by the age of 26. He scored a career-high 99 points (36 goals, 63 assists) last season.

Naturally, the local hockey fans will always hold out hope for Gaudreau coming home. The key word is hope. Right now, it is purely hopeful and for many reasons.

Think about the package the Flyers would have to send to the Flames. We’re talking about young, already established NHLers, top prospects and high draft picks.

The Flyers are in Year 1 under general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault. A GM is never quick to give up on his plan or tamper with it to a great degree so early in a season, especially for one player. Fletcher and Vigneault like the club’s current state as they mold the Flyers into their own. The team’s younger cornerstones are starting to blossom, prospects are making an impact and they’re all surrounded by an experienced core. 

Whether some see it or not, there’s a lot to like.

Simply put, the Flyers are not in trade mode. Thanksgiving has yet to arrive and the Flyers are better than they were last year, having shown progress but with room for further growth. 

Can things change when the Feb. 24 trade deadline is closer? Absolutely, and that brings us to a guy like Morgan Frost. The playmaking center, along with fellow prospects like winger Joel Farabee and defenseman Philippe Myers, could have a loud say in what Fletcher and the Flyers aim to do when the trade market actually heats up. What might the Flyers need then?

Frost, a 2017 first-round pick with a bright future, has opened his NHL career by making a bang, scoring two goals and three points in two games. It has been only two games and Frost is only 20 years old. His ceiling, though, is excitingly high.

Farabee, a 2018 first-round pick, rapidly climbed to the Flyers and has shown flashes in 16 games. He’s a point-producing winger that can play all over the lineup. Finding consistency through the NHL grind at just 19 years old will be his challenge.

Myers, a 6-foot-5 blueliner with offensive skills, didn’t crack the Flyers’ season-opening roster but made his way back and has shown why in 10 games. The Flyers want to see the 22-year-old be sound and smart as best he can on a game-to-game basis.

“I’ve said this many times, talent has no age,” Vigneault said Friday. “I’m looking to have the best possible team that is going to give us the best possible chance to win. I don’t care if you’re 43 or you’re 18, whoever is ready to play and whoever is going to help us win.”

Gaudreau probably isn’t a thought right now because the Flyers believe in their kids and the process overall. Saturday is Game 23 for the Flyers. They’ll play the Flames. Gaudreau will come and go.

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Morgan Frost call-up has to do with everyone (especially James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek)

Morgan Frost call-up has to do with everyone (especially James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek)

VOORHEES, N.J. — Could Morgan Frost have used more time in the AHL?

Possibly.

But 20 games into the 2019-20 season, the Flyers were in a spot where they needed the 20-year-old’s ability. Uniquely, Frost impacts all four of the Flyers’ lines.

The Flyers are searching for greater balance and consistency within their forwards. They haven’t had it through 20 games and it’s a reason why they’ve been up and down during a 10-6-4 start.

Frost’s advertised prowess for playmaking permeates the big club’s makeup. Monday’s arrival of the 2017 first-round pick allows head coach Alain Vigneault to do many desired things with the Flyers’ lineup.

It moves Claude Giroux from the middle back to left winger, where he’s had his career-best success, without seriously hampering the Flyers at center. Frost will play between Giroux and Travis Konecny, a spot that accentuates the prospect’s strengths.

“T.K. is not a 10-year veteran, but he’s one of our young players that is definitely on the uprise and playing real well,” Vigneault said. “We’re playing Morgan with our captain. The captain will lead the way and help the young man out.”

It pieces back together the Flyers’ fourth line of Andy Andreoff, Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick, which was strong and gives the Flyers the necessary depth to augment Vigneault’s system.

“We felt that by bringing Morgan in and being able to go back to Raffy’s line, which had success with Andy on the left side and Tyler on the right side, it gave us better balance,” Vigneault said.

It keeps Sean Couturier with Oskar Lindblom, a duo that has highly performed, while adding Joel Farabee to the group. The trio showed promise in the 4-3 shootout loss Saturday night and it’s important the 19-year-old Farabee is around talent.

“Whoever we’ve played with Coots has played well,” Vigneault said.

And, most notably, it creates a line of James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek, three players that haven’t produced the way everyone expects them to produce. JVR, Hayes and Voracek have combined for 29 points in 20 games. They are three of the Flyers’ four highest-paid players, all with an average annual value of $7 million or above. 

Vigneault knows those players must perform overall and especially at 5-on-5 for his team to take a legitimate step forward.

The Hayesy line, Jake and James, that should be a big, good NHL line, they should be able to contribute 5-on-5 and play well both offensively and defensively.

All those guys, I love the person. I love Kevin Hayes as a person, James and Jake I’m starting to know, they’re great people. I need more from the hockey player. Two different distinctions, right? The person and the hockey player. Those three guys, I need more from the hockey player. I know that they want to do well. We’re 20 games in. It’s time. I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t told them. Obviously they feel pressure, but that’s why they’re paid the big bucks. You’ve got to deliver, you’ve got to produce, and we expect those guys to produce.

Older guys, because of their reputation, because of what they’ve done in the league, they have more leash, they have more money in the bank. Some of our guys, they’ve used a few withdrawals. I’m not stating anything that [anybody doesn’t know], but I expect more from James, I expect more from Kevin, I expect more from Jake as far as 5-on-5 play. You’d ask those guys, they’d tell you the same thing. They need to be better for our team to get into the playoffs and we’re aware of that.

Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher speak daily with AHL affiliate head coach Scott Gordon. On Sunday, Vigneault spoke with Fletcher for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. After hearing from Gordon, they felt the time was right for Frost.

“Putting our two minds together, we came up with this,” Vigneault said. “It wasn’t about coming up with a plan, it was just looking at our overall team — our four lines, our defense.”

As much as it was about Frost and the Flyers, it had a ton to do with van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Voracek. Frost is here and will make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Panthers in Florida. While many eyes will be on Frost, Vigneault will continue to look for more from van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Voracek.

He’s a head coach with a track record of making the playoffs — and he sure doesn’t want to miss them in Year 1 with the Flyers.

 

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