Matt Read

Analyzing Flyers' free-agent class, Part 2

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Analyzing Flyers' free-agent class, Part 2

Here's Part 2 of our two-part series analyzing the Flyers' free-agent class.

For Part 1, click here.

Brandon Manning (UFA)
Manning is one of the players who general manager Ron Hextall informed will not be retained. Manning can have an exceptional game and then follow up with a real clunker. However, he brings a combination of offensive awareness coupled with physicality that you don’t see all that often while playing an average of 18 minutes over the past two seasons.

Comparable player: Brenden Dillon, Sharks
Both players inject a rugged, physical presence along with the occasional offensive punch. However, Dillon is more imposing and doesn’t lose coverage as often as Manning. Because of his unique combination of size and skill, Dillon secured a five-year extension with the Sharks worth $16.3 million in 2015.

Outlook: Don’t be surprised if teams like Vancouver or Edmonton pursue Manning, who would like to be closer to family in Western Canada, and offer him a two-year contract in the $3-4 million ($1.5 AAV) range. Manning is capable of becoming a solid third-pairing defenseman if he lands in the right situation. 

Petr Mrazek (RFA)
After three wins in his first three starts with the Flyers, Mrazek lost out on a major opportunity when he failed to secure the Flyers' No. 1 job heading into the playoffs. His play was very streaky and his agent will argue that his client has never been given the opportunity to become a full-time starter. 

Comparable player: Robin Lehner, Sabres
Interestingly, both goaltenders are roughly the same age, making the same money with very similar numbers over the past few seasons, and both guys are now free agents. Lehner is a much bigger presence in net. Personally, I prefer Lehner, who was surrounded by a defensively porous Sabres squad over the past three seasons. 

Outlook: Mrazek’s not coming back to Philadelphia, so look for Hextall to trade him for a draft pick/player later this month. He has some value, but it’s hard to say what that is right now as the other franchises internally sort out their depth charts and determine how much they value Mrazek, who appears to be more of a backup to an established starter.

Matt Read (UFA)
Hextall informed Read that the Flyers will not be looking to re-sign the 31-year-old forward, who spent the majority of the season with the Phantoms. 

Comparable player: Rich Peverley
It’s hard to find an identical case to Read, who played four years at Bemidji State before earning a roster spot coming straight out of camp in 2011. Read then proceeded to record two 20-goal seasons. Peverley played four years at St. Lawrence University before a breakout season with the Atlanta Thrashers, but was never able to duplicate that and was out of the league in 2015 at the age of 32.

Outlook: The Flyers gave Read’s agent permission to seek a trade this season, and while there may have been slight interest, no one wanted to absorb the $3.625 cap hit or at least half that value. I suspect teams will look at Read after the first wave of free-agent signings. He may have to accept a one-year, two-way deal near league minimum with incentives or possibly take a professional tryout entering training camp.

Anthony Stolarz (RFA)
It was just a year ago the Flyers elected to protect Stolarz over Michal Neuvirth in the expansion draft to protect their second-round pick from the 2012 draft. However, offseason knee surgery derailed Stolarz’s season, and as a result, he couldn’t take the next step in his development. 

Comparable player: John Gillies, Flames
I once likened Stolarz’s situation to Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, as both were selected in the 2012 draft and went from the NAHL to college. Believe it or not, Hellebuyck was a fifth-round selection and has now joined the NHL’s elites. Gillies is a more suitable comparison and has a similar stature as Stolarz. The Flames have been very patient in his development as well. 

Outlook: With Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, there’s an internal logjam at the goaltending position, which is not a bad problem to have. The discussions surrounding Stolarz will be extensive as the Flyers decide what’s the best decision moving forward. This is one I simply can’t predict, but a player of his size will have value for an outside organization looking to improve.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall talks coaching staff, free agents, draft and more

Flyers GM Ron Hextall talks coaching staff, free agents, draft and more

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media at his season-ending press conference on Thursday. 

What exactly did he have to say? We decipher the GM’s answers right here.

Question: Will there be any changes within the coaching staff?

Answer: “The coaches will all be back. We’re still doing a little bit of evaluating on the entire organization, but yes (in the same roles). We’re not going to make a change to appease people because we’re suppose to. We’re going to make change to get better. We’re not going to do what makes us popular. I think Hak (Dave Hakstol) has done a really good job.”

Translation: Hextall believes Hakstol has done a solid job in his first three years and has worked well with the development of the young players and the prospects. Hextall also believes the penalty kill saw improvements over the second half of the season and the problems early on were more personnel related than the coverage systems that assistant coach Ian Laperriere implemented.

Question: Where do things stand with the pending free agents (Brandon Manning, Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read)?

Answer: “My conversations with most of those guys were the plan right now is not to bring you back. Things can change because we don’t know what happens over the summer. Filppula is one guy where he have interest and we’re going to see what happens here. The other guys, unless something changes, we don’t plan on bringing them back right now.”

Translation: Manning and Read have played their final games with the Flyers. If Hextall doesn’t find an upgrade through free agency, then they’ll explore a very team-friendly, one-year contract with the 34-year-old Filppula, who certainly lost a step this past season.

Question: Will goalie Carter Hart have a chance to make the Flyers next season?

Answer: “I’m comfortable where we’re at with our goaltending. Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) had some injury issues. I’m excited about Neuvy’s commitment. We got our kids coming. We got the kids up at Lehigh. We feel very comfortable with where we’re at. In saying that, we need some growth.” 

Translation: Ideally, the organization would like to see Hart start next season with the Phantoms. However, Hextall refuses to put an absolute on any situation. If Hart lights up the AHL and proves to have a maturity and a game beyond his years, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could play with the Flyers nest season. Goaltending may be the toughest position to master for any 20-year-old. As a rookie, Hextall was 22 years of age and admitted he shed a few tears in 1986.

Question: Will the Flyers be a big player in free agency?

Answer: “If someone thinks that we’re going to add three players or four players this summer to make us the top team in the league, I don’t know where we’re going to get those players from, nor the cap space, nor anything else. You would like to find another centerman. Your goaltending, your D and your centers. If we could upgrade there, that would be great.”

Translation: John Tavares is a long shot. For starters, he may never make it to July 1 as a free agent and the Flyers won’t engage in a bidding war with other teams. Hextall is frugal and fiscally responsible. If they did elect to chase a big fish, then they might be more inclined to look at John Carlson, a right-handed defenseman. Still, even that’s a stretch considering how much he would command on the open market. Think smaller, affordable role players to fill in the gaps. 

Question: Will you buy out Jori Lehtera? If not, how do you justify his $4.7 million?

Answer: “There’s a lot of reasons why you just don’t buy a guy out. He makes a little bit more than maybe that role should make. Jori was a good role player for us. He’s a terrific human being. He works hard. He’s really, really good with our young kids. There’s a lot more to it than saying Jori Lehtera was playing center and playing eight to 10 minutes. The plan is to have him back.” 

Translation: This is a head-scratcher for me. The St. Louis Blues forked over a first-round pick just to rid themselves of Lehtera and his salary. There’s a lot of terrific human beings in the league who work hard. Those aren’t qualities worth paying top dollar for. It’s a production-based business and the bottom line is Lehtera finished wth eight points while averaging 10½ minutes of ice time and lacks the foot speed to keep up in today’s NHL.

Question: In terms of depth of the draft and having two possible first-round picks, what options does that give you?

Answer: “It’s a solid draft. We’ve seen enough players where it’s a good draft and we’re going to get a couple of good players if we make those picks. If you want to move up, I would envision the chance to move up. We’re a little bit more defined in terms of the pieces we have.” 

Translation: Hextall and his scouts have done a solid job in four years of replenishing their prospect pool, so now they’re in a position to get creative. Don’t be surprised if the GM makes major noise at the June draft in Dallas. He attempted to pull off a mega deal with the Florida Panthers in 2014 in an effort to land defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Hextall could get bold and he has the assets to make that type of move. 

Matt Read's been here before but now stakes are higher

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Matt Read's been here before but now stakes are higher

VOORHEES, N.J. — Once a key cog in the Flyers’ lineup, Matt Read has become almost a secret weapon of sorts.

Though he has only one point all season, Read played a pivotal role in the Flyers' Game 2 victory in Pittsburgh. The 31-year-old winger did his part to shut out the dangerous Penguins power play, which went 0 for 4.

"I think we frustrated them the first couple of power plays," Read said. "When they’re frustrated, they’re trying to make more seam passes.

“It just made it easier for us. We took away their seam passes, kept them outside and (Brian Elliott) made a couple big saves for us.”

After spending most of the season at Lehigh Valley, Read was recalled in March, a move that's resulted in a dramatically improved penalty kill for the Flyers. Over the last 14 games, including playoffs, opponents converted 5 of 33 power-play opportunities.

The Penguins are 1 for 8 on the power play for the series, now tied at one. Continuing to limit the star-studded top unit is vital to the outcome.

Pittsburgh led the NHL with 68 power-play goals during the regular season. 

The situation is nothing new for Read, who was a rookie when the Flyers knocked off the Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs in 2012. Neither is the role, having paired with center Sean Couturier on the penalty kill in years past.

“It’s just like back in the day when he used to kill penalties with Coots," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "They're in sync together and they play well together on the PK.”

What's different this time around is the stakes are much higher for Read.

Read spent much of the season fighting for his NHL livelihood. His contract is set to expire, and minus a brief stint with the Flyers in October, he had been biding his time in the AHL.

Once again, the month is April, and Read will be crucial to the Flyers' success from here.

“Yeah I’ve been here before, but it’s my last opportunity to prove myself again," Read said. "I’m not going to let it slip away. It’s been a good time so far, and hopefully, we can continue playing good hockey.”

The Flyers knew Read could make a seamless transition and be a dependable addition to the fourth line. The standout performance on special teams has been a bonus.

"In terms of his five-on-five play, he’s been very consistent there," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "He had a little physical play to his game, a couple big shot blocks, he's taking care of the puck really well.

“To break it down into simpler terms, he’s playing real good solid two-way hockey as a veteran out there and he’s bringing confidence to our game.”