Radko Gudas

Flyers' defensemen grades and outlook for next season — Part 2

Flyers' defensemen grades and outlook for next season — Part 2

Over the next several days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. Next up, Part 2 of the defensemen:

The 2017-18 season was one of growth for the Flyers' young defense with half of that six-man unit in their first or second years of NHL service. After the Flyers' three consecutive years of drafting defensemen in the first round, we finally received a glimpse of how the defensive core will look like over the next few years. We broke down the young blueliners Thursday, so let's now turn to the veterans.

Radko Gudas 

Regular season: C-

Playoffs: D

Gudas’ 10-game suspension continued to linger over his head after he returned to action. He struggled to find the delicate balance between playing physical and playing responsible. Gudas would get caught puck chasing in his own end and, along with Brandon Manning, was much of the reason why the Flyers would spend a good amount of time in the defensive zone. Gudas was erratic in the playoffs and his turnovers in Game 6 were part of the Flyers' eventual downfall in the series.

2018-19 outlook: Under contract for the next two seasons at $3.35 million, which makes the contract tough to trade if the Flyers elect to do so, especially considering his suspension history. Right now, Gudas is the only right-handed defenseman on the roster, which could change through free agency. Unless a deal presents itself, the Flyers will likely hold on to Gudas for next season. 

Andrew MacDonald

Regular season: B

Playoffs: B- 

As much as MacDonald seems to draw the ire of Flyers fans, he’s not a concern for the organization. In the second half of the season, MacDonald proved to be a solid playing partner for Travis Sanheim, whose game settled down after he returned from Lehigh Valley. MacDonald scored in two of the Flyers' playoff games and played very well defensively in those contests. I thought he was inconsistent with his penalty killing through the regular season.

2018-19 outlook: Two more seasons at $5 million — a cap hit that’s becoming mid-level salary as revenue increases throughout the league. With some of the young prospects still working their way through the system, MacDonald gives the blue line a steady, veteran presence. Expect MacDonald to be part of the Flyers' second pairing next season.

Brandon Manning

Regular season: C

Playoffs: C

Manning displayed more of an offensive upside in 2017-18, jumping into plays and finishing the season with seven goals, but he was clearly exposed defensively when mismatched against the opponent’s top two lines paired with Gudas. Manning would play a string of games and look like a steady NHL defenseman and then have an absolute clunker.

2018-19 outlook: An unrestricted free agent, Manning will not return next season, Ron Hextall confirmed Thursday (see story), as his departure opens up another spot on the team’s blue line. Either Hextall will find a more dependable veteran to replace Manning or elect for one of the prospects to slide into that role as a third-pairing defenseman.

Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins on Sean Couturier's late goal

Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins on Sean Couturier's late goal

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — After sitting out the previous game with a right leg injury, Sean Couturier scored the game-winning goal Friday with 1:15 remaining in regulation during the Flyers’ 4-2 Game 5 victory over the Penguins. The Flyers kept their postseason hopes alive as they cut the series deficit to 3-2.

Making his first start of the series, Michal Neuvirth came up with the save of the game when he robbed Sidney Crosby on a point-blank glove stop with 50 seconds left in the third period. 

Neuvirth denied 30 shots in the game.

Claude Giroux opened the scoring with his first goal of the playoff series and his first postseason goal since 2014, which gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the first period.

Playing on the top line with Giroux and Couturier for the first time this season, Valtteri Filppula scored his first goal in his last 16 playoff games that tied the game at 2-2 late in the second. Filppula had a three-point night with a goal and two assists.

Matt Read sealed the win with an empty-netter. 

Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust added goals for the Penguins.

Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday in Philadelphia (3 p.m./NBC).

• Despite suiting up and providing a gutsy effort, Couturier appeared to labor early while dealing with his leg injury. Early on, he didn’t have much power behind his shot and didn’t have much of a skating burst as he relied more on solid positional play. However, he seemed to get better as the game moved along. 

Apparently Couturier wasn’t healthy enough to play on the top line or on the No. 1 power-play unit, but he did receive his typical workload on the penalty kill.

• After the Flyers bottled up the Penguins in the first period, Pittsburgh adjusted its attack in the second. That led to easier offensive zone entries and a longer sustained attack in the Flyers’ zone. 

The Pens’ third line capitalized against the Flyers’ fourth line as Rust broke loose from Read and no one picked him up on the backside wraparound.

The Flyers were also held without a shot over 11½ of the second period. Offensive zone time was 4:10 for Pittsburgh to 45 seconds for the Flyers in the second period.

• Neuvirth appeared to have the post covered, but apparently Rust was still able to pop it up and over the goalie’s blade. Regardless, a bad goal. 

Later in the second period, Neuvirth allowed another goal that he should have stopped as Guentzel snapped a shot that slipped between his legs. 

Overall, Neuvirth made some key saves early and on the Penguins’ power play to offset the goals.

• Regardless of the outcome, the Flyers gave Pittsburgh their most physical effort in this seres. They battled for loose pucks and made some of the Pens’ most skilled players, primarily Evgeni Malkin, fight for their possessions. 

Brandon Manning got in Malkin’s face and Radko Gudas came to the defense of Giroux when he fought Jamie Oleksiak after his incidental contact.    

• Despite some concerns that Filppula couldn’t handle the responsibilities as a top-line center, No. 51 was arguably one of the Flyers’ best forwards. Filppula scored shorthanded, played a near perfect first period and provided solid defensive play. He also led the Flyers with four shots on goal.

Why has Dave Hakstol gone away from Robert Hagg?

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Why has Dave Hakstol gone away from Robert Hagg?

VOORHEES, N.J. — If you wanted to hang a banner that represented the thoughts of Flyers fans, perhaps the most prominent message at the Wells Fargo Center would read “Play the Kids.”

And if you look up and down the Flyers' roster, it would appear Dave Hakstol shares that same sentiment.

On a nightly basis, you’ll find 19-year-old Nolan Patrick, 21-year-olds Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, and more recently 22-year-old Travis Sanheim. All of this youth is why the Flyers are one of the youngest teams in the Eastern Conference.

But sometimes it’s not enough, and more recently, the most perplexing decision has been to sit the most seasoned rookie, 23-year-old Robert Hagg, who was on track to play all 82 games until an injury sidelined him for the first time on March 10. 

“First of all, if you told me a young player would play 70-something games, I would be pretty good with that,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “It’s not like you’re expecting him to play every single game. Hagg has done a good job for us and I know when he comes back in, he’ll do a good job for us.”

From a solid job to now no job, Hagg appears to be the first Flyers player this season to lose his role after sustaining an injury. 

“I don’t know, maybe,” Hagg said. “I played two games since I came back. Hexy wanted to get me back, as well, to get the timing right and all that stuff. It is what it is and you have to deal with it. The team is doing pretty well right now, so getting into the playoffs is all that matters.”

Despite spending most of the season on the right side of Andrew MacDonald, Hagg was paired with Radko Gudas in his two-game return and it proved to be a choppy combination. Then again, so has Sanheim and Gudas and at times, Brandon Manning with Gudas. 

Sunday against the Bruins, Gudas was clearly the worst of the Flyers' six defensemen, especially in the Flyers' end of the ice, while committing the types of mistakes you’d expect to see from a rookie like Hagg, who had played rather consistently for much of the season. 

“He wasn’t clean enough with the puck,” Hakstol said Sunday about Gudas. “Games come down to small plays and how efficient you are with the puck, especially when you’re playing against good players, it's important. There was a couple of those tonight. In most cases, he had second effort that helped them clean it up, but there was a couple of plays that he needs to be cleaner on.” 

When Sanheim returned to the Flyers following an 18-game stint with the Phantoms, Hakstol was cautious to not pair him with Gudas again, and consequently, Sanheim has played considerably better with MacDonald. 

Like Gudas, Hagg hits hard while separating the player from the puck, he’s capable of killing penalties, blocking shots and positionally it appears the rookie is just as reliable.

Or maybe not. 

“[The coaches] see about 50 times more video than what we see,” Hextall said. “Yeah, you tend to err on experience, but if a young guy does it and can do it, coaches will give him a chance.”

And with Hagg, you can’t help but wonder when that chance will come again.