Ron Hextall

Ron Hextall would use an offer sheet, but is William Nylander worth it?

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Ron Hextall would use an offer sheet, but is William Nylander worth it?

VOORHEES, N.J. — In the coming weeks, speculation surrounding William Nylander will only intensify.

The Maple Leafs' restricted free agent has yet to agree to a contract and his holdout continues through the first two weeks of the regular season. With the Leafs jumping out to a 6-2-0 start, they’re also the highest-scoring team in the league, averaging 4.13 goals. Right now, the current Leafs show no signs of missing Nylander’s contributions, even with the 22-year-old left winger coming off back-to-back 60-point seasons.

The Maple Leafs and Nylander have until Dec. 1 to reach an agreement, or he’s ineligible to play for the remainder of the season.

There’s a feeling that if a stalemate continues into November, another team could present an RFA offer sheet or the Leafs will entertain offers for a possible trade. Toronto has a real need to strengthen its blue line and a Nylander-for-a-defenseman blockbuster deal could ultimately benefit the Maple Leafs in the long run.

With cap space to accommodate and draft picks to cover the required compensation, the Flyers could step in and offer sheet Nylander. While general manager Ron Hextall won’t comment on signing a player currently property of another team, he did provide insight into signing any potential RFA to an offer sheet.

“Depends on the fit, depends on the player, depends what type of situation the other team is in,” Hextall said. “There’s a lot of factors that come into offer sheets, and the price is typically pretty high. For another team not to match it, you’re going to be paying a high price, so the reward on what you’re going to pay out in terms of dollars and cap space and what you’ve got to give up if the other team’s not matching it, chances are, you’re probably overpaying.”

In 2012, the Flyers whipped up the biggest offer sheet in NHL history when then-GM Paul Holmgren signed Predators defenseman Shea Weber to a record 14-year, $110-million offer. Holmgren thought the structure of the contract would discourage general manager David Poile from matching the Flyers' offer.

But the Predators didn’t balk. They matched the offer, sparing the Flyers from forking over four first-round picks. In case you’re wondering, those first-round picks turned out to be Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and German Rubtsov, so you can decide whether the Flyers are better off with those guys or with a 33-year-old Weber who’s been battling injuries over the past year.

At that time, Weber seemed to be worth the hefty compensation: A cornerstone shutdown defenseman at 26 years old in his prime years. After all, the Flyers surrendered two first-round picks and two former first-round selections when they dealt Joffrey Lupul and Luca Sbisa to acquire Chris Pronger from the Ducks in 2009. Weber was considered the replacement to Pronger, who suffered a career-ending head injury in October 2011.

Holmgren stepped down two years later, turning the general managerial duties over to Hextall, and part of the reasoning was how he was perceived across the league as a result of the Weber offer sheet. Holmgren described how things changed to writer Jay Greenberg in the Flyers' 50th Anniversary Edition.

“Even though [RFA offers] are within the rules, they are really frowned upon,” Holmgren said. “My relationship with a lot of other general managers changed. It’s hard to do this job if you have a bad relationship, or at least, a perceived bad relationship, with any number of GMs.”

Interestingly, signing a player to an offer sheet wouldn’t deter Hextall, who admitted he would utilize every resource within the CBA to gain an advantage.

“It’s business. A guy takes a player off waivers, it’s business,” Hextall said. “It’s within the rules. The rules are the rules. It’s the rules we’re given. Player wants to hold out, or if we want to keep a player out of camp that’s not signed, those are the rules. That’s business, not personal. To me, none of that stuff is personal.”

So the question going forward is not whether Hextall would exercise the offer sheet option, but if a player like Nylander is actually worth it. Any offer sheet over $10.1 million in value, which is where the Flyers would have to go on a multi-year deal, the compensation is once again four first-round picks.

Perhaps you can forfeit future picks for a 25-minute-per-game defenseman, but it’s simply a price way too steep for a skilled winger like Nylander.

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Flyers should have been more patient with Andrew MacDonald's recovery from lower-body injury

Flyers should have been more patient with Andrew MacDonald's recovery from lower-body injury

Updated: 1:07 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — It took five regular-season games for the Flyers to realize what they told us back in early September. 

They rushed defenseman Andrew MacDonald back from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout, and as it turned out, he wasn’t remotely ready for the start of the regular season.

Either the Flyers hurried MacDonald back out of concern the defense was thin without him, or he was rather convincing in relaying his pain threshold. A week before the season started, general manager Ron Hextall said he believed MacDonald was simply a fast healer, even though his speedy return felt more like a Mr. Miyagi type of recovery.

“I think in hindsight those couple of preseason games were a little premature,” MacDonald said. “I thought I could work back into it. I felt pretty good. It’s just the nature of the injury, I was able to skate a little bit sooner than you can do a lot of off-ice stuff. I wasn’t able to do much in the gym as far as getting that power and strength back. I thought I would be OK.”

As it turns out, MacDonald wasn’t and neither was the Flyers' defense.

Dave Hakstol needs a 95 to 100 percent version of MacDonald. Anything less, you run the risk of using an inefficient player. Through the Flyers' six games, MacDonald’s 5.06 goals against per 60 minutes played is a team worst by far. The next closest defenseman is Ivan Provorov (who hasn’t looked that good either) at 3.47 goals allowed per 60. That alone shows how much the Flyers' defense was suffering with MacDonald on the ice.

From the season opener in Vegas, MacDonald clearly wasn’t himself, falling to the ice without contact while struggling at times to keep up when opposing forwards brought speed into the Flyers' zone. Interestingly, coming off a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights in which the Flyers played their best defensively structured game of the season, Hakstol felt a change was necessary.  

“When you miss training camp, it’s tough, I’ll say that,” Hakstol said. “Any player that’s missed training camp I’m sure could tell you it’s hard to catch up in a hurry. For me, that’s a big part of it.”

This Sunday would have marked the end of the original six-week timetable, and even now, MacDonald admits he’s physically still not where he needs to be to perform at the highest level.

“I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100 percent, but I feel pretty good,” MacDonald said. “It’s a just matter of getting into that routine and that game shape type of thing.” 

“It’s always a tough situation,” Hakstol said Tuesday. “There’s things in Mac’s game that he knows and we know that he can work at. He’s a huge part of our team and he’s going to be a big part of our lineup. Don’t make too much of it. It was the right thing for our team tonight.”

Turns out MacDonald was at the hospital during the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Panthers, as his wife gave birth to their baby daughter early Wednesday morning. MacDonald said mom and newborn are both doing well.

Now it’s dad who needs a complete recovery.

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Flyers' forward depth being tested early

Flyers' forward depth being tested early

VOORHEES, N.J. — Did the Flyers run into a red hot Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday, or was it worth reading between the lines — as in Dave Hakstol’s lines? 

The significance of Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights was this: It marked the first time in 61 regular season games the Flyers had been shut out dating back to a 3-0 home loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 2, 2017.

It was after that game that Dave Hakstol resorted to breaking up the most productive line in hockey when Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek had accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the Flyers’ offensive production at even strength, including an NHL-leading 25 goals between them.  

Hakstol at that time was desperate for change. He had heard the “Fire Hakstol” chants raining down from the Wells Fargo Center as his team had just dropped their tenth straight game and were shutout for the sixth time in their first 26 games. The Flyers' record stood at 8-11-7 while sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division.

Despite the ten-game winless stretch, the message from the coach and general manager Ron Hextall was the Flyers weren’t playing that poorly, but they also weren’t receiving the necessary breaks needed to win a game.  

Still, Saturday’s shutout to Vegas was a glimpse into what we saw a year ago, which raises a very important and vital question: Can the Flyers survive offensively when the big three of Giroux, Couturier and Voracek doesn’t crack the scoresheet playing on the same line? 

Prior to last season’s split, the answer was a definitive "no." The Flyers managed to win just one game, a 2-1 home victory against Edmonton, when that top line failed to produce an even strength goal. However, it was Giroux who opened the scoring with a power play goal.

“I don’t think we feel more pressure, but we’re just kinda the guys that need to step up offensively and the team relies on us to produce,” Couturier said. “I think it’s just more confidence than anything and that we’ll create chances every night.”

I agree with Couturier’s assertion that those superstars don’t feel additional pressure, but I sense there’s pressure placed on the secondary players when that top line is having an off night. 

Coming into this season with the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the emergence of players like Mikhail Vorobyev and Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers appeared stacked within their forward group. 

But it’s not until a team is faced with injuries that they’re forced to find out exactly what that depth looks like. Right now, no lines changes are expected for Tuesday’s game against the Panthers. Jordan Weal is the Flyers’ second-line center until Nolan Patrick returns, with Vorobyev centering the third line. The 21-year-old rookie has hit a wall with no points and no shots on net over his last three games.

“It can help us grow under stress,” Hakstol said. “It can help guys get in the lineup and play a little different role, play a little larger role and prove they can help us win games. Those individuals have to get in and be part of a lineup, that wins hockey games.”

Hakstol believes the Flyers could have executed better and shot a little more, but overall, the team played a much more complete and structured game in a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights than they did in a 5-2 victory in Vegas.

As Hakstol knows, eventually the process has to yield results, or the first two months of this season will start to look eerily similar to last year.

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