Travis Konecny

Moving Claude Giroux back to center may be Flyers' best move

Moving Claude Giroux back to center may be Flyers' best move

One ring down, one ring to go.

Claude Giroux is enjoying a summer of marital bliss after tying the knot with fiancee Ryanne Breton.

When he returns to Philadelphia later this summer, he’ll begin his quest once again to earn that much more elusive championship ring. Of course, few people believe the Flyers are close to winning a Stanley Cup, but with the addition of James van Riemsdyk, they’re closer.

Maybe one more stud defenseman, Carter Hart in his prime, and switching the captain back to center?

Is it possible that after topping the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career, Giroux’s left wing conversion was just a one-year experiment?

General manager Ron Hextall stated a desire to sign a third-line center who would help kill penalties, but only signing one on his terms. The players that seemingly fit that role — Tyler Bozak, Riley Nash and Derek Ryan — all signed three-year contracts elsewhere, and the concern within the organization is eventually blocking Morgan Frost’s path to the NHL (see story)

So Hextall was asked on July 1 how the Flyers find that center they weren’t able to sign through free agency and the first answer that almost immediately came to mind was moving Giroux back to center. 

I believe the Flyers' brass has already given the idea consideration, and if you move the pieces around on paper, the team looks considerably deeper with Giroux in the middle again. 

Several elements stand out when you compare and contrast the different combinations.

1. The Flyers are considerably more balanced with Giroux at center, with three lines that can do offensive damage and create matchup problems for the opposition, especially at home with last change.

2. Konecny could be buried with Giroux at wing. He’s almost guaranteed a spot in the top six if Giroux switches back to center. During the first half of last season, Konecny was paired with players that didn’t have a similar skill set, and consequently, the super-skilled winger struggled to find any offensive rhythm.

3. While effective at times last season, Laughton doesn’t seem ready to jump into the role of a third-line center. The 2012 first-round pick played some of his best hockey late in the season on the left wing with Jori Lehtera at center. 

If Dave Hakstol elects to make this change in the preseason, the biggest concern moving forward doesn’t necessarily involve Giroux’s move back to center, but rather can Couturier continue to excel by posting solid offensive numbers without Giroux on his wing? The two players were inseparable last season until the final two games of the Flyers' playoff series against Pittsburgh.  

And it may be the best option to start next season. 

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Ron Hextall, Flyers passing on John Tavares sweepstakes would be mistake

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Ron Hextall, Flyers passing on John Tavares sweepstakes would be mistake

Year after year, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall sits at the podium and preaches about the need to get better, both now and in the future. Of course, this declaration comes after another disappointing playoff series loss or a just-not-good-enough season. But the message is always the same.

And so are the offseason moves that follow.

A depth forward signing, another year of Brandon Manning, a middling goalie. 

Hextall’s reluctance to enter a bidding war for top free agents makes sense, though. Through some black magic and cap wizardry, he’s finally gotten the team out of cap hell. 

Long gone are the days of Paul Holmgren handing out blank checks to aging big-name veterans and mortgaging the future for the present. Hextall is rightfully building the team through savvy signings while drafting and developing down the middle — mainly centers and defenseman.

And that’s all fine and dandy.

But the GM’s decision to steer clear of John Tavares this offseason is truly inexcusable. Borderline madness. Negligence. 

Whatever you want to call it, the Flyers’ inaction makes little sense.

Tavares is just 27 years old, in the prime of his career. He’s a four-time 30-goal scorer and coming off an 84-point campaign for a dreadful Islanders team. Those are legitimate 1C-superstar numbers. 

Which is why this whole thing is so maddening. Players like Tavares rarely — if ever — hit the open market in today’s NHL. 

The last time a player of Tavares’ caliber tested free agency? Way back in 2010 when Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Devils. 

Now, there’s no way Tavares will get a 17-year deal like Kovy (good one, Devils), but this is a once-in-a-generation, franchise-shifting opportunity here.

According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Tavares has met with just six teams: the Stars, Bruins, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Lightning and Islanders. 

But here’s the kicker. 

According to capfriendly.com, the Flyers have more projected cap space than all but the Islanders and Maple Leafs for the 2018-19 season.

With over $21 million projected cap space, there’s no reason the Flyers couldn’t at least kick the tires on Tavares.

Yes, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are coming up on big paydays; Wayne Simmonds, too, should the Flyers decide to extend the winger. 

But when teams like Tampa — just $5 million in projected space — and Boston — just under $12 million — are in on the center, there is no excuse to not make a call.

“It’s hard to plan, and you have to be careful not to over-plan,” Hextall said before the draft. “But Provy is a year away and Konecny is a year away. You just go on and on with our kids … and time goes quick. We’re certainly not going to reach out on a seven-year deal on a good player, I can assure you that.”

That seven-year deal? That’s GM speak for, thanks but no thanks on Tavares.

Hextall has always been slowly building towards the future, and we started to see that pay off with the youngsters this season.

Still, the Flyers were severely outclassed by the Penguins in the first round, but with Tavares, the Flyers — even now in their developmental state — could stand a real chance against Pittsburgh, as NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk writes.

With their current roster, the Flyers are still two or three years away from serious contention. Would adding Tavares make them instant Stanley Cup contenders?

Probably not, but it would expedite the process and energize a groaning fanbase. 

The chances of Tavares signing with the orange and the black were always very slim.

But Hextall whiffed on a once-in-a-generation chance to mobilize the fanbase and give the team a much-needed jolt. 

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Why there's no rush for Flyers to extend Travis Konecny

Why there's no rush for Flyers to extend Travis Konecny

Last week, we presented the case for the Flyers to extend Ivan Provorov this summer rather than waiting until 2019. Today, we’re looking at fellow 2015 draftee Travis Konecny.

With Provorov and Konecny entering the final years of their entry-level contracts, the Flyers can sign them to new deals when the new NHL calendar year begins on July 1. At his end-of-season news conference, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall did not appear to be in a rush to do so.

That said, Hextall also didn’t shut down the possibility. By studying Hextall’s previous contracts, he likes to sign players before their contracts expire. If a player reaches unrestricted free agency, it’s because the Flyers have decided to move on. Once he identifies a player he wants to re-sign, he has moved fast to lock them up. Provorov and Konecny are a little different.

Both are scheduled to be restricted free agents next summer and it’s fair to say neither will actually reach RFA. They’re both key blocks to what the Flyers are building. With both, it’s just a matter of what type of contract they sign next and whether they do it now or later. Let’s dive in.

What he’s done

After an up-and-down rookie campaign that included benchings, Konecny blossomed into an established scorer in the NHL during his sophomore season. He finished with 24 goals and 47 points in 81 games in 2017-18, but his turning point came Dec. 23 in Columbus when he was elevated to the first line. In his next 46 games, Konecny scored 20 goals and 37 points and saw his plus/minus climb from minus-2 to plus-19. During a 23-game span between Dec. 28 and Feb. 18, Konecny had 11 goals and 24 points with five multi-point games and six game-winners.

Konecny showed improvements defensively from his rookie year to his sophomore season, though further advancement will be required in 2018-19. He learned to reel back the high risks in his game but still showed a willingness to take risks. During his end-of-season news conference, Konecny said he believes high-risk plays are required if he wants to be a high-end player. He also gained the trust of coach Dave Hakstol, who provided the second-year player a longer leash. When Konecny made a mistake, Hakstol wasn’t as quick to staple him to the bench. Konecny wasn’t immune to benchings, though. There were a few games in which Konecny took a bad penalty or a mindless turnover and sat.

Now or later

While re-signing both Provorov and Konecny this summer would be sweet relief for Hextall, there should be more urgency to extend Provorov. He’s the safer bet at this moment, and when we’re talking about extending players still with term on their deals, that's what it is. Both players are still growing, but Provorov is far more polished.

You can be comfortable handing Provorov a big deal — say, $6 million AAV — and come away content with him at that price even if he doesn’t take a huge leap again in Year 3.

Konecny is a little more complicated. His next contract will be a considerable jump from his entry-level contract ($894,167). He came a long way in his development from Year 1 to Year 2, and Hakstol deserves credit, but Konecny still has a lot of room to grow. But there remains untapped potential in Konecny’s game and there's risk his defensive game never fully comes around.

[RELATED: From 'immature' to established scorer, inside Konecny's maturation]

That said, a long-term extension may not make sense for the Flyers now, and it might not even make sense next summer either. Konecny’s next contract has the feel of a bridge deal before his first long-term NHL payday. The CBA states that players cannot hit unrestricted free agency until they’re 27 years old or after seven years of NHL service.

With that in mind, a four-year contract might be what Konecny aims for because it would bring him to seven years. That would align him up to hit UFA at 25. The Flyers might want a three-year contract because it would keep Konecny as a restricted free agent when it expires. That way they still hold his rights when it expires and move the big contract conversation to another day.

Another option is signing Konecny to a long-term deal now. Say for six years and bet Konecny’s all-around game will develop to a point where they can live with the blips here and there.

As a 21-year-old, Konecny is already a 20-goal scorer, which figures to put him between the $3- and-$5 million range. If he continues to round out his overall game, that will only increase.

But this summer, there shouldn't be a rush to extend him. If it happens, it happens. But extending Provorov and adding one or two more pieces that can help out now should be higher on Hextall's to-do list.

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