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Flyers’ Success Makes for an Engaging Read

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers’ woes since their last 3-game winning streak ended on November 8 have seen them win just three times since in the fourteen games since (3-8-3). The coach has been questioned, silly calls for the captain’s C to be removed from Claude Giroux’s sweater have been posited, and the defensive core has been worked over, analytically, with a fine-toothed comb. What has been mentioned slightly less of late, though it is no less important to winning games, is secondary scoring. The Flyers’ forwards have not produced a whole lot beyond the top line, with the rare exception of a spurt here and there. Last night, the first game in the Flyers’ four-game home stand, provided some hope that all is not lost for this Flyers’ season. At least, not yet.

Against the also-struggling New Jersey Devils, the Flyers received two goals and excellent chances for more from center Sean Couturier and winger Matt Read. The two looked much like they did last season when Steve Downie was placed on their line. First, Read assisted on a short-handed goal by Couturier that eluded Devils goalie Cory Schneider after Read made an excellent pass.  Read’s assist broke an 8-game pointless streak. Seven minutes later, at even strength, Couturier returned the favor. Coming in close on Schneider on a 2-on-1 with Read, Couturier fired a pass onto Read’s stick. Read tipped the puck into the back door of the net and the Flyers were up, 2-0, on the Devils. With that, Read’s 11-game goalless drought ended. The Flyers were looking good for the game with the resurgent pair hooking up for two goals in the first period.

The Devils scored the only goal of the second period, as Martin Havlat tipped home a Scott Gomez shot on the power play. The game was never really in danger of being frittered away unlike previous efforts as the Flyers kept out-shooting their North Jersey rivals. The final tally of Shots on Goal was 36-18 and the Flyers outshot the Devils in all three periods by a 2-1 ratio (10-5, 12-6, & 14-7). This was also one of the rare games where the Flyers were penalized less (2 times) than the Devils (5 times). Each team scored once with the man advantage. The Flyers finally scored on their 5th and final attempt in the third period as Wayne Simmonds scored his fourth goal in four games. Jake Voracek capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal with two and a half minutes left in the game.

The Flyers have a much gentler schedule the rest of December compared to the tough schedule they endured in October and November. If they can win six or more of their remaining nine games in 2014, they can get back in the playoff race. While that may further sour the already-sour “go for the tank” portion of the fan base, it also will prevent the locker room from accepting a losing mentality — something that can long endure beyond the scope of one season. I discussed why I disdain the idea of tanking a season in my previous article. What is hoped now is that, much like last season, the Flyers can play some competitive hockey and regain lost ground in the standings en route to their second playoff-qualifying season in a row and sixth in seven years. The team has missed the playoffs just nine times in its forty-seven seasons (forty-eight years of existence, but there were no playoffs in 2004-05 thanks to the year-long NHL lockout).

Getting back to secondary scoring, this is the key to making the playoffs. While Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux are leading the team in scoring, they need others to score in order to win games. Giroux has scored in all but 7 of the Flyers’ 28 games this season while Voracek has scored in all but 6.  The Flyers are 0-7 when Giroux is scoreless and 1-5 when Voracek is held off the scoreboard. So, when they are not finding the back of the net, others need to step up and provide scoring to turn the tide of losses when the top line cannot score. If Read and Couturier can use last night as a starting point to the rest of the season and Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, and Wayne Simmonds (whichever two of the three find themselves on the second line with Scott Laughton) can also contribute offensively, the Flyers will be in better shape when the calendar turns to 2015 this season.

Matt Read has looked like a much different player this year until recently. His shots were not as quick or accurate and his play away from the puck was not as strong as in past seasons. It is suspected he has been dealing with a nagging injury, namely an oblique muscle, because his reach appeared to be affected. If that injury is healed up, Flyers fans should see a return to form and that will make both Read and Couturier look much better in the offensive zone. Read certainly looked more engaged in the game last night, so that bodes well for Saturday’s match against the Carolina Hurricanes. If Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, and Laughton can get going as well, teams will be hard-pressed to defend the Flyers because they could have three lines that threaten to score. That could win over even the most hardened fans of tanking.

Happy hockey,
Michael Gross
Twitter: @JustFlyskippy

Follow the Flyers at MTRphilly.com, on our NEW Facebook page, and Twitter. For the best sports talk listen to great shows on MTR Radio 24/7 and follow us on our FREE apps for your IOS and Android devices.

Questioning the Coach

Philadelphia Flyers

When in the course of hockey events, there is a foundering franchise, suspicions arise that the head coach will be fired. The Philadelphia Flyers, winless in their last 6 games and losers of 10 of their last 11 matches including last night’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks, find themselves reeling and unable to put together an effort that will garner them two points in the NHL standings. While there are many reasons for the predicament in which the team finds itself, today we will look at the influence and job of one man.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube has been blasted by fans of late for his decisions with the roster. While one can make the point that he does not have a very good roster from which to build a lineup, it is his job to assemble the roster to fit his game plan and win games. That has not happened often, as the Flyers find themselves in a deep slump despite changes to the roster via demotions to and promotions from the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and via a rotation of scratches to the team’s lineup. He has juggled players in and out of the lineup, in and out of various line and defensive pair combinations, with little results aside from the team’s two 3-game winning streaks in late October and early November. The Flyers are just 1-8-2 since the second streak ended on November 8.

For all the talk of accountability that Berube has preached since his promotion to head coach last October, the reality is that some players are held to different standards than others. Last year, Berube alternately scratched defensemen Luke Schenn, Andrej Meszaros, and Erik Gustafsson during the season along with rarely-used veteran Hal Gill. Gustafsson gave the team a speedy if slight-of-build defenseman who can relieve pressure in the defensive zone by use of his skating the puck out or by making good passes. His skills would be welcome this year, but his opinion of his own value in Berube’s eyes was made plain when he signed with Avangard Omsk of the KHL without notice to the team and instead of waiting for GM Ron Hextall to tender him a qualifying offer. (Hextall did tender one still, so that the Flyers retain Gustafsson’s NHL rights.) Berube’s choice of Gill over Gustafsson until late in the playoff round loss to New York most definitely shaped opinions of his coaching in the minds of Gustafsson and portions of the fan base. Meszaros was traded to Boston at the trade deadline while Luke Schenn was rotated with Gill and Gustafsson in the playoffs this past spring. Only Luke Schenn is left of the “platoon” of defensemen that Berube used but Schenn has found himself among the rotation of scratches this year with Andrew MacDonald, Carlo Colaiacovo (signed due to injuries to the defensive corps), Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto, and current Phantoms Shayne Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning. Only defensemen Mark Streit and Nicklas Grossmann have played in all 25 games for the Flyers this year. Grossmann’s big body is good for blocking shots, but it is apparent that the coaching staff thinks that being regularly beaten by faster opponents or making ill-advised pinches does not warrant his taking a seat in the press box. Schultz only missed the season opener in Boston. Del Zotto missed one game due to injury prior to his being a healthy scratch the last two evenings. Per my article yesterday, I believe Del Zotto and Colaiacovo should be playing over Grossmann and MacDonald.

Berube’s job has been discussed as in jeopardy increasingly in the media, locally and in both national and international NHL circles. He has not found a way to get the best out of his players. While much has been made of Sean Couturier not producing this season, there needs to be context before adjudging him to be slumping (or even worse, “a bust”). Couturier has rarely been used in the offensive zone (36%) to start his shifts. Whereas a year ago, former Flyer Adam Hall took many of the defensive draws for the team, Berube has counted on Couturier there all the while declaring he does not believe that almost exclusively defensive usage of the player stymies his ability to produce offense. Couturier is a great defensive player but not a great skater. Expecting him to carry the puck up ice when his one steady linemate, Matt Read, has been mired in a slump himself (and not standing out on his play away from the puck like he has in the past) is not sensible.  So, while Couturier can be criticized for his average skating, the coach should be putting him in situations where he is best suited to contribute offensively (such as more faceoffs in the offensive zone, which is where Couturier garnered a power play goal Tuesday night). Along with Read as a constant, Couturier’s other linemates have been Umberger,  Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, and Wayne Simmonds this season. Expecting to use Couturier like Hall and get points at the same time is suspect judgment, at best.

As to Berube’s usage of players and putting the best team out there, the high salaries seem to dictate his choices more than skill. Until Tuesday night, he trotted out a one-dimensional Lecavalier in every game and too often on power play opportunities, especially those of the 5-on-3 variety where a more mobile player would open up more defensive holes than # 40 could. Umberger getting ice time consistently until the last couple of games is also suspect judgment. Umberger is not the penalty killer he used to be and cannot even compare with Adam Hall’s performance last season here. That was an oversight from the GM position, to be sure, but the GM is not forcing the coach to play Umberger.

So, what is the verdict? The Flyers would be better served with a different coach, unless it is in their plans to tank the season. I loathe intentionally surrendering a season as I have always felt that, since sports are a luxury and not the necessity so many think them to be, sportsmanship should prevail. Purposely scuttling a season shows a lack of integrity and character. I would find it difficult to root for a team that resorts to such underhanded tactics. For the interim, if there are no quality candidates available, the Flyers should bring up Terry Murray from Lehigh Valley to coach them the rest of the season. Then, this summer, I would return Murray to the Phantoms and hire a bona fide NHL coach along the lines of Mike Babcock, Dave Tippett (the only former Flyer I would consider as coach), or Todd McLellan (unless he remains in San Jose, of course).

Happy hockey,
Michael Gross
Twitter: @JustFlyskippy

Follow the Flyers at MTRphilly.com, on our NEW Facebook page, and Twitter. For the best sports talk listen to great shows on MTR Radio 24/7 and follow us on our FREE apps for your IOS and Android devices.

Cleaning Up the Mess

Philadelphia Flyers

It is no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers are in trouble in the NHL standings and most probably will miss the playoffs. They have been playing poorly in all three zones of the ice this year. There is no “quick fix” that can suddenly straighten out their season. Add to that the fact that they have too many players not producing — or too many players that probably should not be on their roster (let alone any NHL team’s roster) — and you have your 2014-2015 Philadelphia Flyers squad. This is a team that most probably will qualify for a high first-round draft pick. While that prospect is something a lot of Flyers fans are anticipating with great joy, the road to the NHL Entry Draft in June will be pockmarked with many a frustrating result on the ice.

After dropping last night’s game in the last minute to the San Jose Sharks, the team’s fans that were awake saw what has happened too often since the last lockout ended in January 2013. That would be a collapse in another loss. The Flyers are 73-65-16 in that time, collecting roughly 53% of the points possible from those regular season games. This year, that point percentage is just 39.6%.

Even without left winger Scott Hartnell (now with the Columbus Blue Jackets) and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, it’s not that different a club than the one that rallied under coach Craig Berube and made the playoffs last year. However, the absences of Timonen and Hartnell this season hurt the team at 5-on-5, where they have struggled mightily this year. The power play remains in 6th place overall (at 22.9%) while the penalty kill is mired in 30th place (at 74.1%). They are losing “50/50 pucks” along the boards, getting pinned in their own zone for stretches while being unable to do the same to opponents in the offensive zone, and quite often their defensive game does not transition well into a move up ice but is instead not much more than clearing the puck to neutral ice only to have to start the process of getting the puck back all over again. Hartnell’s trade return, R.J. Umberger, is a shell of the player he was when he was traded to the Blue Jackets in 2008. Vincent Lecavalier, a scratch in the loss to San Jose, has not been able to find the net with any consistency and is on pace for just 10 goals and 20 assists for a 30-point campaign. That’s not exactly what the Flyers can consider good production for his cost ($6M this season, $4.5 AAV against the salary cap).

The Flyers fan base is left to surmise that there is not much to be optimistic about this season. So, that leaves them questioning why the Flyers cannot put together a season like the last 60 or so games of last year and why their execution is so poor. So, let’s get to it:

QUESTIONING THE FLYERS:

  • The Flyers took the Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers to 7 games in the first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs before bowing out. How is it that they could not beat the Rangers this season in the three games so far, with just one more to play?


Some believe that were starting goalie Steve Mason 100% healthy from the beginning of Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Rangers, the Flyers would have won that series. That belief could be a detriment if the Flyers players believe it. In order to succeed, players have to go to work and be willing to do the dirty work required to win the small puck battles along the boards and in the slot. Wins do not come to teams based on belief unless it is accompanied by effort and execution. If the Flyers simply go through the motions in games and do not give a full effort, then they will yield to their opposition in possession, in shot totals, in goals, and in losses. The Rangers and Flyers goaltenders have been about even in the three games so far, but the Rangers are quite proficient at their 5-on-5 play while the Flyers struggle and seem to rely on their power play to bail them out far too often. That sort of effort will not result in wins.

The next factor is execution. With players like Lecavalier, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier (more on him later) not scoring at rates like their past performances, the Flyers have become a one-line team. There has not been much supportive offense from the second to fourth lines.

Lastly, the biggest factor is talent. The Flyers have some considerable talent up front but lack it in their defensive corps. They do not have many defensemen that can skate the puck well or move it well. Mark Streit has been the best by far at this, although Braydon Coburn and Michael Del Zotto have had some success also, although both (especially Coburn) have fought injuries this season.

  • How can the Flyers snap out of their funk?


They have to focus on smaller portions of their games. When a team’s collective psyche is fragile, it should be focusing on a shift at a time, rather than a period at a time or game at a time. So, each player needs to focus on the shift at hand as they happen. No more than that. It’s not an easy task, but neither is making the NHL in the first place. Success got them where there are in the best hockey league in the world.

With the way the offense has dried up of late, only scoring more than 2 goals once since November 15 (that being their 4-2 victory over Columbus on Nov. 22), the team needs to find some way to finish their chances. The Flyers averaged 3.19 goals per game through their first 16 games (Nov. 15). In the 8 games since then, they are averaging a paltry 1.38 goals per game.

  • Is there a drastic change that can be made to help jolt the team a bit?

The Flyers could make a trade, if they desired, but this time of the season is not the best time to do so. Teams know the Flyers are in a bind, so their asking prices will be higher. The best bet for the Flyers in terms of trading is to endure the season until the trade deadline in the spring and try to shed dead weight then in return for draft picks that will restock the cupboard left a bit bare from the Andrew MacDonald trade. The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is expected to be quite strong, so 1st & 2nd round picks should be a priority. 3rd round and later picks cannot be discounted as useless, however.

The Flyers could probably perform better if they set up their lines and defensive pairs to better accommodate the players’ styles. The goalies, of course, have been playing well for the most part and  their roles are perfect the way they are: Steve Mason starting and Ray Emery backing up. Here is how I would set the 18 skaters that play in front of them, were it my call:

Forwards:

  1. Brayden Schenn # 10/ Claude Giroux # 28 / Matt Read # 24
  2. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare # 78 / Sean Couturier # 14 / Jake Voracek # 93
  3. Michael Raffl # 12 / Scott Laughton # 49 / Wayne Simmonds # 17
  4. R.J. Umberger # 20 / Vincent Lecavalier # 40 / Zac Rinaldo # 36

Defense:

  1. Michael Del Zotto # 15 / Braydon Coburn # 5
  2. Nick Schultz # 55 / Mark Streit # 32
  3. Carlo Colaiacovo # 26 / Luke Schenn # 22

I am not interested in how much salary is sitting in the press box. That would be for the current and former general managers to sweat over. My job as coach would be to ice the best possible lineup and the above is just that, right now. 5-on-5 is where most games are won and lost, so I will not focus on the special teams lines today. That might come up in a later article.

The other jolting move that can be made would be to replace the head coach, Craig Berube. That subject shall be tackled in my next article, as there is much to discuss — too much to keep this article from becoming too long. Thank you for reading and questioning the Flyers with me. There will be a lot more of that this season, from critics, writers, bloggers, and fans, for sure.

Happy hockey,
Michael Gross
@JustFlyskippy

Follow the Flyers at MTRphilly.com, on our NEW Facebook page, and Twitter. For the best sports talk listen to great shows on MTR Radio 24/7 and follow us on our FREE apps for your IOS and Android devices.

Flyers End Losing Streak; Still a Long Way to Go

Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers put an end to their four-game losing streak last night with a 4-2 win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. Much could have been made of the second starts in Philadelphia of former Flyers LW Scott Hartnell and G Sergei Bobrovsky, but the night belonged to the Flyers that are currently on the roster. That is especially true of Jake Vorachek, who is putting together quite an incredible season for himself, as he picked up two more assists last night and continues to lead the league in points. He has now scored at least one point in every game this year except for the two games in which the Flyers were shut out. The Flyers received a stellar effort at the face-off dot from Claude Giroux, who won 23 of 28 faceoff attempts. The Flyers captain also garnered two assists on the night, leading his team to the W side of the standings ledger. Brayden Schenn, Mark Streit, Wayne Simmonds, and Braydon Coburn scored the Flyers goals.

While Philadelphia fans have long seen their team yield goals within five minutes of their team having scored, the Flyers last night did not allow that one occurrence to rob them of victory. The Blue Jackets’ Boone Jenner potted his first goal on the power play two minutes after Schenn had opened the scoring. The Flyers shot 16 pucks at the Columbus net (4 reaching the goal) from there to the Blue Jackets’ 7 (4 reaching the goal). The 16th Flyers shot was both on net and in the net as Streit put his own rebound past Bobrovsky for his 4th goal of the season. He has now scored in consecutive games. The Flyers took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

The Flyers scored the only goal of the second period as Wayne Simmonds put away a power play goal, catching the puck in midair, dropping it to the ice and then slamming it home before the Blue Jackets’ goalie could stop his shot. The goal was the first for Simmonds since their last win, the November 8 victory over Colorado.

In the third period, Columbus scored two minutes in as Matt Calvert put away his second goal of the season.  The Flyers did not allow Columbus closing to within one goal rattle them. Instead, they responded just a minute later with their fourth goal. The Flyers took advantage of Bobrovsky having lost his stick and Coburn scored his first goal of the season.

All in all, the Flyers put forth a solid effort and should gain more points in the standings if they model their future games after it and less like the game they played on Wednesday in New York.

QUESTIONING THE FLYERS

  • So, where do the Flyers go from here?The easy answer is “the road,” as seven of their next eight games will be away from the Wells Fargo Center. What is hoped is that with the losing streak snapped, the Flyers can put together a winning streak now and gain ground on the division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. It’s still early, but the Flyers are currently six points out of the second wild-card seeding, with two games in hand on the Toronto Maple Leafs. If they can muster the same effort nightly that they have shown the last two games (last night’s win and Thursday’s loss to the Minnesota Wild), maybe they can get themselves into a playoff position by January 1.

     

  • Will coach Craig Berube continue to ice seven defensemen tomorrow night? 

    He did that last night since he had a healthy roster of blue liners. Carlo Colaiacovo was scratched with the return of Michael Del Zotto to the lineup. Chances are that Berube will not play seven defensemen, instead playing 12 forwards instead of 11. According to reports from Voorhees this morning, it sounds like Luke Schenn and Colaiacovo will be the defensive scratches in the next Flyers game, which both means that Jason Akeson will return to the forwards corps and that the  six defensemen will be Coburn, Del Zotto, Nicklas Grossmann, MacDonald, Nick Schultz, and Streit. 

  • Is Craig Berube going to be the Flyers head coach the rest of this season? 

    That remains to be seen. While GM Ron Hextall was not the person responsible for hiring Berube, there has been no indication (endorsement or a lack thereof) what Hextall thinks of his team’s coach. Of course, that can be said of Hextall’s coaching staff in Lehigh Valley, the assistant coaches and assistant general managers. It *is* known that Hextall was decidedly unhappy with the team’s lack of effort in New York City on Wednesday night, but whether or not Berube bore any of the ire or blame is unknown. The team’s fortunes and Berube’s are most probably closely intertwined. It was thought that the season-starting slump would spell the end of Berube’s time as coach, but the Flyers’ winning of 4 of 5 games in mid- to late October changed that. Of course, this is all speculation but only a year after the prior coach (Peter Laviolete) was replaced 3 games into the season, no prediction regarding  the Flyers and their coach seems too silly.

The Coach/GM Model

Philadelphia Flyers

In the NHL, the operating model consists of an owner or ownership group with a General Manager (GM) in charge of day-to-day hockey team operations and a Head Coach responsible for getting the team ready to play from September camp through the last day of the season or postseason. That is a rather simplified summary, as there are plenty of others involved in the management of the team such as the scouting department, assistant General Managers, directors of player personnel, etc. The two most prominent in the public eye, though, are the Coach and GM. They happen to be the two holding most of the responsibility for what occurs on the ice and in the standings, as well. Of course, there are countless others that work on the business side of NHL clubs, in accounting, promotion and advertising, television and radio agreements, ticket sales, public relations, and more. All can be found in each team’s media guides.

For the purposes of this article, let’s look solely at the relationship between the GM and Coach of the Philadelphia Flyers — and the results  that can come from that relationship.  Namely, which is more responsible for what happens each season? To keep this article from becoming too verbose, I will focus solely on the defense and goaltending. I will also attempt to keep this article-length instead of turning into a manuscript for a book.

The Philadelphia Flyers have made changes over the last 13 months at Coach (October 2013) and GM (May 2014). In 2010, the Flyers made a successful playoff run after nearly missing the playoffs altogether. That team, which changed coaches in December, came within two wins of giving the franchise its third Stanley Cup. Playoff results have been less successful for the Flyers since, with second-round exits in 2011 & 2012, missing the playoffs after a lockout-shortened 2013 season, and a first-round exit this past season, the General Manager was replaced. What has gone wrong?

First and foremost, the effects of losing defenseman Chris Pronger to an eye injury early in the 2011-12 season is still felt as the team has tried to replace him. Former GM Paul Holmgren, now Team President as of May 7 when he was promoted and Ron Hextall named GM in his stead, had a tough task finding the next number one defenseman the Flyers needed. He almost had that replacement when the Flyers signed Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet in July of 2012, but the Predators matched the offer, retaining Weber on their own roster. Sure, the team still had steady veteran Kimmo Timonen, but having Pronger on the top pairing and Timonen on the second made the Flyers rather secure defensively.

  • Verdict: The coach has no influence upon whom the team loses to injury or gains from trades, signings, or waiver acquisitions. Thus, Laviolette and Berube had to wait for GM Holmgren to address the hole left by Pronger’s absence. Neither the GM or Coach is responsible for losing a player to injury and former GM Holmgren tried to replace Chris Pronger. Like the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 and the Anaheim Ducks in 2009, the Flyers since 2011 have discovered that losing Chris Pronger is quite devastating to on-ice success.

Second, the goalie position, long a tired excuse by the local media for everything that goes wrong with the Flyers, has only recently been settled for the long-term future. That appeared to have been settled before, once Michael Leighton took over in the 2009-10 season, but a back injury took him out of the 2011-12 starting position not long after signing a new contract with the team. Holmgren appeared to have found a savior in Sergei Bobrovsky, as he racked up 28 wins in his first NHL season. However, he stumbled in the first-round series against the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers ended up using three goalies in the series (Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton), winning it in 7 games. In the second-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins, “Bob” did see mop-up action in Game 1, relief in Game 2 while Boucher had an injured wrist examined before returning to the net, more mop-up work in Game 3, and a start in the series’ Game 4. The goalie roulette performed by then-coach Peter Laviolette was viewed as a goaltending issue and not a coaching one. Team owner Ed Snider remarked, “Either one of the goalies we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are never going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years.” This statement seems to be the catalyst that had the Flyers trade for the rights to soon-to-be-free-agent Ilya Bryzgalov to take over in net. Rather than sticking with the youngster Bobrovsky after one season in 2011-12 as a rather expensive backup to Bryzgalov, the Flyers traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

  • Verdict: The owner, former GM, and former coach all had a hand in abandoning the plan to let Sergei Bobrovsky be the Flyers goaltender for a long time. The coach’s handling of a goalie can force the GM’s hand, as it most probably did here. The owner speaking out after the playoff exit certainly forced the issue in this case. While it probably would have been best to allow Bobrovsky to grow with the team as starter and work with goaltending coach Jeff Reese, the Flyers decided to instead trade away Bobrovsky for three draft picks in June 2012. When the lockout-delayed 2012-13 season finally started in January 2013, Bobrovsky played well enough with his new team to win the Vezina Trophy as league’s best goaltender. This situation was a team effort that resulted in costing the Flyers a solid goalie in Bobrovsky, costing the team a lot of money on the failed Bryzgalov experiment (because they bought him out in June 2013), and a shuffling of other players because cap space had to be made in order to land Bryzgalov.

Just using these two examples is enough to show that there are ways in which a coach can force a GM to address an issue raised by the coach’s use (or misuse) of a player. Also, a GM’s moves can force a coach to adjust his system based on the roster he has been given. The problem that arises is when coaches are unable or unwilling to draw up a game plan based on the players that he has. Coach Peter Laviolette was successful in getting more out of the 2009-10 Flyers’ roster than his predecessor, John Stevens. However, when the team lost Chris Pronger to injury, Laviolette seemed to lose the team. Perhaps he needs a intermediary sort of captain to get his message across to the rest of the roster, as was the case with Flyers captain Keith Primeau under then-coach Ken Hitchcock. After Primeau went down to injury in 2005, “Hitch” eventually lost his team’s ears. The next season, he was fired and replaced with John Stevens. Hitchcock and Laviolette are not known as player-friendly coaches, as Stevens is. It may just be that the loss of their mediator lost them their team and job. Also damaging to Laviolette’s job security was his seeming unwillingness to change his game plan as his roster changed. For example, it appeared that he wanted Braydon Coburn to play like Chris Pronger and/or Matt Carle after they departed. Instead, Coburn should have been used in a strategy that utilized his strengths, mitigated his weaknesses, and was thus most beneficial to the team’s fortunes.

The point here is not to assign blame for past failing so much as to say that a team’s coach, GM, and owner(ship) need to be working closely to make sure they set one another up for success. That has not been apparent in Philadelphia the last five years at least. Next time I look at the Coach/GM model, I will look more closely at coach Craig Berube and GM Ron Hextall. Mistakes made prior to their installations are still felt now but both have professed knowledge of how to fix the obstacles that keep the Flyers from being among the NHL’s elite. For Flyers fans’ sake, let’s hope so.

Hudson Hockey – September 23, 2014

JP, BL, and Silva talk NHL, bad uniforms, and interview WPU’s Kyle Garlasco.

Flyers Pre-Season Starts in Two Months

The Flyers preseason starts two months from today with training camp starting a few weeks before that.  So why should I be excited.  The off-season has been a bore with the BIG move being the signing of RJ Umberger and defense man Nick “I see Nothing” Schultz.

Ho Hum!

Are the Flyers going to be better.  Last season owner Ed Snyder said it was the worst camp ever and they started 4-10-1.  So what happens this year if Coach Berube has a great camp.  Will the Flyers be able to make a run at the cup?

The Flyers could score last season, problem was they couldn’t stop the other teams from scoring.  They were 20th in the league.  The Rangers were 4th in the NHL in defense and a so-so team went all the way to the Cup.

Can the Flyers do the same?  Will having a good camp mean that team defense will be ‘team’ defense.  Can that make the difference.  Probably not much.  Defense is an attitude and the Flyers Defense has none.

Which player does the opposition fear when crossing the blue line?  No one.  Until the Flyers replace the long gone Chris Pronger they will continue to struggle on defense.  Signing goalie Mason was a good move but he will need help in front.

Team defense and a good camp may not be enough for 2014-2015.

NY Rangers Will Win the Stanely Cup!

It’s Prediction Time, Time to go On the Record.

Everyone is taking the Kings to win their second Cup in just a few seasons.

I think everyone is missing why the Ranger are in the Cup in the first place.

DEFENSE!

They were solid all season and have been even better in the playoffs.  This will keep the in every game and will help them win that one game that they will need to win on the road.

Don;t forget that the Rangers were much better on the road this season than they were at home.

RANGER in SIX!

Can’t believe I just wrote that!

Flyers Change, Changing Places

Philadelphia Flyers

Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers season ended last Wednesday at the hands of the New York Rangers, who won the Metropolitan Division Semifinal round by a four games to three count, but they refuse to stay out of the news.  In the week that has passed since, Flyers fans have had to wonder “what if” and watch other teams contend for the Stanley Cup. That has transpired while their favorite team cleaned out their lockers amidst answering questions regarding why their season came to an end in the first round of the playoffs. There were statements made amongst the press and fan base that the Flyers needed to make changes at the top in order for the team to improve at ice level.  Today, that kind of change has come.

The Flyers announced a press conference to be held at 11:30 this morning. Shortly after that announcement, it was reported that the Flyers were going to name General Manager Paul Holmgren as the team’s new President and Assistant GM Ron Hextall as the team’s new GM. Sure enough, at 11:30 we learned that, after seven plus (nearly eight) years as GM, Holmgren will take the Team President post left by Peter Luukko (who vacated the position with his surprising resignation this past December 2) while Hextall will be the General Manager, succeeding Holmgren. There are plenty of questions going forward that really only time can tell. The Flyers are not in a position to address all of the clubs’ issues today, but giving the GM’s office a new face could change the fortunes of the team. Hextall cut his teeth as an executive working under GM’s Bob Clarke and Holmgren in Philadelphia and GM Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, where they won a Stanley Cup in 2011. That experience means Hextall is prepared for the next step, which he called his “Dream Job,” as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.

After this momentous day, let’s “Question the Flyers.”

  • What immediate issues must Hextall address?
    • The 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Hextall will not have a long wait to put his first stamp on the team with long-lasting consequences. The NHL Draft this year will be held in Philadelphia on June 27-28. The Flyers have been rumored to be trying to acquire the first overall pick in order to make a real splash with the hometown draft crowd. Whether that is true or not, the Flyers have been quite successful in drafting in the first round, even with later first-round picks, and there is no reason to believe this won’t continue with the scouting department remaining the same so far. Also, Holmgren is known for having an eye for young talent. That will benefit the Flyers since he is still with the team.
    • Free Agency: Just days after the NHL Draft, the calendar will turn to July 1. That is the first day NHL squads can attempt to bolster their rosters through the signing of unrestricted free agents. Unfortunately, the Flyers will probably not be able to make many moves via free agency due to the limited cap space they have.
    • Flyers Pending Free Agents: Hextall and his team have to decide whether or not they are bringing back any of the team’s players due to become unrestricted free agents. These players are forwards Steve Downie and Adam Hall, defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Hal Gill, and goalie Ray Emery. Gill is said to be retiring and Timonen is mulling his decision to return to Philadelphia and the NHL for one more season. He could retire from the NHL and play for the Finnish team he co-owns. That would be KalPa of the Liiga (Finnish Elite League). It is thought that Ray Emery will not be brought back and perhaps Cal Heeter will be given the backup goalie position.
    • Pending Restricted Free Agents: Hextall will have his hands full trying to address team needs while having five Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s) to whom the Flyers need to tender qualifying offers in order to keep them. These players are forwards Brayden Schenn, Tye McGinn, and Jason Akeson, defenseman Erik Gustafsson, and goaltender Cal Heeter. Of course, the Flyers could decide not to not make a qualifying offer to any of these players, making them unrestricted free agents. It will probably shock no one when the Flyers qualify all five players.
  • How can Hextall improve this team for next season?
    • The Flyers’ most pressing roster needs appear to be a top left winger, a top defenseman (or two), and a backup goaltender going into the 2014-15 season.
    • Address the lackluster Defensive & Neutral Zones play: The Flyers were stymied by the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division Semifinals through an aggressive forecheck. The Rangers did not allow the Flyers much space or time in getting out of their own zone. This often resulted in the Rangers taking over the puck in neutral ice and starting their offense all over again. Also, the Rangers were especially good at moving the puck through the neutral zone against the Flyers and this allowed them to set up in the offensive zone all the more easily. Hextall said today that the Flyers need to get better at even strength. Surely, the neutral and defensive zone inefficiency they experienced against New York is a part of that.
    • Craft a more mobile defense. This will be the toughest item to check off the list. The Flyers forwards have been criticized for the large gaps they leave between themselves and their defense. While that is one issue that causes other teams to pen the Flyers into their own zone, the fact that too often a Flyers defenseman’s only recourse is to throw the puck to center ice, which merely changes *where* their opposition regains control of the puck. Possession still changes hands and that is not a recipe for long-term success, as anyone who has followed hockey for a long time or anyone keeping an eye on advanced statistics (where possession is what is gauged via shot differential) can verify.
    • Craft a more mobile team. Watching the eight teams remaining in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, one can see how quick passing can cut through opposing defenses and allow for movement out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone, and into the offensive zone. If the Flyers can get their team to be more mobile, they too can be playing in May next season.
    • Shed the reputation of being a puppet for Ed Snider. Snider has a reputation as a meddling owner. The man’s passion for the sport he successfully brought to Philadelphia is unquestioned. Where fans part ways with his philosophy, so it is thought, is in his desire to always win now and override his GM. The poor handling of rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the 2011 playoffs by coach Laviolette caused Snider to publicly demand that the goalie position be fixed after the Flyers were eliminated in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins. That caused Holmgren to trade for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov on June 7  (due to become a free agent on July 1, 2011) and sign him to a new contract. Whether Holmgren drew up the contract (9 years/$51 million) that would be bought out after just two seasons or not is further speculated. Hextall will have a hard time proving to the Flyers faithful that his moves are his own and that he possesses the autonomy and authority that Team President Holmgren claimed he will have at today’s press conference.
    • Trim the fat. The Flyers have several contracts that prevent them from filling the above needs. I have saved this point for last not because it is least important but because it is the biggest obstacle GM Hextall will face. To use an analogy, his predecessor used a lot of paint to box the team into its current corner. That is, little cap space and usage of No-Trade and No-Movement Clauses will prevent the trading away of contracts that would otherwise be seen as superfluous. The Flyers have a glut of centers and defensemen of 2nd/3rd pairing caliber. To change that they would need players to waive their clauses and/or get creative in trading players that do not have such clauses. The most glaring contract at present is that of veteran center Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier is signed for four more years while already 34 years old. It is inevitable that his game will decline even more than it has from his heyday in Tampa. How the Flyers could move that contract has been the subject of much Flyers fan discussion (and consternation, if not outright conflagration!) on Twitter and elsewhere around the Internet. With the recent hire of former Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette in Nashville — and his being coach in Philadelphia being part of the reason for Lecavalier’s signing in the first place, one theory is that Nashville would be a perfect place to send his bloated contract in return for “future considerations” that would be akin to those given to Philadelphia in the Jeremy Roenick trade to Los Angeles in 2005: Zilch. The Flyers fan base has suggested getting rid of players to gain more cap space and thus more buying power on July 1 or trading for defensemen who can pass and skate well, causing teams to have to respect and watch for both. Ron Hextall’s first year could very well be his most challenging just because his predecessor left him with many unmovable parts. Hextall may look a bit disheveled by this time next year just because he will have needed a lot of thinner to cut through the overabundant paint. Here’s hoping he can deliver to the 2014-15 Flyers good fortunes similar to those that he brought when he first appeared as a Philadelphia Flyer in 1986-87.

Happy hockey,
Michael Gross
@JustFlyskippy

Follow the Flyers at MTRphilly.com, on our NEW Facebook page, and Twitter. For the best sports talk listen to great shows on MTR Radio 24/7 and follow us on our FREE apps for your IOS and Android devices.

Game 7: Fan Shakes Early, Handshakes Later

Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers roared back in answer to the New York Rangers’ 3-2 series lead in the Metropolitan Division Semifinals with a win in Game 6 last night. There was a snarl, an offensive outburst, and a swagger in the Flyers that had largely been missing so far in the playoffs. They captured their goal — forcing a Game 7 in Manhattan — by attacking the game and not sitting back en route to a 5-2 victory.

Instead of falling behind by yielding the first goal yet again, the Flyers chased Rangers starting netminder Henrik Lundqvist after two periods instead of playing catch-up, as they had in Games 1 – 5. Though they are a resilient club (and recorded a franchise-record 11 come from behind wins this regular season when trailing after 2 periods), it is always best and safest to score first and build on a lead rather than come back in a game.

For the second straight game, the Flyers dressed a defenseman who had been scratched for lengthy portions of the season and it affected the game strongly. This time, though, that defenseman was speedy Erik Gustafsson and this time his play resulted in the game-winning goal FOR the Flyers. (Hal Gill with “help” from Braydon Coburn was dressed for Game 5 and their contribution together was a gaffe that led to the Rangers putting that game away.) Gustafsson made some smooth plays, particularly poke checks on the penalty kill, and his fleet feet helped get the Flyers out of jams and into the neutral and offensive zones. Those of us calling for Gustafsson to be dressed feel rather justified today, though even we could not have expected such a performance as he had. The goal he scored in the second period, right after exiting the penalty box, was euphoric to the Philadelphia crowd that knew his penalty was erroneously called because the referee bought the dramatic head-fake by Rangers forward Derek Dorsett. Dorsett “earned” his team a power play but it ultimately backfired, to the sheer joy of the 19,000+ inside the Wells Fargo Center.

What this all means, of course, is that the Flyers and Rangers have a best-of-1 to claim victory in this series. The Flyers have passed the first test in staving off elimination. Can the Rangers follow suit or do the Flyers prove to be so resilient and stubborn so as to refuse to go down? This team has been resilient all season and there is no reason to believe they are toast tonight just because of the venue. In fact, they may have less pressure because they do not have their own fans to please on the road. They can play their game without extra pressure. That said, New York will want to feed off its home crowd as the Flyers did last night. Philadelphia will have to endure that early boost of energy and will its way to getting the first goal for just the third time in the series. Now, let’s Question the Flyers:

  • Is Steve Mason able to steal one more game?
    • Yes.  He has shown he is able to stand tall and play stellar in the playoffs in two of the three games he has worn the orange and black. Mason (4-0-0) has the better record in the second of back-to-back games than Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist (1-3-0). That does not mean a whole lot, though, as with Game 7 one can usually throw trends right out the window. It is a one-game playoff at this point, but it is something that can be used to stymie all the talk of the Rangers being 5-0-0 in Games 7 and Lundqvist being 2-0 in Games 7.
  • Can the Flyers’ special teams pull out another win?
    • The power play and penalty kill have been great boons for the Flyers in the series. They will need to click once more in order for the Flyers to move onto the Metropolitan Division Finals.
  • What do the Flyers need to fix or clean up?
    • Puck handling and puck movement. They were quite sloppy in the first period, being charged with 9 giveaways in the first 20 minutes alone last night, but that did seem to be nerves at work and they got better and settled down as they built their lead. They had eight giveaways over the remaining 40 minutes.
  • Is the forward core “fixed” now?
    • Perhaps. Philadelphia head coach Craig Berube not inserted Gustafsson into his lineup, he jostled his four lines and received great results on the scoreboard. Winger Wayne Simmonds scored his first career NHL playoff hat trick before the 2nd period was over. The Flyers need scoring from other lines when the Rangers are shutting down the Giroux line (different though it was last night with Michael Raffl taking Scott Hartnell’s usual spot) like they have all series.
  • Can the Flyers more effectively limit the Rangers’ pace through the neutral zone?
    • To a degree, yes, but the fact that the Flyers can more easily avoid it by moving the puck up ice from their zone instead of flinging it to center ice and have to endure another Rangers’ move through the neutral zone means the Rangers will have the puck less to do so. Flyers defensemen Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Erik Gustafsson, and Luke Schenn can all make a good first pass — something lacking in the toolbox of Nicklas Grossmann or his first replacement, Hal Gill. Being able to skate it like Timonen, Coburn, Streit, and Gustafsson means the Rangers have to respect both the pass and skating it out — keeping them more at bay than they would be playing the pass only against the likes of Grossmann and Gill.
  • Can the Flyers score first tonight?
    • Yes. Yes, they can. If they walk into Madison Square Garden tonight with the same swagger they possessed last night, they will get that first goal and then some.
  • What about the Flyers size advantage?
    • That ship has sailed. This series is about the speed and skill guys for the most part and last night’s game showed the Flyers can win with both.
  • Can the Flyers effectively create havoc in front of Rangers goalie Hank Lundqvist?
    • Yes, finally. The Flyers need to get dirty goals like Simmonds scored last night. They have been getting goals like that all season until Games 1 – 5, in general. That appears to have changed. If the Flyers can make Lundqvist’s job tougher via the use of screens and traffic, they will be in better shape than in letting shots go with no Flyer near him.
  • Can the Flyers outplay the Rangers?
    • The Flyers answered this question from last night with an emphatic “Yes” last night. There is no reason to believe that they will go cold tonight when the series is there for the taking.
  • Can Claude Giroux silence his critics?
    • Seeing as most of his critics were beat writers trying to sell sensationalism as news, it’s not a surprise they were singing his praises like a hired bard after Game 6 ended. It’s apparently beneficial to have a short memory as a goalie and as a beat writer and forget the softies you have sitting behind you.

I nearly lost my voice attending last night’s game, being a part of the home crowd. I have not had that much fun or experienced as much intensity in the Wells Fargo Center since the Flyers’ 2010 playoff run. Let’s go, Flyers! We want to see you handshake as winners after we are done shaking in nervousness and antici… pation.

Happy hockey,
Michael Gross
@JustFlyskippy

Follow the Flyers at MTRphilly.com, on our NEW Facebook page, and Twitter. For the best sports talk listen to great shows on MTR Radio 24/7 and follow us on our FREE apps for your IOS and Android devices.

 

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