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Bill M: Flyers Arrows Pointing Sideways Early in Season


murraycraven

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thought this was a great article... not sure what to think about this organ-eye-zation any longer. Hextall has been silent and I am losing faith with him with each passing day.

Only time will tell as to whether Philadelphia Flyers rookie head coach Dave Hakstol is the right man for the job of leading the personnel with which he's been to work to greater heights than his predecessor, Craig Berube. A proper evaluation is likely to require a couple of years while the organization is in the process of developing prospects below the NHL level and, in the meantime, trying to trade, buy out or otherwise free up salary cap space to work around multiple albatross contracts on the current roster.

In the long term, the hope is that Hakstol develops as an NHL coach while the organization is in transition and for him to blossom at the NHL level in conjunction with the maturation young talent filtering upward through the farm system to the parent club. It is not fair to judge Hakstol on a small sampling of games -- whether in terms of the team's 4-2-1 start against mostly high-grade opposition or its current 0-4-1 slide in which heretofore struggling clubs dominated the Flyers.

What is fair to say that Hakstol ran a solid first NHL training camp and seems to be a bright hockey mind but there are nuances to the NHL game that he is learning on the job. For instance, there have been three games to date where a timeout seemed to be in order but the coach elected not to use it (presumably in order to save it in case a need arose to challenge a goal or no-goal ruling). Likewise, although Hakstol was used to back-to-back games at the collegiate level, the NHL scheduling is different and somewhat trickier to navigate in terms of preparation and logistics.

In the early going of his first NHL season, Hakstol's Flyers have had many of the same issues as his predecessor's. While that is to be largely expected, given that most of the personnel is the same, it should nevertheless be noted that the primary reason Flyers general manager Ron Hextall stated for firing Berube was that he didn't get enough out of his players and there wasn't enough accountability.

Through the first 12 games of the 2015-16 season, one would be hard pressed to notice a difference in how the hold-over talent is responding to having someone new behind the bench. Here are six issues worth tracking as the season develops.

1. Home-road record: Last season's Flyers were a 53-point team on home ice but struggled mightily on the road. Thus far, the Flyers are 3-2-1 at home and 1-4-1 on the road.

2. Special teams: The penalty kill was a trouble spot last year and has continued to yield at least once per game of late. The power play, a primary strength last season (and in recent seasons before that) is in an early-season funk.

3. Over-reliance on its goaltenders: This holdover problem from the last two seasons has been a glaring issue during the club's current skid. Over the course of the last five games, the Flyers have been outshot by a combined 192 to 139 margin (40-33, 33-28, 36-28, 34-28, 49-22).yet their goaltenders have put them in position four of five possible times to come away with either one or two points had they won a third period by a single goal.

That's what happened in the first game of the winless streak but they Flyers have been outscored by a combined 10-3 in third periods. The Flyers have yielded empty net goals in three of the last four games, but did score at 6-on-5 to steal a point in the first game of the skid.

Thus far, the Flyers' best player has been backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

4. Trouble scoring goals, spotty team defense: The 2013-14 Flyers scored a meager 22 goals through their first 15 games (posting a 4-10-1 record in the process) and then scored like gangbusters the rest of the year to finish eighth in the NHL with an average 2.84 goals scored per game. Last season, the Flyers had trouble scoring goals for much of the year. The top line and especially the top power play unit carried the offense, with irregular secondary support.

In both the 2013-14 campaign and last season, the Flyers were prone to defensive lapses. Last season's team actually cut its 5-on-5 goals against by 20 (a nice one-year improvement) and finished slightly on the positive side of the ledger but the team also scored much less at even strength. The play of goaltender Steve Mason last year also had a lot to do with the cutback on even strength goals allowed.

Under Hakstol, the team made a tweak in its neutral zone coverage system to reduce opposing zone entries with possession while also trying to get more motion (specifically with defensemen) in the offensive zone to increase their own scoring chances. These changes have yet to bear consistent fruit but it's still too early in season to say the team will not benefit as the year progresses.

A bigger immediate issue, more reminiscent of the start of the 2013-14 season than last year is that pretty much no one -- including the top line or the power play -- is scoring with any regularity. To date, the Flyers rank 29th of the NHL's 30 teams with an average 1.92 goals scored per game. The Flyers are 25th defensively with an average 3.08 goals against per game. Meanwhile, the early puck-possession data is very ugly. Clearly, there is still major room for improvement on both sides of the puck.

5. Bad games against "lower-tier" opponents: In the second half of the 2014-15 season in particular, the Flyers fared markedly better against contending teams with superior records to their own than against teams that ranked below them in the NHL standings. While it is far too soon to it's going to be more of the same all year, it is nevertheless worth keeping an eye on in the weeks to come.

Thus far, the Flyers played arguably their strongest games against Tampa Bay, Chicago and the New York Rangers and their weakest against the Florida Panthers (first meeting), Buffalo Sabres (twice), New Jersey Devils (who have now won seven of their last eight games against Philadelphia) and Edmonton Oilers.

6. Personnel evaluation and usage: Which players were the unhappiest -- or at least said to suffer the most -- under Berube? The ranks included Vincent Lecavalier, Luke Schenn and Andrew MacDonald. The first two remained frequent healthy scratches thus far under Hakstol, while MacDonald was dispatched to the AHL in order to get $950,000 of salary cap relief in order to be able to fit both center Scott Laughton and defenseman Brandon Manning on the opening-night roster.

In the meantime, the Flyers wanted last season to see Sean Couturier reach the next level in his offensive development -- despite gettting a heavy burden of defensive zone starts against opponents' top scoring lines. The organization wanted to see greater offensive consistency out of Brayden Schenn. They wanted Matt Read to get back to his previous 20-plus-goal caliber scoring pace and for R.J. Umberger to be something much closer to what he was prior to the 2012-13 campaign than to how he played in his final year in Columbus and especially the second year of his Flyers tenure.

None of these things have happened to date. Injuries have been part of it, especially with Couturier (who missed the last six games with a concussion) and Umberger (who was out several games in October). Schenn holds a co-share of the team goal-scoring lead with four. However, the jury is still very much out on how many of these players -- if any -- will have the sustained breakthrough or bounceback that Berube could not coax from them.

A former organizational player that Berube took heat for "misusing" last year was smallish AHL-NHL swingman forward Jason Akeson. The player went unclaimed after being waived by the Flyers last season and assigned to the AHL. After signing with the Sabres as an unrestricted free agent over the summer, Akeson did not make the NHL roster out of training camp. He got waived, went unclaimed again and is currently back in the AHL with the Rochester Americans.

In the meantime, Michael Del Zotto was in and out of Berube's doghouse in the first half of the 2013-14 season before excelling and making it virtually impossible to justify his removal from the lineup. While the player hasn't been awful in the early going of the new season (after signing an off-season contract extension) -- at least not compared to some of the other defensemen on the team -- he arguably played better a year ago up to the equivalent point of the season.

Going forward, Del Zotto is one of numerous players -- including Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Nick Schultz and Mason -- who played well over the balance of last season and whom the Flyers will need to play closer to last season's standards than what they've exhibited thus far in the new season.

Ultimately, it is the players who make a coach look good or look bad. Hakstol cannot be expected to work miracles but even in the first year of his tenure, it is fair to expect the team as a whole to be a slightly stronger version of a playoff bubble team. The very early arrows are pointing laterally. not north. The good news is that there's still plenty of time to turn in the right direction

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The really amazing thing is that, despite all of this, they are currently sitting two points out of a playoff spot.

 

Granted with Detroit, Florida, Boston and New Jersey being two points ahead.

 

 

one of my favorite moment in sports history... lol

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All i know is can we start by waiving Manning so they can maybe actually call someone who can play some semblance of defense good lord how many times do we have to watch him kill this team.

 

Second return Vinny to the box...he had i know at least 3 bad turnovers last night in the time that i watch God knows what he did when i got up and walked away to do something (because it was hard to sit still and watch them when i could be doing something productive around the house).

 

There has to be some maneuverability with the cap once you go ahead and waive Manning who want get claimed he sucks!

 

Get this blueline a defenseman before you start blowing things up please let's just look in the cupboard before rushing off and doing something crazy who knows it could be right here underneath your damn nose...it doesn't hurt to look.

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I really don't understand all of the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing that's going on in Flyers land these days. Even this article by Meltzer, who we think is exellent. I read it and I see a lot of "too soon to tell". Well, of course it is. What did anyone think was going to happen? We have a roster that needs significant turnover, but contracts make it a long-term process. We have a rookie head coach with no previous NHL experience at any level, taking over this poorly constructed roster. We saw some nice things early, now we see some bumps in the road. What is Hextall supposed to do? People just need to accept the fact that this is a borderline playoff team at best, and it's going to take time (years, not days, weeks or months) to make significant changes.

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I really don't understand all of the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing that's going on in Flyers land these days. Even this article by Meltzer, who we think is exellent. I read it and I see a lot of "too soon to tell". Well, of course it is. What did anyone think was going to happen? We have a roster that needs significant turnover, but contracts make it a long-term process. We have a rookie head coach with no previous NHL experience at any level, taking over this poorly constructed roster. We saw some nice things early, now we see some bumps in the road. What is Hextall supposed to do? People just need to accept the fact that this is a borderline playoff team at best, and it's going to take time (years, not days, weeks or months) to make significant changes.

 

 

For sure. I guess people still expected to tune into a game and see some compete, some entertaining hockey, a pulse? I'm actually shocked at how boring the Flyers are.  It's just unbelievable to watch. 

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yes to everything you wrote - but a few things happening with the Flyers are not explained by "new coach" "new system" "same roster as last year"

 

Voracek's 1 even-strength goal since January

Nick Schultz suddenly forgetting how to play hockey

whether BSchenn's early improvement toward consistency will last

 

[edit: the putrid PP is another head-scratcher - also the lousy FO% from everyone besides Giroux]

 

biggest of all to me is whether Hextall will show enough patience with his new HC and not make any stupid, we-gotta-make-the-POs moves

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For sure. I guess people still expected to tune into a game and see some compete, some entertaining hockey, a pulse? I'm actually shocked at how boring the Flyers are.  It's just unbelievable to watch. 

 

They've kind of been that way for a few years now though. Until there is significant roster turnover, especially on the blue line, I don't expect to see that change much. With a few exceptions, they're a team of fairly boring players.

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They've kind of been that way for a few years now though. 

 

 

That's certainly true. A new coach and a few new players (Laughton, MDV, Gagner etc) wasn't going to change that and I was naive to (apparently) think it might. It's so depressing to me that I can't be bothered to watch the Flyers, not because of losing, but because they bore me to tears. 

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yes to everything you wrote - but a few things happening with the Flyers are not explained by "new coach" "new system" "same roster as last year"

 

Voracek's 1 even-strength goal since January

Nick Schultz suddenly forgetting how to play hockey

whether BSchenn's early improvement toward consistency will last

 

biggest of all to me is whether Hextall will show enough patience with his new HC and not make any stupid, we-gotta-make-the-POs moves

 

To #1, no idea. I suspect he's pressing though. That never works.

 

To #2, maybe he's just reverting to the norm, for him.

 

To #3, "too soon to tell"

 

To #4, "too soon to tell", but if he walks the walk that he's been talking, he won't. And I hope he doesn't rush the prospects either. Let them work things out in the AHL where they won't have to read about their screw-ups in the Inquirer or Daily News.

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For sure. I guess people still expected to tune into a game and see some compete, some entertaining hockey, a pulse? I'm actually shocked at how boring the Flyers are.  It's just unbelievable to watch. 

 

I'm unfortunately not shocked.

 

They've been playing terrible hockey for several years now.

 

It's to the point that I watch other teams' games to remember why I like the sport so much.

 

@JackStraw is undeniably right about the process, but it doesn't make it easier to watch. And I'm sick and tired (already) of hearing how they "played well." I understand emphasizing the positives, but it just is more and more like Chip Diller every time I hear it.

 

They just had two losses against two teams who actually have worse records (pointswise) and they scored one goal against Calgary - who was giving up 4 a game when they came in...

 

"played well"

 

The top Flyer scorers are tied for 57th in the league in goals and 120th in points so far this season.

 

"played well"

 

Just like there isn't a "won the trades" banner flying at the Big Bank Building, there isn't a column in the standings for "played well"

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Until there is significant roster turnover, especially on the blue line, I don't expect to see that change much. With a few exceptions, they're a team of fairly boring players.

 

On the plus side, the could make a turnover on the blue line fairly quickly. If Hexy's smart, he deals Streit at the deadline for value and, hopefully, Schenn (and Schultz?).

 

I presume they keep Gudas (if not, deal him) and re-sign Medvedev to stick with del Zotto and then there's room for some youngsters not named "Brandon Manning"

 

So, next season you're looking at:

Del Zotto

Medvedev

Gudas

Schultz(?)
OPEN

OPEN

 

On the F side, however... I hope to God they cut ties with VLC and Umburglar, but that still leaves Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Couturier, Laughton, Read, Vandevelde and Bellemare under contract. FWIW, I don't think the 4th line is "the" or even "a" problem. But that same "core" is the same "core" that has been "that way for a few years now."

 

And it would not surprise me at all to see them re-sign Raffl, BSchenn and Gagner. At that point - with 11 of the same guys still here - what significantly changes?

 

As much as I've liked what I've seen and heard about Konecny, I don't think he shakes things up significantly.

 

I think Hextall will look to change the F roster pretty significantly at the deadline and the offseason. And by "think" I really mean "hope."

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So, next season you're looking at:
Del Zotto
Medvedev
Gudas
Schultz(?)
OPEN
OPEN

 

Yeah, I can see that happening. I'm more or less expecting two of the D prospects to start with the Flyers next year. I think Ghost will be one, not sure about the other. I would think Hagg or Alt, maybe both. But even so, they're not going to come in and turn things around right away.

 

What happens at forward is hard to guess. Hopefully they go heavy with forwards at the draft.

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It's to the point that I watch other teams' games to remember why I like the sport so much.

 

 

That's the part that surprises me. That it's come to that. And that I'm becoming a Jets fan as a result. It's ******* sad.

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And that I'm becoming a Jets fan as a result. It's ****** sad.

 

Careful - when you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way.

 

Or so, you know, I have heard...

 

I find the Jets fun to watch. And it's also fun to say "Winnipeg"

 

In other news, more bourbon, please!

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I really don't understand all of the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing that's going on in Flyers land these days. Even this article by Meltzer, who we think is exellent. I read it and I see a lot of "too soon to tell". Well, of course it is. What did anyone think was going to happen? We have a roster that needs significant turnover, but contracts make it a long-term process. We have a rookie head coach with no previous NHL experience at any level, taking over this poorly constructed roster. We saw some nice things early, now we see some bumps in the road. What is Hextall supposed to do? People just need to accept the fact that this is a borderline playoff team at best, and it's going to take time (years, not days, weeks or months) to make significant changes.

 

 

Jack I agree to an extent... but I think there is a time (now) that we can debate if Hextall is actually pulling this team in the right direction.  I for one have lot of doubts creeping into my noggin about some of his moves.   Not saying it wont be okay but some of this is on him.  If he really thinks this Team is a playoff team he might be drinking from Homer's stash. 

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Jack I agree to an extent... but I think there is a time (now) that we can debate if Hextall is actually pulling this team in the right direction.  I for one have lot of doubts creeping into my noggin about some of his moves.   Not saying it wont be okay but some of this is on him.  If he really thinks this Team is a playoff team he might be drinking from Homer's stash. 

 

Well, every GM has some misses. And I'm not suggesting that Hextall shouldn't be subject to criticism or whatever. Hiring Hakstol was certainly a risky move. I was hoping for McClellan but now we have to wait and see. Other than that, what has Hextall done that bothers you? The Hartnell trade has been hashed and re-hashed, but we know why it was done. Voracek's contract? Maybe a little high but he's one of the top RWs in the game, that's going to cost. I generally like his draft picks, I like the fact that he's stressing patience with young players, he's made some good free agent acquisitions (Neuvirth, Bellamare, White, Schultz at least for last year). But his options really are limited right now. At some point they have to shed Lecavalier and hopefully MacDonald. I'm just not really seeing how he could be moving things along any faster.

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@Jack

 

I think Hextall should have waited to resign Jake.  It was one great year and right now if he goes back to a 60-65 point player that does not even put him in the top 25 in the league based on the past few years points leaders.  Couts was paid to in advance for what the Flyers feel he should be.   It might work out and it might not but having 21M wrapped up in Couts, Jake and G is pretty risky if it does not work out.   

 

Hak was a big gamble and that will play out over time.  McClellan was my choice as well.  I am not sure taking a college Coach during a rebuild and/or retool was the smartest thing to do.  Very Chip Kelly-esque situation... Hextall will either look like a genius or a complete fool for the move.  If he is the foll we have 5 more years of Hak getting paid so good for him.   If Hak is not the answer then we need to start the coaching debate over again.  These are all Hextall's going...  I have faith it will work but I think we should question the process here.

 

I dont see how MacDud will be moved honestly... not anytime soon.  VLC needs to be bought out after this year.  

 

Again, I never had this team making the playoffs but I dont think Hextall is free of criticism at this point in the game.  

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People just need to accept the fact that this is a borderline playoff team top 5 lottery pick team at best, and it's going to take time (years, not days, weeks or months) to make significant changes.

 

Fixed it.

 

I agree with all of your post, except that phrase.  This is honestly not a borderline playoff team.  It's the same team as last year.

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Couts was paid to in advance for what the Flyers feel he should be.

 

Gotta disagree with you there - when his cap hit increases to $4.25, even if he never becomes an offensive weapon that's a great deal for what he brings to the Flyers. The work he does against the best players in the NHL is incredible for a 22-year old. He's proven he can take away time and space from Malkin, Crosby, Ovechkin, Datsyuk etc. I'm very satisfied with Couturier's cap hit - when it increases.

 

[edit: actually it'll be $4.33 million]

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@murraycraven - I don't have a problem with Couturier's contract at all. It's easy to forget he's still only 23. He's only 5 months older than Ghost, who has barely sniffed the NHL. And I would think it's pretty obvious how important Cooter is to the team. One of the best defensive forwards in the game and I'm confident he'll put up bigger offensive number given the opportunity. But even if he doesn't, I think his contract is fine. That cap will go up eventually.

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Fixed it.

 

I agree with all of your post, except that phrase.  This is honestly not a borderline playoff team.  It's the same team as last year.

 

Well, I did say at best they're a borderline playoff team. At worst they're a bottom five team. Most likely they're somewhere in between.

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