Wes Herrmann The Hockey Writers
Flyers’ Focus for Season Finish
Last Thursday morning, the playoffs didn’t seem like an unrealistic goal for the Philadelphia Flyers. Five days and three losses later, the postseason is out of view.
The Flyers were a measly three points out of the last Wild Card spot heading into Thursday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were two points ahead of the Flyers. If that loss didn’t put all the nails in the coffin, consecutive losses to the Boston Bruins and the Columbus Blue Jackets over the next four days sure did.
The Flyers are now six points behind the Maple Leafs and have played one more game. If that wasn’t enough, two teams are now between them and the Leafs. Playoffs for 2017 are out, but there are things the Flyers can work on and achieve over the last 14 regular season games.
The offense has slowly been coming around for the Flyers — and when it hasn’t, the goaltending has usually kept the team in the game. They put up three goals against the Blue Jackets on Monday, their second highest in March.
But it wasn’t enough to earn the win and the team didn’t cash in enough on power play opportunities. The Flyers had eight total chances, including five in a row in the second period and a short 5-on-3. They scored once, but the missed chances cost them later when the Blue Jackets scored the go-ahead goal on the man-advantages in the third.
On the bright side, Jordan Weal and Travis Konecny are supplying offense and Shayne Gostisberhere seems to be back on track after a slow first half. Valtteri Filppula has also been a welcome addition on the second line creating more depth than has been seen in quite a while.
Flyers lines at morning skate:
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) March 13, 2017
Some more scoring from team leaders Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek would help. With the two core players slowing down, some are worried about the potential future of the Flyers’ offense.
Playing for Contracts, Expansion Draft
There are five upcoming unrestricted free agents on the Flyers roster. Steve Mason probably won’t be back, for better or worse, and Nick Schultz is at the tail end of his career.
Weal, Michael Del Zotto and Chris VandeVelde are the only three that should be in contention for a new contract. Weal has three points in his last four games while playing with Giroux on the first line and his speed brings a different factor to the lineup.
The former King is playing strong enough to warrant a spot in the lineup, but there could be a logjam with forwards next season. That would be the only thing working against him, so it’s easy to imagine the Flyers offering Weal a new contract.
Del Zotto has had his weakest season with the Flyers and with defensive prospects on their way, he’s likely to hit the market, unless he has a strong finish. VandeVelde is a known commodity — a hard-working fourth-liner. The next month won’t determine if he’s back or not, though most fans probably would like to see him replaced with a player like Taylor Leier.
Even if VandeVelde is re-signed, he won’t factor into the expansion draft. The Flyers will have a tough decision as to who to protect with their last forward protection spot.
Right now, Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare and Nick Cousins are fighting for that last spot. An offensive outburst from any of them, except for Raffl who is injured, could put them over the top.
This goal — and whether it’s a goal to begin with — is still up in the air depending on what general manager Ron Hextall and company want to do with their defensive prospects.
Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim are all on the path to NHL player — and in the near future. But the Flyers have seven NHL defensemen on the roster.
Brandon Manning missed Monday’s game with an upper-body injury, though his timetable to return has not been announced. Schultz is the usual scratch and Del Zotto has sat in the press box at times this season.
Calling up at least one of the prospects and sitting one or two of the veterans could help the Flyers moving forward.
It’s possible two or all three of them are in Philadelphia next season. If none of the three play this season that means they’ll have no NHL experience. Getting some games in this season, when there’s no pressure for team success, will benefit for next year.
Hagg and Morin have also also put in their time in the minors with the former playing 193 games and the latter 134. There are still things to learn in the AHL, but it’s time for the duo to take the next step.
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