What was supposed to be a smooth offseason of conditioning and team bonding, has turned into a roster reshaping by Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall. When Hextall looked at his roster in December of last season he thought “What are our holes and who should I look to acquire at the deadline for a playoff push?” This was when the Flyers were on their 10-game winning streak and were in almost a lock for the playoffs. Then it happened. Out of the blue, the Flyers just couldn’t win. The games they were pulling out a point or a win on the win streak were gone and the Flyers tumbled down the standings, missing the playoffs. It was at that point Ron Hextall got to work.
Hextall prayed to the hockey Gods every night and twice on Sunday and his prayers were answered. The Flyers got lucky enough to jump from their 13th spot, where they were supposed to pick, to the #2 spot in the draft. This was huge because the understanding was it was a very weak draft behind the two pure #1 overall pick guys in Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. The Devils, who had #1, got to pick their guy and the Flyers would get the other.
The Flyers were fine with either guy because if it wasn’t for the draft lottery they would have had no shot at either one of these players. To my understanding and liking, the team landed the better potential of the two guys in Nolan Patrick because he could be a franchise changing center who can play both sides of the ice. Not only can Patrick score, he is just as good in center ice and in the defensive zone too. My comparison of him would have to be Jonathon Toews.
After drafting Patrick, Hextall got to work looking to fill the rest of the holes on the roster and one came as a real surprise with the trading away of fan favorite and power-play wizard in Brayden Schenn. Schenn was traded on the first night of the draft to the St. Louis Blues for veteran winger Jori Lehtera, the 27th pick in this year’s draft (Morgan Frost), and a 2018 1st round pick. Many were shocked to see this trade, but the value Hextall got for Schenn was too good to pass up. The Flyers acquired a veteran winger to help with their penalty kill, especially now that lead penalty killer Pierre Bellemare was taken in expansion draft by Vegas, a very good prospect in Morgan Frost, who many believe is the second coming of Claude Giroux, and a future 1st in next year’s draft which could be used to acquire a player at the draft to help with a playoff run or used to move up in the 2018 draft to get a player they really like, similar to how Hextall acquired Travis Konecny with using the 1st round pick acquired in the Braydon Coburn deal with Tampa Bay in 2015.
Another key moment came with the announcement that the Flyers would not be resigning defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz. These two guys were stop gaps for a few years till Hextall was ready to unleash his pool of defensemen prospects on the league. This move has clearly signaled that and from Hextall’s closing comments, he expects 2-3 rookies making the Flyers this season.
The biggest move of the offseason came when Hextall finally resigned winger Jordan Weal. Weal is a young, speedy winger, who came on strong for the Flyers after his second call-up to the team in late January. Weal’s offensive upside should be key to the Flyers success this season depending on which line he plays on. Weal had great success with Claude Giroux at center and winger Jake Voracek across from him. If this tandem can perform consistently, look for them to lead the Flyers to a strong season and hopefully a long playoff run.
Ron Hextall capped his roster changing this offseason with the signing of veteran goaltender Brian Elliott. Elliott is a stop-gap guy to be paired with Michal Neuvirth until Flyers prospects Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom are ready for the NHL. Elliott looks like the day 1 starter for the season with Neuvirth being his backup. However, I really see a 1A-1B type of situation here with Coach Dave Hakstol playing the hot hand on a nightly basis.
Now with an understanding of what the Flyers did this offseason, let’s look how they might pair up for opening night.
Weal – Giroux – Voracek
Flippula – Couts – Simmonds
Lindblom – Patrick – Konecny
Lehtera – Vecchione – Raffl
Provorov – Hagg
Ghost – Morin
Gudas – Macdonald
With these lines and defense pairings, it gives the Flyers a very strong 4-line team that could see scoring from any of the above tandems..
Now these lines are what I see best, but another player acquired or someone who has a good camp could change this. I would love to see a Lindblom – Patrick – Konecny line for the next 10-15 years.
I will be looking at the special teams lines and combinations closer to the season because I still believe the Flyers are one guy short still on the penalty kill. Stay tuned.
Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports