Flyers boast an abundance of options at center despite trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter

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The Philadelphia Flyers are known for making some strange decisions here and there, but the team’s consistent track record of making the playoffs hints at traces of genius amid their madness. As someone who enjoys watching teams walk to the beat on their own drum, it was a bit disappointing that the Flyers carved up their roster with the hope that Ilya Bryzgalov will finally answer their perennial goaltending questions, but there’s a growing sentiment that maybe Philly didn’t take such a big step back after all.

It’s easy to be ambivalent (or worse) about Jeff Carter since he’s not exactly known for his all-around play, but trading away Mike Richards puts a lot of pressure on incumbent centers such as Danny Briere and Claude Giroux to pick up the slack. Yet as CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio points out, the interesting thing is that the team still has an abundance of options at center after the Carter and Richards trades. Just take a look at some of the more prominent centers going into training camp.

High-end centers

Giroux and Briere

Checking centers

Blair Betts and Maxime Talbot

Noted prospects

Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier

Wild card

Michael Nylander

After showing impressive progress while maturing in the Los Angeles Kings’ system, it seems like Schenn is primed to make the jump to the NHL in the near future. Panaccio brings up an interesting question, though: could fellow first round pick* Couturier follow him next season?

Here’s a question for Flyer fans: The assumption is that Brayden Schenn makes the roster. But what about first-round pick Sean Couturier?

I’ve never [seen] him play in junior at Drummondville, but every Canadian writer I spoke to at the NHL Draft in June flat out predicted he would make the roster.

(snip)

Obviously, we have a crowd of centers coming into camp in a few weeks.

There’s going to be some terrific competition on a turned-upside-inside-out Flyers roster that general manager Paul Holmgren keeps saying may or may not be as good as the last two years, but is very, very different from what we’ve seen in the past.

source: Getty ImagesIf you’re going to have an excess of any type of forward, it might as well be centers. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but pivots tend to be a little more versatile and defensively responsible than wingers by the nature of their typical duties.

For one thing, it might be easier for Schenn and/or Couturier to adjust to the NHL game (and not get eaten alive by tough matchups) if they begin their careers on the wings. Once you go beyond budding star James van Riemsdyk, fading star Jaromir Jagr and wild card Jakub Voracek, the majority of the Flyers’ wingers are grittier types – although Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds can contribute some offense of their own. That being said, it might be reasonable to move one of the Flyers’ excess centers to left or right wing to maintain a high level of creativity among their scoring lines.

Top centers might struggle

While Giroux is a two-way threat with respectable faceoff numbers, I’m a bit concerned that Briere might be a liability when it comes to draws. He won a below-average 48.2 percent of the 820 faceoffs he took in 2010-11 and only won more than 50 percent in one season since joining the Flyers (50.5 percent out of 1,250 in 07-08). Briere isn’t generally regarded as a great defensive forward either, so that might be where the Flyers will miss a guy like Richards the most.

There’s even a slight reason to worry about Giroux; while he seems like the real deal, teams can shift more of their focus toward shutting down the shifty scorer now that Richards and Carter are out of the mix.

***

Philly’s future looks bright at center, especially if Schenn and Couturier fit in well whenever they fully enter Peter Laviolette’s system. My guess is that their offense won’t be as explosive as last season’s group (which topped the Eastern Conference and came in third place overall with 259 goals scored), but if they find the right formula with their new ingredients, the Flyers might just be onto something.

* – Schenn went ninth overall in 2009 while Couturier was the eighth pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

The Buzzer: Special nights for Seguin, Boyle, Rinne

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Player of the Night: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars.

There some nice three-point nights on Friday, including nights involving Seguin’s opponents (Johnny Gaudreau scored one goal and two assists while Sean Monahan had 2G, 1A) and the guy who got picked ahead of Seguin many moons ago (Taylor Hall had a three-point night and a big hit).

While you might feel the urge to ding Seguin for getting an empty-netter to collect a hat trick, he already covered the cool points portion of this contest earlier in the game with a sweet lacrosse-style goals.

(I can’t get enough of those types of goals. Am I alone in that account?)

Seguin crossed the 200-goal mark tonight, by the way.

Highlight of the Night: Normally, I wouldn’t double-dip on a highlight, but it really cannot be overstated how cool it was that Brian Boyle finished this brilliant assist by Will Butcher on Hockey Fights Cancer night. (Also, the Seguin bit included his lacrosse goal anyway, so due diligence.)

He definitely was emotional on Friday, as his family participated in the ceremonial puck drop. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy enough to score many more going forward.

Streak-breaker: Jack Eichel helps the Sabres beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Buffalo had been on a seven-game skid.

This was the best goal from Buffalo’s 3-1 win, though:

Factoids:

On a night when the Stars honored great two-way Finnish forward Jere Lehtinen, Pekka Rinne moved all alone for first all-time among Finnish goalies for shutouts, edging his former backup Carter Hutton in the process:

It almost feels like the Vegas Golden Knights send a new (positive) record every night they play. (More on their win here.)

Bearded wonder Joe Thornton now has his sights set on Super Mario:

Injuries might obscure Nino Niederreiter‘s hot run, but it’s time to take notice if you haven’t already.

Scores

Bruins 4, Penguins 3
Jets 4, Ducks 1
Wild 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Islanders 5, Flyers 4
Capitals 3, Lightning 1
Golden Knights 5, Sharks 4 (OT)
Sabres 3, Oilers 1
Devils 3, Canucks 2
Rangers 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)
Blue Jackets 5, Senators 2
Maple Leafs 5, Hurricanes 4
Predators 2, Blues 0
Coyotes 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Stars 6, Flames 4

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights pad Pacific lead, even with Burns’ first goal

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Coming into Friday’s game, what was stranger: Brent Burns having zero goals on the season despite 84 shots on goal in 20 games, or the Vegas Golden Knights leading the Pacific Division?

Both points ended up being relevant to the discussion, as Burns finally scored his first goal of 2017-18 to help the San Jose Sharks rally for a “loser point,” but the Golden Knights ultimately won 5-4 in OT.

With that, the Golden Knights won their fourth game in a row and now have 29 standings points, making for at least a slight cushion for the Pacific Division lead (the Kings are in action, but at 26 points, they’ll trail Vegas even if they manage a comeback win).

Vegas probably wasn’t happy to see a three-goal lead dissolve, yet the Golden Knights just keep plugging away. They enjoyed a strong output from three forwards with plenty to prove in James Neal (one goal, one assist), William Karlsson (two goals), and Jonathan Marchessault (one goal and two assists). Both Neal and Karlsson are at 12 goals on the season now.

The Golden Knights do have a bit to be concerned with, though, and that’s not limited to giving up the lead. Maxime Lagace “wasn’t feeling good” so he left the game for Malcolm Subban, while David Perron suffered an upper-body injury and did not return thanks to this questionable check:

Even in defeat, Burns has to feel relief with this goal:

Heck, even the Sharks seemed to wipe a little sweat off of their brows as the beastly blueliner finally scored.

(Eh, Burns might need a few more goals to get people to stop complaining about his fantasy value. Sorry, Sharks.)

Joe Thornton‘s two assists helped the Sharks secure a standings point, and now he sits alone at 12th all-time in assists, passing Joe Sakic.

The Golden Knights continue to be one of the most heartening stories in the NHL, but even in grabbing the extra point, they’re only five ahead of the Sharks. Fighting off regression won’t be easy for the Golden Knights, yet they have incentive to push for some sort of home-ice advantage, as they improved to an impressive 9-1-0 in Vegas so far in their inaugural season.

You never know how far a good run might take you, so don’t blame the Golden Knights for letting it ride.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Devils’ Butcher with some razzle dazzle to set up Boyle

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If you’re the type to get annoyed when college free agents soak up a lot of attention during the dog days of the hockey summer (Brandon Dubinsky is nodding), you were probably fed up with defenseman Will Butcher by the time he chose the New Jersey Devils as his destination.

Well, at least the 22-year-old blueliner is backing up the hype, especially when it comes to setting up goals.

Butcher’s 15th assist (and 17th point of the season) ranks as one of his best yet, as he totally baffled the Vancouver Canucks before setting up a Brian Boyle goal. You can watch that sweet helper in the video above this post’s headline.

Speaking of Devils rookies, it seems like Nico Hischier is OK after this Alex Edler hit, but the Devils might be wise to keep an eye on the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, as this looked a little worrisome:

Again, it seems like Hischier avoided injury, yet we shall see.

There was also this big hit by Taylor Hall on rising Canucks forward Brock Boeser:

The Devils ended up beating the Canucks 3-2 on Friday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Well, at least Flyers are getting ‘loser points’

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Love it or hate it, the loser point is a reality in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams that really make things weird with what is now an 8-9-6 record in 2017-18.

8-9-6. Look at that. It almost makes your eyes hurt, right? Something just seems wrong about that.

No doubt about it, there are a lot of reasons to be frustrated if you’re a Flyers fan right now. Most obviously: they’ve now lost seven straight games after falling 5-4 in OT to the New York Islanders. Philly came into the third period with a 4-2 lead that they squandered, aside from getting a “loser point.” There’s at least some frustration with head coach Dave Hakstol:

Still, in this weird standings format, not all losing streaks are equal.

Bad: They dropped two straight games to the Islanders. Good-ish: At least both games went to overtime.

Bad: Yeah, teams that want to take the next step can’t afford many slumps like seven games without a win. Good-ish: They grabbed four points during this skid. They’re at least scrapping for points when they can, in general; while they only have two wins in their last 10 games, yet they’ve managed at least a standings point in all but three (2-3-5, ugh).

Bad: The Flyers are tied for last in the Metropolitan Division, and they’re really last since they’ve generated 22 points in 23 games while the Hurricanes have that many in 20 games played. Good-ish: While they have disadvantages that would force them to make a real run to do damage, you can’t rule out the Flyers in the wild card races.

Ultimately, this team remains … perplexing.

They have one foot in the current, with good stuff like the dominant Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek line in mind, even if some of that makes moves like the Brayden Schenn trade sting a little extra. On the other hand, they’re trying to bring along a group of wet-behind-the-ears defensemen, and there’s a fear that that group will take long enough to hit its stride than some of those forwards will start to hit the wall of regression.

Ultimately, it might be crucial for GM Ron Hextall to figure out what to emphasize in the near future, particularly the trade deadline.

At the moment, the Flyers are essentially aiming for the best of both worlds: developing that young talent while hoping to be competitive. That’s a great have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario, but sometimes teams really lower their ceilings by being too trigger-shy to commit one way or the other.

You’d think with a seven-game losing streak, that Philly would be downright-bad. Instead, they seem more stuck in the middle, and such a situation presents its own set of problems, or at least some head-scratching questions.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.