Braydon Coburn

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Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

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This post is part of Lightning Day on PHT…

Mikhail Sergachev, the talented defenseman Tampa Bay acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade with Montreal, is ready to play in the NHL.

But circumstances beyond his control might keep him back.

On talent alone, Sergachev should push for a roster spot. The 19-year-old wowed in a four-game cameo with the Habs last season, and was a dynamic offensive force in junior with OHL Windsor. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound rearguard put up 10 goals and 43 points in 50 games for the Spits and, in January, starred on the international scene by helping Russia capture bronze at the World Juniors.

Sergachev says he’s ready to make the next step.

“I’ve played a lot in juniors and I learned a lot in those years,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “And I feel like this is my time to play in the NHL and I’ll do my best and play my best to make the Lightning roster.”

But there are those aforementioned circumstances at play.

If Sergachev doesn’t play 40 games for Tampa Bay this season, then the Lightning will receive the Canadiens’ second-round pick in 2018, and the Canadiens will receive the Lightning’s sixth-round pick.

So in a roundabout way, there’s an incentive for the Lightning to return Sergachev to junior for another year. The Bolts would get a second-round pick for a sixth-round pick, and that’s a good trade.

There’s another factor to consider as well. The Lightning have Stanley Cup aspirations. As such, they’re not in a position to gift anyone a roster spot — especially if it costs them a second-round pick.

Right now, the club projects to ice a top-six defense of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr. Jake Dotchin is firmly in that mix as well, and Ben Thomas — a key part of the Syracuse team that made the Calder Cup Final last year — could also push his way into the conversation.

Still, the allure of getting Sergachev into the lineup is high.

His puck moving skills and creativity would be a boon for the power play, especially on a back end that’s essentially carried by Hedman. To that point: Hedman led the team in PP assists last year, with 29. The next closest blueliner was Stralman, who had six.

In the end, this decision could come down to the preseason. If Sergachev plays like a guy Tampa has to keep in the lineup, the club will probably respond accordingly. And if not? Well, the consolation prize is a second-round pick, which isn’t too bad.

Bolts extend d-man Koekkoek — one year, $800,000

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Looks like Slater Koekkoek could be a full-time member of the Bolts next season.

On Monday, Tampa Bay extended Koekkoek with a one-year, one-way deal worth $800,000, suggesting the 10th overall pick in 2012 will have a larger role in ’17-18.

Previously, Koekkoek split his time between Tampa and the club’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. The 23-year-old appeared in a career-high 29 NHL games last season, but featured more prominently for the Crunch. He played 48 regular-season games and was a big part of the club’s Calder Cup Final run, scoring seven points in 22 contests.

There are some blueline minutes up for grabs in Tampa next year. Jason Garrison was lost to Vegas at the expansion draft, while depth guy Luke Witkowski signed with Detroit in free agenc

It also remains to be seen if head coach Jon Cooper will give youngsters like Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin and Mikhail Sergachev bigger roles, while dialing back the workloads of his veterans. Newly signed Dan Girardi is 33 years old with a lot of miles on the odometer. Braydon Coburn is 32, while Anton Stralman is 30.

Bolts re-sign Sustr — one year, $1.95 million

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Tampa Bay shored up some blueline depth on Monday, agreeing to terms with Andrej Sustr on a one-year, $1.95 million extension.

Sustr, 26, appeared in 80 games for the Bolts last season, matching Braydon Coburn for most played among defensemen. Prior to the campaign, he represented the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey.

A restricted free agent, Sustr gets a pay bump from the $1.45 million he made annually on his last deal. There’s a good chance he’ll see an increased role next year, especially after the Lightning lost Jason Garrison to Vegas at the expansion draft. It also remains to be seen if GM Steve Yzerman will bring back depth blueliner Luke Witkowski, an unrestricted free agent.

That said, Sustr could still be pushed for minutes.

The 6-foot-7, 220-pounder might face a challenge from the likes of Jake Dotchin, Slater Koekkoek and Mikhail Sergachev, the prized youngster acquired from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade.

Report: Lightning have side deal in place with Vegas

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The Tampa Bay Lightning may have a deal in place to protect their young defenseman from Vegas in the expansion draft.

That’s what Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times is hearing anyway.

The Bolts left a couple of d-men, Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin, exposed. They protected Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Braydon Coburn, plus seven forwards and a goalie.

Koekkoek was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Now 23, he has yet to make a big impact in the NHL; however, he did play 29 games for the Lightning this past season.

Dotchin, also 23, was a pleasant surprise in 2016-17. The rookie ended up playing 35 games, drawing praise from head coach Jon Cooper.