Ivan Provorov

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Ron Hextall wants you to know this isn’t a rebuilding season for the Flyers

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Coming off of their third non-playoff season in the past five years the Philadelphia Flyers are expected to have some young, inexperienced players take on some big roles this season.

You can call this upcoming season a lot of things for the Flyers, but one thing general manager Ron Hextall doesn’t want you to call it as a rebuild. Or a rebuilding season. Or anything have to do with the word “rebuild.”

He made that very clear when speaking to Sam Carchidi this past week.

An excerpt from Philly.com:

“You’re not rebuilding when you’re competitive,” Hextall said in a firm tone. “A rebuild, to me, is when you go to the bottom and you pick high, high, high – and essentially, you’re not trying that hard to win. That’s not in our DNA. We want to win. We want to win as many games as possible. We’re not going to go to the bottom of the league and pick first overall for four or five years. That’s no way to build culture. Our vision was to stay competitive, and build, and get younger — and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

He also later added, “How would you like to be a player going into an 82-game season knowing the team is rebuilding so basically has no expectations to win. Think about that. That’s not in our DNA.”

So don’t call it a rebuild, okay?

The 2016-17 season was kind of a bizarre one for the Flyers. They entered the year with some fairly high expectations after making the playoffs in 2015-16, but stumbled out of the gate by only winning nine of their first 22 games. Then in mid-November they started what would go on to be a 10-game winning streak that seemed to bring them back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. But as soon as that winning streak ended the bottom completely fell out on the season and they went just 19-22-6 the rest of the way.

They ended up finishing 19th in the overall league standings but made a massive move in the NHL draft lottery, jumping all the way up to the No. 2 overall spot where they could take Nolan Patrick.

Along with Patrick, the Flyers are going to lean on a lot of younger players this season, especially on defense with Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg all expected to play major roles at some point during the year.

But they still have a core of veteran players in place led by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and recent additions Valterri Filppula (acquired before the trade deadline this past season) and Jori Lehtera (acquired over the summer for Brayden Schenn). They also attempted to fix their goaltending position by bringing in Brian Elliott to pair with Michal Neuvirth.

Given the overall veteran makeup of the roster it’s probably fair to not call it a rebuild, which kind of puts the Flyers in an odd spot. They have a lot of young players, but they haven’t totally torn the team down to the ground. But is this a roster that is going to compete in the Eastern Conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and even the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs? They’re probably in that blurry middle ground teams can sometimes get trapped in where they’re not rebuilding and they’re not really contenders.

Sometimes that can take longer for a team to get out of than a full scale rebuild.

Del Zotto to get bigger offensive role in Vancouver

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In Michael Del Zotto‘s first year in Philadelphia, Mark Streit was the top power-play defenseman on the Flyers.

The second year, Shayne Gostisbehere came along, and Streit was still there.

The third year, another talented, young defenseman was added to the mix in Ivan Provorov. That knocked Del Zotto down to fourth in power-play time among Flyers d-men: just 48:46 on the season, compared to 65:16 on the penalty kill.

It also spelled an end to Del Zotto’s career in Philly. The Flyers were moving on without him. On July 1, he signed a two-year, $6 million contract with Vancouver.

For the 27-year-old, the change of scenery should be a good opportunity, given the Canucks’ blue line doesn’t have nearly the kind of offensive ability that the Flyers have built up on theirs.

Mobility was another glaring issue for Vancouver’s defense last season.

“You have to be able to move into today’s game,” said Del Zotto, per The Province. “It’s all about puck retrieval and the strength of my game is that first pass and that’s what the game has become. And I didn’t get a ton of power play time in Philly because my role there was more defensive, which is fine, because it’s about whatever it takes to win.”

Next season, Del Zotto will compete with the likes of Alex Edler, Troy Stecher, and Ben Hutton for power-play time. The Canucks were dreadful (29th, 14.1%) with the man advantage in 2016-17 — a big reason they also signed forwards Sam Gagner and Alexander Burmistrov on July 1.

“We wanted to add experienced players to help with the development of our kids,” GM Jim Benning said, per NHL.com. “These players are still relatively young, they add speed and skill, and it will help with the competition for ice time and jobs. Now our young players have to earn spots.”

Auston Matthews claims Calder Memorial Trophy

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Auston Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau in his rookie season, capturing the Calder Trophy on Wednesday after helping accelerate the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuilding process.

Selected first overall last year, Matthews made his mark on the NHL right away, scoring four goals in his very first game.

Talk about a debut.

He continued that elite offensive flare all the way through the regular season, finishing with 69 points and helping the Maple Leafs into the postseason.

Matthews beats out Patrik Laine, who had an impressive 36 goals and 64 points in Winnipeg, and Columbus rookie defenseman Zach Werenski.

The Calder Trophy goes to the league’s top rookie.

This was a truly impressive rookie class.

Matthews, who set a new American rookie goal record, has become the face of a franchise loaded with young talent, including Mitch Marner and William Nylander. With that injection of skilled youth into their lineup, the Maple Leafs gave the Washington Capitals all they could handle in the opening round, before eventually bowing out to Alex Ovechkin and the Caps.

His play certainly grabbed the attention of the league’s best players, including Sidney Crosby.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out is how he complete he is,” said Crosby earlier in the season. “That’s what I noticed from just watching him play. Just that maturity.

“His game is just so well-rounded. He’s a guy who can score goals but he’s a guy who can play away from the puck. He’s strong on the puck. He scores goals different ways, and that is probably a big reason why he is so consistent. He’s got a great shot, but he can also score from in close and goes to the net hard too.”

The winner of the award is selected by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Here is how the voting turned out:

Points: (1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th)

1. Auston Matthews, TOR 1661 (164-3-0-0-0)
2. Patrik Laine, WPG 1106 (3-134-24-6-0)
3. Zach Werenski, CBJ 711 (0-21-93-28-15)
4. Matt Murray, PIT 346 (0-6-25-52-23)
5. Mitchell Marner, TOR 273 (0-3-14-42-56)
6. William Nylander, TOR 143 (0-0-7-24-36)
7. Matthew Tkachuk, CGY 72 (0-0-4-11-19)
8. Sebastian Aho, CAR 26 (0-0-0-4-14)
9. Ivan Provorov, PHI 2 (0-0-0-0-2)
10. Brayden Point, TBL 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Brady Skjei, NYR 1 (0-0-0-0-1)

Draft lottery move could be a big turning point for Flyers

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Even though the Philadelphia Flyers did not win the top overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft on Saturday night, they were still probably the biggest winner of the day when they moved up to the No. 2 overall pick after starting at No. 13.

That means they will have an opportunity to come away with one of the top-two prospects in this year’s class, whether it be Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

For a team that has missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons and hasn’t advanced beyond the first-round since 2012, it is a nice change in fortune.

General manager Ron Hextall was feeling pretty good about it on Saturday.

“We had a lot of bad luck this year,” said Hextall, via CSN Philly. “I’m hoping this is a turning point for some of that to be turned around. This is a big point for our franchise. We’re obviously going to get a very good player and hopefully in years, we’ll look back on this as a turning point for us.”

There is every reason to believe that it can be.

First, the Flyers are not your typical team picking at the very top of the draft that is full of holes and is basically starting over from scratch. This is a team that was in the playoffs a year ago and was at least in contention for a spot this year until the final month of the season. They already have established core players in place (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier) and some promising young talent just starting to break into the league (Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny). Adding a top-two pick to that is going to be a massive addition.

Keep in mind that other than the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, every Stanley Cup winner in the salary cap era has had at least one top-two pick in the NHL draft on its roster.

Those high draft picks are the best way to land impact players in the NHL, and given how rarely they get traded and how they are almost never available in free agency, it is often times the only way to land them.

Now the Flyers have an opportunity to get one when they probably weren’t expecting it.

Flyers parting ways with Del Zotto, Schultz

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It was always likely, but now it’s official — defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz won’t be back in Philadelphia next season.

Del Zotto was informed of the decision by Flyers GM Ron Hextall earlier this week. It marks the end of a three-year run with the Flyers, which included Del Zotto matching a career-high with 10 goals during the ’14-15 campaign.

“It’s unfortunate and a little emotional,” the 26-year-old said, per the Inquirer. “I’ve been here three years and made some great friendships.”

Schultz, 34, knew of his fate earlier. Like Del Zotto, he’s spent the last three years in Philly and, also like Del Zotto, is being allowed to walk in free agency so the club can usher in its prized young defensemen.

This year, the club had 23-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere and 20-year-old Ivan Provorov as blueline mainstays, while giving two bright prospects — Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg — their NHL debuts. It’s expected both Morin (21 years old) and Hagg (22) will be competing for spots next year, along with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Travis Sanheim (who just turned 21 at the end of March).