Jordan Weal

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Jets’ Byfuglien still looking for No. 1

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Dustin Byfuglien looks to be pissed off in more ways than one these days.

After a slow start to the season in the physical department (and in his game overall), the Winnipeg Jets heavyweight defenseman regained his train-wreck-causing self over the past week, putting his signature beating on some unfortunate souls that drifted into his path of destruction.

Exhibit A: Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl:

Exhibit B: Philadelphia Flyers forward Jordan Weal:

Even his own teammates aren’t safe from the carnage.

In his obliteration of Weal in the above clip, you can see Jets forward Kyle Connor becoming an innocent victim of the collateral damage.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler made mention of Big Buff’s angered demeanour during their homestand last week, and as they say in Winnipeg: angry Buff is the best Buff.

Indeed, but since Byfuglien arrived in Winnipeg with the rest of the former Atlanta Thrashers in 2011, fans have also seen the other side of his game – a productive one.

At the moment, however, all fans want for Christmas is Byfuglien to find the back of the net.

This season, goal-scoring has been non-existent from the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Minnesota native, who has chipped in for 10 assists in 20 games.

It took Brent Burns 21 games to score his first goal of the season for the San Jose Sharks, a marker that came — mercifully for the man who has scored 56 goals over the past two seasons — on Friday night.

Byfuglien plays in his 21st game of the season on Saturday night, ironically against Burns’ Sharks in San Jose. Perhaps Santa will come a month early.

Byfuglien has had no shortage of chances recent with 16 shots in this past four games and nearly scored twice in a 4-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Fair warning to Santa: you don’t want to piss off Dustin Byfuglien.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Free falling: Flyers lose sixth straight as growing pains emerge

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The Philadelphia Flyers feel they are right there, which is an interesting statement from a team that’s lost six straight and eight of their past 10.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves in times of trouble.

The Flyers did fair better on Wednesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss against the New York Islanders, which prompted goaltender Brian Elliott to make the declaration that his team just needs to turn the corner.

It’s tough to turn when you’re falling backwards, however.

Indeed, finding positives when few appear to be in sight in a skid like the Flyers are in is a tough ask in the City of Brotherly Love. Flyers fans have had to come to terms with a few things this season.

It must pain fans to see Brayden Schenn lighting the lamp over and over again in St. Louis. Schenn was traded to the Blues in the offseason. The return looked half decent for a team looking to rebuild with a youth movement.

The Blues gave up two first-round picks for Schenn along with Jori Lehtera. And while it remains to be seen what the Flyers gain from the trade in future drafts, Lehtera has been an utter disappointment, one magnified many times more by Schenn’s incredible start.

Lehtera was a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, the second time in his past four games he’s watched rather than played. He’s sitting on two assists this season in 14 games. Schenn, by comparison, 10 goals and 30 points, including 19 in his past eight games.

It hasn’t been all Lehtera’s fault. Oh, no.

The Flyers penalty kill has been atrocious. They rank 28th in the league at 75 percent and have allowed seven goals in their past 13 kills over the past three games.

Andrew MacDonald can’t return soon enough, especially after one of their better penalty killers tried to behead a man last week.

Scoring could be better as well.

Claude Giroux has gone six games without a goal, this after scoring nine times in his first 16 games. Jordan Weal has just one goal in his past 18 games and was bumped to the fourth line on Wednesday. And ever since he 17 times in 64 games two years ago, Shayne Gostisbehere has only eight goals in his past 95 games and none in his past 13.

Ivan Provorov has been a godsend for the Flyers on defence (and Travis Sanheim is starting to blossom), but Gostisbehere’s offensive prowess from the backend would be a welcomed addition again.

But the real reason for the Flyers struggles this season might just be something they can’t control: youth.

The Flyers iced 11 players under 25 years of age on Wednesday night. Their top defenseman, Provorov, is 20 years old. Their second line centre, Nolan Patrick, is 19.

These are the growing pains of a team getting younger, and it could get worse yet before it gets better.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Alex Goligoski’s OT goal helps Coyotes earn first win of the season (Video)

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For the first time since April 6, 2017, the Arizona Coyotes have won a regular season hockey game.

It nearly fell apart for them, but Alex Goligoski’s first goal of the season was the difference as the Coyotes prevailed in overtime 4-3 over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Amazing work at both ends of the ice by Coyotes rookie Clayton Keller, who forced a turnover in the defensive zone and then could have taken a shot but saw Goligoski for the pass.

Arizona had a nice cushion of a 3-0 lead built up through the early minutes of the third period, but the Flyers didn’t back down. With the score 3-1, Jordan Weal and Sean Couturier tallied in the final minute of regulation to force the extra period.

Scott Wedgewood, Arizona’s fourth goalie to make a start this season, stopped 28 shots. He was making his first start with the Coyotes after a Saturday trade with the New Jersey Devils.

Entering Monday’s game, the Coyotes sported an 0-10-1 record, which tied the 1927-28 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1973-74 Minnesota North Stars and 1995-96 San Jose Sharks for the second-longest winless streak to start an NHL season. The record is 15, held by the 1943-44 New York Rangers. Arizona had also dropped nine in a row in regulation, which was one loss away from tying the franchise record for longest losing streak.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Nolan Patrick raves about Flyers’ future – maybe even in short term

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) The Philadelphia Flyers bet their future on Nolan Patrick.

But for the present, Philadelphia is a team unsure of its identity: Does it believe it can get one more playoff push out of stalwarts Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds or is time for Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal to carry the franchise?

The Flyers are counting on a blend of young and old to return to the postseason after a one-year absence. The Flyers, long held up as one of the league’s showcase franchises, haven’t won a postseason round since 2012 and missed the playoffs three times over that span. The Flyers, who last reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, missed the playoffs only once from 1995-2012.

Enter Patrick.

The 19-year-old fell to Philly when the New Jersey Devils passed on him with the top pick in the draft. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was happy to swoop up the center, even though Patrick played through a hernia last year in the WHL and needed surgery in the summer. Patrick said he was healthy on the first day of training camp and seems ready to settle in as the second line center behind Giroux.

At the scouting combine in early June, Patrick said he actually had a sports hernia on both sides and one was “misdiagnosed.” He had surgery June 13.

“I just only want to make the NHL and establish myself,” Patrick said. “I’m just going to try to play my game and contribute as much as I can. I think the Flyers have a really good team, and if you look at their (defensive) core coming up, they’ve got some unbelievable prospects, so I think in a couple years they’re going to be a really good team, or even this year coming up. I think they’ve got all the tools to do that.”

Giroux was once Philadelphia’s star center of the future after he helped Philly’s run to the 2010 finals and was once dubbed by his former coach “the best in the world.”

The 29-year-old Giroux’s numbers in key categories have sagged so much (86 points in 2013-14 to 73 to 67 to 58) that the Flyers may play him on the wing this season to jumpstart his career. Third-year coach Dave Hakstol will try about anything to help the Flyers’ captain regain his All-Star form and had Couturier center Giroux and Voracek in the preseason.

“We’re in camp and we want to look at all the good options we might have,” Hakstol said. “I think it’s a challenge for any player to be versatile. G’s been our No. 1 centerman and he still is. He’s such a good player that I think he can play any position on the ice. There’s no question for a player like him, he can play anywhere on the ice.”

Last year, the Flyers had a 10-game winning streak in a 39-33-10 season that left them stuck in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. General manager Ron Hextall made few moves in the offseason and none that seem likely to send the Flyers on a major uptick in the East. Their biggest move was in the draft lottery when they somehow jumped 11 spots to nab Patrick.

Here are other things to watch with the Flyers this season:

GHOST BUSTER

Shayne Gostisbehere emerged as one of the top rookie defenseman two seasons ago and was named Philadelphia’s athlete of the year. He found out during the season he won the award on the day he was a healthy scratch. Gostisbehere slumped last season except for when Philadelphia was on the power play. Gostisbehere’s ability to bounce back – Hakstol scratched him to help him refocus on defense – could play a key role in Philadelphia’s season.

THAT DROUGHT

The Stanley Cup drought is one of the longest in the league: The Flyers haven’t had a championship since back-to-back Cups in 1974 and 1975. Philadelphia lost in the finals in 1976, 1980, 1985, 1987, 1997 and 2010.

WHO’S NO. 1

Look no further than Philadelphia’s usual unsettled goaltending to understand why the franchise has gone 41 years without a championship. The Flyers did little to address the situation after it let Steve Mason walk. They signed former Calgary goalie Brian Elliott to a $5.5 million, two-year deal and expect him to share time with Michal Neuvirth.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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.