Jason Brough

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 05:  Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammate Steve Mason #35 after the win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center on January 5, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-3.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Poll: What should the Flyers do about their goaltending?

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This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

Steve Mason made 53 starts last season and went 23-19-10 with a .918 save percentage.

Michal Neuvirth started 29 times and finished 18-8-4 with a .924 save percentage.

Combined, they gave the Flyers one of the best goalie tandems in the entire league, a major factor in the team’s return to the playoffs.

And now, in an interesting twist, each goalie will head into 2016-17 in the final year of his contract, with the ability to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. They are both the same age, 28 years old. Mason’s cap hit is $4.1 million; Neuvirth’s is $1.625 million.

It’s worth noting that the Flyers also have some goaltending prospects, including recently signed Alex Lyon, as well as 2012 second-round draft pick Anthony Stolarz, who’s already spent a couple of seasons in the AHL.

Then there’s the trade market to consider. With the expansion draft looming, there could be some accomplished netminders come available. Ben Bishop is one big name that’s already out there. Marc-Andre Fleury is another potential trade candidate, and could you imagine him coming to Philadelphia? (Yeah, we couldn’t either, but that would be amazing.)

So, a big decision is on the horizon for GM Ron Hextall. Granted, he doesn’t have to do anything right now, and it looks like the Flyers will head into the season with Mason and Neuvirth competing for the starting job.

“I don’t believe that’s a strength that you want to weaken,” Hextall said in April, per philly.com.

It’s possible that whoever plays best — Mason or Neuvirth — receives an extension and the other doesn’t. Though re-signing both of them isn’t entirely out of question, that option would take up quite a bit of cap space, and one or both goalies might balk at that arrangement anyway. If one of Lyon or Stolarz is ready to backup in 2017-18, it would certainly be cheaper for the Flyers to go that route.

OK, time to vote:

(Click here if the poll doesn’t show up for you.)

PS — We didn’t provide a “let’s just wait and see how the season goes” option because that’s boring.

Under Pressure: Jakub Voracek

Ottawa Senators v Philadelphia Flyers
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This post is part of Flyers Day on PHT…

There are only 10 NHLers who will make at least $10 million in actual salary in 2016-17, and Jakub Voracek will be one of them.

Yes, this coming season will mark the first year of Voracek’s eight-year, $66 million extension —  a deal he signed last summer, after putting up a career-high 81 points (22G, 59A) in 2014-15.

The chemistry Voracek displayed with Flyers captain Claude Giroux was a major factor in the long-term commitment by the Flyers.

“Obviously, they’ve been dynamite together and we expect them to continue on,” GM Ron Hextall said at the time. “So that was a big part of our emphasis. I think when you build a team, you look at pairs, and I think the pair of [Voracek and Giroux] is very good, certainly one of the top pairs in the league.”

But they weren’t quite as good in 2015-16. Giroux went from 73 points to 67, and Voracek’s production fell even further, from 81 points to 55, with just 11 goals.

To be fair, Voracek had stretches of productive hockey. After a very slow start, he averaged around a point per game through January and February, and there was one mini-stretch where he had 11 points in six games.

But then he went down with an injury that caused him to miss nearly a month. When he returned, he only scored two goals in 19 games, including the playoffs.

It’s worth noting that before Voracek scored 81 points in 2014-15, his previous career high was 62. So it’s possible the Flyers bought high on him. In fact, it’s likely the Flyers bought high on him.

But even if that was the case, he’s a talented player who’s capable of producing more than he did last season. Assuming he stays healthy, a reasonable target would be 70 points.

 

 

Under Pressure: Mika Zibanejad

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the Ottawa Senators prepares for a faceoff against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on February 14, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

For a team that’s spent the past few years living in the present — and at times sacrificing the future to stay competitive — last month’s trade that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad was notable in that the Rangers got younger, not older, while saying good-bye to their second-leading scorer.

In other words, it was a move to strengthen the Rangers’ future, even if it meant that the Senators, in the words of their general manager, got the “better hockey player at this point in time.”

Brassard is indeed a pretty good player. The 28-year-old had 27 goals and 31 assists last season. On the Rangers, only Mats Zuccarello finished with more points (61). Derek Stepan was third with 53 points. Keith Yandle, now in Florida, was fourth with 47 (meaning two of the Rangers’ top four scorers from 2015-16 are on different teams now).

Of course, Zibanejad is coming off a fairly production season of his own. The 23-year-old had 21 goals and 30 assists in 81 games for the Senators. He had a similarly production campaign in 2014-15 (20G, 26A).

“This is a younger player who is almost six years younger, has two 20-goal seasons, and is a player that we think is heading to the prime of his career,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. “The ability to get him, a younger player, someone who is fast, plays well in his own zone, can do a lot of things for us.”

The trade also gave the Rangers some additional cap space — cap space they could theoretically use to address the defense, should an opportunity present itself.

But for the deal to be deemed a success for the Blueshirts, Zibanejad will still need to produce. After being drafted sixth overall in 2011, he’s used to high expectations. He has high expectations for himself.

“I’m quite excited to be able to get this chance with the Rangers and I feel like I’m at that moment in my career to be able to do that and hopefully break out here,” he said, per NHL.com. “I feel like I’m solid all-around, but I’m not happy just yet with what I’ve accomplished and where I am. I’m just looking forward to every year that goes by to get a little bit better and make a bigger impact every year as well.”

Zibanejad can become a restricted free agent next summer, so he’s got a contract to play for, too.

Related: Pavel Buchnevich is looking to make the leap

The biggest worry for the Rangers? It’s the defense

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Ryan McDonagh #27 and Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers line up for the national anthem prior to a game against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The biggest worry definitely isn’t goaltending, because there’s still Henrik Lundqvist back there.

It’s not up front either. The Rangers have some good, young forwards, and they’re about to add Pavel Buchnevich to the mix.

That defense, though. That’s where things could get dicey next season, assuming the group they have right now is the one they still have in October. Currently, the eight defensemen are Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Dylan McIlrath, Brady Skjei, and Adam Clendening.

Perhaps the biggest concern will be replacing Keith Yandle. He finished fourth on the Rangers last season with 47 points (42 assists) in 82 games. In the process, he earned himself a big contract with the Panthers.

The Rangers also lost Dan Boyle to retirement, which means the two d-men that played the most power-play minutes for them in 2015-16 are no longer there. Clendening, signed as a free agent, is an offensive specialist, but he’s only 23 and the Rangers are his sixth NHL team.

Let’s just say there’s a reason many still expect GM Jeff Gorton to make a move. He hasn’t ruled one out, either. Kevin Shattenkirk‘s name gets mentioned a lot, but then, his name gets mentioned a lot in Boston and Detroit, too. The Blues might just keep him anyway.

In addition to replacing Yandle, also of great concern is the declining play of both Girardi and Staal, two workhorse defensive specialists with plenty of hard miles on their bodies. Girardi is 32 now, and he’s signed through 2019-20 for a cap hit of $5.5 million. Staal turns 30 in January, and he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $5.7 million.

The hope going forward is that Girardi and Staal won’t decline any further (or might even bounce back a little), and that McIlrath, 24, and Skjei, 22, can become full-time NHLers while gaining the trust of head coach Alain Vigneault. Both McIlrath and Skjei are former first-round draft picks who’ve been developing slowly but surely. In fact, Skjei was the last first-round pick the Rangers made, all the way back in 2012.

As for the Rangers’ best defenseman, McDonagh, don’t be surprised if his workload gets increased a touch, especially if there’s no trade for an established puck-mover. McDonagh was a huge part of the 2014 run to the Stanley Cup Final, and he’s especially motivated after this year’s early playoff exit.

“It’s not a good feeling to lose in the first round in five [games] the way we did,” he told NHL.com. “That’s the biggest motivation, kind of that feeling of embarrassment and letting your teammates down, letting your organization down, letting the fans down that appreciate us and watch us all year.”

The question is whether that kind of motivation will be enough to overcome what many feel is largely a personnel issue. Remember that the 2014 team was led by McDonagh, but it also relied heavily on Staal and Girardi, not to mention Anton Stralman, who left for Tampa Bay that summer. If the defense doesn’t improve in 2016-17, or at the very least stay at the same level, the Rangers may very well miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Looking to make the leap: Pavel Buchnevich

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 5:  Pavel Buchnevich #19 of Team Russia tries to break away from Fredrik Gauthier #22 of Team Canada during the gold medal game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 5, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Team Canada defeated Team Russia 5-4 to win the gold medal. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The opportunity is right there for Pavel Buchnevich. The 21-year-old Russian forward is “going to get every chance” to prove he does — or does not — belong in the NHL next season.

Drafted 75th overall in 2013, Buchnevich signed with the Rangers after setting KHL career highs in 2015-16. He finished with 16 goals and 21 assists in 58 games, splitting his season between Severstal Cherepovets and SKA Saint Petersburg.

He’s confident he can make it in the world’s best league.

“If I weren’t sure, I wouldn’t come here,” Buchnevich said through an interpreter earlier this summer.

It goes without saying that New York is desperate for him to pan out. The Rangers haven’t made a first-round pick since 2012, plus they traded Anthony Duclair. The result? Buchnevich is arguably the only real blue-chip prospect in the system, not counting goalie Igor Shestyorkin, who’s still a ways off and not particularly needed right now anyway.

Assuming Buchnevich makes the team out of camp, it remains to be seen where he’ll play. A left shot, he’s listed by the club as a left winger; however, the Rangers already have Rick Nash and Chris Kreider on that side. One guess has him on the right side of a line with Kreider and Derek Stepan, though that might be an optimistic projection out of the gate.

“We’re all aware that Pavel is going to need some time to make the transition,” said Chris Drury, the Rangers’ director of player development, per The New York Post. “But I think the world of him as a player and a person. The way he played against grown men and conducted himself in the KHL was extremely impressive.”

Related: Rangers take a gamble on ‘a new Sean Day’