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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

Del Zotto deal is a reminder: Flyers are in salary cap jail

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Every GM experiences a hiccup or two, but there are many signs that Ron Hextall has a sound plan for the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, Paul Holmgren left behind quite the mess.

Michael Del Zotto’s two-year contract more or less takes up Philly’s cap space for 2015-16 (unless Hextall clears some room with a move or two). That spending has to sting, especially since this largely similar roster failed to earn a playoff bid last season.

By signing Del Zotto to a two-year deal at that $3.875 million cap hit, this also reminds us that the Flyers could take some time to break themselves out of salary cap jail. At the moment, the outlook doesn’t look so great for 2016-17 and maybe beyond:

Indeed, $48.5 million for 13 players is rough when you start to forecast a possible deal for Jakub Voracek, assuming the Flyers can find a compromise with their outstanding winger.

It doesn’t stop there, either.

The summer of 2016 could be challenging

While Sam Gagner’s $3.2 million cap hit could very well be funneled into other bank accounts, the Flyers really might need to fork over some money to keep RFAs Brayden Schenn ($2.5 million next season) and Sean Couturier (a steal at $1.75 million in 2015-16) in the fold.

Much-criticized deals, especially Andrew MacDonald’s $5 million cap hit, only sting that much more when you start to think about the raises Philly may need to hand out.

New life – but also uncertainty – in a few years

Beyond those payouts, there’s also the fact that many contracts run out after 2016-17 … although maybe that’s the time when we’ll really get a sense of what Hextall can do?

That’s actually the enticing thing for Flyers fans: the impressive array of draft picks Hextall has been compiling might start to really pay off by right at the time when the organization could finally enjoy some financial breathing room. Hextall is doing what he can with the situation he’s been given, so it’s intriguing to imagine what he might do with more cash to burn.

You know, if he makes it that far.

With belief in building ‘from the back end out,’ Flyers take d-man Provorov

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SUNRISE —  Even with an “obvious” need at forward, the Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t pass up the opportunity to select Ivan Provorov with the seventh overall pick at today’s draft.

Provorov, an 18-year-old who was born in Russia but starred last season for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, is considered by many to be the best defenseman in the draft.

Yes, even better than Noah Hanifin, the Boston College blue-liner that Carolina took fifth overall.

Provorov had 61 points in 60 games for Brandon. He’s been lauded for his ability to create offense in the attacking zone and beat the forecheck in the defensive zone. Oh, and he’s pretty good at stopping opposing players, too.

“We believe that you build from the back end out, and Ivan is going to be a big part of our defense moving forward,” GM Ron Hextall said. “We’re really excited to have him. Really good all around player, great hockey sense.”

The Flyers’ defense, a weakness since Chris Pronger was forced to stop playing, is going to be very different in the near future. Before today, they already had well-regarded prospects Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim. Radko Gudas and Michael Del Zotto, both 25, could also be part of the future group. Plus, they signed Russian Yevgeny Medvedev, and who knows how that works out?

For Hextall, the challenge before next season may be to shed one, two or even more of Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, or Nick Schultz.

Related: Flyers won’t trade Del Zotto, but ‘something will have to give’ on crowded blue line

Flyers won’t trade Del Zotto, but ‘something will have to give’ on crowded blue line

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After adding Yevgeni Medvedev to the mix yesterday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall knows he’s going to have to do “something” about all the defensemen he’s got.

As in, he knows he can’t keep all of them. Especially not with a bunch of talented young blue-liners waiting in the wings.

Here’s how the situation looks, courtesy generalfanager:

source:

Hextall said yesterday that he plans to re-sign and keep Michael Del Zotto, so we can take the 24-year-old off the trade list.

Meanwhile, Andrew MacDonald may not have a market whatsoever, given he’s signed through 2020 and hasn’t exactly shone since joining the Flyers.

Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann are pending UFAs, so their trade value is automatically limited. Perhaps there’s still a GM out there who believes Schenn, 25, has good potential. Then again, maybe not.

Nick Schultz has a reasonable contract and would have some trade value. But do the Flyers have anyone to step in and reliably do all the dirty work that he does? Remember that they don’t have Braydon Coburn anymore.

Mark Streit may be their most valuable trade chip. He’s 37, so it’s not like he’s going to be part of the long-term future in Philly. And he can still produce offensively, as evidenced by the 52 points he put up this season, the third most on the team.

The problem with trading Streit is that there are still expectations for the current roster, as Ed Snider made perfectly clear. And with all those talented, young defenseman in the system, might Streit provide a good role model?

“We’re going to have to do something,” Hextall said, per the Daily News. “Yevgeni we thought was a real good, solid upgrade on defense and was someone we couldn’t let go by. But yeah, something will have to give here.”

Flyers add to crowded blueline, sign veteran KHLer Medvedev (Update: one year, $3M)

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The Philadelphia Flyers made a rather intriguing pickup on Wednesday, signing 32-year-old blueliner Yevgeni Medvedev out of the KHL.

Updated: Per Sportsnet, it’s a one-year pact worth $3 million.

Medvedev has spent the majority of his professional career with Ak Bars Kazan, and is regarded as one of the Russian league’s best defensemen. He’s represented his country internationally on several occasions — including each of the last four World Championships — and, domestically, has captured two Gagarin Cup league championships (2008-09, 2009-10) and has been a three-time KHL All-Star (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14).

Described by GM Ron Hextall as a solid, two-way defenseman that can move the puck, Medvedev is a relatively tall, lanky d-man (6-foot-3, 187 pounds) that has good skating ability for his size.

Given his age and experience level, it’s safe to assume Philly signed Medvedev to play in the top-six. In light of that, GM Ron Hextall has some decisions to make — Philly has six d-men under contract for next year (Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, Nick Schultz, Radko Gudas), still has to decide the future of RFA Michael Del Zotto and also signed Swiss prospect Christian Marti to an entry-level earlier this month.

What’s more, Philly has a crop of talented prospects on the horizon — Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg — and it’s possible new head coach Dave Hakstol could be much more aggressive in activating his defense than his predecessors were.

“His teams go at the net, shoot for rebounds, make plays, and really emphasize the defense being an active part of the offense,” NCAA hockey analyst Dave Starman said, per NHL.com. “His use of weak side [defensemen] to pinch and extend plays is a huge component to their offensive success, and defensive as well, as they don’t retreat and regroup as much as other teams did.”