Philadelphia Flyers

Under pressure: Jakub Voracek

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Jakub Voracek’s big contract extension won’t kick in until 2016-17, but expectations rose the minute the ink dried.

Fair or not, Philadelphia Flyers fans (and just about everyone else) may struggle to keep perspective regarding his huge contract extension if next season goes poorly. That’s the nature of the beast when you sign an enormous eight-year, $66 million extension.

The jump from a $4.25 million cap hit in 2015-16 to $8.2 million going forward means that the Czech winger will be placed under the microscope, yet it was easy to see the logic that GM Ron Hextall laid out after the big deal was announced.

“Once the season ended, you start looking at your priorities and clearly it was our No. 1 priority,” Hextall said in late July. “The Jake Voraceks of the world are few and far between. He certainly wasn’t a player we wanted to risk losing.”

If nothing else, it doesn’t sound like Voracek got a big head after scoring 22 goals and 81 points last season, the fourth-highest scoring total in the NHL. Really, it sounds like he needs to prove to himself that he is in select company.

“It’s hard,” Voracek said back in April, per CSNPhilly.com. “It’s been a long season. If I do it next year, maybe I can admit that I belong there [in that club]. Right now, I had one good season. It doesn’t end for me. Nothing changes. I will work hard this summer.”

Really, though, he’s been outstanding from more or less the moment he arrived in Philadelphia.

Since 2012-13, Voracek generated 189 points, the 10th best total in that span. (Claude Giroux is in third with 207.) You don’t do that well thanks to just “one good season.”

The most promising thing is that, even with more than 500 games of regular season experience, Voracek’s still quite young.

He turned 26 on Aug. 15, so he’ll be 27 when the extension begins. The Flyers still get some of his peak years, and his chances of living up to that contract increase greatly.

Maybe that’s why Jeremy Roenick believes he has plenty left in the tank?

Looking to make the leap: Shayne Gostisbehere

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Often both expensive and inadequate, Philadelphia’s defense has been a point of concern in recent years. However, that was largely because the Flyers lacked homegrown talent as far as the blueline was concerned and thus had to resort to trades and signings in an attempt to compensate.

The future is bright though as Philadelphia has no shortage of promising young defensemen working their way towards the NHL and at the forefront of that new wave is Shayne Gostisbehere.

The 22-year-old has significant offensive upside, as was showcased in his run of 82 points in 119 career NCAA games with Union College, which is a potential area of need for the Flyers as Kimmo Timonen has retired and Mark Streit will turn 38 in December.

He already got his first taste of NHL action last season with a two-game stint and has made a favorable impression on Flyers GM Ron Hextall. He suffered a torn ACL in early November though and that limited to just seven games between the NHL and minors.

The good news is that he was feeling close to 100 percentage as of July, per the Philadelphia Daily News, setting the stage for him to compete for a roster spot during training camp. It will be an uphill battle though as the Flyers already have eight defensemen inked to one-way contract. However, even if he doesn’t make the opening game roster, he will likely be among the first blueliners summoned in the event of an injury.

He’ll need to take advantage of whatever opportunities he can get because while Philadelphia’s current roster is cluttered with blueliners that have NHL experience, there are also a number of less experienced, but highly regarded defensemen looking to leapfrog Gostisbehere, including Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, and Travis Sanheim. Throw in Mark Alt, who also made his NHL debut in 2014-15, and Robert Hagg and it becomes clear that Gostisbehere has a ton of competition.

That’s a nice scenario for Philadelphia and it means that if Gostisbehere can eventually establish himself as a regular with Philadelphia, there’s a good chance that he’ll be part of an impressive group.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Philadelphia Flyers.

In 2013-14, the Philadelphia Flyers endured a terrible 1-7-0 start, but they improved as the campaign went on and still managed to make the playoffs. Last season they once again struggled out of the gate (0-2-2), but this time no comeback of significance was forthcoming.

There were silver linings to be sure. Steve Mason showed that his solid 2013-14 campaign wasn’t a fluke as he posted a 2.25 GAA and .928 save percentage in 51 games. After years of goaltending headaches, the fact that the 27-year-old netminder is secured for another two seasons with a reasonable $4.1 million annual cap hit is a big plus for Philadelphia. However, the Flyers largely squandered his strong play in 2014-15 as he had the NHL’s best GAA in losing efforts (2.67) among goaltenders that were charged with at least 10 defeats.

Philadelphia was credited with just 215 goals for, which left them in 22nd place. That’s despite the fact that Jakub Voracek stepped up in 2014-15 with 22 goals and a career-high 81 points in 82 contests.

Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds were the only other Philadelphia forwards that recorded at least 50 points as Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn weren’t able to make a significant leap offensively, Vincent Lecavalier was used sparingly under coach Craig Berube, and R.J. Umberger struggled in his first season following the Scott Hartnell trade.

That all culminated in Philadelphia ending the season with a 33-31-18 record.

Off-season recap

After missing the playoffs, Flyers GM Ron Hextall fired Berube and replaced him with Dave Hakstol, who previously served as North Dakota’s bench boss. Philadelphia stayed busy in the lead up to the UFA period by inking veteran KHL defenseman Evgeni Medvedev, shipping forward Zac Rinaldo to Boston for a 2017 third-round pick, and trading Nicklas Grossmann along with Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona in exchange for Sam Gagner.

When it came to the draft, Philadelphia realized it needed a forward, but with Ivan Provorov available for the seventh pick, Hextall couldn’t pass on the opportunity to grab the highly regarded defenseman.

The Flyers were relatively quiet during the free agent period, likely due in large part to their cap situation, but they did ink 27-year-old goaltender Michal Neuvirth to a two-year, $3.25 million deal. A veteran of 168 games, he’ll enter the season as Mason’s understudy.

Philadelphia might not be done yet though as they do have eight defensemen signed to one-way contracts, so the squad might part ways with one via the trade market. There’s also always the possibility that the Flyers will find a suitor for Lecavalier, although the fact that he has three seasons left on his contract with a $4.5 million annual cap hit makes moving him a challenge.

PHT Morning Skate: Patrick Kane’s former junior squad pulls his name from training camp team

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

The OHL’s London Knights had planned to honor Patrick Kane by naming one of their four training camp groups after him, but GM Basil McRae announced that there will no longer be a Team Kane. The former Knights player is reportedly facing rape allegations. The police confirmed they are investigating an incident that allegedly occurred at Kane’s residence. (London Free Press)

Quebec City has reached the third phase of the NHL expansion process, but this still might not end up going Quebecor’s way. (Sportsnet)

Allan Muir created a hockey version of the Seven Wonders of the World. (Sports Illustrated)

With the start of training camp around the corner, what the Winnipeg Jets should do with Dustin Byfuglien is still up for debate. (Winnipeg Sun)

Wayne Simmonds is optimistic about the Philadelphia Flyers going into the 2015-16 campaign, but he feels they have to “work out our inconsistencies.” (Yahoo)

The University of Alberta’s hockey team will play against the Edmonton Oilers’ rookies, including Connor McDavid, on Sept. 16. (Edmonton Sun)

Poll: Will the Coyotes be the worst team in the NHL next season?

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Arizona GM Don Maloney thinks his Coyotes are “going to be a better team” than the one that finished 29th overall last year.

In fact, he says they’re “entering the season to be a playoff team.”

“I look at our roster and say, ‘OK, we may not have the most pure talent as some of the teams in the West,” Maloney told NHL.com, “but with a great coach and a great game plan and a stable center ice and a better blue line and solid goaltending, we should be able to compete every night, whether it’s the Chicago Blackhawks or the Stanley Cup champions or the bottom of the Western Conference.”

Others look at Arizona’s roster and wonder how anyone can be so optimistic. Shane Doan is 38 now. Sam Gagner and Keith Yandle, their second- and third-leading scorers from last year, are gone. The goaltending remains a big question mark. Besides Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the blue line isn’t overly impressive. Sure, the Coyotes have some excellent prospects in Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Dylan Strome, but their combined NHL experience is practically nil.

At online bookmaker Bovada, the Coyotes are the longest shot on the board to win the Stanley Cup, at 150/1. The Leafs, Sabres, and Hurricanes are next, each at 100/1.

OK, time to vote.

If you don’t think the Coyotes will be the worst team in the NHL, feel free to add your pick below.