Has Scott Gordon done enough to keep Flyers’ job?

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When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Dave Hakstol earlier this season the immediate speculation was that Joel Quenneville, who had been fired by the Chicago Blackhawks just weeks earlier, was going to be the eventual long-term replacement.

That speculation existed because, well, it just made a ton of sense.

Quenneville is a Hall of Fame coach, an all-time great behind the bench, and the Flyers’ job is one that should be an attractive one for a coach of that caliber, especially given the talent they still have at the top of the roster.

For whatever reason, whether it was from the Flyers’ side, or Quenneville’s reluctance to jump back into a job this season, or a combination of the two, the Flyers instead went in an interim direction with Scott Gordon, their AHL coach, whose future with the team after this season remains highly uncertain.

But should the Flyers consider removing the interim tag from him and making him their next full-time head coach?

The team’s performance in the win column has certainly given management reason to at least consider that.

Since Gordon took over the Flyers have compiled a 20-12-4 record, including a rather impressive 17-6-2 run over their previous 25 games. Overall, they have played at a 100-point pace under Gordon, which would almost certainly be good enough to make the playoffs in any season assuming they maintained that over 82 games. But that is far from a guarantee, especially when you dig down below just the wins and losses.

The results matter in the short-term, but the process behind those results is what matters in the long-term.

How much of this success is due to something Gordon has done as a coach? And how much of it is due to the circumstances he has dealt with versus what Hakstol had to deal with? The biggest chance in circumstances, of course, being the goalie.

First, some numbers.

The table below features the Flyers’ overall team performance this season under each coach, looking at Corsi percentage, scoring chance differential, goal differential, power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, and save percentage.

The shocking thing here is that at 5-on-5 the Flyers were actually a better team under Hakstol than they have been under Gordon. They controlled shot attempts better, they controlled scoring chances better, they were better when it came to goals. They deserved a better record than they had. The two things crushing the Flyers early in the season were quite obviously their special teams and their goaltending.

The special teams have definitely spiked under Gordon, which is important, but the biggest factor in the Flyers’ change in fortune has been the improved play of the goalies, specifically as it relates to the arrival of rookie sensation Carter Hart.

What would the Flyers’ season have looked like at the beginning had the Hakstol coached team received the caliber of goaltending that the Gordon coached team has received? Obviously there would have still been flaws on the special teams, but goaltending masks a lot of flaws (including on the penalty kill). That’s obviously a huge “what if question” that we will never know the answer to, but for the sake of being objective when analyzing what the Flyers’ should be doing behind the bench we need to find the biggest factor in their late-season turn around, and goaltending is right at the top of that list.

The thing about the Flyers under Gordon is they have, in a lot of ways, been the exact same team they have been the past few years — A mostly flawed, yet still talented team that is prone to wild streaks in both directions. At one point under Gordon they lost eight games in a row. Then a week later they started what would go on to be an eight-game winning streak that looked like it might be enough to get them back into playoff contention (ultimately, it was not). This is what the Flyers have done in each of the past few seasons and the result at the end is always the same, a mostly mediocre team that either misses the playoffs or loses in the first round if it gets in.

That is not good enough for what the expectations are in Philadelphia.

That is also what the Flyers have to weigh when assessing Gordon’s future.

The problem for Gordon is that every piece of objective evidence points to this recent success simply being the result of one of the Flyers’ patented random hot streaks and the emergence of a potential franchise goalie.

The other problem for Gordon is the reality that there is still a Hall of Fame coach sitting out there without a team right now, and it is not very often that you get a chance to hire a coach like that. When that coach is available, and when you’re a team like the Flyers in a major market, it is a shot you pretty much have to take.

The Flyers’ season has turned around dramatically under their interim coach. But that may not be enough to keep him behind the bench next season, especially if the Flyers decide to go after the one big name that is still sitting out there.

As they 100 percent should.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.