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.

Hurricanes remain ‘hopeful’ for a Justin Williams comeback

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When Justin Williams announced in September he would be “taking a break” from hockey, he didn’t shut the door entirely on a possible comeback at some point this season.

“Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game,” wrote the 38-year-old Williams.

With the Hurricanes sitting in an Eastern Conference wild card and only two points away from a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division, adding a veteran goal scorer like Williams would only help. What he brings on and off the ice is immeasurable, and it was clear last season just how valuable he was to a budding young team. The team is hopeful he’ll return to play and are keeping the lines of communication open.

“We continue to talk with him. I think he’s working out a little bit more on his own right now,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell told the team website this week. “I think he’s going to start coming to the gym a little more. That’s a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we’re hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.”

Waddell isn’t the only one who’s unsure of a Williams return. Williams himself sounds like he’s been back and forth on what his future holds, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting closer to a time where if he doesn’t, then he’s not,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got to get in game shape and do all that, so there’s a time frame for that. There’s still time for that. … We talk quite a bit. We mostly talk about kids and how’s coaching going. I’ll ask if he’s staying in shape or getting in shape, and he’ll some days say, ‘Yeah,’ and then say, ‘Ah, maybe.’ So, we’ll see.”

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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.

Kessel returns to Pittsburgh trying to find his game for Coyotes

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When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in August (for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph) it gave them the type of player the organization had been lacking for years: a bonafide star forward, and one that was capable of scoring at a level that no Coyotes player had reached in close to a decade.

For a team that was just a couple of games away from the playoffs a season ago — despite an absurd season-long run of injuries that consistently decimated the roster — it was the type of move that could not only generate excitement within the fan base (it did, and they have the season ticket sales to prove it), but also give the team the last extra push it needed to get over the hump and end what is currently a seven-year playoff drought.

With Kessel set to make his first visit to Pittsburgh since the trade on Friday night, the Coyotes have put themselves in a great position to end that drought, sitting on top of the Pacific Division after 30 games thanks to their 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

What is perhaps most surprising about their current spot in the standings is they have done it while getting minimal offensive impact from Kessel, even with his two-goal effort in Thursday’s win.

The early numbers are kind of staggering given the high bar Kessel has set for himself over the years offensively.

  • His six goals are his fewest through 30 games since his rookie year in 2006-07 (five goals).
  • He has been held without a goal in 26 of the team’s first 30 games.
  • He has just one even-strength goal on the season, with the other five coming on the power play (including both goals on Thursday — one of which was also an empty-net goal).
  • He is on pace for just 16 goals over 82 games. If he does not improve on that it would be his lowest total since his rookie year (11) and the first time since 2007-08 (his second year in the league when he missed 10 games) he did not top 20 goals in a season.

Some decline in his overall production should have been expected.

Not only because he is another year older (32) and another year away from his prime, but because he went from playing on a veteran, star-laden roster in Pittsburgh that plays one of the most up-tempo styles in the league, to a young Arizona team that, while talented, does not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the middle of its lineup.

Even with all of that in mind this is still a pretty significant drop across the board, but it does not mean all hope is lost for him this season. Like any elite goal scorer Kessel can be notoriously streaky and score goals in bunches (this is not a knock on Kessel; it’s a reality for all players across the league), and it’s also not the first time he’s started a year slow. In his first year with the Penguins back in 2015-16 he had just nine goals through 30 games before getting hot in the second half, then catching fire in the playoffs on the way to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

While Kessel has not exactly lit the world on fire for the Coyotes, the trade has not exactly been a rousing success for the Penguins.

For all of Kessel’s flaws as a player, the Penguins absolutely miss his presence on a power play unit that been mostly dysfunctional this season. A lot of their power play the past few years ran through him, from his ability to gain entry into the zone (a problem for the Penguins this year), to his playmaking, to his ability to finish. Even with all of his struggles in Arizona offensively his five power play goals are more than any player on the Penguins.

They also have not received anything close to what they hoped they would from Alex Galchenyuk, which is starting to become a pretty big issue. He has just two goals through his first 20 games and has mostly been relegated to fourth-line duty. Even with the Penguins missing several regulars in their lineup he has not topped the 10-minute mark in three of the team’s past four games, while general manager Jim Rutherford on Thursday (via The Athletic’s Josh Yohe) that Galchenyuk is not a lock to remain in the lineup when everyone is back. Galchenyuk always seemed like a one-and-done player in Pittsburgh from the very beginning — Joseph is the key long-term piece — but they probably expected more than this.

The funny thing about all of this is the trade has not really done much for either team through the first quarter of the season, but both teams have still managed to put themselves on solid ground.

The Coyotes are healthy and in first place and still have the hope that a Kessel goal-binge is lurking somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

The Penguins are overcoming their injury issues, playing the way they want to play, and finding ways to collect points while they wait for their regulars to return.

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.

Laila Anderson meets bone marrow donor

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Laila Anderson has made us shed a tear or two (or several) over the last year, and she was involved in another touching moment on Thursday night.

It was special to witness the 11-year-old’s journey. We got to see her ups with the St. Louis Blues and we also got to see the emotion behind her battle with a rare auto-immune disease, HLH. Last night, Anderson got to meet the person who helped her get better, as she got to interact with Kenton Felmlee, who ended up being her bone marrow donor.

“I felt a bond with her before we ever met. I think the second I look at her on the stage and saw her face,” Felmlee, who is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, said, per Fox 2 Now St. Louis. “Every emotion that I was feeling all exploded into so much more.”

As you can tell from the above video, their first interaction was incredibly emotional.

“I don’t care if we go to dinner or if we go to Disney World. I don’t care what we do, I just want to spend time with you,” Laila told her new friend on Thursday night.

And, of course, Anderson and Felmlee will be attending Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Calgary Flames sign deal for new downtown arena

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a deal for a new downtown arena, a 35-year agreement that keeps the NHL club in the city for that time.

The team, the city and the Calgary Stampede rodeo signed an agreement Thursday to replace the 36-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.

The 19,000-seat arena is to cost more than $417 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, just north of the Saddledome. The arena will be demolished between 2024 and 2025.

The project is part of a downtown revitalization. The building will become the home of the Flames and part of a planned entertainment district bordering the Stampede grounds.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flames, and the city will split the costs. The Stampede is a not-for-profit community group.