Signing Hart and more: Flyers’ work not done after draft, big trades

Signing Hart and more: Flyers' work not done after draft, big trades
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After a slew of (sometimes jaw-dropping) trades, there’s no denying that the Philadelphia Flyers will look different in 2021-22. It remains to be seen if they’ll be much better — or at least if they’ll be much better because of those big Flyers trades.

(Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine their goaltending being the flat-out worst in the NHL again. They were the worst by a shockingly comfortable margin in 2020-21.)

Despite Chuck Fletcher seemingly squeezing an offseason’s worth of work into those big trades, the Flyers still have work to do. Let’s review their big run of trades, then ponder what else they need to accomplish — and there will be some focus on Carter Hart.

After looking at trades, entry/expansion draft, a mixed bag for the Flyers

If there’s one big “statement” from all of the Flyers’ trades, it might be Fletcher essentially moving a ton of assets to swap Shayne Gostisbehere for Rasmus Ristolainen. When you look at the cap hits involved (“Ghost Bear” at $4.5M with Robert Hagg at $1.6; Risto in his last year at $5.4M) it’s close to 1:1. Consider the pieces involved.

Flyers receive Flyers give up
Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4M through 2021-22) Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5M through 2022-23)
“Future considerations” Robert Hagg ($1.6M through 2021-22)
2021 first-rounder (14th overall)
2022 second-rounder (Flyers)
2023 second-rounder (Flyers)
2022 seventh-rounder (Blues)

Pretty bold. Again, the Flyers are making a huge statement here. They could’ve kept Gostisbehere, whose underlying stats argue might be better than his “doghouse” status indicates. Instead, they went with Rasmus Ristolainen, largely under the assumption that they can fix what the Sabres failed to address. Consider their multi-season RAPM comparison, via Evolving Hockey:

Signing Hart and more: Flyers' work not done after draft, big trades Ristolainen Ghost
This is without Ghost’s power-play wizardry, too. (Chart via Evolving Hockey)

Credit Chuck Fletcher with this: it isn’t necessarily easy to pigeonhole his way of thinking. For every Gostisbehere – Ristolainen trade, there’s a savvy pickup like the mostly-promising Ryan Ellis trade. Yes, there’s risk that Ellis won’t be the same player he once was after injuries. But he’s quietly been an analytics (and eye test, frankly) darling for years.

If Ellis and Ristolainen weren’t both right-handed defensemen, they’d be total opposites. Ristolainen is the big blueliner people imagine bigger things from, even if the actual on-ice results are often ugly. Ellis, meanwhile, deserved almost as much Norris buzz as his former teammate Roman Josi.

Meanwhile, the Jakub VoracekCam Atkinson trade feels like a nice win. It’s not a huge victory (like Ellis), nor will it inspire a big groan (like Ristolainen/Gostisbehere). Instead, two veteran forwards (who can still play) get refreshing changes of scenery. Plus, the Flyers save money.

Looking at the rest of their offseason to-do list, the Flyers could benefit from those savings.

The tricky case of Carter Hart’s RFA status

Despite covering some bases, the Flyers face one huge free-agent situation (Carter Hart, 22), and one other notable one (Travis Sanheim, 25). Both Hart and Sanheim are RFAs, with Sanheim eligible for arbitration.

Getting Hart’s contract situation right is huge, and tricky. Through his first two NHL seasons, Hart might have gotten a bit over-hyped, but his work was still solid (.917 save percentage in 2018-19; .914 in 2019-20).

Last season, Hart’s game plummeted to a shocking, season-sabotaging degree. He went 9-11-5 with a catastrophic .877 save percentage. While those Rangers meltdowns might make you think that the Flyers’ defense is mostly to blame, that’s mostly untrue.

By various metrics that isolate a goalie’s performance, Hart was putrid. His -22.57 Goals Saved Above Average was by far the worst in the NHL. Disturbingly, fellow Flyers goalie Brian Elliott was a distant second-worst with -14.01.

(Braden Holtby ranked third-worst with a -12.97 mark. Only eight goalies were in negative double digits by Hockey Reference’s version of GSAA.)

[See where the Flyers fit among “Winners and Losers of the 2021 NHL Draft”]

Based on pedigree and reputation, Hart might argue for a significant contract. That disastrous 2020-21 season should be a red flag for anything too risky, though. All things considered, a “bridge deal” might be wise.

Either way, the Flyers would gain some insight about their cap flexibility if they sign Hart. That said, he’s an RFA, so they don’t need to rush.

If there’s one area where the Flyers failed Hart above all else, it was failing to find a reliable Plan B. Their 2020-21 goalie plan was essentially “Carter Hart or bust,” and bust it was.

Credit Brian Elliott for sticking around in the NHL longer than expected. Yet, that might be a failure of imagination on the Flyers’ part.

Looking at potential free-agent goalies, the Flyers could definitely make an upgrade at the backup spot. Jaroslav Halak and Jonathan Bernier seem like logical, safe options. Since Fletcher loves gambles, Antti Raanta‘s interesting (great results, scary injuries).

Logically speaking, it’s difficult to imagine the Flyers not improving in net this season — even just by default. If their goaltending’s downright strong, it might even make them look smarter in other areas. (In other words, it might soften the blow if Rasmus Ristolainen is what we thought he was.)

Plenty of other key free-agent decisions for Flyers

Via Cap Friendly, the Flyers have about $12.5M in cap space. That’s with 17 roster spots filled.

It’s probably safe to assume that they’ll have some cap space after signing Carter Hart and a backup goalie. Fletcher could supplement the Flyers with supporting cast members. There’s conceivably room for another bold move — via a trade, or free agency — too.

But some of the Flyers’ biggest offseason questions revolve around the larger future. Consider these.

More ripples with Ristolainen?

By forking over so much draft capital for Ristolainen (especially if you count the Gostisbehere bribe, which you should), the Flyers probably don’t want him to merely be a rental.

So, that’s where a risky trade becomes an even scarier gamble. What if the Flyers decide to extend Ristolainen before he even plays a game for Philly? (That appears to be what the Blackhawks will do with their own risky defenseman via trade, Seth Jones.)

Truly, it would probably be smarter to wait-and-see. Yes, it would sting if critics were right that Ristolainen just is less than the sum of his tantalizing-on-paper parts. But at least you wouldn’t dig the ditch deeper with additional sunk costs.

The Flyers may fervently believe that they’re simply right about the big blueliner, though. In that case, an extension may happen during this summer.

Other extension questions: Giroux, Couturier enter contract years

Two faces of the Flyers franchise enter contract years in 2021-22:

With any bold move, the Flyers must consider future costs. Really, they might appreciate the piece of mind that would come with determining how much, exactly, it would cost to keep Couturier in the mix. They also need to ask some tough questions about Giroux’s future. How much less would he accept to stick around?

Such concerns could trickle down into other areas. Deep down, the Flyers might not have been too unhappy if the Kraken took on James van Riemsdyk. JVR was brilliant in 2020-21, but he carries a pricey $7M cap hit for two more seasons. It’s not outrageous to imagine the Flyers trying to shake loose from the 32-year-old before that contract expires.

Interesting either way

Back in the Paul Holmgren era, the Flyers seemed to make mind-blowing moves every other month. It was often a mess — but a fun one. And the Flyers ended up pretty good at times, even though the party broke up once the bill came due.

Ron Hextall ended up throwing out all of the trash and broken glass. He had to be the hall monitor, practicing patience by getting out of bad contracts, and building through the draft.

The last week has been a return to that kegger atmosphere with Fletcher. He’s certainly been willing to take risks beyond that, particularly in signing Kevin Hayes.

Even if you critique the moves, it sure makes it fun to follow league transactions. Flyers’ fans mileage may vary, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

    stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

    blackhawks athanasiou
    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

    panthers stanley cup
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

    flyers trade
    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.