Shayne Gostisbehere

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Flyers remain one of NHL’s biggest mysteries

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General manager Chuck Fletcher spent his entire offseason overhauling the Philadelphia Flyers organization.

New coaching staff, new players, big trades, a big free agent signing, and everything else the team’s ownership was looking for when it wanted a “bias for action” in its new GM. Even with all of the changes the Flyers remained a gigantic mystery because it wasn’t entirely clear if they were actually any better than before all of the movement started. If anything, it seemed like a perfect representation of everything the Flyers have come to represent over the past decade where they have enough high-end players on the roster to make you want to buy into them, but just enough questions to give you pause in doing so because there were so many “ifs” attached to their success.

If Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere can rebound and take big steps forward as top-pairing defenders.

If Carter Hart can be a star in goal.

If Kevin Hayes is actually worth $7 million per year.

If Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun still have something left in the tank.

Usually the more “ifs” you throw at a team the worse it tends to turn out for them because pro sports is rarely kind enough for every “if” to work out in a team’s favor. Through the first seven games of the season there still isn’t much clarity on what the Flyers are. On Monday night they snapped a four-game losing streak with what was perhaps their best all-around performance of the season, completely demolishing one of the league’s best teams — the Vegas Golden Knights — in a 5-2 win to bring their record to 3-3-1, the type of record you might expect from the type of mediocre team you expect the Flyers to be. Still, there are some early signs that maybe this team has played better than its early record might indicate and that there could be some hope here.

The process has been good — And by “process” I mean there are strong signs that they are controlling games even if they are not yet turning into wins. They are third in NHL in shots on goal per game, they are allowing the fewest shots on goal, they are the NHL’s best team in both shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential at 5-on-5 (via Natural Stat Trick), and they dictating the pace of almost every game they have played. This is, at the very least, a positive sign because the most important part of scoring goals is generating shots, and the most important of preventing goals is preventing shots. It’s common sense, and if you can keep doing that over a full season the odds are going to be in your favor. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they might be a little unlucky at this point. And not to make too big of an excuse here, but their early schedule was about as brutal as it could have possibly been playing three games, in three different countries, in three different time zones (going from Switzerland, to Philadelphia, to Vancouver for a three-game Western Canadian road trip) across the stretch of one week.

Hart hasn’t been all that good (yet) — This was always the big wild card for this Flyers team. He is supposed to be the savior of the position and the one to finally stabilize the position long-term. His rookie season was extremely promising and expectations were high entering the season. Through his first five starts, he hasn’t yet found his game yet with an .890 save percentage. The fact the Flyers are still 2-2-1 in those games is kind of accomplishment. He can be better, he needs to better, and there is every reason to believe that he will be better. Once that happens, and if the Flyers are still able to play in front of him the way they have, this could be an interesting team.

Some of their top forwards have been unlucky. There are three forwards in the NHL this season that have recorded at least 24 shots on goal and failed to score — two of them (Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk) play for the Flyers. Add Jakob Voracek (two goals on 17 shots) and three of the team’s top offensive players have scored on two of their first 76 shots on goal this season. That is a shooting percentage of just 2.6 percent. All three may be on the wrong side of 30, but none of them have completely fallen off a cliff yet as players and are still capable of producing like first-liners (as they did as recently as a year ago).

Basically, everything that could have gone for the Flyers right now has gone wrong. Their travel schedule has brutal, their starting goalie and arguably their most important player has struggled, and their best forwards have been unable to find the back of the net. Through all of that they have still managed to collect points in four of their first seven games and continue to tread water.

In the end, it still leaves the Flyers right where they were when the season started — a team that has given us plenty of reason to buy into them, yet one that we still don’t fully know anything about with a lot of “ifs” following them around.

Such is life with the Flyers.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Oilers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Oilers have missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons, but this year has started successfully under new GM Ken Holland and new head coach Dave Tippett. Edmonton won their first five games of the season before losing on Monday in Chicago, 3-1. Still, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carrying the load as usual, boosted by a torrid scoring pace from James Neal, the Oilers have shown promise early on.

The Oilers’ two superstars both have four goals and eight assists and are tied for the league lead with 12 points. They are tied with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, who have played two more games.

During the Oilers season-opening five-game winning streak, they became the first team in NHL history to win their first five games despite trailing at some point in each of those games.

Tonight, Carter Hart will play his first NHL game in his hometown; Hart was born in Sherwood Park, Alberta, which is just east of Edmonton. Hart did play the Oilers last season, but only in Philly; he was called up to the NHL three days after the Flyers played at Edmonton.

Hart’s mother Shauna will be in attendance, but his father John is in Regina on business and will not be at the game. In addition to Shauna, Hart’s longtime sports psychologist John Stevenson (who also works with Braden Holtby) will be there – the first time Stevenson will see Hart play an NHL game in person.

Prior to the game in Calgary yesterday, the Flyers signed Chris Stewart to a one-year contract after he joined the team on a PTO in the offseason. Stewart had three hits in 9:12 of ice time – his first NHL game since March of 2018.

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-OILERS BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin Hayes – James van Riemsdsyk
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Tyler PitlickScott LaughtonJakub Voracek
Chris Stewart – Michael Raffl – Carsen Twarnyski

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

OILERS
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Alex ChiassonRyan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
Jujhar KhairaRiley Sheahan – Patrick Russell
Tomas Jurco – Markus GranlundJosh Archibald

Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar KlefbomJoel Persson
Kris RussellMatthew Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

MORE: Oilers’ Neal comfortable again in bounce-back season

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Wednesday with analysts Patrick Sharp, Roenick and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro will have the call of Flyers-Oilers from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

Devils vs. Flyers livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Devils opened the 2019-20 campaign dropping their first two games of the season. They blew a 4-0 lead Friday night at home, falling to the Jets 5-4 in a shootout, and were dominated the following night in Buffalo, losing 7-2.

Last season the Devils finished tied for sixth for most goals/against per game (3.30), while starting three different goalies throughout the year. Through two games this season, the same problem remains as New Jersey has allowed 5.50 goals/against per game.

“We’re playing like we want to have an easy game,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “We can talk about it nine different ways but that’s the reality of where we’re at right now.”

The Flyers dealt Wayne Simmonds to the Predators in exchange for Ryan Hartman and a 2020 4th round pick at the 2019 trade deadline. Now a member of the Devils, Simmonds makes his return to Philly and will play against his former team for the first time after spending the past seven-plus seasons with the franchise.

“In a perfect world maybe it could have worked, but for what my goal is and where I’m trying to get to, I think it was a bad fit to be quite honest,” said Simmonds. “With all the pieces they have there in place, there’s a reason why I did get traded. Obviously, I wasn’t a piece they needed anymore.”

Philly will be tacking on thousands of sky miles to start the season. The Flyers played a preseason game overseas in Switzerland against Lausanne HC of the Swiss Elite League, before traveling to Prague, Czech Republic, to open the regular season against the Blackhawks. They host the Devils Wednesday night in Philly before making their Western Canada road trip.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Devils-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DEVILS
Taylor HallNico HischierNikita Gusev
Jesper BrattTravis ZajacKyle Palmieri
Blake ColemanJack Hughes – Wayne Simmonds
Miles WoodKevin RooneyJohn Hayden

Sami VatanenP.K. Subban
Andy GreeneDamon Severson
Will ButcherConnor Carrick

Starting goalie: Cory Schneider

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin HayesJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykScott Laughton – Carsen Twarynski
Connor Bunnaman – Michael RafflTyler Pitlick

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

On Wednesday night’s season debut of Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, NHL fans will be able to get a sneak peek to a yet to be released Green Day song called “Fire, Ready, Aim”. The song will serve as the opening theme song of Wednesday Night Hockey throughout the 2019-20 season and will be featured on NHL on NBC Sports broadcasts throughout the season.

Produced by NBC Sports, the high-energy show open features the band playing their new song on a hockey rink interspersed with action shots of more than a dozen NHL players, including Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, among others.

Flyers counting on new coach Vigneault to lead them to title

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PHILADELPHIA — The parent company of the Philadelphia Flyers has spent the weeks leading up to the season unveiling the team’s best offseason acquisitions.

There are $25 tickets at a refurbished standing-room-only area at the highest point inside the Wells Fargo Center. Too far away for a good view? No worries, Comcast Spectacor installed a Kinetic 4K center-hung scoreboard that makes Gritty look like Godzilla on the big screen. There’s even a sports book for fans who want to place a wager on the home team while they’re sipping a craft cocktail called ”The Sexy Franklin .”

But the $265 million overhaul to the arena the Flyers share with the 76ers hasn’t exactly trickled down to the roster. The top-shelf amenities, fireplaces and artwork serve as nothing more than posh diversions from the action on the ice. The Flyers are +3600 to win it all and there isn’t an arena upgrade that can save that number.

The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1974 and 1975, currently the fourth-longest drought in the NHL. The Flyers missed the playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons, haven’t made it to the second round since 2012 and will hit 10 years this season since their last Stanley Cup Final appearance.

The new addition the Flyers are really counting is the one on the bench.

Alain Vigneault, known for quick fixes and who led Vancouver and the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, was hired as the latest coach. Vigneault certainly boasts the credentials that prove he’s capable of turning the Flyers into winners. He has coached 16 NHL seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers and his teams have made the playoffs 11 times.

”He’s a coach that knows what it takes to go far in the playoffs and win,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said.

The Flyers’ gamble on college coach Dave Hakstol backfired and so did their commitment to former general manager Ron Hextall when he laid out a long-term rebuilding plan that was short on immediate playoff results. The Flyers hired Chuck Fletcher last December in hopes he can resuscitate the franchise and make the orange-and-black again known for more than their googly-eyed mascot.

The champion St. Louis Blues showed it could be done – they were the worst team in the NHL in January.

The Flyers hope their hectic early season travel schedule doesn’t derail their efforts: Philadelphia plays a final preseason game in Switzerland, opens the season in the Czech Republic, plays one home game on Oct. 9 and then heads to Western Canada for three games in five days. Did someone say jet lag?

WHO’S HERE

Vigneault. F Kevin Hayes, D Matt Niskanen, D Justin Braun. Hayes signed a $50 million, seven-year contract that’s worth $7.14 million a season. Hayes became the Flyers’ third-highest paid player behind captain Claude Giroux and winger Jakub Voracek and steps in as their new No. 2 center behind Couturier. He’s coming off a career-high 55 points last season with the Rangers and Jets.

WHO’S NOT

Kate Smith. Don’t laugh. Smith’s connection with the Flyers started in 1969 and her rendition of ”God Bless America” was a popular ritual through the years. She even had a statue across the street from the stadium in the sports complex. But the statue was yanked amid allegations of racism against the 1930s star and her video recording will not be played again. D Radko Gudas, C Jori Lehtera and D Andrew MacDonald are among the notable departures.

KEY PLAYERS

All eyes are the 21-year-old Hart, who is expected to steady one of the shakiest positions throughout most of the franchise’s history. He stopped his first 25 shots in preseason action and looks capable of becoming a top-tier goalie. The Flyers used an NHL-record eight goalies last season, but Carter was by far the best and showed enough flashes of promise that he could possibly steal a playoff spot for the Flyers.

OUTLOOK

The Flyers are trying to shift from building to trying to contend for a title. Hextall’s regime was about drafting and developing, and Fletcher is turning his attention to making Philadelphia a playoff contender again. The Flyers should at least contend for one of the final playoff spots in the East and could snag one if once-prized prospects Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick play to their potential.

PREDICTION

Gritty will entertain the heck out of sports fans like no other mascot. As such, Gritty will continue to be must-see – but his postseason debut will have to wait at least one more season.

Previewing the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better, although it remains to be seen if the Flyers get their money’s worth.

Kevin Hayes has a strong chance to serve as an elusive 2C, but there will be significant pressure stemming from a risky contract that carries a $7 million AAV. How you grade other moves comes down to taste. Is Matt Niskanen due for a bounce-back season, or did the Flyers just waste money and flexibility on a downgrade from Radko Gudas? Alain Vigneault brings name recognition and decent resume to the table, but his teams have often been swamped from a possession standpoint. We may look back at this situation and realize that Scott Gordon might have been the better option.

Strengths: If everything breaks right, the Flyers have a nice mix of veterans with enough left in the tank (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk), players in the meat of their primes (Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere), and young talent about to make the leap (Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny).

Nolan Patrick has been a bit of a disappointment, but with Couturier taking 1C and Hayes slotting in at 2C, the second overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft may flourish against lesser competition.

If everything pans out, the Flyers could have a nice mix of scoring, modern-style defense, and goaltending. I’d expect a lot of the things that went wrong in 2018-19 to correct in 2019-20, though it’s possible that the Flyers’ outlook was inflated a bit by a lot going right in 2017-18.

Weaknesses: There are reasons to wonder if certain players are overrated. Management may have put too much stock in Niskanen and Justin Braun, two players who’ve had a rough go of things lately and are 32. Even Ivan Provorov might not be quite as dynamic as many believe.

Rolling with Carter Hart is mostly smart, but it’s unsafe to merely assume that he’ll have a strong season. He’s still pretty wet behind the ears, and was actually struggling a bit in the AHL with a .902 save percentage before his big call-up. Brian Elliott isn’t exactly the greatest safety net either, considering his struggles on the ice lately — when he can even be healthy enough to suit up.

It’s also fair to worry about Father Time limiting the likes of Giroux and Voracek, not just players like Niskanen. Even JVR is already 30.

Frankly, recent experience points to Vigneault being a weakness, especially if he indulges in too much of a fixation with fighters, as he notoriously did with Tanner Glass in New York.

[MORE: 3 Questions | Under Pressure | Patrick the X-factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Hiring Alain Vigneault felt like one of several Flyers moves based on reputation and name recognition. Ron Hextall had introduced the rare concept of “patience” to this often-impetuous franchise, yet Chuck Fletcher is bringing a nostalgic air of chaos. I’d expect Vigneault to be fairly safe in his first year, so let’s put him at three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Hart, Patrick, Sanheim.

The Flyers have a lot hinging on Hart, so we’ll see if he can justify his pedigree, and all of the relief people felt when he looked so promising late last season. It figures to be a less volatile situation than last season’s rotation of eight goalies, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed success.

Fans would be wise not to daydream too much about how much more potent this Flyers team would look with Miro Heiskanen (third overall) or Elias Pettersson (fifth overall) instead of Patrick at that second pick from 2017. Even if you can ignore such painful thoughts, the bottom line is that Philly needs more from the 21-year-old.

During Gordon’s interim run, Sanheim got a big bump in stature, and he delivered with promising play. Will that carry over with AV, or will Sanheim sink?

Playoffs or Lottery: The Flyers figure to be a bubble team not unlike what they were in 2017-18. While I’m not sure they’ll make the playoffs, that seems like a safer bet than Philadelphia being lottery-bound.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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