Chuck Fletcher

Getty

Flyers’ Hayes under pressure to produce after big contract

6 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

In his short time as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, Chuck Fletcher has already proven to be far more aggressive than his predecessor (Ron Hextall) in building the team’s roster and re-shaping the organization.

His biggest player move to date might just be the sequence of events that saw him acquire the unrestricted free agent rights to forward Kevin Hayes, and then promptly sign him to a massive seven-year, $50 million contract.

The $7.1 million cap hit per season places him third on the team (behind only Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek) and among the top-50 players in the entire league. That sort of contract is going to bring some serious expectations regardless of what we already know about the player.

What we know about Hayes is this: He is a pretty good player and would be a fine complementary piece for a Stanley Cup contender. He will help the Flyers and probably make them marginally better.

But when you are one of the highest paid players in the league, taking up 9 percent of your team’s allotted salary cap space, and signed for seven years the expectation is going to be a lot higher than “pretty good player” and simply making the team a little better. For that price and that commitment you need to be getting an impact player that is going to dramatically change the outlook of your team.

For as solid as Hayes has been throughout his career he has never really come close to being that sort of player.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | Patrick the X-factor]

He has never scored fewer than 14 goals in a season, but has scored more than 17 just once (this past season).

He has failed to top the 40-point mark just once in five years, but has only topped the 50 point mark in a season one time (again, this past season).

He is not a player that dramatically drives possession and flips the ice territorially in his team’s favor (career 48 percent Corsi player; only twice over 50 percent in a single season).

You can pretty much pencil him in for 15 goals and 45 points every year and probably never miss the mark on him. He is consistently good, but never really takes a step above that. Now that he is entering his age 27 season it is fair to wonder if he will ever do that.

The question that has to be asked is if he continues to produce and play like he has over the first five years of his career how much patience will Flyers fans have for that? More importantly, how much patience will the Flyers themselves have for that?

Every dollar a team spends in a salary capped league is a dollar they can not spend on someone else, and tying up more than $7 million per season in a player that is only giving second-or third-line production without dramatically impacting the game in other areas is something that can quickly turn out to be problematic for a team that has hopes of building a contender. There is a reason most long-term free agent contracts end in either a trade or a buyout; teams have to pay a premium for a player that has probably already played their best hockey for someone else.

Hayes is a fine NHL player, but for the price the Flyers paid to get him they will probably need him to be more than that if they want to avoid buying out his contract or frantically trying to trade it in a couple of years.

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

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.

Why Wild are better off being terrible next season

Getty Images
8 Comments

When you ponder what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly in the NHL, don’t forget the importance of self-awareness.

For all of Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton’s lizard tongued blunders through his first year at the helm, the Wild’s biggest problem is that owner Craig Leipold is in denial about his team.

It’s been about a year since Leipold shared this message, yet all signs point to the Wild refusing to embrace a true rebuild. In ignoring their reality, the Wild only dig the hole deeper by making more mistakes, and dragging their feet on finding better answers.

Instead of getting the best of both worlds of competing and “rebuilding on the fly,” the Wild are stuck in purgatory: too bad to credibly contend, too competitive to get the picks that help teams win championships. Leipold’s paid for a contender while the Wild have slipped to the level of outright pretenders.

In catering to Leipold, both Chuck Fletcher and current GM Paul Fenton created quite a mess. The Wild’s Cap Friendly page might as well include a horror movie scream mp3 every time you load it up.

Allow this take, then: the Wild would be better off bottoming out in 2019-20, rather than battling for mediocrity.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Changing perceptions?

Most directly, an epic Wild collapse would help them get higher draft lottery odds.

The indirect benefits are considerable, if not guaranteed. Most importantly, Leipold may finally realize that the current plan isn’t working. Failing to even be “in the mix” may also inspire the Wild to trade away certain players, and for those players to make the process easier by waiving various clauses.

  • To start, there are players who are more or less in their primes, but may slip out by the time the Wild can truly compete. Jared Spurgeon is the biggest example with his expiring contract, but it continues to make sense to shop Jason Zucker, and Jonas Brodin heads the list of other considerations.
  • If the Wild end up cellar dwelling, it might be easier to convince Mikko Koivu and Devan Dubnyk to accept trades, and perhaps even to part ways with Eric Staal. (Trading Staal would be awkward since he gave the Wild a sweetheart deal, but sometimes things have to get awkward before they get better.)
  • Via Cap Friendly, the Wild’s commitments for 2020-21 go down to $59.46M, and really open up in 2021-22 (just $37.36M to seven players). So, if the Wild are too stubborn or cowardly to trade some of the above players, Fenton could get something close to a clean slate if they merely let them walk or retire. This thought makes a Spurgeon decision especially important.

On Parise and Suter …

Speaking of money regrets, the Wild should try to get Parise and Suter off the books, even if it’s tough to imagine them actually pulling that off.

  • Honestly, if Parise went on LTIR, I’d view it as far more credible than plenty of other cases. He’s had significant back issues, and those don’t tend to go away, particularly for 34-year-olds with a lot of mileage.
  • Suter seems impossible to trade, but we’ve seen other seemingly impossible trades actually happen.
  • Maybe there’d be a hockey deus ex machina, like expansion draft creativity, or a compliance buyout?

Not the best odds, yet Fenton would be negligent if he didn’t explore many avenues to ease concerns.

Hope can come quickly

A long rebuild would be a tough sell, but maybe Fenton could sell a Rangers revamp to Leipold: going all-in for a short period of time to bring in picks, prospects, and generally gain flexibility.

[More on the Rangers’ rebuild]

While I doubt that many teams can recreate the Rangers’ mix of wisdom and luck, the bottom line is that the Wild have gone a long time since they focused on getting blue chip prospects. Look at the Wild’s draft history and you’ll see how rare high first-rounders have been lately, and how often they’ve lacked higher picks altogether.

To sweeten the deal, the 2020 NHL Draft crop is getting quite a bit of hype, too.

Imagine the Wild landing a lottery pick, some picks and prospects through trades, and Kirill Kaprizov’s long-awaited NHL leap. If they hoarded cap space, they could strike for their own answer to Jacob Trouba and/or Artemi Panarin. Suddenly, the Wild go from drowning slowly in quicksand to seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

***

Things can change quickly in sports. The Wild could make their “poor, sad, dejected, beaten down” fans far happier with some bold changes, but they must sway their most important fan: their owner. If a truly lousy season is the only way for Leipold to clue in, then it might just be worth it for the Wild.

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.

Flyers on Hayes talks, NHL Draft approach

Getty Images
1 Comment

With the 2019 NHL Draft and free agency approaching, the Philadelphia Flyers have their hands full. The team addressed contract negotiations with Kevin Hayes, their approach to the 2019 NHL Draft, and more on Monday.

Hayes situation still hazy

Back on June 3, the Flyers sent their 2019 fifth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Hayes’ negotiating rights. The Flyers bought themselves a window to try to hash out a contract with Hayes, 27, before the big center can hit the free agent market on July 1.

Via a transcription by NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher indicates that not a whole lot has been discussed yet, but Fletcher expects to have face-to-face time by the 2019 NHL Draft (June 21-22), and also believes that Hayes is “open-minded” about signing with Philly.

“I don’t have a vibe, other than he’s certainly open-minded,” Fletcher said. “You have to remember he’s two weeks away from getting to July 1, so that’s a nice status to obtain in this league. Certainly, he’s earned that right and we are respectful of that. I think we have a lot to offer in Philly. So we will continue to speak to him and I think he’s open-minded to conversations, at least that is what his camp has said to us, and obviously we have strong interest in him.”

Fletcher notes that he hopes that Hayes can help the Flyers with his defensive game, not just with scoring.

Broad Street Hockey also lays out the benefits of a potential ripple effect if the Flyers can sign Hayes.

Most prominently, Hayes solidifying the second center spot could allow Claude Giroux to stay at a more comfortable spot on the wing, allow Nolan Patrick to draw easier matchups as a 3C, and also open up the possibility that the Flyers could earn the depth to have one of the best fourth lines in hockey.

Interesting stuff all around, even if it isn’t earth-shattering. Of course, all of that would hinge on Hayes wanting to play for the Flyers, and reunite with former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.

On the 2019 NHL Draft

NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall provides an account of the Flyers’ discussions regarding the 11th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, as Monday’s press conference didn’t just include GM Chuck Fletcher, but also assistant GM Brent Flahr.

It’s basically a trope to wonder if a team might trade its first-rounder, and while Fletcher didn’t totally disregard the possibility, it sounds pretty remote, as Fletcher admitted that there “hasn’t really been a big push for the pick at this point.”

To be fair to those wondering about that possibility, the Flyers are likely in a spot where they’d be more interested in chasing immediate gains, rather than developing more prospects. They made great strides in that area under Ron Hextall’s watch, and one of the hopes of hiring Fletcher seems to be making aggressive strides for the present.

So, the lure might be there, but the demand might not.

Flahr grades the 2019 NHL Draft as a “B+,” and Flahr indicated that the team is leaning more toward drafting a defenseman.

“We have a couple of defensemen in our top 10 that we like,” Flahr said.

“We’ve identified probably five or six guys that we think have a chance to be there at 11 and probably some of the other teams in front of us will dictate that. But we’re really confident we’re going to get a good player.”

To an extent, the Flyers are playing the waiting game right now. They need to do their best to entice Hayes to sign, rather than burning a fifth-round pick for nothing. They also must prepare for multiple scenarios, as the 11th pick is late enough where things can play out in a number of ways, while there’s also the chance that a really promising prospect falls that far.

That all might feel a bit unnerving, but with a nice core already in place and a ton of cap space on hand, the Flyers could also make some waves during the summer. If nothing else, they’ve already shown that they’re willing to be proactive, if not outright aggressive, to get things done.

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.

Flyers hire Alain Vigneault as next head coach

19 Comments

Alain Vigneault is returning to the Metropolitan Divison after the Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday afternoon that they’ve hired him as their next head coach.

“Alain has always been somebody I’ve admired and respected,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. ” I’ve watched the job he’s done over the years throughout his career, but particularly in Vancouver and with the Rangers. He’s been what I’ve considered to be a top coach in the NHL. I made a decision that I wanted to speak with him, and during our conversations it just became apparent to me he was the right guy. So once you kind of come to that conclusion it just made sense to pursue it, and we were able to finalize things this morning.”

Vigneault, who’s currently set to lead Canada’s entry at the IIHF World Championship in May, was fired by the New York Rangers after the 2017-18 NHL season. The 57-year-old was behind the bench for the Rangers for five seasons, guiding them to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals and the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. He’s won 648 games coaching three different franchise, earned the Jack Adams Award in 2007, and led both the Vancouver Canucks and Rangers to conference titles.

“It is an honor to be selected as the next head coach of the Flyers,” said Vigneault. “The history they have established and the passionate fan base has made this a first-class franchise. I am excited to work with Chuck, the talented group of players and prospects coming up through the system, in order to return Philadelphia to the top of the NHL landscape.”

It was no secret that the Flyers were hot after Joel Quenneville following his November dismissal by the Chicago Blackhawks. But Fletcher, who replaced Ron Hextall, decided to give the organization’s AHL head coach, Scott Gordon, the interim tag after Dave Hakstol’s firing. Even after Gordon led the team to a 25-22-4 record, it wasn’t enough as Fletcher apparently sees Vigneault as the better option going forward on a “multi-year” contract, which is reportedly five years, $25M, per Pierre LeBrun.

Now that he has a head coach, Fletcher can check another thing off his to-do list after assuming the GM job. The goaltending position looks to be set with Carter Hart‘s emergence this season. Who backs him up in 2018-19 is still to be decided. Up next is working on extensions for some of the team’s restricted free agents like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny.

————

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.

Flyers start search for coach after missing playoffs

4 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Flyers found a pair of rookies this season they expect to become superstars over the long haul.

The first one is obvious: Gritty, the mischievous furball that not only would win an NHL mascot MVP vote by a landslide, the googly-eyed giant just might win a popularity contest among all of sports’ greatest characters.

The next one is the spark the Flyers need more than a Phillie Phanatic knockoff: a goalie.

Carter Hart gave Flyers fans a reason to tune in when the season was left for dead and showed that – yes! maybe? – the franchise that has foundered between the pipes may have a goalie who can win them a Stanley Cup. Hart is just 20 years old but showed enough flashes of promise from his mid-December call-up from the minors that it convinced the Flyers (37-37-8; 82 points) they won’t have to chase another veteran this summer.

”Am I going to trade Carter Hart? I’d have to be crazy,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Fletcher can scratch ”get No. 1 goalie” off his summer to-do list.

But the list is long for a franchise that has failed to reach the second round of the playoffs since 2012 and has alternated between missing and making the postseason each of the following years.

”We weren’t good enough,” Fletcher said Monday.

That’s why Fletcher was hired after Ron Hextall was fired in November after 4+ seasons on the job in which he tried to revive a depleted farm system and patiently build a championship contender. Fletcher fired coach Dave Hakstol weeks later and gave minor league coach Scott Gordon the interim label. Fletcher and Gordon met briefly Monday to discuss upcoming schedules – but not the fate of the coach. The Florida Panthers took one of the top candidates off the market when they hired Joel Quenneville on Monday. Gordon, who quickly became popular with the players, is among the candidates.

”I had a great time with the group of players,” Gordon said. ”What I liked about it, when I was up front and called them out and was hard and challenged them, I got a response from them. When you try and do that in this day in age and not have them resent you, that’s an important part.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Fletcher thinks it’s important, too.

”My search for the next head coach starts today and Scott remains a candidate,” he said.

Here are some key developments from 2018-19 that will remain relevant for the Flyers:

GETTING GRITTY WIT IT

Gritty was the undisputed star of the lost season.

He made 114 appearances this season, including cameos at the Stadium Series and All-Star weekend. The Flyers sold more than 17,000 pieces of Gritty merchandise at home games this season. The NHLPA voted Gritty the best mascot in the NHL and he was as in-demand as a Hollywood A-lister, with appearances on the late-night circuit with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.

The Flyers may have been unwatchable, but Gritty was a surefire smash.

HELP WANTED

The Flyers might continue to try to build from within. There is money to spend, but the NHL free-agent market is thin, with Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman among possible players the Flyers could target.

Possible.

”I don’t think it’s an elite market, but we’ll see,” Fletcher said. ”There are always players that can help your team.”

BAD HABITS

Like many bad teams, the Flyers fell behind first in games and got off to a slow start that left them buried in the standings before a midseason surge offered a glint of a playoff hope.

”We have some bad habits right now,” Fletcher said. ”It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits. It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset and have a good start. A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals. It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.”

STEP UP

The Flyers need more out of once-prized prospects Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. ”Ghost” slumped from a career-high 65 points last season to just nine goals and 37 points this season.

Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom and Phil Myers played for Gordon in the minors and there’s hope that the familiarity can help them improve on their 25-22-4 record since the interim coach took over.

”I think we have good players,” Fletcher said. We just need a few more.”

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports