Ivan Provorov

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The Buzzer: Rantanen dominates in return; Driedger gets shutout in first start

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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After being sidelined for more than a month Rantanen returned to the Avalanche lineup on Saturday and picked right up where he left off, recording four points in a complete destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is now up to 16 points in 10 games this season, and with him back in the lineup the Avalanche dominant duo of Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon is going to start taking over games again. They are still without Gabriel Landeskog but have managed to keep piling up points thanks to the brilliance of MacKinnon and the improved depth throughout the roster. Given all of the salary cap space they still have they are going to have a chance to add a major piece before the trade deadline and be a force in the Western Conference playoffs. Joonas Donskoi also had four points for the Avalanche on Saturday, while MacKinnon added three. This game also featured one of the most random and unexpected fights of the season when Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat squared off against Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard.

2. Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers. With big-money free agent Sergei Bobrovsky off to a terrible start this season, the Panthers turned to the 25-year-old Driedger for his first career start on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He made quite an impact turning aside all 27 shots he faced as the Panthers began a nine-game homestand. Before Saturday Driedger had only made three relief appearances (all with the Ottawa Senators) in his very brief NHL career.

3. Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been waiting for some of their depth players to make an impact offensively this season, and it has finally started to happen over the past couple of games. Pearson had a huge game in their 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, scoring two goals and adding two assists. Unlike Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, they were able to hold on to this three-goal third period lead to snap what had been a brief two-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Alex Ovechkin became just the fifth player in NHL history to record 15 consecutive 20-goal seasons to begin a career. He also moved into 10th place all-time with his 24th career hat trick. Read all about it here.
  • Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov teamed up for a shutout for the New York Islanders as they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets were one of four teams to lose a defenseman to injury on Saturday.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs won for the fourth time in five games under new coach Sheldon Keefe thanks to a John Tavares overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Alexandar Georgiev stopped all 33 shots he faced for the New York Rangers in a 4-0 win over their arch-rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
  • Big night for Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm as he scored two goals, giving him 14 on the season, in a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Defenseman Justin Faulk scored his first goal as a member of the St. Louis Blues in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Logan Couture scored two goals for the San Jose Sharks as they erased an early two-goal deficit to beat the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-2 margin.
  • Jack Campbell was outstanding for the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 32 out of 33 shots in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

Ivan Provorov lifted the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday with this incredible goal in the extra period.

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.

Big winners of the NHL’s restricted free agent signing period

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With Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Mikko Rantanen all signing new contract extensions this weekend, the NHL’s summer-long restricted free agency drama has come to a mostly anticlimactic end.

All the top players stayed where they were supposed to stay, nobody unexpected ended up getting traded, no additional offer sheets were actually signed, and the only big development was the shift by players to opt for shorter-term bridge deals instead of max long-term contracts.

Now that everyone is signed for the start of the 2019-20 season (which starts Wednesday night with Blues-Caps at 7 pm on NBCSN), let’s take a look at some of the big winners from the RFA signing period.

Teams that won big

Tampa Bay Lightning. Brayden Point‘s three-year deal is a massive short-term win for the Lightning. They entered the offseason facing a salary cap crunch but still managed to get one of their top players — Point — re-signed without really having to do anything significant to the rest of the roster. At a salary cap hit of just a little more than $6 million per season for the next three years the Lightning have a steal in Point given the way he blends elite offense and Selke caliber defense. Having a core player that good, signed for that cheap, is a huge advantage to a contender whose championship window remains wide open.

Boston Bruins. This looked like it was going to be a tricky situation for Don Sweeney at the beginning of the summer as he had to try to re-sign top defenders Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, as well as forward Danton Heinen, all while having limited wiggle room under the cap. He managed to get all three players signed for a combined cap hit of under $11 million per season. Not bad. McAvoy should have a monster contract coming his way when his current deal ends, but a lot current money will be off the books by then.

San Jose Sharks. Timo Meier‘s contract (four years, $24 million) was the big one this summer and looks like a perfectly fair deal for both sides. Meier very well could end up outperforming that deal before it’s done, but he will still be young enough to secure another significant contract. But getting Kevin Labanc signed for just $1 million for this season after his 17-goal, 56-point season was a really nice bonus for the Sharks. He is betting on himself, but in the short-term the Sharks are getting a huge advantage this season with some additional cap flexibility as they try to get Joe Thornton his Stanley Cup ring.

Carolina Hurricanes. They won at the very beginning of the summer when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet. The Hurricanes easily matched it, got their franchise player signed, and the whole process helped them to avoid all of the drama and stress that every other team had to deal with in trying to negotiate a deal. That is a win.

Players that won big

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs. He managed to get a six-year deal out of the Maple Leafs that averages just under $11 million per year. The breakdown of the contract will pay him $41 million over the first three years, including $31 million in the first two years and $16 million this season. It is, by far, the biggest of all the RFA deals signed this summer and when compared to the deals signed by Point and Rantanen (two players that are not only similar to him, but maybe even better) it is a huge win for him to get pretty much exactly what he wanted.

Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers. Provorov has No. 1 defender potential and the Flyers definitely treat him like a No. 1 defender, but he has not yet consistently played at a level to justify all of that. Despite that, he still managed to get a six-year, $40.5 million contract this summer. That is significantly larger than the deals signed by McAvoy and Zach Werenski (Columbus), both of whom are probably already better than Provorov. If he becomes the player the Flyers think he can be, it will be a fine contract. But he has to become that player first.

Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers. He managed to get out of Winnipeg (something that seemed inevitable for a couple of years now) thanks to a trade to the New York Rangers where he signed a huge seven-year, $56 million contract, complete with a no-move clause and trade protections. Of the major RFA defenders this offseason (Trouba, McAvoy, Provorov, Zach Werenski) this is by far the biggest contract signed. That $8 million per year cap hit is also tied for the fifth largest among all defenders in the NHL. Is he that good? Trouba is a fine player and will make the Rangers’ defense better, but that is a huge investment in a player that is probably best suited to be a No. 2 defender on a contending team. Risky move for the Rangers, but a huge win for the player across the board.

More RFA signing news:
Jets lock up Connor with seven-year contract
Avalanche avoid breaking bank with Rantanen’s contract
Jets come to short-term agreement with Laine

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.

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.

Flyers re-sign Travis Konecny to 6-year, $33 million deal

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Another domino in the NHL’s restricted free agency saga has fallen.

The Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday that they have re-signed forward Travis Konecny to a six-year contract that will pay him $5.5 million per year through the end of the 2023-24 season. Konecny was the last of the Flyers’ unsigned RFA’s, and his new deal means that general manager Chuck Fletcher’s offseason checklist is now complete.

“We are happy to have Travis under contract for the next six seasons,” said Fletcher in a statement released by the team. “Travis has shown progression in each of his three seasons and is an integral part of our group of young forwards. His speed, skill and tenacity sets him apart in today’s NHL.”

The 22-year-old Konecny is coming off a 24-goal, 49-point performance for the Flyers a year ago, a stat line that was almost identical to what he did the year before. He figures to be a significant part of the Flyers’ core in the coming seasons and is one of eight players the team has signed through at least 2022, joining Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Even if he never becomes anything more than a 25-goal, 50-point player that is still a pretty strong contract for the Flyers, and there is still a chance he is capable of more.

With Konecny now signed the list of remaining unsigned RFA’s throughout the league is down to Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Mathew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Brandon Carlo, Julius Honka, Anthony DeAngelo, and Saku Maenalanen.

MORE:
Provorov signs 6-year, $40.5 million deal with Flyers
• 
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.