Quick Hits and Musings: Forward Depth Chart, Haula, TIFH
Quick Hits: October 26, 2020
1) The Flyers have a bit of a logjam at forward between their returning veterans and rookie hopefuls. As of now, the forward chart looks something like this (based on last season's lines, the return of Oskar Lindblom and hopeful return of Nolan Patrick, plus the offseason departures of Tyler Pitlick, Derek Grant and Nate Thompson):
Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom - Kevin Hayes - Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk - [Nolan Patrick] - Joel Farabee (if he plays RW instead of LW)
Michael Raffl - Scott Laughton - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Trying to win a spot: Morgan Frost, Tanner Laczynski, Wade Allison, Linus Sandin, Connor Bunnaman.
Others in the mix: German Rubtsov, Carsen Twarynski, David Kase.
What are your feelings on this mixture? Mine are that, there is a lot of depth and multiple promising young players. In terms of advancement from 2019-20 to potentially win the Metro (or whatever revised divisions might look like in a pandemic-related realignment) or, more importantly, to go further in the playoffs, there are some leaps of faith that will need to be taken.
* There is still considerable reliance on getting strong seasons -- especially down the stretch and the playoffs -- from the core of older forwards on expensive contracts.
* The Flyers currently must hope that either Patrick is healthy and productive or the 3C-by-committee approach will be sufficient again. Meanwhile, the team still needs to either to take a leap of faith that Phil Myers or Travis Sanheim takes the next step and become a bonafide No. 2 defenseman or else go acquire a veteran who can absorb the defensive portion of the "Matt Niskanen role" and enable the Sanheim/Myers pairing to stay together.
The thought on absolutely NEEDING all three of these things to fall in place in order to improve on this past season's showing makes me nervous; especially the 2D and 3C slots. I really hope that Patrick (both for quality of life sake and for hockey) has no setbacks and makes a strong return. I also hope that Frost makes himself impossible to send back to the Phantoms, even if he has to do it as a winger rather at center. I am hopeful that Laczynski in particular will challenge for a bottom six role sooner than later, and that the now-healthy Allison is back to the form he showed in his collegiate sophomore season before his ACL tear (when there were thoughts he could be on a fast-track to being an NHL power forward).
What are the Flyers options if Patrick isn't ready or they send Frost back to the Phantoms? General manager Chuck Fletcher said earlier this month that moving Giroux from 1LW to 3C might be tried or asking Scott Laughton to go back to 3C rather than the hybrid LW2/3 and 3C might be a possibility. Unfortunately, the more likely answer is that will be another committee arrangement that goes game-by-game or week-by-week (if the team itself in a groove for awhile).
2) Are there insurance policies still out there on the UFA market who could address at least one of these question marks for a season? A lot of Flyers fans seem to home in on Mike Hoffman as a goal-scoring wing option. Personally, I'd rather the Flyers look at a one-year deal for a player such as Erik Haula. Why Haula, who has had some injury issues of his own the last two years?
* He is a bankable double-digit goal scorer. I wouldn't expect Haula to have another 29-goal season like he did with Vegas in 2017-18 but he can you 12 to 20 or a prorated equivalent.
* He is versatile enough to move around the lineup and can play center (good faceoff man, too) or wing.Thus, if Patrick IS healthy, Haula could play a wing spot (or, alternatively, Laughton could remain primarily a winger).
* He's been an all-situations player who can play PK or PP2 as needed.
* He's got great wheels. Haula would instantly be one of the Flyers' fastest-skating forwards on a club that could use a team speed upgrade and, if he plays 3C, a change-of-pace option from the styles of Couturier and Kevin Hayes.
* When you dig into Haula's underlying numbers, you find that he's often in the break-even ballpark in possession metrics. His lines don't dominate puck possession but they don't get caved either. That's acceptable for the tertiary line on the depth chart. Just as important, he's adaptable. Haula has had seasons of heavy D-zone start usage, seasons where he's at about a 50-50 zone start split and times where he's had more attack zone starts than defensive zone starts at 5-on-5.
In short, this isn't a player who, by himself, is going to move the needle much but he can be a useful supporting piece. Since Haula's still sitting out on the UFA market and has had injury issues that limited him to 15 games in 2018-19 and 48 games for the Hurricanes and Panthers this past season, he's likely going to have to take a one-year contract with a cut from the $2.75 million he made on his last deal. There's also the familiarity factor with Fletcher, because Haula spent the first four seasons of his career with Minnesota before the Wild lost him to the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft (and he had his 29-goal season upon arrival).
Adding Haula would only increase the aforementioned logjam up front and might block some of the young players for up to a year, but I personally think that a vet insurance policy on Patrick isn't the worst idea in the world. Haula dressed in every game of Florida's abbreviated playoff run so, at least right now, he's healthy.
By the way, Haula's never really done much damage in his career games against Philly but I've seen him do plenty against the Dallas Stars with his speed. It's been rumored that Pittsburgh is eyeing the player on a one-year deal.
3) Allsvenskan: Flyers/Phantoms rookie prospect Linus Högberg is in action today with HC Vita Hästen as they take on Västerås IK in a road game. To date, Högberg has two assists, seven shots on goal and a minus-two traditional plus-minus (+3, -5) in seven games played for the 11th-place team.
4) Today in Flyers History: October 26
* 1969: Bernie Parent battled his childhood idol (and subsequent goaltending mentor) Jacques Plante to a draw in a 0-0 tie between the Flyers and St. Louis Blues at the Spectrum. The 24-year-old Parent stopped all 25 shots he faced, while the 40-year-old Plante turned back all 26 shots fired on his net. A crowd of 13,032 attended the game, which was one of the most memorable nights of Parent's early career; almost on par with being the winning goaltender in the Flyers' first game in Montreal during the inaugural 1967-68 season.
The backstory: When Parent was growing up in the Rosemont section of Montreal, Jacques Plante's sister lived on the same street as the Parent family's home. Bernie and his friends idolized the star goaltender. They were too nervos to approach Plante directly, however, when he would periodically make a visit to his sister's home. Instead, they would hide behind the bushes to get a glimpse of the Montreal Canadiens star walking inside.
Years later, when Parent was traded by the Flyers to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1970-71 season, Plante became his teammate. Despite a reputation for being a loner, Plante took a liking to Parent and mentored him to go from being a good NHL goaltender to one of the all-time greats. In the late 1970s, Plante became a part-time goaltending coach for the Flyers; the first goalie coach in franchise history.
* 1975: Bill Barber racked up his second career hat trick as the Flyer pummeled the New York Rangers, 7-2, at Madison Square Garden.
* 1986: Rookie goaltender Ron Hextall ran his record to 5-1-0 as the Flyers down the Minnesota North Stars at the Spectrum, 4-1. He yielded only a Dino Ciccarelli power play goal late in the second period among the 30 shots he faced. Ilkka Sinisalo (power play), Peter Zezel, Lindsay Carson and Rick Tocchet (power play) provided the goal support
* 2002: Just 16 seconds after the opening faceoff of a 6-2 Flyers road win over the New York Islanders, Justin Williams put the Flyers ahead 1-0. Fifteen seconds later, Michal Handzus made it 2-0. The two goals in 31 seconds set a franchise record for the fastest two goals from the start of a game; the third-fastest in NHL league history.
* 2013: Vincent Lecavalier notched a hat trick as the Flyers downed the host New York Islanders, 5-2, at Nassau County Coliseum. Victorious goaltender Steve Mason was sharp in net, turning back 26 of 28 shots.