Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Flyers Offseason Wish List: Gagner & White

Yesterday, I basically took the easy way out and said that I'd like to see Ron Hextall re-sign all of the Flyers restricted free agents. That's a really moderate take, because it seems like just about everyone agrees that this team is headed in the right direction. 

The RFA thing was created to help teams retain their younger players (so the good ones don't all end up in Toronto and New York), and I think it'd be wise for Hexy to do just that. That's simple, it's easy, and let's just accept it as the plan and move on.

Unrestricted free agents, on the other hand, are a bit trickier. They can listen to offers from every team in the league, and those teams can make offers without having to send compensatory picks back to the player's previous team.

The Flyers have two unrestricted free agents to deal with (or not) this summer. Let's take a look:

Sam Gagner, Winger (Turns 27 This Summer)

Sam Gagner's contract expired after this season. It was a three-year deal, and it continued his trend of annual raises:

  • 2007-2010 (entry-level contract) - 3 years, $0.875 million cap hit
  • 2010-2012 (RFA) - 2 years, $2.275 million cap hit
  • 2012-2013 (RFA) - 1 year, $3.2 million cap hit
  • 2013-2016 (UFA) - 3 years, $4.8 million cap hit
As it normally goes in the NHL, Gagner's annual earnings increased each year. But I think you can make the argument that his salary will have peaked this season, when he earned $5 million (Arizona retained a portion when they traded him to Philly). 

Is Gagner worth more than $5 million per year? Based on what I found with mid-20s wingers in my Brayden Schenn piece yesterday, I think you'd have a tough time arguing that he is. 

That said, I really enjoyed 89's chemistry with Jake Voracek toward the end of this season, and I'd love to work out a deal that keeps Gagner in Philly for a reasonable cap hit. 

In terms of comparable contracts on the Flyers, I imagine Sam's target contract will be upwards of Matt Read's current deal (4 years, $14.5 million, $3.625 million cap hit). The Flyer's target will probably be something just shy of the deal they just gave Michael Raffl (3 years, $7.05 million, $2.35 million cap hit). 

It comes down to the unrestricted free agent status; someone is going to offer Gagner more than $4 million per year to be a top-line winger, and the Flyers aren't going to be able to provide that dollar figure or role to him. Ultimately, and I'm sad to say it, Gagner is probably joining a new team in the Fall. 

Ryan White, Center/Winger/Grinder (Just Turned 28)

Oh, Whitey, please don't leave us.  

Let me give you the quick history: he was drafted by Montreal in 2006, and split time between the Habs and their AHL affiliate from 2008-2012. He then played two more seasons in Montreal (though he played just 78 games total in those two years), and just finished his second season in Philadelphia (though this was the first time in his career he actually played a full NHL season). 

In looking at his contract history, I learned that White's never had a contract for longer than one year (the lone exception was his 3-year entry level deal). Montreal extended him on a year-by-year basis, as did Philadelphia after his first year with the club. He never made more than $700k in Montreal, and the $800k he earned in his second year in Philly was his largest salary ever. 

And oh boy, what a second year it was. He ended this season by scoring a goal in the playoffs - a greasy one, as he tends to do - and it was the cherry on top of a career year for him. He kept his spot on the fourth line (and second power play unit) all season, and Coach Dave Hakstol used the fourth line just about as much as any fourth line in the entire league. 

White matched his career goal total from his previous six NHL seasons with 11, and set new career marks in points, power play points, and penalty minutes. But, more than anything, it seems like he finally found a fit in the locker room and on the ice. Here's White's direct quote, from Charlie O'Connor's piece on BSH:

"I'd like to be back. It's a good fit to be here in Philly. My family loves it here, I love playing here. When you're somewhere else and maybe things didn't go as well, and then you finally get to a spot where you're getting some opportunity and people around the team all have the same mindset as you do, I think you don't really want to test too many waters, I guess.
Business is business, and hopefully we get something done. Free agency isn't the best situation for every guy. They say it is, but I've been through it a couple of times, and the first time there weren't any offers. Obviously I had a better season this year, so maybe there would be a little bit better of a market, but I would like to be back and be a Flyer.
 Are you searching for money or a new opportunity, or are you searching for a place where you're wanted, a place where you're getting minutes, and you're getting a big part of the chance to help your team win? Knowing the system, knowing the coach, having the coach's respect and having him liking you and playing you is a big thing. I think that's a tough thing to find sometimes. It's almost to the point where -- what do you want to give up to give it away? It's just -- how much is money worth compared to being a Flyer?
Okay, now I'm in tears because I love him so fucking much.

White, at $800k, earned the most of The Untouchables line this season. Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare each earned $712k and will return next year at the same amount.

If Whitey's okay with staying at that cap hit forever, I'll sign him to a lifetime contract right now. What's the most we can actually do, 8 years? It obviously won't happen but I'd throw an 8 year/$6.4 million contract right in front of his face. So what if he's going to be 36 when it ends? Do you think that's going to stop Ryan White from finishing checks along the boards and pulling a top-corner snipe out of his ass a few times a year?

Sorry, I got a little sidetracked there. In reality, it seems like White will happily sign a one-year deal like he's been doing his whole career, and he probably won't fight too hard for a raise because he's getting his chance to actually play. But I'd love to see Hextall reward the best season of his career with a 2- or 3-year contract for about a million bucks a year.

Ryan White is the quintessential "stats can't account for everything" player. His possession metrics are not great, he's only scored double-digit goals once in his professional career, and he has been known to occasionally take a bad penalty. But he's a big Set The Tone guy. He finishes his checks, he forechecks like a motherfucker, and he's one of the first to jump in to stick up for a teammate.

The NHL is certainly heading in a softer direction, but you still need guys like Ryan White. He's nasty, he'll talk shit to everyone within earshot, and (this last part is most important) he's MUCH more skilled than people give him credit for.

If all of that combines and adds up to earning him yet another one-year deal, then great. If he gets some long-term stability for the first time in his career, then it will be well-earned and I'll look forward to seeing him orange for as long as I can.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Flyers Offseason Wish List: Brayden Schenn

I don't think I'm being outlandish when I say the single most important thing on Ron Hextall's agenda this summer is locking up Brayden Schenn with a long-term contract. Schenner will turn 25 this summer, and the former 5th overall pick will be coming off a 2 year/$5 million contract.

We know he's obviously due for a raise. But how big of a raise is he actually due? Double what he was making? Will he command more? Will he command less? Let's take a look. There are two big things to keep in mind when talking about Schenn's upcoming contract.

Thing One: The NHL's RFA Compensation Rule

If you're new to hockey, the Restricted Free Agent tag means two things. First, it means the Flyers have a chance to match any contract that Schenn is offered by another team. And second, if they don't match and some other team steals Baby Schenn from Philly, that team must send back picks to compensate the Flyers.

I think it's ridiculous to think that Schenn could be had for less than $3.6 million per year. He's a first-line winger who contributes on the power play, plays a very strong physical game, and probably could contribute on the penalty kill more if it was asked of him. 

I also think it's ridiculous to think he would command more than $7.3 million. He can't really create for himself at an elite level and he's never scored 30 goals or 60 points. 

So, if some other team were to sign Schenn to an offer sheet that Hextall did not match, we'd be getting at least a first and a third back (plus maybe an additional second if he really gets paid). 

Thing Two: Comparable Players And What They Make

"Top line winger" can mean a lot of things in the NHL. It could mean Patrick Kane or Alex Ovechkin, who combine to make north of $20 million per year. It could mean Daniel Sedin or Patrick Marleau, who make $7 million and $6.7 million respectively but are decidedly on the downslope of their careers, It could also mean a whole host of young guns, like these guys (numbers per General Fanager):
  • Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues (age 24) - $7.5 million average annual value
  • Jordan Eberle, Oilers (age 25) - $6 million
  • Brandon Saad, Blue Jackets (age 23) - $6 million
  • Taylor Hall, Oilers (age 24) - $6 million
  • Matt Duchene, Avalanche (age 25) - $6 million
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (age 23) - $6 million
  • Tyler Seguin, Stars (age 24) - $5.75 million *this is the most team-friendly contract in the league
  • Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (age 23) - $5.725 million
  • Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (age 23) - $5.571 million
  • Jamie Benn, Stars (age 26) - $5.25 million *nevermind, this is the most team-friendly contract in the league
  • Evander Kane, Sabres (age 24) - $5.25 million
  • Gustav Nyquist, Red Wings (age 26) - $4.75 million
  • Jake Voracek, Flyers (age 26) - $4.25 million *note: this contract expires this summer and he will get bumped up to a cap hit of $8.25 million starting next season
  • James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (age 26) - $4.25 million
  • Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (age 26) - $4.1 million
  • Nick Bjugstad, Panthers (age 23) - $4.1 million
  • David Perron, Ducks (age 27) - $3.812 million
  • Matt Beleskey, Bruins (age 27) - $3.8 million
  • Mikkel Boedker, Coyotes (age 26) - $3.75 million
  • Jakob Silfverberg, Ducks (age 25) - $3.75 million
  • Brendan Gallagher, Canadiens (age 23) - $3.75 million
  • Marcus Johansson, Capitals (age 25) - $3.75 million
  • Mark Stone, Senators (age 23) - $3.5 million
  • Reilly Smith, Panthers (age 25) - $3.425 million
  • Ondrej Palat, Lightning (age 25) - $3.333 million
  • Tyler Johnson, Lightning (age 25) - $3.333 million
Now you can take some of these with a grain of salt because a bunch of these guys, like Voracek, are due for pretty hefty raised in the coming months. You can also take the Oilers guys with a whole shaker full of salt because I think the only contract negotiations they have in Edmonton are "You are a former first overall pick so here is six million dollars." 

But you can follow the trend, and I think it's fair to say that Brayden Schenn belongs somewhere in the middle of this group. If I'm Schenn's agent, I'm pointing to the shitheads in Edmonton, Saad, and Skinner. I'm shooting for upwards of $5 million and I'm going to try to convince the Flyers that Schenn is primed for a jump to the Seguin/Benn level of making his contract look like a steal. 

And if I'm Ron Hextall, I'm telling Schenn's agent to go fuck himself. Look at the Oilers, and the Avalanche, and even at (gulp) Jake Voracek. Overpaying for a winger can be crippling, and Schenn hasn't proven that he's an elite player yet. I'd be shooting for something like what JvR and Beleskey make (call it $4 million as a starting point for negotiations on this side). 

Realistically, if we're getting a salary somewhere near $4 million, it's going to be a short-term, 2-year deal. 

But, and this is a big but, if Hexy and his team envision Schenn making that Benn/Seguin jump, I'm fine with a long-term deal for big money. In a perfect world, Schenn would sign Sean Couturier's 6 year/$4.3 million AAV deal. That's the lowest I can see the number being, but I don't think that's happening. The ceiling, at least in my mind, would be Saad's 6 year/$6 million AAV deal. That deal would certainly make me uneasy, but my faith in Ron Hextall is unwavering. 

I am IN on bringing Baby Schenn back to Philly for the long haul, and I trust Hexy to make sure the deal comes in at a cap number that we can all be happy with. 

Flyers Offseason Wish List: Draft Picks

In my initial offseason preview post, I calculated that I expect the Flyers to have between $3-4 million available for two forward spots if the salary cap escalator is not used. That number jumps to between $5-7 million if the escalator is used, which would obviously make dreaming about filling out the roster much easier. But the sense I get from my sources (aka the internet) that it seems like they're going to go with the lower cap number.

So we don't have a ton of room to play with, and we certainly can't go out and afford someone like Steven Stamkos or Kyle Okposo with just $3 million in cap space. How can we add top-end talent to the team without spending out of the ass?

Well, the draft of course.

The draft lottery will be aired this Saturday (April 30th), and from that point on we will know the draft order for actual draft, which happens in June.

By sneaking into the playoffs, the Flyers lost their 1% chance at moving up into the top four on their own, but there's always the possibility that they could trade up from the mid-teens. I previewed a bunch of players that should be available into the teens, but none of them will be immediate impact type players like the top 5-6 prospects.

Here are the odds to win the first pick, which are also tied directly to the odds to land a top-four pick:

One huge note: plan on whoever wins the first pick to keep that pick and take Auston Matthews. I don't think I'm breaking any news there, but it would probably be almost impossible to pry him out of Toronto Edmonton Vancouver Canada.

I appreciate PSG's aggregate rankings for the rest of the field, and I utilize them more than any individual ranking.

Matthews is the number one on literally everyone's board. Laine is second, Puljujarvi is third, and Tkachuk is fourth. There is some debate about the Nylander/Dubois/Chychrun band, and then it kind of tails off from there.

What these 11 players have in common is they're all out of reach for the Flyers with their current pick. Moving into the top four would be great, but the top eight is really the cream of the crop in this draft.

And, actually, as I look at these names along with the various scouting reports online, the only two sure-thing contributors are Matthews and Laine.

I don't want the Flyers to give up as much as it would take to steal one of those two, and so I am officially OUT on Hextall using the draft to plug the forward holes on the 2016-17 Flyers' roster. Let's take a mid-round guy in the first, or maybe use some of the later picks that we have to move up a few spots to steal someone that Hexy likes, and then let's stash that guy in the minors for a year or two and let him develop.

Flyers Offseason Wish List: Part I

The season is over. We should all be at peace with it. The boys in orange overachieved and accomplished more than most of us could have hoped for. A playoff berth, some postseason experience for some of the young guys, and a hard fought battle against the best team in the conference have to make you happy, especially considering the preseason projections for that Flyers team.

As we put the 2015-16 season to bed, let's look forward to next year. There isn't a whole lot of work to do for Ron Hextall, as he already cleared out some of the dead money and there is surprisingly little left for him to dump.

RJ Umberger should get his last year bought out, and we are probably stuck with Mark Streit (in Philadelphia) and Andrew MacDonald (in Lehigh Valley) for the remainder of their contracts. I use the word "stuck" for those two because they're overpaid and noticeably not as good as a pair of $5 million defensemen should be. I will never use the word "stuck" for Nick Schultz and Brandon Manning. They are cheap, they can kill penalties, and they fill roles that every hockey team needs. If you weren't impressed with Schultz's play against Alex Ovechkin this postseason, I don't really know what to tell you.

Matt Read is a name that gets tossed around on Flyers Twitter quite a bit, but he is almost 30 and has 2 years/$7 million remaining. Given the lack of NHL-ready talent in our prospect pool, I think it would be foolish to shop Reader for picks. We'd be selling low and opening up a hole that doesn't currently even exist, and we aren't currently in a position to need to shed salary.

As it stands, we have about $7 million worth of cap space going into next year. That will increase to about $9 million when Vinny Lecavalier announces his retirement, and to about $12 million when Hextall buys out Umberger.

That $12 million can be used to build around this core:

  • Forwards (9): Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, Raffl, Simmonds, Read, Laughton, Vandevelde, Bellemare
  • Defensemen (5): Streit, Schultz, MacDonald, Gostisbehere, Del Zotto
  • Goalies (2): Mason, Neuvirth
I did not include The Prospects because I don't feel confident enough that any of them will start next season in the NHL. I also did not include players that we need to re-sign:
  • Brayden Schenn (RFA) is due somewhere in the $4-5 million range
  • Nick Cousins (RFA) is due about $2 million, and I'd use the 2 year/$3.5 million deal that Sean Couturier signed after his entry-level deal as a comparable
  • I don't care if we re-sign Jordan Weal (RFA) because he's getting stashed in the minors
  • I would like to see Brandon Manning (RFA) and Radko Gudas (RFA) both return. I think Manning can be had for less than $1 million, and I'd love to get Gudas for the Nick Schultz 2 year/$4.5 million deal
  • There are a handful of AHL guys that are expiring RFAs, but the only two that might impact the Flyers next year are winger Petr Straka and defenseman Mark Alt, and we won't count them toward the Flyers' cap just yet
Taking care of the RFAs above leaves us with 11 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. We are obviously set at the goalie position, and the only reason to shake anything up on defense is to clear a spot for Ivan Provorov, if he deserves it. The easiest way to do that would be to send MacDonald to Lehigh Valley again, and I think that benefited everyone involved last year. 

We're good on the back end. But you want 13 forwards on your roster, and this scenario leaves Ron Hextall with (opens calculator) $3-4 million if the cap is at the low estimate and $5-7 million if it's at the high estimate. Of course, those numbers depend on the deals given to the RFAs and whether or not MacDonald starts the season in Allentown. 

The cheap way to go about things would be to re-sign Ryan White for something south of $1 million and call up Straka, Taylor Leier, Travis Konecny, or Colin McDonald. That would leave some breathing room for the season, and you can certainly make the argument that the team just needs to bide its time until reinforcements arrive (those reinforcements, primarily, are Provorov and Travis Sanheim). 

There are, however, some more expensive ways to fill the hole(s) at forward, and I'm going to be looking into some options as the offseason progresses. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Let Me Defend Claude Giroux For A Minute (Plus Flyers Lineup Volume 9)

First of all, before we even talk about anything on the ice, thoughts and prayers to Scott Laughton. I would hope that we get a positive update from the Flyers about his overnight stay at Jefferson, and that the only prescription he needs is a lot of rest this summer.

The team went out and won for Scott (and Mr. Snider) last night, and avoided the embarrassment of having Wristband Night be part of a first-round sweep. Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first career playoff goal, and Andrew MacDonald scored a playoff game-winning goal on a laser from the point.

Captain Claude Giroux assisted on Ghost's goal, as he has so often this season. But he's getting a lot of shit, most notably from Sons Of Penn's Bill Matz (who I usually like).
Bill ranted - for quite a while - about how Giroux is being outplayed and how he just simply isn't good enough. It was the usual argument you hear from dumb Flyers fans, and it normally ends with "we should make [someone else] the captain." The core of the argument is Claude only has one assist, and the Washington trio of Backstrom-Ovechkin-Oshie has been lighting up the box score.

I have two problems with that idea. First, and most important, he's been largely holding his own at even strength in terms of shot generation. Second, which will follow this lengthy game-by-game breakdown, is the line combinations which Dave Hakstol used at the start of the series.

Game 1: Thursday 4/14

Giroux played 10.8 of his 21.7 total minutes at 5-on-5 (5.5 more on the power play, 2.9 shorthanded, 1.0 at 4-on-4). At 5-on-5, the Flyers generated 11 shot attempts - but 6 of them were blocked. You'd hope for more offense generated from the top line, especially this game when it was made up of Giroux, Simmonds, and Voracek.

But this was a low-scoring game at even strength, and it was never going to be a barnburner. The Flyers finished with an xG of 0.72 at even strength, and the Caps finished at 1.04. The Flyers happened to  get shut out by Braden Holtby. Jay Beagle happened to score a goal off of a turnover on an aggressive, trailing-late-in-the-third-period move by Jake Voracek and an inexcusable misjudgment by Shayne Gostisbehere in his first NHL Playoff game.

So yes, Washington outplayed Philadelphia here, but no they did not dominate even strength play in any sense of the word.

On the power play, the Flyers generated 9 shot attempts (6 unblocked) with Giroux quarterbacking, and nearly matched their even strength xG for the whole rest of the game with 0.65. Holtby had one of the best games any goaltender has had against the Flyers all year, but the pressure was there from G's unit.

The problem for the Flyers was the penalty kill, which pressured the Caps into using John Carlson as their number one option, and did not effectively mitigate Carlson's ability to score from the point. The on-ice unit at the time of the goal was Bellemare-Vandevelde-Streit-Schultz. Fore more on this, check out Charlie O'Connor's deep dive into the PK struggles early in the series.

But Carlson scored, Voracek took a risk, Gostisbehere was too focused on getting directly off the ice, and that was all she wrote for the Flyers. And for the people blaming Giroux for not picking up Beagle on his nail-in-the-coffin goal, shut the fuck up. That's on Voracek and Ghost, and he needed to trust his instincts more than he needed to remember his coach's instructions. He'll be fine.

Game 2: Saturday 4/16

Giroux played 14.8 of his 20.7 minutes at 5-on-5 (plus 1.6 on the power play, 1.2 on a 5-on-3, 0.2 on the penalty kill, and 1.4 at 4-on-4). At 5-on-5, the Flyers created 18 shot attempts with Giroux on the ice and allowed just 8.

However, the shots were of a much poorer quality than in game one, and the Flyers' xG with Giroux on the ice at even strength was just 0.41. By comparison, the Cousins-Laughton-Read-Gudas-Manning unit was all in the 0.9-1.0 xG range.

For what it's worth, for the second game in a row the Flyers were held off the scoreboard at 5-on-5 play. The Capitals scored twice at 5-on-5 (one each for Nick Backstrom and Jason Chimera), and both goals came against the Flyers' bottom six forwards.

Again, the penalty kill ruined any chance of the Flyers stealing a win in Washington. The Caps had 1.3 minutes of power play time, generated just 2 unblocked shot attempts, and had a xG of only 0.1. But they scored twice, and Holtby again denied the Flyers at 5-on-5 (their xG was 2.5 but they scored just once) and on the power play (first unit was 1.0, second unit was 0.2, neither scored).

But it's tough to blame the power play woes on Giroux here either, as they generated 9 shot attempts (7 unblocked) and statistically expected a goal with his unit on the ice.

If we're keeping track, that's two games that we're blaming on Holtby and the penalty kill, and zero that we're blaming on Giroux.

Game 3: Monday 4/18

Extracurricular activities aside, this was a bad game to watch. 6-1 final score, more than two dozen minutes played on special teams because of all the penalties, fans throwing debris onto the playing surface, the PA announcer getting fed up with everything, and the home team's alternate captain calling the whole situation "fucking embarrassing" on the bench.

But guess fucking what: at 5-on-5, this was a 1-1 game. Michael Raffl scored early, Alex Ovechkin scored halfway through, and the rest of the Caps' damage was done on the power play.

Going into the third period, it was 2-1 Capitals and the game was within reach if the Flyers could continue their decent 5-on-5 play and maybe draw a penalty and finally kick their power play into gear. I think it's been buried from the history book because of what happened in the third, but after forty minutes the game was a very good one.

I was at the Wells Fargo Center for that fateful final twenty and there's no excuse for what that group of fans did. Booing was fine, and I would say it was certainly deserved for the penalties that were called. By the time Pierre-Edouard Bellemare boarded Dmitri Orlov, the game was out of reach for the Flyers and the fans (and Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning) knew it. Do these look like two athletes who are planning on mounting a comeback?
Looking back on it, the bracelet thing was terrible. But in the moment, it just kind of happened. The referees continued to call (huge homer bias coming here, sue me) questionable penalties on the Flyers, and the toothless penalty kill was picked apart by Kuznetsov, Carlson, Ovechkin, and Beagle.

By the time the minor penalty for delay of game was within reach, the game was over and the players had seemingly given up. So down came more bracelets, and the penalty announcement was met with the largest cheer of the second half of the game.

Throw the whole fucking toothless, dickless, heartless penalty kill out the window. At 5-on-5 play, though he received less than 10 minutes of it, Giroux was an even possession player and just barely lost his xG battle (0.4 to the Caps' 0.5). On a team level, Philly generated an xG of 1.5 to Washington's 0.9 at 5-on-5.

It was an ugly night on Broad Street, but it was not the fault of the team's even strength play and it certainly was not the fault of the captain who was only able to play 9.5 minutes of full-strength hockey.

Game 4: Wednesday 4/20

I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to see this game in person. After the poor showing from the fans on Monday, I wouldn't have blamed the players for packing it in and sending a "fuck you" message to fans by not really trying.

And then my man Joe from Phans Of Philly decided to give me a great deal on his tickets and I went. My logic was simple: the leaders of the team weren't going to let the boys quit, and the fans in attendance were going to go out of their way to support the boys, win or lose. I was so confident in the crowd on my way to the stadium that I would have been okay with a second wristband light show (in retrospect, definitely a good move to not do that again).

The script totally flipped in game four. The Flyers, who had been out-generating the Caps in terms of Expected Goals, fell in that battle 2.9 to 1.5 at 5-on-5 play (in all situations, it was 3.1 to 1.5).

But the Flyers scored a power play goal early (courtesy of Shayne Gostisbehere, set up by a nice head fake from Giroux) and added a second goal that felt like a power play (courtesy of Andrew MacDonald with help from the Giroux-Schenn-Simmonds trio). Then they basically held on for dear life, got the puck deep when they could, and rode Michal Neuvirth to the finish line.

In addition to actually scoring a point, Giroux's line generated nearly twice the full-strength shot attempts as the Caps when they were on the ice. He was trapped in no-mans land on TJ Oshie's goal, I can't deny that, but part of aggressively attacking the puck carrier is taking yourself farther away from potential rebounds. The aggressiveness stifled the Caps' power play, and that unit was finally held off the scoreboard.

The Flyers 3-1 hole in the series can simply not be blamed on Claude Giroux. He's been one of the most effective forwards at even strength, and that's even considering he has played about 19 of his 50 full-strength minutes against the Backstrom-Ovechkin-Oshie line and about 30 minutes against the Niskanen-Alzner pairing. That leads me into my second problem with people like Bill blaming Giroux for this deficit.

Dave Hakstol's Line Combinations

During the crazy run that allowed the Flyers to sneak into the playoffs, the top six was split into a Giroux line and a Voracek line. G was flanked by Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, and Voracek played with just about everyone when he returned from injury (via HockeyViz):

In particular, you see he was playing with Raffl and Couturier to close out the run to the playoffs.

And then, for some reason, Coach Hak decided to get away from that and load up the top line with Giroux-Simmonds-Voracek. As they discussed in the SOP podcast, for some reason Jake seems to play better when he is "the guy" on his line. I can't understand why, after two months of success with his two superstars separated, Hakstol would mess with the rhythm of the team. With Sean Couturier out, it appears he's going to leave them split, and I believe that's the right move.

Flyers Lineup Volume 9

Schenn - Giroux - Simmonds

As the saying goes, dance with you brought you.

Voracek - Raffl - Gagner

I really like how Voracek and Gagner compliment each other in the neutral and attacking zones. They are both creative players with good hands and they work well together via the eye test and the possession/generation numbers. Raffl, though he's been a winger for most of his time in Philadelphia, has the size and the responsibility to play center, and his positioning will eventually pay off if he plays with these two playmakers.

The top six is easy - keep the same guys in the same spots because we just won. The bottom six gets a little tricky, because Laughton is likely out and Bellemare is returning.

White - Cousins - Read

Promotion for Whitey! This might seem like another one of those times where I am stupid because of how much I like the grinders, but White's shown quite a bit of offensive skill this year for the kind of player he's perceived to be. He and Cousins complement each other well in the "pest" category, and this trio also has the ability to move through the neutral zone, crash the net, and generate shots.

Vandevelde - Bellemare - McDonald

I was very impressed with Colin McDonald last night, and I imagine Jordan Weal looked a lot like Brucie from The Longest Yard:

McDonald fills in well on the fourth line, and bingo bango we have our lineup for Game Five in Washington. I'll see you guys all out there on the ice.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Flyers-Red Wings Preview: Things To Watch

If you are any sort of Flyers or Red Wings (or Bruins) fan, you know the implications of tonight's game in Detroit. Whichever team wins will increase their playoff odds by nearly 20%, and whichever team loses will be in a big hole for the rest of the season. If you're looking for different numbers/scenarios, there are better places to go (I'd recommend BSH).

Tonight will be the third and final matchup between Detroit and Philadelphia this season.

Game One: January 17th (Flyers won 2-1 in a shootout) (via War On Ice)

Notable Flyers who played: Gostisbehere, Del Zotto, Umberger, Medvedev, Laughton, Neuvirth

Notable Flyers who did not: Cousins, MacDonald, Mason

Notable Red Wings roster notes: nothing jumps out at me, other than Mrazek in goal

Voracek/Simmonds/Giroux led Flyers forwards in 5-on-5 ice time, with RJ Umberger just behind them. Ryan White got kicked out after like 30 seconds of ice time. Laughton, Read, Bellemare, Schenn, and Vandevelde were definitively behind the top two lines.

Both teams scored their regulation goals at even strength, but the Wings out-shot and out-Corsi'd the Flyers pretty handily (18-14 and 41-25). One reason is the disparity in offensive zone faceoffs - 18 to 4 in favor of Detroit. That can't happen for the Flyers, who have a premier offensive zone draw winner and have some crafty plays to run after those faceoffs.

Both teams had a lot of powerplay time, and they used it to generate 19 (Philly) and 20 (Detroit) shot attempts (4 and 2 of those, respectively, were considered High Danger). But Neuvirth and Mrazek dueled, and the game ended with a rare Flyers shootout win.

Game Two: March 15 (Flyers won 4-3) (via Corsica)

Notable Flyers who played: Laughton, Gagner, Cousins, Mason

Notable Flyers who did not: Voracek, Umberger, Del Zotto, Medvedev

Notable Red Wings roster notes: I remember that this was Andreas Athanasiou's first NHL game, and Mrazek played again

In Jake's absence, the Flyers' 5-on-5 time was split pretty evenly among the following forwards (in order, ranging from 12.5 to 13.5 minutes) Couturier/Simmonds/Schenn/Raffl/Giroux/Vandevelde. Did I miss something in this game? Was Giroux-Vandevelde at even strength done on purpose?

Behind those top six forwards in ice time were Gagner, Bellemare, White, Laughton, Read, Cousins. Now I think I remember - Gagner should be ahead of CVV in the depth chart because he was filling in for Voracek, but Vandy must have gotten stuck out after a penalty kill for an extra shift. Got it.

This was a three phase game. The Flyers caved the Wings in early, scoring two first-period goals and out-shooting Detroit 23-3 in the first twenty minutes. The middle of the game was back-and-forth, with each team scoring a pair of goals in the second period. The final 15 minutes or so was a barrage of Detroit shots - including a Tomas Tatar goal - but the Flyers were able to deny a late equalizer.

Mark Streit and Nick Schultz led the Flyers in ice time. If that happens again tonight - even if it's just because Hakstol likes to be conservative when he gets a lead - I will light myself on fire.

What Are We Looking For In Game 3?

1. The Flyers will, for the second matchup in a row, be without their entire healthy lineup. This time it will be just Del Zotto who sits, as Voracek is back to (basically) 100%. How much of a difference does Jake make, both in the top six and (via the trickle-down effect) the bottom six?

2. The Cousins-Read-Gagner line was together last month, but they've been playing really impressive hockey since then. How much does it matter that we have a legit third line now?

3. Why is Andrew MacDonald playing?

4. Can we please win so we don't have to beat Pittsburgh this weekend?