In some ways, the Flyers’ losing to the Islanders on Thursday in a shootout and collapsing against the Sabres on Sunday were the best things that could have happened for general manager Chuck Fletcher.
The NFL is fond of pointing out that you are what your record says you are, and the sixth-place Flyers were not — and are not — contending for a championship this season, no matter if they would have picked up six points over the last five days instead of (sad trombone) three.
Signing Scott Laughton to a five-year extension was the most notable move at the trade deadline. Though it seems like an extra year or two too long, his $3.0 million annually should be a bargain. He’ll enter next year still just 27 years old, and his versatility is being rewarded.
The rest of the roster, however, should be very nervous this summer.
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Flyers can only watch as East Division gets even stronger
In poker parlance, the four teams at the top of the East Division had pocket aces while the Flyers and Rangers had a deuce and a seven. Sometimes, you gotta know when to fold them.
“The situation we put ourselves in, you know, our reality,” Fletcher said, “that’s what led to our situation today. The priority was really looking at Scott Laughton. If we subtracted him from our lineup, that would be a big hole. Not just for this year, but going forward.”
So the Flyers re-signed Laughton, and dealt pending unrestricted free agents Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson while the teams in the current four playoff positions made aggressive moves. So let’s hand out some observations.
Biggest gamble. Washington. Anthony Mantha had 25 goals two years ago, but he was stuck in purgatory in Detroit. The Capitals gave up Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-rounder this year and a second-rounder next year for the 6-foot-5, 234-pound Mantha. That’s a lot. Mantha is signed through 2023-24, so he figures to be a headache for the Flyers for a few years.
The big winner. Boston, for getting Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from Buffalo for a bottom-6 winger and a second-round pick. This would have been the biggest gamble since Hall, a former MVP, has fewer goals over the last month than Samuel Morin. But Boston gave up very little, though it will pay half of Hall’s salary.
Look who’s back. The Penguins landed veteran Jeff Carter, who had eight goals in 40 games for the Kings. Carter turned 36 on New Year’s Day, but you just know he and Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall will be celebrating with the Stanley Cup on the Jersey Shore beach this summer.
Don’t forget Lou. The Islanders have the stingiest defense in the division and last week helped mitigate the loss of captain Anders Lee by acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Lou Lamoriello is perhaps the shrewdest GM in the league, so underestimate these moves at your own peril.
Poor Buffalo. The Sabres had the jewel of the pending UFA class (Hall), but were hamstrung by Hall’s limited list of teams to which he’d be willing to be traded. This season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Sabres. Somehow, they still managed to throw a couple of M-80s into the Flyers’ hopes.
Things to know
Fletcher made it clear he intends to protect Laughton from the Seattle expansion draft. “Those type of players are hard to get,” he said. “He’s part of the solution for us going forward.”
“For so many years, especially this past decade of abject and uninterrupted mediocrity, the Flyers have too often taken the path of least resistance when it came to trying to improve.” Mike Sielski says that school of thought is changing, and it’s refreshing to see.
From the lips of this renowned former NHL coach to the hockey gods’ ears: “I wouldn’t worry too much about Carter Hart. Young goalies go through this and I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”
Even Alain Vigneault was stunned by Sunday’s crippling loss to the Sabres. “It’s hard to explain,” the coach said. “We had that game in total control and we were giving them almost nothing. We just blew it.” Sam Carchidi has the postmortem.
From the archives: Remembering Ed Snider and his humble beginnings, mopping floors and other menial tasks at his father’s grocery store. He had “the cleanest vegetable bins ever.”
From the notebook
The Bruins (48 points) have played two fewer games than the Flyers (44 points). The gap will narrow to one when Boston plays on April 20. The second won’t be until the Bruins’ final game of the season. Boston will visit Washington on May 11, the day after the Flyers finish up by hosting New Jersey.
It’s an undeniable advantage, especially after the Flyers hacked up a certain win to Buffalo on Sunday. But should the Flyers go on a heater, there’s another way to look at it.
“They have two games in hand, but they also have a lot of hockey to play in a short amount of time,” Vigneault said optimistically after the Flyers’ win over Boston on Saturday. “So you never know how it’s going to turn out.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Games remaining by opponent in East Division standings order:
Bruins (48 points, 17 games remaining): vs. Washington 2, vs. N.Y. Islanders 3, vs. Pittsburgh 2, vs. N.Y. Rangers 2, vs. New Jersey 2, vs. Buffalo 6.
Rangers (44 points, 15 games remaining): vs. Washington 2, vs. N.Y. Islanders 3, vs. Boston 2, vs. Flyers 2, vs. New Jersey 4, vs. Buffalo 2.
Flyers (44 points, 15 games remaining): Washington 4, N.Y. Islanders 1, Pittsburgh 3, N.Y. Rangers 2, New Jersey 5,
Did you see that former Flyers farmhand Anthony Stolarz made 46 saves for the Anaheim Ducks in a 4-0 win over San Jose on Monday? It’s the most saves in a shutout in team history, breaking a record shared by former Flyer Dominic Roussel.
It was just the third start of the season for Stolarz, 27, a second-round pick of the Flyers in 2012. The Ducks (13-23-7) are in last place in the West Division.
The NHL sent out an interesting list the other day noting that Patrick Marleau’s 72 wins against the L.A. Kings are the most against one opponent among players who debuted after the league’s initial expansion in 1967-68.
I’d have thought Jaromir Jagr (ninth with 65 wins against the Islanders) would have been higher since he played for Pittsburgh, the Rangers, New Jersey and the Flyers.
Other players on the list include Al MacInnis, who beat Vancouver 70 times, Ditto for Ray Bourque, who also won 70 games against the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise. Nick Lidstrom’s Red Wings won 69 games against St. Louis.
Flyers’ next 5
Tuesday: at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBCSP, NBCSN)
Thursday: at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
Saturday: vs. Washington, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSP, NHLN)
Sunday: vs. N.Y. Islanders, 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Thursday, April 22: at N.Y. Rangers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP)
From the mailbag
Season ended long ago. This team isn’t close to being a contender and the prospects might be deep, but they’re very average by the looks of them. Fletcher’s gonna need to turn water to wine. Don’t see any chance of him turning this team into a contender. He’s also average.
Laughton is a versatile player who rarely makes mistakes, plays with some intensity, can kill penalties and has learned to be defensively responsible in recent years after realizing he was never to become a top-six player. He was due a pay raise, I’m fine with that. But I don’t get why, given his overall skill set and age, he gets FIVE years.
— Inquirer.com user Dominic Berlemann
Just my interpretation, but when Chuck Fletcher was asked by @MikeSielski about firing any coaches in the offseason, his emphatic “No” was said with such an air of disdain that it made me think he is disgusted with how some players have performed. No blame on coaches.