Reshaping the Flyers' 'D'
GM Ron Hextall might like to make room for his young defense prospects, but he has to find buyers for current blue liners.
RON HEXTALL remains as a tight-lipped as ever about his vision for the Flyers.
He did, however, let one little tease slip last week at a "town hall" style meeting with season-ticketholders, when asked if he could quickly retool the Flyers into a playoff team this summer.
"You can plan all you want," Hextall told one group, "but someone else has to buy what you're selling."
You'd have to think the quickest way to reshape the Flyers is to "sell" some of the defensemen on the roster this summer to make room for younger players.
Hextall did well at the trade deadline to move Braydon Coburn for first- and third-round picks. The freedom generated from moving Coburn's $4.5 million salary-cap hit for next season wasn't nearly as valuable as the picks, but that flexibility cannot be understated.
The complicating factor was adding a player like Radko Gudas in the deal.
Gudas, 24, is recovering from a January knee surgery and could be skating with the team again before the regular season ends on April 11. He will carry just a $992,000 salary-cap hit for next season - the final year of his deal - which is the ideal salary for a young third pairing defenseman.
Yet, Gudas is still another body in the logjam clogging up space for the "big four" blue line prospects in Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin.
Including Gudas, the Flyers have five other defensemen with NHL contracts next season: Mark Streit, Nick Grossmann, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn and Nick Schultz. Michael Del Zotto, 24, is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent and, frankly, is too solid a young player to let walk.
Very quickly, that puts the Flyers at seven defensemen - and little to no room for one of those four to win a job. Icing those seven players next season would leave an awfully stagnant feeling around the Flyers, a non-playoff team seemingly treading water.
After watching Sanheim in Calgary 2 weeks ago, I have a hard time believing he won't be seriously knocking on the door in September. In my eyes, he is well ahead of both Morin and Hagg in development, his natural-given skill on full display. There's no telling what the smooth-skating, 190-pounder will look like after a full summer of training, since he's already gained 10 pounds this season.
That's why what Hextall said last week is a tease. We're all waiting to find out how he'll open up room - but only if someone else is buying.
Jake Voracek deserves some sort of recognition and award for this season. The question is: which one? I published my ballot last week, voting for Steve Mason as the Flyers' MVP. Craig Berube said last week Voracek has been his best player game-in and game-out this season.
You could certainly make an argument that Voracek is the Flyers' MVP. For the first time since 1968, the NHL's leading scorer will not break 90 points. Sidney Crosby entered last night with a two-point edge on Voracek, who nudged back ahead of Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares again on Saturday. That Voracek has been able to keep pace all season, despite a defense that struggles to get him the puck and on a non-playoff team, is remarkable. He's had the best season no one is talking about - in a year in which it's tough to wrap your head around the total league-wide lack of production from stars.
I voted for Mason because there were very few games this season (if any) in which he did not give the Flyers a chance to win. The Flyers' shortfall was lack of scoring, specifically a lack of secondary scoring.
Voracek joked last week that if he knew he was on the brink of the franchise's first Art Ross trophy, he probably would close with one point in eight games. It's hard to believe how much of a non-issue the scoring race is for him personally, since it's one of the few things left to play for besides pride over these last 2 weeks.
He's already won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP (in 2012-13). My guess is he'd trade any hardware for an opportunity to make noise in the first round.
* When the Phantoms' regular season began, who honestly predicted tough guy Zack Stortini would end up with more points than Blair Jones, Darroll Powe, Petr Straka, Jay Rosehill, and nearly as many as Taylor Leier?
* What's going on with Luke Schenn? The Flyers have not provided any medical update about the 25-year-old defenseman since he sat out the March 21 game in Edmonton with a "lower-body" injury. Schenn didn't practice last week, other than donning his equipment for a team photo on Tuesday.
With Mark Streit and Carlo Colaiacovo both missing Saturday's game with flu-like symptoms, Mark Alt (NHL debut) and Oliver Lauridsen made their season debuts. Brandon Manning, who has been noticeable in all five games played this season, picked up the slack with a career-high 25 minutes and 7 seconds of ice time. It certainly wouldn't hurt the Flyers to give Alt and even 19-year-old rookie Robert Hagg a taste of NHL life over these otherwise meaningless next 2 weeks.