- Flyers goaltender Anthony Stolarz took part in a full practice today, reports Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News (Twitter link). He appears to be on track to return following the All-Star break. Stolarz has struggled this season, posting a 3.90 GAA and a .880 SV% in nine appearances but he will give Philadelphia another option between the pipes. They could then opt to waive the recently-acquired Mike McKenna or perhaps return Carter Hart to the minors although that scenario seems unlikely at this point given how the youngster has fared so far. The Flyers carried three goalies earlier in the season and could do that again although they’d need to free up a roster spot first to do so.
A day of minor trades continues with a somewhat more high-profile swap between the Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes. The third deal of the day sees forward Jordan Weal heading to Arizona in exchange for a 2019 sixth-round pick and ECHL defenseman Jacob Graves, as first reported by Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and later confirmed by the teams. Weal is an impending unrestricted free agent.
While it may seem strange that the Coyotes, just three points ahead of 30th-place Flyers in the league standings, are acquiring a rental player, one look at Arizona’s injury report will help to explain the move. The team has been without Christian Dvorak all season, lost Nick Schmaltz for the remainder of the year, have been missing Michael Grabner since early December, and today added Brad Richardson to the injured reserve. The team is sorely lacking in NHL-caliber forwards and found one in Weal for a relatively affordable price. Weal is likely to slide into a top-nine role for the Coyotes and could treat the opportunity as a tryout for a new contract, so as to avoid what might be a quiet off-season market for his services.
Weal, 26, is just two years removed from a season in which scored better than a point-per-game in the AHL for a half season and better than a half point-per-game with the Flyers for the other half. At 24, Weal hit the open market as a Group 6 UFA, but Philadelphia paid to keep him around with a two-year contract worth $1.75MM per year, despite having less than half a season of NHL experience. He has fallen short of expectations as a full-time player, recording 21 points in 69 games with the Flyers last season and just nine points through 28 games this year, serving as a frequent healthy scratch over both campaigns. Where Weal has excelled this season is at the face-off dot, with an impressive 59.7% mark. He has also been a strong possession player, holding a 54.8 Corsi For % that trailed only Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny among Flyers forwards. The scoring has simply been lacking from Weal, an issue that the struggling Flyers could not afford to let him work out. While Weal may seem like just another depth piece on a Coyotes team filled with similar players, GM John Chayka will likely take a look at him in a variety of situations to see whether or not he would be a long-term fit in Arizona. Don’t rule out the possibility that he could be traded again before the deadline – or waived – if he gets off to a poor start. Regardless, Weal certainly wasn’t going to be a fit moving forward in Philadelphia and new GM Chuck Fletcher will be happy to land a draft pick for a player he planned to let walk.
Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds is one of the more notable pending unrestricted free agents around the league. His playing style will be endearing to several contending teams as a rental player and even more in free agency. With that in mind, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported in an appearance on NBCSN (video link) that it’s “more likely than not” that Simmonds is dealt before next month’s trade deadline although there have been discussions regarding a potential extension in recent days as well.
The 30-year-old is on pace to surpass the 20-goal mark for the sixth straight season and is doing so while producing more at even strength than on the power play, something that hasn’t been the case in recent years. He also remains one of Philadelphia’s most physical players. However, that rugged playing style makes him a larger risk in terms of injuries and while that may not be as much of a concern for 2018-19, it will be when it’s time to give him a new contract.
Simmonds is in the final season of a team-friendly contract that carries a cap hit of $3.975MM (with a $5MM salary) and a 12-team no-trade clause. McKenzie noted that the expectation is that he’ll easily be able to surpass that salary on his next contract, suggesting that it could approach $6MM per year on a contract of around five years or longer. The Flyers have considerable payroll flexibility for next season and beyond but they also have several prominent young players in need of new deals within the next couple of years. By the time they earmark enough money to accomplish that and perhaps look to fill some other holes on the roster (perhaps including a veteran goaltender to help mentor Carter Hart), there may not be enough wiggle room for Philadelphia to keep Simmonds around on that type of contract.
Assuming that they indeed go the trade route, it will be interesting to see what type of return they covet. Given Simmonds’ contract and pedigree, GM Chuck Fletcher should have no trouble commanding a significant return. However, the standard around selling at this time of the year is draft picks and young prospects but despite their struggles this season, they’re a team that will be looking to get back into contention sooner rather than later. Accordingly, NHL-ready prospects could be coveted in the hopes that they can become a part of Philadelphia’s core in the near future. Either way, with Simmonds sitting as one of the top rentals on a team that isn’t looking to enter into a long-term rebuild, the Flyers are certainly going to be a team to watch for in the weeks to come.
It seems as though the biggest name in the rumor mill of late is that of Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who remains unsigned past this season and could be a huge help to basically any Stanley Cup contender. His unique mix of skills is a difficult thing to come by, and a reasonable cap hit of $3.975MM makes him able to fit into almost anyone’s budget.
That’s not to say that he is guaranteed to be traded. Under former GM Ron Hextall the Flyers had talked about an extension with Simmonds that would keep him in Philadelphia for several more years, but it’s unclear where new GM Chuck Fletcher stands on the matter, though he had previously tried to acquire the winger when in Minnesota. Now, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic (subscription required) reports that Fletcher and agent Eustace King have spoken recently and that another conversation will take place this week.
If he doesn’t re-sign in Philadelphia and the Flyers decide to move him at the deadline, there won’t be any shortage of suitors for Simmonds. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been linked because of their apparent need for a physical net-front presence and it being Simmonds’ hometown, while Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Calgary have also been suggested as good landing spots—though no link has been reported between any of them.
The Flyers have lost eight consecutive games and fallen all the way to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, a clear sign that they will be sellers at the deadline. Simmonds is easily their most attractive expiring contract, though obviously Fletcher could choose to place a bigger explosive in the room and change the entire look of the team.
Where do you think Simmonds will end the season? Does he re-sign with the Flyers and try to help them flip the script next season, or will he be bought by the highest bidder at the deadline for a deep playoff run? Cast your vote below and explain your reasoning in the comment section.
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In a move that’s sure to solve their goaltending woes, the Philadelphia Flyers have claimed Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. The Canucks now face a dilemma in their minor league crease, given that Thatcher Demko has indeed been recalled as expected. For the Flyers, another goalie was needed after Michal Neuvirth suffered another minor injury. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher explained the decision:
Mike provides our organization added depth as we continue to battle injuries at the goaltending position. He is a veteran goaltender with a tremendous amount of professional experience.
Tremendous amount of experience may be an understatement when it comes to McKenna. The 35-year old goaltender has played just 34 games at the NHL level, but has suited up more than 500 times in the minor leagues since his debut in 2005. While Carter Hart is expected to carry the load, McKenna is a good option to hold the backup role until Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz or Brian Elliott are ready to return to action.
McKenna’s claim is an interesting one for several other teams around the league, including the Canucks themselves. The team had only just acquired the veteran goaltender from the Ottawa Senators and obviously hoped they would be able to get him through waivers today. The Utica Comets, Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, were already without Richard Bachman due to a long-term injury and have now lost Demko to the NHL. That leaves them without a starting goaltender for now, something that Vancouver will have to address quickly.
Another is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who very well could have put in a claim on McKenna given their own injury woes in net. Frederik Andersen is still out with a groin injury and the team confirmed that Garret Sparks has been diagnosed with a concussion. That leaves Michael Hutchinson as the lone experienced goaltender in Toronto, something they clearly are uncomfortable with.
The Philadelphia Flyers, win-less in their last five games, have struggled with injuries at every position this season. With 39 games under their belt already, Philadelphia approaches the midway point of the season as the last-place team in the Metropolitan Division and currently 12 points out of a playoff spot. While new general manager Chuck Fletcher has a reputation for making big trades, the team seems unlikely to be anything but a seller unless their fortunes change dramatically in the second half. Any chance of that happening thus depends on the team getting back to full health and staying that way, allowing for some consistency on the roster to yield results. The Flyers today released an update on six players currently sidelined, paired with predictions of when they might return to action.
The most pressing injury update obviously belongs to starting goaltender Brian Elliott. Elliott, out since mid-November with a lower-body injury thought to be a groin injury, has played in just 14 games this season for the Flyers. With injuries hampering Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon, and Anthony Stolarz (also currently out) at times this season as well, Elliott is one of six different keepers to man the Philadelphia net this season, none of whom have had much success. Elliott remains the Flyers’ top option and best chance of winning games. The team relayed that they expect the veteran net minder to finally return to action in the next 10-14 days. They also added that Stolarz, who missed almost the entire 2017-18 season due to injury, is also on the mend and should be back from his own lower-body injury within days.
On the blue line, veteran Andrew MacDonald is also struggling with a lower-body injury, but should not miss much time. The Flyers announced that he will sit for the team’s next two games, but should resume skating on the other side of the weekend. More importantly, young counterpart Samuel Morin, who has yet to play this season due to off-season ACL surgery, is finally progressing toward a return. However, a serious knee injury takes time and, while Morin is back at practice with the team, they don’t expect him to be game-ready until later in February. Up front, young center Nolan Patrick is not expected to miss much time with a recently-suffered upper-body injury. Patrick has missed the team’s past three games, but is close to being cleared and is expected to play at some point next week. Finally, Corban Knight, out since late October following surgery to repair a broke collarbone, is ahead of schedule on his initial four month timeline. Knight will be re-evaluated later this month and is expected to return in February.
The question now is whether or not the improved health of the Flyers makes a difference. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently named Philadelphia as a team he expected to be active on the trade market, but acknowledged that it is still unclear whether they consider themselves buyers or sellers. Despite the poor on-ice performance, Fletcher still sees the potential in his new club and would like to improve the roster rather than dismantle it. However, if health alone isn’t enough to close the gap substantially by the NHL Trade Deadline, he may have no choice but to move out his expendable pieces. Elliott, an impending unrestricted free agent, could be a valued piece for teams with needs in net, especially if he can prove that he is back at full strength with some strong play. Neuvirth and Stolarz, who also have expiring contracts, are other potential goalie rentals, albeit less likely to move. The real value for the Flyers would come from moving several forwards, namely Wayne Simmonds, but also fellow UFA’s Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal. Whether or not it comes to that for Fletcher and the Flyers depends on the team’s play down the stretch and they hope that this upcoming return to health helps to make the difference.
The NHL released the Three Stars for last week, and at the top is a man who has been there before. Patrick Kane, the electric winger for the Chicago Blackhawks comes in at the top spot, after recording five goals in just two games. The Blackhawks haven’t had much to celebrate this season, but Kane provided the fans with two game-winners to get them on the right track around Christmas. Even in an extremely down year for Chicago, Kane is having an outstanding season with 50 points in 40 games. He’s on track to record the second 40-goal, 100-point season of his career, which in 2016 won him the Art Ross, Hart and Ted Lindsay trophies as the league’s best player.
In the other two spots are a pair of youngsters trying to stand up to players like Kane. Second place goes to Mathew Barzal, who finished his week by showing New York Islanders fans that they don’t need John Tavares anymore. Barzal recorded a hat trick while the team demolished Tavares and the Maple Leafs 4-0 on Saturday night. In third is a newcomer to the list, MacKenzie Blackwood. The New Jersey Devils goaltender has exploded onto the scene and posted another shutout this afternoon to improve his numbers even further. The Devils may have found their goaltender of the present, let alone the future.
- Philadelphia Flyers forward Jori Lehtera has been charged with buying cocaine in Finland, according to Tricia L. Nadolny of the Philadelphia Inquirer, though the NHL denies that he has actually been legally served at this point. Lehtera denies all charges, while the prosecutors are seeking a five-month sentence. Obviously there is more to come in this story, but for now deputy commissioner Bill Daly has told the Inquirer “we will not be intervening at this point and will continue to monitor the legal proceedings.”
- Drake Caggiula is part of the Chicago Blackhawks organization today, but it could have happened years ago had he made a different decision. According to Charlie Roumeliotis of NBCS Chicago, the Blackhawks pursued Caggiula out of college at the University of North Dakota and were a finalist for his services before he decided to sign and play with his childhood friend Connor McDavid in Edmonton. The team followed his progress and jumped at the chance to acquire him yesterday.
Though the Philadelphia Flyers are sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division, they haven’t yet thrown in the towel. Several injured goaltenders are still working to try and get back to the team, and today GM Chuck Fletcher told reporters including Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer that Brian Elliott will not require surgery. Elliott should be back in three weeks, which makes him an interesting trade candidate at the deadline if the Flyers haven’t climbed back into the playoff picture.
Elliott, 33, is on the final year of his current contract and carries a $2.75MM cap hit. He could very well be heading for unrestricted free agency in the summer given the emergence of Carter Hart as the likely starting option next season, meaning he could be a short-term rental for a playoff team looking for some veteran depth. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that at one point Elliott was considered a premiere starter in the league, twice leading the league in save percentage as a member of the St. Louis Blues and even earning some Hart Trophy votes in 2011-12.
Now years removed from that performance, Elliott still wasn’t the biggest problem in Philadelphia before his injury. Posting a .911 save percentage in 14 appearances, he looked more than capable to carry at least a partial starter load or perform as the reliable backup. That’s something that playoff teams may be interested in, especially if they’ve dealt with injury concerns to their number one options already. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance, just went out and spent a draft pick to acquire Michael Hutchinson to give them some more experience at the position, knowing that they were a few injuries away from having Kasimir Kaskisuo suit up for a first round playoff game.
There is also the opportunity for Elliott to show that he can be a useful backup and mentor to Hart going forward, and perhaps sign an extension with the Flyers. It’s not clear how the goaltending situation will shake out exactly given the pending UFA status of both Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, meaning the stretch run could be a showcase for both of them to prove they can still help the team going forward.
With the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship underway in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, those teams that have yet to fill out their rosters continue to do so in the midst of the first round. Sweden made a notable addition to close out their roster, adding another goaltender in Olle Eriksson Ek, the IIHF announced. The 19-year-old keeper was a fifth-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2017 and was a backup for Sweden at the WJC last year. Eriksson Ek is having an underwhelming season with BIK Karlskoga of the Allsvenskan, the Swedish minor leagues, and has yet to appear in the SHL. However, the younger brother of Minnesota Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek has undeniable athleticism and ability and was worthy of a roster spot again for the Swedes. However, so long as Samuel Ersson, a Philadelphia Flyers fifth-rounder this year, continues his hot start to the tournament, Eriksson Ek is unlikely to see any action.
- The Czech Republic has also rounded out their roster with addition of a pair of NHL prospects. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman notes that the Czechs have added forward Jan Jenik and defenseman Radim Salda to their tournament team. Jenik was a third-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes back in June and has been a regular contributor for Bili Tygri Liberec of the top Czech league. Jenik is a smart, hard-working player who will bring a boost to the bottom-six for the Czechs. Salda is also a recent selection, a seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Salda currently plays for Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL and brings the offensive touch that is typical of defenders out of that league. Salda is having a strong season for Rimouski and could prove to be a major addition on the Czech blue line. The Czechs have yet to win a game in regulation through two contests and face a tough challenge in the Canadians up next. The team hopes their newest additions can both be difference makers through the rest of their games.
- When it was announced that American prodigy Jack Hughes would miss his team’s game against Kazakhstan yesterday, few were concerned, as the Americans won handily anyway, 8-2. However, head coach Mike Hastings has now announced that Hughes will also miss tonight’s game against another undefeated team in Sweden and that is concerning. Hastings added that Hughes is “progressing” toward getting back in the lineup, but how long the presumptive 2019 No. 1 overall pick remains out with this undisclosed injury could dictate how far the U.S. goes in the tournament.
- Hastings also announced that Boston Bruins prospect Kyle Keyser will be back in net tonight for the Americans after getting a rest against the underdog Kazakhstan team. With top 2019-eligible goalie Spencer Knight and impressive collegiate keeper and Montreal Canadiens draft pick Cayden Primeau also on the roster, few expected the undrafted Keyser to be the go-to goalie for the Americans. However, Keyser is in the midst of a dominant season for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and performed well in the Americans first game of the tournament, so Hastings seems content to ride Keyser’s hot hand for as long as he can.
- Flyers center Nolan Patrick will miss the next three games due to an upper-body injury sustained on Thursday against Tampa Bay, notes Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer. His sophomore season has not gone as anyone has hoped as he has managed just five goals and six assists through 33 games, a pace that’s below his output from his rookie year. Winger Jordan Weal is set to take his place in the lineup.