By Lance Green|2023-01-31T04:13:11+00:00January 31st, 2023|
Let’s face it with the All-Star Break now upon us; the Flyers once again find themselves nothing more than a five-hundred team. They are winning just enough games to be out of the running for the chance to draft a game-changer like Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli and not enough to make the playoffs.
So, what should they do? Well, the first of many things should be to trade away assets like winger James van Riemsdyk (JVR), an impending unrestricted free agent at the season’s end. Philadelphia would be wise to try and get something for him before he walks for nothing after just 31 more games. Now, while JVR may have never turned out to be the player the Flyers thought he would be when they selected him second overall back in 2007, he has proven to be productive over the years. For instance, he has scored 20 or more goals seven times in his career. He scored twenty-five or more goals four times in his career. Thirty or more twice and 35 or more once. On top of that, van Riemsdyk is a 33-year-old veteran with great size (6’3) and strength (208 pounds) that can offer great depth and experience to any playoff-contending team in need of his services.
In previous years, the Flyers have been rumored to have tried to move on from James, but his albatross of a contract hindered that. That’s why, now more than ever, it is imperative that they find a way to facilitate a deal because with van Riemsdyk in the last year of his five-year $35 million contract. His $7,000,000 cap hit should not be that hard of a sell to contending teams considering the Flyers can afford to retain 50% of his salary.
But it doesn’t make a trade imminent the Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher will still have to channel his best-used car salesman and peddle James to the right contending team. For JVR’s stats, this season (8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points) are a far cry from even his totals from last year when he led the Flyers in goals with 24.
The question then becomes, what playoff contender needs James the most? Now there are teams like Calgary, Dallas, and Washington who could use him, but the best fit in my mind would be the Carolina Hurricanes, and here’s why.
Despite losing players to free agency and normal roster turnover, over the years, the Hurricanes have found a way to remain a perennial playoff team, with this year being no different. Once again, Carolina currently finds themselves atop the Metropolitan Division, but lucky for the Flyers the Canes just found out some bad news. Fellow veteran left winger Max Pacioretty who was traded to Carolina by the Las Vegas Golden Knights, has just sustained the second tear of his right Achilles tendon. An injury that will likely put an end to his season, if not his career. Pacioretty, like van Riemsdyk, carries an expiring contract with a $7 million cap hit and was brought to Raleigh to try and add some much-needed veteran experience and guidance to a very youthful Hurricanes roster.
This gives the Flyers the perfect opportunity to unload the burden of JVR and his contract onto a very vulnerable Don Waddell, the Carolina Hurricanes General Manager. Who is probably still swallowing down a fist full of Tums or other antacids right now while contemplating what he will do after hearing the news of Pacioretty’s latest injury.
What’s that now? You don’t trust Fletcher to be able to get this type of deal done? Neither do I, so let’s break down what he should be asking for in return, shall we? The Hurricanes have been known to overpay for a rental at the deadline if they think that player can legitimately help their organization raise a Stanley Cup banner. Now, of course, the Flyers will be looking to acquire future assets, but in my mind, why ask for all draft picks? Even if you hit on one of them, that player could take up to three to five years to develop.
So, here are three enticing but obtainable assets that the Flyers might be able to pry away from the Hurricanes in a trade for van Riemsdyk.
The first is a 22-year-old German sharp shooting forward named Dominik Bokk. Bokk is a 6’2 181 pounder that was originally taken in the first round by the St. Louis Blues back in 2018. After being drafted, Bokk struggled to adjust to the North American-style game. Since then, Dominik has shown a resurgence in his development since taking his talents back to Germany to play in the DEL (Germany’s top professional league). This season Bokk is averaging over a point per game, with him already scoring 24 goals and 25 assists for 49 points in just 42 games played, which, if he can keep it up, projects him to reach totals of 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. Scoring isn’t the only part of his game that should be appealing to the Flyers, though. Bokk can get back and play defense as well, this being made evident by him being projected to finish this season with a +30 average.
If I were Fletcher, a second prospect I would be eager to ask about would be a Finnish forward named Ville Koivunen, a player whose mindset is always set to attack. Ville was drafted by the Hurricanes back in 2021 with their second-round pick. Since then, Koivunen has returned to his native country to play in the Liiga (Finland’s top professional league) and has managed to put up ten goals and eight assists for 18 points this season.
Last but most certainly not least, I would try an obtain 21-year-old Swedish forward Noel Gunler. He is a 6’2 176, pound forward who possesses the kind of lightning-quick release you can only see and appreciate while watching it in super slow motion on the arena’s big screen after he’s already done celebrating the goal. Gunler was selected by the Canes back in the second round of the 2020 draft and can be found currently playing for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. Where this season, he has been able to score eight goals and ten assists for 18 points. Where at the same time, he is projected to finish the season with 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points. The only thing is Noel still has yet to be taught the art of defense. There’s no question he can score on demand, but his -12 average this season shows that he allows his opponents to do so as well.
So, at the end of the day, the Flyers must regain future assets for JVR before his contract expires. Philadelphia does not wish to resign him, and letting him walk for nothing at the end of the season would be foolish. Therefore, with the Flyers looking as though they will not be making the playoffs again this year, they should take the opportunity to cash in on the Hurricanes’ misfortunes by gaining proven prospects that are projecting to be only a year or two away. Trading van Riemsdyk for one or more of these prospects listed above would also allow for some of the Flyers’ more NHL-ready prospects like Tyson Foerster, Elliot Desnoyers, and Bobby Brink to gain some much-needed experience playing at the highest level, which is a win-win any way you look at it.
By Lance Green|2023-01-28T22:17:54+00:00January 28th, 2023|
A player eligible for the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft that most scouts and fans alike have been sleeping on this season is 19-year-old center Kai Uchacz of the Western Hockey Leagues (WHL’s) Red Deer Rebels.
Now, listen, I get it. The WHL this season is chalked so full of talent you may have been too preoccupied with watching amazing players like Connor Bedard breaking records for the Regina Pats. Zach Benson, who has been freezing defenseman in place, up in Winnipeg while playing for the Ice. Andrew Cristall who has been busy making highlight reel plays every night for the Kelowna Rockets. Riley Heidt, who leaves Prince George Cougars fans roaring most nights after a big win. Or perhaps you’ve been tuning into Moosejaw Warrior games to catch a glimpse of the very enticing Brayden Yager. Nevertheless, whichever team or player you’ve seemed to have grown a devotion to this season, I assure you by the time you’re done reading this article about Uchacz, there’s a chance that you might have gained an admiration for him as well.
For example, you may be surprised to know that up to very recently, Kai led the entire league in goals this season. That is until Bedard returned from playing in the World Juniors to regain the lead. But even with Connor coming back, Uchacz has been able to keep pace with him trailing Bedard currently by just one goal (Bedard 39, Uchacz 38)! This feat is something that no other player in the league has even come close to achieving, and yes, that includes the other players listed above who will most likely all go in the first round of the draft this summer.
So, by now, hopefully, I have caught your attention enough so that you’re contemplating to yourself, who is this Kai Uchacz, and how is it that I haven’t heard of him if he can keep up with a generational talent such as Connor Bedard? As I stated earlier, he is 19 years old, which means he is a bit of a late bloomer. Last season for the Rebels, Kai put up just 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in his first year of draft eligibility. A decent season, but by no means one that should have gotten him drafted. So, what’s changed this year? If I had to take a guess, it would be that Kai has figured out how to utilize his size better. Uchacz now stands at 6’1 and 192 pounds giving him not only the size and physicality it takes to get into the dirty areas to win puck battles or jockey for position in front of the net, but his attributes make it easier for him to guard the puck when he skates through the oppositions’ defense on his way to the net as well. However, while his newfound size and strength have proved beneficial, it’s not all Uchacz has to hang his hat on. Kai also possesses a great hockey sense and an innate ability to play off the puck. What do I mean by this? Uchacz commonly finds ways to wander away from the masses and await a nice saucer pass from a teammate for an uncontested shot on goal. To go along with that, when a teammate is breaking into the offensive zone and is able to rip a nice shot on net, Kai always wands up instinctively in the exact position for the puck to rebound right onto the blade of his stick for an easy put-back.
Uchacz is currently scoring at a 1.40 points-per-game pace this season, totaling 38 goals and 25 assists for 63 points in just 45 games played. If he keeps up this pace, he is projected to finish the season with 57 goals and 38 assists for 95 points. What a difference a year makes, right? That’s why it would seem that being forced to take another year to continue to grow and refine his skills may not have been such a bad idea after all. While his age will see to it that he may not get the acclaim some others listed in this article will get from being selected in the first round this summer, his play this season should at least afford him the opportunity of an NHL team taking a chance on him during the latter part of day two down in Nashville.
By Lance Green|2023-01-18T20:57:27+00:00January 18th, 2023|
Over the last ten games, the Philadelphia Flyers have given their fans something to finally get excited about by delivering a record of 8-2-0 during that time. But sadly, their recent stretch of wins didn’t manage to see them move out of the Metropolitan Divisions cellar seeing that even with the recent win streak, they still find themselves in 7th place with only 19 wins in 45 games played, which leaves them with a total of 45 points on the season.
So, to dive further into why the Flyers latest run didn’t advance them in the standings, let’s put the Flyers’ last ten games under a microscope. Ten games ago, the Flyers played the San Jose Sharks and beat them 4-3 in OT. A team who currently finds themselves seated in the 7th position in the Pacific Division, only achieving 13 wins and 35 points on the season to date. Meaning if the season ended today, they would be drafting 5th overall. Then the Flyers traveled to LA, where they took on the Kings on December 31st, where they were able to pull out a win by the score of 4-2. This win was quite impressive, seeing that the Kings presently find themselves among the playoff hopefuls ranked third in the Pacific Division. Now on a roll out in Cali., Philly then journeyed to Anaheim to take on the Ducks on January 2nd. Where once again, they were able to cash in on the success of their young goaltender Samuel Ersson earning themselves a 4-1 victory against a team who, if the season ended today, would be drafting 3rd overall. This is because the Ducks are, and have been for most of the season, ranked dead last in the Pacific Division. Moving on to Jan. 5th, some seven games ago now, the Flyers found relief (for some reason) in Carter Hart’s return and were able to gain yet another victory against the Arizona Coyotes, who have won just one game in their last ten which explains why they are currently positioned 7th in the Central Division with them only totaling 33 points on the season—making them now on pace to draft 4th overall. Then came an actual test when the Flyers faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 8th, where their star goalie (sarcasm) Carter Hart let in six goals with the Flyers only able to score two. Now while this loss should have given most fans a hard dose of reality on how their team compares to a true playoff contender, most just brushed it off. So, let’s continue; five games ago, Philadelphia lined up against the Buffalo Sabers on January 9th, and with Ersson back in net, the Flyers beat an improving Sabers team by a total of 4-0. Speeding it up now, the Flyers then went on to face the Washington Capitals in back-to-back games on Jan. 11th and 14th, resulting in Philly being able to win one of those contests against one of the oldest teams in the league. This brings us to Monday’s 6-0 thrashing dealt out by the Atlantic Division’s 1st-place team, the Boston Bruins, an outing that once again proves the Flyers cannot compete against the upper echelon of the NHL. Finally, we’ve reached their latest game, where the Flyers defeated the struggling Ducks again by a score of 5-2.
So, when you look at these last ten games with a bit of scrutiny, you’ll begin to see that these wins are not that impressive. Don’t get me wrong; I applaud the team for winning the games they played against opponents they should have beaten! But I’m not going to go on record and say I’m satisfied with how the team has played. Sure, there are bright spots like the way Konecny, Hayes, and Owen Tippett are on pace to have career years, and who could not get excited about the early success that the young Sam Ersson has had; but what is concerning is the fan bases willingness to buy into the teams’ propaganda (or selling of these players achievements and the teams’ recent success) in order to hide the franchises ongoing battle with mediocrity.
Let’s face it, when was the last time you truley felt the Flyers put together a roster that could compete for a Stanley Cup? I hope you didn’t say 2010 when the Flyers lucked out and squeaked into the playoffs as the seventh seed. Only then to somehow make it to the Finals with Michael Leighton in-between the pipes to take on the Blackhawks, who had Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp gunning for him, with guys like Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson standing guard for Corey Crawford and Marty Turco.
No, I’m thinking more like the 1997 Flyers roster that the Legion of Doom Line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg led. With a supporting cast of Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Desjardins, Paul Coffey, and Ron Hextall. Sure, they went on to be swept by an incredible Detroit team that had SEVEN now Hall of Famers, then playing on their roster. But be honest; wasn’t that the last time you truly believed the Flyers had a shot at winning it all? It was for me.
That’s why since then, I think the Flyers have been Too Good to be Bad, and Too Bad to be Good. What I mean by that is the way the Flyers were able to stay so competitive over the years was by throwing their checkbook around. Today is different, though; no team has been able to buy a championship in the salary cap era. Instead, the successful ones have had to endure years of hardships to gain the nucleus of what would then become their dynasties.
Take, for instance, the Penguins. After Lemieux retired and Jagr moved on, their fans had to suffer through several brutal seasons to get the chance to draft Marc Andre Fleury with the 1st overall pick in 2003. Then again, to be able to select Evgeni Malkin with the second overall pick in 2004. Only to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division once more to take Sidney Crosby 1st overall in 2005 and Kris Letang in the third round that same year. Then and only then were they able to return to their winning ways, winning cups in ’09, ’16, and again in ’17.
Or how about the aforementioned Chicago Blackhawks, who it took drafting Brent Seabrook in the first round of 2003, Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006, and who could forget them lucking out and getting what was supposed to be the Flyers 1st overall pick in 2007 only to draft arguably the best American born player ever to play the game, Patrick Kane. (Let’s squash this argument before it happens-Remember Brett Hull may have always played for Team USA, but he was born in Ontario, Canada) Anyway, it took the Blackhawks drafting these three players before they could go on to raise banners in ’10, ’13, and ’15.
Or a more recent example would be the Tampa Lightning, whom it took drafting Steven Stamkos 1st overall in ’08, Victor Hedman 2nd overall in ’09, and selecting Andrei Vasilevskiy as the first goalie off the board in ’12 before they could win it all in ’20, ’21, and lose in the cup finals in ’22.
Now I don’t want to put this kind of pressure on the kid, but the Flyers may already have gotten a jump start building their own future dynasty when they selected Cutter Gauthier 5th overall this past off-season. He’s already scored 19 points in just 15 games played for Boston College this year. Along with scoring 10 points in seven games played for Team USA at the recent World Junior Championships. So why not continue on that trend for a year or two and get players like:
Andrew Cristall- in the upcoming draft from the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, who currently has 62 points in 36 games played this season.
Then maybe grab a defenseman like Finland’s Aron Kiviharju in the 2024 draft.
In 2025 maybe the Flyers will try and take either American sniper Cooper Dennis
Or a goalie Gabriel D’Aigle who is already shining at only 16 years of age playing for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. I mean, he only spends his summers training with Marc Andre Fleury.
I could go on, but I think if Philadelphia just accepted how bad they really are and made sure they are in a position to draft these players in the coming years. Then a couple of seasons down the road, when these prospects join the group of talented youth they already have in place. The Flyers would then be able to at least spark the interest of some enticing free agents enough to make Philadelphia a place where talented players once again consider to come and play. Thus, they then, might have the makings of a successful NHL franchise. It’s worth a shot, right? I mean, everything they have tried since winning the 1975 Stanley Cup up to this point hasn’t, so why not give it a shot?