Extra Sauce: About the Trade Deadline, a Playoff Run and Fan Perception

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Photo by Heather Barry

by: AJ Maiorana/@ExtraSauce_

I wonder what the Flyers center chart looked like coming into the season. Ron Hextall let Ryan White walk to find more money elsewhere which put a dent in the center depth, at least a little bit. No doubt that Boyd Gordon was supposed to alleviate that loss, but was he meant to take over the fourth line center spot? With Roman Lyubimov moving in, Bellemare was switched off of his wing and with a little help from World Cup hype, the Flyers decided that Bellemare would be good at center. They also tried to get Brayden Schenn to work as a center again with less than encouraging results – and Couturier centers the second line pretty steadily.

Brayden Schenn doesn’t work at center, Nick Cousins doesn’t work at center, Boyd Gordon is down in Lehigh Valley and Bellemare has taken over the fourth line, but still really isn’t a center. The Flyers needed a middle-six center. They probably asked the Penguins for one when the state rivals came asking about a defenseman. The original rumor we heard was that the Penguins were showing interest in a few defensemen, one being the Flyers Michael Del Zotto. Turns out they wanted Mark Streit. By adding the Tampa Bay Lightning, three teams were able to benefit, which is good even if one of the teams benefiting is the damn Penguins.

I also don’t believe for a second that Ron Hextall wasn’t aware that the Lightning were going to immediately flip Streit. Apparently, the condition on the 7th round pick that the Flyers received was that if the Lightning traded Streit the Flyers would get the pick. So the Penguins gave up a 4th round pick for Streit, the Lightning lost a 7th round pick to clear much-needed cap space and the Flyers took on $5 million for next season to get a middle six center. Everyone’s happy, except maybe Mark Streit who didn’t really want to leave.

“I’m an older guy and my contract is up. Usually, you talk about those guys being dealt. That is just the nature of the business. But I love being here, love the guys and love the team. I want to win with this team.”

I think the most laughable concern with this trade is that the Flyers will now have less money to spend in free agency. Because they did so well in free agency last season when they acquired Dale Weise? Or because people actually truly expect Hextall to go after Bishop, who is already making nearly $6million and will probably want a raise and a long-term contract. Making big free agency moves isn’t likely to happen for the Flyers, especially if we expect Hextall to stick to his ideal of patience and growing from within the organization.

 

Flip Flopping Goalies

Before Mark Streit was traded and the Flyers brought in Vilppula, Hextall made a lot of people question him, when he gave one of the worst goaltenders in the league a substantial raise after going on a serious cold streak and doing nothing to help their playoff push. Neuvirth went from making $1.625 million to $2.5 million for two seasons. And he’s been bad.

There are so many confusing things about this signing.The prevailing thought is that Hextall wanted to make Neuvirth more attractive to Las Vegas for the expansion draft. Which means that the Flyers would be planning on protecting Stolarz, who they have shown little to no faith in at the NHL level so far. Kinda contradicts itself. One thing linking Neuvirth to the Vegas Golden Knights is the current General Manager, George McPhee. McPhee was the GM in Washington when Neuvirth was the backup. Maybe McPhee really likes Neuvirth and a deal was made behind the scenes.

All season, Hakstol has mishandled the goalies. Early in the season when they were both struggling, we thought that maybe leaving one in for a stretch would help iron out whatever issues they were having. If Neuvirth wasn’t injured, Mason probably never would have had a string of starts like he did through the ten game win streak.

Hakstol finally decided to stick with a goalie to try and work out issues at the worst possible time. At the point in the season where every point counts, Hakstol decided to ride the cold hand in a goalie who lost a months worth of games. After Neuvirth’s extension, Hakstol decided to give Mason a turn, and he’s been doing better. Mason will undoubtedly drag the Flyers into a playoff spot to end his career with Philadelphia and an organization that has seemingly been against him since they backed Craig Berube. Everything about the handling of Steve Mason is annoying and you’ll be very disappointed when you read Broad Street Hockey’s recap of Mason’s rise and fall with Philly.

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We expected the Flyers to wait until closer to the end of the season to evaluate the goalies and decide who to re-sign. It looks like they’ve made their final decision as they haven’t even had contact with Masons’s agents. The Flyers may never be able to handle goalies correctly.

False Positives

I hate to be so negative about the season, but I don’t think making the playoffs this season will help the Flyers in the long run. As the season has progressed we have watched as the head coach has decided to repeat ineffective systems and player usage and completely turn away from things that succeed. It took three losses and a mob of angry season ticket holders for Hakstol to put Shayne Gostisbehere back in the lineup, but when the Flyers won without Andrew MacDonald, Hakstol couldn’t wait to put him back in.

If the Flyers make the playoffs with this low scoring, preemptively defensive system, he’ll only do it more next season. I don’t think there should be a reward for shitty systems and playing your 4th line 18 minutes a game. He’s continued to try to change Gositsbehere’s natural style of play into something like Andrew MacDonald. I would rather the organization actually be forced to look back at the season and re-evaluate which decisions didn’t work and draft lower than them get into the playoffs and actually believe that MacDonald and Bellemare are the keys to playoff success.

The Flyers actually have a shot at making the playoffs because the East is stupid close. They shouldn’t be this close.

The Germ

Last Thursday, the Flyers signed German Rubtsov to an entry-level contract. Since Rubtsov was drafted out of Russia, he is eligible to play in the AHL as an 18-year-old. The Flyers 1st round pick in last years draft has 22 points in 16 games since coming over to North America from the KHL. Over in Russia, Rubtsov wasn’t impressing people in the limited time he was being given, almost three whole minutes a game!

In a larger role, Rubtsov has adjusted well to the North American game and could have a shot at joining the Phantoms. It’s more likely that Hextall keep him in the QMJHL at least until next season. With a number of forward prospects expected to push for roster spots on the Flyers next season, the Phantoms may need some replacements.

Better to be Loved or Hated?

I know it’s a bit late to be talking about the outdoor game against the Penguins, but there was a trend I saw among Flyers fans who traveled to Pittsburgh. It seemed as though there were a lot of establishments that were very welcoming of Flyers fans. I also saw someone comment that Philadelphia bars would NEVER be as accommodating to Pens fans. I’m sure on some level that’s true, but generally bars take any chance to make money off of large sporting events that draw a lot of tourists.

As Philadelphia fans, we obviously have a reputation for being hostile towards visiting fanbases and drunk guys dressed as Santa. No one has a completely positive experience when visiting Philly for a sporting event. Is that a good thing? We take pride in being a tough unforgiving fanbase, but at what point does that narrative start to get annoying? It’s disturbing that national television will talk about Flyers fans throwing light up bracelets forever, but a Cowboys fan shooting a guy in the head after being cheered on by a crowd of tailgaiting assholes barely makes the news.

Is it better as a city to be seen as obnoxious, hardcore supporters or a welcoming group of good people? Is there any middle ground where fans can be the most aggressive supporters of their team, but also not be so repellent towards out of city fans?

Voice your violent or tolerant opinion in the comments.

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