Grading Hak & Hex: Finding Offense Beyond First Line

Updated: November 14, 2017 at 1:09 pm by Wes Herrmann

When the team scores just three goals in two games over a week, the biggest talking points is going to be the offense. It’s even worse when one line is accountable for all of the goals scored. For the Philadelphia Flyers, those questions are coming back to the coach and general manager. Naturally, this week’s look at coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall mainly look at their opinions and decisions regarding the offense.

Danick Martel Staying With Phantoms

Sean Couturier may be the breakout star of the Flyers to start the year, but he’s nothing compared to the year Martel is having with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The 22 year old has an AHL-leading 14 goals in 15 games and four assists for a team-leading 19 points.

With production like that and a lack of offensive depth on the main club, the speculation is already in full force on Philadelphia recalling Martel. However, general manager Ron Hextall isn’t jumping at the opportunity.

Hextall preached caution and restraint to The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor on recalling the Quebec native. There’s plenty of reason to agree with the GM too.

Martel has scored 22 and 20 goals in the AHL in his career – no small feats – but it’s far off from the offense he’s showing right now. The stats follow that thinking too. He’s shooting at 28 percent, a number no player could keep up with.

Then there’s also the fact that the Flyers seem to value some other Phantoms more than Martel like Colin McDonald and Cole Bardreau, who is injured.

Still, this is something to monitor over the next month. If Martel continues to produce, Flyers veterans do the opposite and there happens to be an injury, he could earn a recall. Just don’t think it’s a probability in November.

Keeping Simmonds in the Lineup

The decision to keep Simmonds, who is dealing with some minor injuries, playing may not come down to coach Dave Hakstol and his staff, but they aren’t forcing the right-winger to sit a couple games either.

It’s obvious from watching the last few games that Simmonds is dealing with some injury issues that are keeping him from playing at the top of his game. It’s worth wondering what the pay-off is right now.

At his best, Simmonds is one of the four best forwards on the Flyers, but he’s far off that mark right now. He isn’t contributing much and the team is faltering because of it. But if he took a few games off to rest and recover, it’s possible he gets back to his normal level.

For better or worse, the hockey culture is built around toughness and Simmonds is at the top of the list when it’s coming to that. The former King won’t take lightly to taking games off, but it may be better for the team if he does.

New Lines?

It doesn’t look like Simmonds will be coming out of the lineup and he could even be seeing some new linemates as Hakstol attempts to get some offense going in his bottom nine. Let’s give him an “A” for trying, but much lower for execution.

Seeing Dale Weise in the top six is most Flyers fans’ nightmares, Jordan Weal may be too small to handle the duties of an NHL center and Travis Konecny is stuck with Jori Lehtera and Valterri Filppula on the third line.

That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but like I said, you have to give Hakstol some props for trying. The team obviously needs some form of a jump start. The third-year coach may be distracted by Weise, but there’s always a possibility that Weal excels at center.

What’s more likely, though, is that Philly and Hakstol don’t figure out the depth issue until Nolan Patrick returns, which isn’t going to happen before Thursday.

Brandon Manning’s Increasing Role

Breaking away from the offense, Brandon Manning has seen his ice time grow this season. Last season, he saw a career-high 18:03. This year, he’s almost a minute above that at 18:58.

The only three Flyers blueliners above Manning in terms of ice time are Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg and Andrew MacDonald. And the only reason Hagg is seeing those minutes is because of MacDonald’s injury.

It’s possible if the former Islander was never injured, Manning would be playing the third-most ice time among Philly d-men — and his playing time has only increased. He played a season-high 22 minutes against the St. Louis Blues about 10 days ago, 20 minutes against the Blackhawks and 19 against the Minnesota Wild this past week.

It’s easy to explain the minutes against the Blues; the Flyers were missing four defensemen and Manning was the most experienced. But against the Blackhawks and Wild, Radko Gudas was back and Manning still played more minutes than him.

At his best, the 27 year old is a good sixth defenseman, but sixth defenseman don’t play over 18 minutes a game. Much like Hakstol and MacDonald, there may be a growing problem where Manning is played much more than he should be.

It hasn’t bit the Flyers too much yet, but it could sooner rather than later. It also means that Sam Morin isn’t likely to earn a call-up with Manning trusted with so much.

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