General manager Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol had an odd week. There was surprise like the Cooper Marody trade, but also expectations like Brandon Manning returning to the lineup. Those two topics, plus goalie usage and late game player decisions are discussed in this week’s grading of Hak & Hex.
Hextall made a surprising move on multiple levels Wednesday when he traded prospect Cooper Marody to the Edmonton Oilers for a 2019 third-round pick. It was a rare deal after the trade deadline, but is also the first time Hextall has made a trade including a player he acquired.
Marody’s had a strange, but successful career at the University of Michigan. He’s scored 49 points in 39 games this year and has helped his team to the Frozen Four of the NCAA tournament.
But the now-junior missed the first half of his sophomore season due to academic ineligibility and most pundits believe he only has the skill set more of an AHL scorer than a regular NHLer:
The vibe on Marody was that he's skilled but tools aren't on an NHL top six level but as a potential good AHL player who could see some NHL time; a bit like a playmaker version of ex-Flyer Ryan Potulny.
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) March 21, 2018
Stemming from that is the fact that the Flyers’ prospect cupboard is close to full. The team has had among the most draft picks in the league over the last two seasons and should have at least eight at this year’s draft.
Besides sheer numbers, the talent of other players have eclipsed Marody.
It was unlikely that the Flyers would sign Marody to an ELC this summer with all their depth and NHL teams don’t like college players to reach their senior seasons since UFA eligibility becomes available just months later.
Marody was a sixth-round pick and unlikely to carve out a future in Philadelphia. Turning him into a third-round pick is a clear upgrade.
Manning Over Hagg
I don’t think anyone was surprised to see Hakstol put Brandon Manning back in the lineup. Who he took out may have been the surprising part, though.
Instead of Travis Sanheim, who lost his spot on the roster earlier in the year to Manning, Robert Hagg was sent to the pressbox. It was the first game the Swedish defenseman missed due to a coach’s decision.
Hagg has been an integral part of the defense, averaging 18 minutes a game and has led the league in hits for large portions of the season, in case if you didn’t hear from Jim Jackson, Bill Clement or Keith Jones.
There was some speculation Thursday that Hagg needed more time to recover from an injury that cost him four games. The 23 year old came back about a week sooner than expected, but he was listed as a healthy scratch. Hakstol then went further by backing up the move with his own analysis:
Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg scratched tonight. Was minus-2 in 12:35 of ice time in loss to Red Wings Tuesday. Played 4 shifts in 3rd, none in OT. Coach Dave Hakstol didn't like the chemistry of the pair. pic.twitter.com/hphmvU1KZK
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) March 22, 2018
I agree that a Radko Gudas-Hagg pairing isn’t a good one. The two play a similar defensive game and neither are great at moving the puck. However, as others have pointed out, bad gaps and ineffectiveness perfectly describes the times when Manning and Gudas are on the ice together.
Even if Hagg was still dealing with injury issues, a better reason from Hakstol could have been chosen than one that was completely hypocritical.
Since Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers, Hagg has missed another contest on Sunday; giving him four full days of rest. It seems likely that the healthy scratch was exactly that.
I’m fine with Hakstol saying Hagg and Gudas weren’t a great pairing, but replacing Hagg with Manning, instead of shuffling the bottom two pairings is another example of bad talent evaluation from the coach.
Figuring Out the Goalies
The Flyers played three games last week and made goalie changes in two of them. That tells you the team probably wasn’t too successful, and especially in net.
Philly ended up with four points out of a possible six, which isn’t terrible, but it’s hard to say the same about the goaltending, specifically Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek helped the team to a win last Sunday against the Capitals, which earned him the start against his old team, the Red Wings Tuesday. He responded by letting in three goals on 19 shots, including a shorthanded one he should have had, and was pulled halfway through the game.
Alex Lyon kept the Flyers in the game, but the team couldn’t earn the win. As the clear better goalie, the rookie got the start against the Rangers Thursday. He won his fourth of the season and earned another start against the Penguins Sunday.
That’s where things faltered for the 25 year old. Lyon didn’t play badly through the first period and three minutes into the second, but not well enough to eliminate the need for a goalie change.
Hakstol did just that, but I think it was more of a wakeup call to his team, than a performance-based issue from Lyon. Again, the Flyers responded well to the switch and earned a valuable point and could have beat the Penguins.
I think Hakstol got all of this right. It seems messy — and it is — but that’s more because of the talent in net. Lyon’s performed admirably in his call up, but he’s an AHL tweener at this point. It’s tough to expect him coming out on top against a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
Mrazek’s the bigger disappointment given the price the Flyers paid for him and the experience he has. Hextall brought him in, believing his team could count on the former Red Wing to not deter any playoff chances, at the bare minimum.
The recent slump isn’t just on Mrazek, but he hasn’t helped anything. The past week has proved it isn’t a bad stretch either; Mrazek’s just a so-so goalie that needs a strong team in front of him.
It’s obvious at this point that the team is just holding on until Michal Neuvirth and/or Brian Elliott returns. There’s not much Hakstol can do, but play the right goalie each night.
Late Game Lineup Decisions
My Flyers Nation colleague, Matt Brauckmann gave his thoughts in a great piece about Hakstol’s late game player usage. I agree with most of what he said so I won’t get into too much detail here about it.
My short opinion on it is that I can see the point of using more dependable defensive players in the final few minutes to help preserve a lead. I would not do it with 10 minutes left to your best player that night and with just a one-goal lead.
Getting on the offensive during that time is likely a better chance at winning than playing just defensive hockey for half a period.