Unsurprisingly, getting team rosters to the maximum of 23 players forced a busy week for Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall. On the bright side, there’s plenty to go over in the moves the GM has made in the past week. Claiming Calvin Pickard, waiving Dale Weise and Mikhail Vorobyev making the team are just some of the topics in this week’s grading.
Flyers Claim Pickard
Faced with two injuries in the goalie corps and an NHL backup that played just four games last year, Hextall made a move to help his goaltending by claiming Calvin Pickard off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday.
The goaltender is one Hextall is familiar with after the GM selected Pickard for Team Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. The Hextall-managed team won Silver with Pickard posting a 1.49 GAA and a .938 save percentage in seven games.
But since then Pickard’s NHL days have been rare. He played in just one game for the Leafs last season and spent the rest of the season with the Marlies where he played in 33 games.
I can see the allure of Pickard, who definitely has some fans from the Flyers’ fan base. The New Brunswick native had .916 and .922 save percentages in 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively, for the Avs, though in small sample sizes. His 2016-17 season wasn’t great, but at 26 years old, there’s certainly hope for a turnaround.
The issue is that the Flyers had one too many goalies before Pickard was claimed. Alex Lyon and Michal Neuvirth may be injured now, but they’ll be healthy again one day and when that day comes, Hextall will have another problem to figure out.
If this results in Pickard as the backup and Neuvirth rid of, it’s one I can live with. But there’s so much fogginess with this decision and the future of the Flyers’ net this year, that no one can say what’s in store. Either way, this is a reminder that Hextall should have had the goaltending issues solved during the offseason.
Weise and Leier Waived
It became obvious with Corban Knight and Mikhail Vorobyev making the team, that Hextall and the Flyers would have some tough decisions to make to get the roster down to 23 players, which included sending a couple players through waivers or a trade.
In the end, they decided to waive Dale Weise and Taylor Leier and hold onto Jori Lehtera and Jordan Weal.
Keeping Weal was an obvious choice. He’s skilled enough to contribute regularly and given his age and contract, would have been scooped up on waivers. Putting Weise on waivers was a minor surprise considering he has two years left on his deal, but played in just four games after Feb. 26. He’s still on the roster, but that should change once Knight returns.
But the Lehtera over Leier decision was surprising, and disappointing.
Between Lehtera’s contract, eight total points last season and off-ice issues, waiving the 30 year old made the most sense. Instead, Leier, who is 24, was placed on waivers and open to giving away for free.
I’ve never been a Leier fan — I think he’s a serviceable 13th forward and nothing more — but keeping Lehtera on the roster over him shows Hakstol and Hextall aren’t over that “veteran presence” intangible that we’ve seen so much in the past.
Overall, keeping Lehtera over Leier shouldn’t result in any win or loss changes for the Flyers, and waiving Weise proves the organization is moving on from him, but it’s unfortunate to see the club continue to rely on a player well past his prime.
Hart, Aube-Kubel, Myers (twice) Cut
Over the last seven days the Flyers cut six prospects. To make things easier in reviewing them, I’ve divided them up to two groups in this post — the ones that stood a chance to stick on the Flyers roster before camp and the ones that surprised and lasted longer than most thought — this is the first group.
I never believed Carter Hart would or should have started his 2018-19 season in the NHL. I firmly believe that goalie prospects need seasoning time in the AHL between juniors and the NHL. Even goalies like Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price, who are top-notch goalies now, struggled when they made the gargantuan leap.
But Hart is one of the two best goalie prospects in the world, so I believed there was some sort of chance. Then Alex Lyon got injured, then Michal Neuvirth, and following that, Brian Elliott looked poor in preseason play.
Meanwhile, Hart was having a strong camp, but wasn’t tested much in his preseason games. However, strong wasn’t going to be enough and Hextall agreed with that. In his last preseason game, Hart slipped a tad and mixed with Anthony Stolarz impressive camp, the 20 year old was pushed to the minors.
Overall and unsurprisingly, I think this is the right move for Hart. He’ll get starting time until Lyon returns in a league that’s a more comfortable step from juniors. I don’t like Hextall’s handling of the NHL goaltending, but Hart never should have been counted as the solution.
Like Hart, Philippe Myers chances of making the team increased because of injury — this particular one to Andrew MacDonald. The veteran defenseman was supposed to mix four-to-six weeks, but returned in just two.
Myers had beat out Christian Folin and T.J. Brennan for the starting spot, but MacDonald’s returned ended his camp (except for a quick return for the last preseason game). A more shaky end to his camp didn’t make things easier for Myers.
MacDonald did not look good in either of his two games after the injury, but there was no chance Hakstol or Hextall was going to play Myers over him. The demotion for Myers was inevitable, it just unfortunately comes before any regular season game.
There’s still things the 6-foot-5 blueliner can work on in the AHL and it looks like if there’s a major injury on the Philadelphia backend, Myers will be the first one recalled. That’s not a bad consolation prize.
I always thought Aube-Kubel had a strong chance of making the team this year and he looked like a capable fourth-liner in preseason, but Vorobyev surprised and made the team. If he hadn’t, maybe Jordan Weal is the third line center and Scott Laughton centers the fourth, leaving a spot open for Aube-Kubel.
Still, NAK can improve with the Phantoms and he’ll be a Flyer at some point.
Friedman, Goulbourne, Twarynski Cut
Mark Friedman always got lost in the prospect pool behind the other blue-chip defense prospects and a slow start to his rookie year with the Phantoms didn’t help things. He turned things around in the second half, but the 22 year old wasn’t on many radars for a spot on the blueline.
Instead, he hung around until two days before rosters are due through his hard work and consistent play. Friedman’s probably still behind Myers on the depth chart and shouldn’t have lasted in camp longer than him, but this training camp improved some perceptions of him
In the summer, I listed as Tyrell Goulbourne a Phantom that could be promoted mainly out of fright that the Flyers would be blinded by the Washington Capital’s grit.
Although Goulbourne didn’t make the team, I believe the not entirely necessary grit earned the Edmonton native a longer look in camp. Right now, it’s no harm, no foul but we’ll see if Goulbourne is a call-up option later in the season.
Carsen Twarynski was one of the biggest surprises in Flyers camp this year as a prospect coming out of juniors that seemed destined for the AHL early. But the 20 year old was impressive in camp as a hard worker with talent too.
Unlike Goulbourne, Twarynski deserved every minute he played in camp and should be early in the list of call-up options.
Vorobyev Makes Team
As you probably noticed, with the other cuts, I could reason why each of the players did not make the team. That wouldn’t have been possible with Mikhail Vorobyev.
From his first preseason game, Vorobyev showed he can play with NHL players and even excel. He has great vision in passing the puck, but also helps out the defense both in backchecking and breakout support at an above-average NHL level.
And unlike the other prospects, Vorobyev fills a need on the roster at third-line center. Weal looked passable there and Laughton has looked better at wing, allowing the Russian to come in and surprisingly steal the spot from veterans and favorite prospect Morgan Frost.
Now with Vorobyev in the fold, the Flyers have a strong top nine — and really 11 forwards at a minimum (depending on who’s centering the fourth line) — and some of that credit should go to Hakstol and Hextall.
Hakstol improved Vorobyev’s linemates once it became clear he could man the third line and played him with several different players showing his NHL capability. For Hextall, it wouldn’t have been strange to see the GM shy away from a prospect, but he spoke highly of the 21 year old and chose him over the veterans the organization has loved.
Hakstol Grade: N/A
I’m still not too comfortable saying how much Hakstol factored into these decisions. Next week’s grading will be able to focus on Hakstol more.
Hextall Grade: C+
Waiving Weise is great (though he should be the one in the minors), as is having Vorobyev make the team. Claiming Pickard is a head-scratcher and keeping Lehtera is bad. The other cuts were understandable so we’ll say Hextall had a slightly above-average week.