Busy in a Good Way
My apologies for not blogging since yesterday morning. Below, I will post links to all of the Draft weekend content I wrote for the Flyers official website this weekend. So much has changed in the last 36 hours or so. Before we get to that, I thought I'd share my Friday and Saturday happenings with my HockeyBuzz readers.
Yesterday at 1 p.m., I was in Cherry Hill, NJ, in my capacity as the Flyers Alumni Association's content manager. As part of the Flyers Alumni's Every Child Deserves a Bike
program, Brad Marsh presented a fully customized adaptive bicycle to three-year-old Anastasia Condon. She is the third recipient of a bike donation under the program, which is funded through the generosity of the fans.
The weather was beautiful and, no matter what else happened, it was a great day. Seeing the unbridled joy of tiny little Anastasia beaming, clapping her hands and waving as her older brother pushed her down the street, made my entire day along with the sheer happiness and gratitude of her Flyers-obsessed family. Her grandparents were also on hand. No matter what the Flyers did or didn't do in terms of trades and the Entry Draft, yesterday will be a day I'll always recall fondly.
When I left Cherry Hill, my original intention was to stop for lunch at Kaminsky's on Brace Road en route to Voorhees. Two days earlier, when I was in the car, I had one of those moments every sportswriter dreads: the Flyers made a trade. I was too far away from the house to tweet out the 4-1-1 of the trade that sent Shayne Gostisbehere
, a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 seventh-round pick to Arizona for $4.5 million of cap relief.
Correspondingly, I had to pull over at a Wawa convenience store in Medford, buy a bottle of water inside so I had a legitimate reason to take up a space in their small parking lot for an extended period of time (drinking it very slowly) and waiting for 15 minutes until Chuck Fletcher had his press conference via Zoom.
Wouldn't you know it. The same thing happened yesterday. As I was driving in Cherry Hill, the Flyers announced the trade that sent Robert Hägg to the Buffalo Sabres along with the Flyers' 2021 first-round and 2023 second-round selection in exchange for Rasmus Ristolainen.
So much for lunch. I headed directly to the Skate Zone to sit in the press room and starting writing my analysis article
on the trade. Apart from that, I tweeted out my thoughts and concerns (trade cost for a potential 2022 UFA, cap space at the time to manage the rest of the offseason) and what does not actually concern me all that much (Ristolainen's poor analytics on a terrible Sabres team, with its revolving door of coaches and players and organizational tendency to set players up to fail).
By the way, this was my opinion of Ristolainen well before the Flyers brought him here: as long he isn't given too high of a concentration of 5-on-5 defensive zone starts and fed the toughest matchups, he is capable of having better overall success. But he already was one of the top hitting D in the NHL, a player capable of getting 40+ points given power play time and someone with the coveted combination of size, mobility, right-handedness, physicality and a heavy shot.
I want to get one thing straight here: When I write something, it's not because the Flyers tell me to write it that way. If I disagree or have questions about something, I bring it up in what I write tactfully and in a way that is fair as possible. Secondly, reporting an organizational, coach, or locker room point of view is part of the job of a team reporter. In a straight-up feature story, it's presented without interjecting personal opinions. In an analysis piece, I can be as critical as I feel necessary but try to keep it balanced and fair. No more, no less.
I liked Ristolainen before he got here. I like the player now in an RD2 role on the depth chart with Ellis above him and Ryan Braun below for support at RD3. I didn't want him as the RD1. I know the analytics community didn't want him here at all. But you can see the game in different ways without an opposing point of view being invalid. To the vast majority of NHL scouts, the hard-to-find positive traits Ristolainen has will take precedence over analytics in a bad environment.
The only criticism of the player that I heard in talking around to eight NHL scouts and people who've played against him is that he has strictly average hockey sense. The tools are first-pair caliber. The hockey sense knocks him down to a top-four if your team has the depth to do so. Nonetheless, I was told on Friday night that seven different NHL clubs offered a first-round pick to Buffalo, which the Sabres set as a non-negotiable part of any trade discussion for Ristolainen.
Originally last night, Jason Myretetus, Brian Smith and I were slated to do a live NHL Entry Draft Show on the Flyers Broadcast Network's Flyers Radio 24/7 channel. The show went on. However, with the Flyers trading out of the first round, the content focus shifted from 80 percent Draft talk to 70 percent Flyers offseason moves discussion, 20 percent ongoing Draft commentary and 10 percent talking about other news from around the league (such as the blockbuster Seth Jones trade to Chicago and non-Flyers related aspects of the Expansion Draft). We were on the air until well after 11 o'clock.
Today, the original intent of the day was to create content tied to Rounds 2 to 7 of the Entry Draft, both for the official team website and for my social media. Lo and behold, with Round 2 underway, the Flyers traded Jakub Voracek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Cam Atkinson.
Collecting round-by-round, player-by-player information, scouting report synposes, vitals and post-selection reactions from available draftees via Zoom calls went on as scheduled. We kept a live running blog updated throughout the day as picks came in.
Simultaneously, we gathered reaction information from Atkinson, listened in on Voracek's presser with the Blue Jackets and waited for Chuck Fletcher to be available at the end of the Draft to discuss the deal. The trade added $2.875 million cap space to the Flyers but also one additional year of term (Voracek has three, Atkinson has four). I later plugged the quotes into the trade analysis article before the Flyers' Brian Born posted it on the site to go live.
After the Draft ended, we also got to speak with Flyers assistant GM Brent Flahr about today's six picks. Finally, at 9 p.m. ET, second-round pick Samu Tuomaala had his media availability. He understands English and can speak it a little, but does not yet feel comfortable enough with his fluency level to do solo interviews. Flyers Finnish amateur scout Sami Sandell served as an interpreter during the interview.
It's been an extremely busy last few days, but the enjoyable kind of busy. Huge thank yous to Brian Born for getting everything posted on the website in such timely fashion, to Joe Siville for facilitating the interviews and lending a helping hand with some of the running blog sections when things were especially swamped, Zack Hill for getting us photos and audio, to Brian Smith and Jason Myretus for making the marathon Draft Show last night into a fun experience once again and to Danny Briere for making an appearance during the first round.
I'll get started now on formatting and posting the Chuck Fletcher that Brian S. and Allie Samuelsson made from the interviews done today. They'll be online shortly to share with readers.
Chuck Fletcher Transcript
On the NHL Network today, you said that Atkinson is going to help them with the compete level and you didn't think you were tough enough to play against. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? What he brings to that notion?
To me, Cam Atkinson is what we call a hockey player, and he just loves to play the game of hockey. Tremendous energy. You probably heard that in his press conference today. He's a player that really can contribute every which way. I think he's been one of the better five-on-five goal scorers in the league over seven, eight years. He drives play. He's an elite penalty killer. I think he's second to Brad Marchand in shorthanded goals going back to 2014 (note: Atkinson is tied for the NHL shorthanded goal lead since 2016). He’s been a really good scorer during the playoffs. There's really not much he can't do. For a guy that isn't that tall, he's tenacious. He gets to the inside.
You know what? We just can't keep bringing the same players back year after year and expect different results. We had to make changes this year. The players that we've added are all what I would call high energy, competitive people.
How often have we talked about our slow starts over the past two, three years since I’ve been here and allegedly a lot longer than that? We need some juice. We need some energy. We need to change the mood in the room and the energy in the room. It’s nothing against the players that we had here before. It's about trying to create a new group, a new leadership group, new chemistry. All these guys we have acquired besides being good hockey players bring a lot of those qualities, bring a lot of experience, bring a lot of professionalism to our roster.
I want to talk to you specifically about Jake Voracek. Obviously, he's been on this team for quite a while. What went into the decision to move him and the conversations you had with him? Was it more something driven by you guys, more driven by him, or more of a mutual thing?
First of all, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jake, and he’s one of the best players in franchise history. Love him as a person. We've had great conversations all year and for the three years I've been here. Gotten really close to him. It's definitely a mutual thing. I think he would say the same thing. I think it was time for Jake to go to a new team and re-energize. It was time for us to bring in different players and get going in a different direction. It's as simple as that.
Last year wasn't good for any of us. I think I said it earlier, it just felt like there was a malaise around the team all year. There was no energy, no juice. Nobody smiled. We didn't play well. Look, we’ve got to get back to being a team. We got to get some energy here. Jake is going to go to Columbus, and he'll play really well. He's going to get an opportunity to play with good players. He's a productive player. Great playmaker. He has lots of gas left in the tank. I know he's going to do great there and in turn, I think Cam is going to do very well here. He is excited. I think both teams got what they're looking for in this deal.
So far, you've kind of remade the defense. With the Voracek trade, you shook up the former corps. You're now in a position cap-wise, where you can bring in a back-up and slowly fill out the roster. Could you envision mostly being done now? Or do you expect to make more franchise changing moves in the coming days going into free agency?
I don't know about franchise changing. It's been a grind. It's been a grind, making these trades. In a cap strapped world, you have to move out to add in. We wanted to get ahead of the free agent frenzy and felt that by making trades, we could control the price point better and the assets that were coming in and out. We felt very comfortable with what we did. We like our team and we think we're a better team today than we were at the end of the season.
Having said that, we still have work to do. Obviously, we have to add a goalie. I think I would certainly look at another defenseman and another forward up front to add some more depth and yet we know we have some good kids that are going to push for opportunities. We're excited. I think we're going to be a deep team. We’re going to have maybe a little bit more experienced, particularly on the blue line. I think we're going to have some guys coming back hungry and energized, ready to go.
I've spoken to several players in the last 24 to 48 hours and they're fired up. They're excited. They finally feel like last year's in the past and that it's going to be a different world, a different camp, a different and, in my opinion, a better team.
Trades come together in varying lengths of time, right? Some take forever, some come together rather quickly. Could you kind of take us through the length of time it took with Atkinson in this case? Was this something that came together rather quickly? Or did you kind of have an idea that this was a player that you can target for a few months now?
No, this came together pretty quickly. Just with the cap and this is where it goes back to Gostisbehere. We really needed to move some cap to be able to get into Ellis and Ristolainen and have money for a back-up goalie and some other pieces.
It's a good hockey trade, in my opinion, that helps both teams. It's also favorable for us on the cap for the first three years of the deal. There's just been a lot of arithmetic going on to be honest with you and way too much for my liking. I prefer when you can just make decisions independent of the cap, but it's been tight. It's really tight. I would say this came together in the last two to three days. I started talking with the Jarmo and we had a conversation. I think he was looking to shake up his group and he's made a lot of great moves there. I really liked this trade for both teams.
The three guys that you've brought in so far, all three were members of the leadership groups with their former teams. Was that something that you really wanted to focus on here in the offseason is getting that type of player who could come in and fill that role here?
Exactly. Culture, to me, is sometimes one of the more overused terms in sports and culture, to me, really just means it's the environment that you create. That's created by the players and their work ethic, what they do on and off the ice, how they treat their teammates, and their team orientation. All three of these guys, from the research we've done and the people we've spoken with, love to play hockey. They love to come to the rink and be with their teammates. They want to win. They want to compete. They're willing to take on whatever roles asked to them and they're good hockey players. It was a really important part of re-establishing that leadership group.
Frankly, when Niskanen left, that group changed a bit. He brought a lot to the group as we've all talked about for the last year. That was one of the ones that maybe people don't recognize as much as for what he did. Even for guys like Giroux and Couturier, they could look to Niskanen for all his experiences. I think we're bringing in people that have played and been on good teams, bad teams, and seen the ups and downs. They're going to bring a lot of those experiences with them.
All three are very excited to come to Philadelphia. I'm very excited. I got so pumped up talking to Cam Atkinson today. I've been not sleeping a lot for the last week and I didn't need another cup of coffee after my conversation with him. He's fired up and ready to go. It's great. I think today was a good day for the Flyers.
You mentioned the malaise last season and how nobody was kind of smiling. It was a tough year. Are you surprised that how quickly that happened, just given the progress you guys made in 2019-20?
I think part of it was the environment that everybody dealt with. All of you, everybody. We certainly didn't have it worse than anybody else, but it was just a weird, awkward season. We clearly didn't deal with it as well as some other teams and then you combine that with the fact that we started to lose. It just wasn't fun.
We needed to change things and we talked at the end of the season press conference about change. Many of you asked me questions like, does the leadership group need to change, does the culture need to change, can you win with this group, and what about your defense. Believe me, we've looked at everything that all you guys are looking at. We have a big to-do list and we're chipping away at it. I think we're making good progress.
The exciting thing is I think we can still add over the next few days. It's going to be different and, in my opinion, better team. We'll see next year, but there'll be energy next year. The world's coming back to normal a little bit more for all of us. Look, it was a tough year. Clearly our play was part of it, but there's obviously outside factors.
How long did it take for you to really get a grasp on maybe that leadership group did need to change or maybe more energy needed to come in? Was the year before this past one sort of an interruption to that or were you thinking that all along?
No, I don't think it was so much the leadership group had to change in the sense that the guys there were the wrong guys. I think we needed to add more people to it and get some different people in that hadn't been here for a while. Niskanen did a lot of that. Kevin Hayes has brought some different dynamic to the team and obviously Justin Braun, Brian Elliott, and different guys over the years. I thought we were young in places last year. We let some veteran players go and lost some veteran players. We replaced them with kids.
Frankly, I think it was too much to ask of certain players and of the group as a whole. It was less a reflection of the inability of the leadership group and more reflection on the fact that I didn't provide enough leaders for the group. That's what I mean that we needed to change that. We needed to bring in a different dynamic, bring in more voices, some different voices to complement what we have here.
Speaking of leaders, is Claude Giroux in the same spot (as captain) with this club in your mind coming in to this? He's heading into his last year of his contract. Is he in the same role this year, or maybe with the changes, does his role change a little bit?
No, he's our captain.
The other day when Shayne Gostisbehere was traded, you ran down some internal options. You mentioned Robert Hagg, who was still there at the time and you also mentioned Sam Morin, who is an impending unrestrictive free agent. Can you clarify Sam's status right now?
Yes. We're expecting to sign Sam in the very near future. Sam would like to return. We'd like him to return. We've been chipping away and I think we should be in a position to get something done here pretty quickly.
You mentioned about the possibility of looking to add another or another defenseman. I'm curious at this moment, how do you see the third line center spot shaping up? Obviously Coots and Hayes are one and two, but Nolan’s gone. Morgan Frost is obviously coming off the injury. Is that a spot that you guys would be looking into? Or do you think you have the pieces internally where you don't necessarily have to address it?
Yeah, I'm not sure we'll have the cap space to get into those types of players, the higher end 3-Cs. I think we have some internal candidates that we’ll look at. That's something we'll have to sort out through training camp. We'll see what opportunities come up and certainly there could be opportunities here to add a center in the coming days. We may have to look at internal options for that and have some competition in camp.
Brent Flahr Transcript
Can you talk a little bit about Samu and what he brings? A lot of people had him higher. Were you surprised he was still there when you drafted?
He's a guy we targeted. We kind of thought he would probably go at the end of the first or somewhere in the 20s and he fell. A real talented winger. Great skater. Real dynamic speed. Loves to shoot the puck. Talented kid. He's going to take a little time to get stronger and put on a little weight. But a talented kid that has real good offensive upside.
How frustrating was it for you not to have your first-round pick? On a whole, how do you think you did today?
It's always tough on the scouts when you give up a first. You sit that whole first day with not being able to do much. They're all for the trade and they understood. It was an interesting way and where we were sitting, it was interesting to see who we would have picked at the time and whatnot. Typically, I selfishly don't like to give up firsts ever, but it is what it is. Made up for that today, hopefully.
Going back to Samu, how much of a priority was it to add speed to the pipeline? With a lot of your picks over the last few years, you have maybe more prioritize things like hockey IQ, hockey sense.
It's something that we've certainly talked about and he's certainly is an asset. It’s one of his major assets, but he does have hockey sense. He does have the skill and the big shot. Certainly, speed is a big, big part of the game and something that hopefully he can bring to our team going forward here.
The goalie in the third round, what did you see in him? I think he was passed over in last year's draft. What do you think had him take a step up this year to the draft him as high as you did?
Well, Kenny Hoodikoff, our Russian scout, and Joakim identified him early, playing in Minsk, and then we had our goalie guys monitor him closely. They were really high on his athleticism. Obviously got to play a lot in the KHL as a young goalie, which is a rarity. Not only play, but play well while seeing a lot of shots and in a tough situation. He's a talented guy, very athletic and a guy our goalie guys are confident they can mold into an NHL goalie. In the third round, it was certainly picked out. We were hoping to get him there and it worked out.
Can you give a rundown on the three defenseman you guys took this year?
Sure. Zanetti is a Swiss-born defenseman. Played at the Under-18s and plays overseas. He's actually coming over to Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League this year to play which will be great for development. He's a tall lanky kid. Needs time to fill out and get stronger. Mobile, long, can defend and move the puck. He's a really interesting kid. He's got some rawness to him, but a kid that against the top competition in the world in the end, stood out on his team there. A guy that will certainly help along here to develop.
After that, Ty Murchison played on the U.S. Development program. He's a California kid. Good size, very good mobility, and plays an aggressive style. He's going to have to probably learn to tone things down a little bit as far as picking his spots when to be aggressive. A kid that comes to play, plays hard and brings an aggressive nature which is great. He's going to Arizona State and obviously he was really excited to be drafted today.
Ethan Samson is the big right-shot defenseman, 6’2” and a mobile guy. He's going to have to fill out to get stronger as well. Mark Greig was high on the guy, we targeted late and got him. Obviously former Flyer coached him, Jason Smith, and we had the inside scoop on him. He moves the puck, also defends, and has some jam.
Just wondering how you found the kid, Owen McLaughlin. It looks like he's a local guy (Spring City PA). How did you guys spot him?
Actually, Tom Minton from our analytics office, he covers a lot of the Boston, New England area and Mount St. Charles. The fact that (Owen is) from the area's even better. He's going to Penn State. Well, he’s going to Sioux City next year, the USHL. Making the jump from high school, but a talented kid at the high school level. Obviously, he’s going to have a little bit longer path. A highly skilled kid, at that level. He’s going to have to put on some weight and get stronger. I know Guy Gadowsky at Penn State very well. I know guys when they come out of there are bigger and stronger. It's going to a good place and obviously close by here. We're excited to see where he can get to.
I know it's probably mostly the way the board fell, but this is the first time the Flyers have had three European players at the top of the draft in almost 30 years. Was that partly in part because of the way things went with the pandemic and them playing more maybe over in Europe than they were here in North America and giving you guys a better look at these guys?
Not really, it's just pure randomness. Obviously, we were able to see them, but just the way it worked out this year. Believe me, I have to listen to our European guys and they had three in a row there for the start. I was told, I was not aware, that apparently, we haven't drafted a Finnish player in a long time. I guess we cleared all those up in one fell swoop here.
Going back to Kolosov, you guys have great goalie depth already in the organization. Does the fact that you could hold on to him for perpetuity really, if you really wanted to give him the time to develop make him that much more attractive at the spot you picked him?
Yeah, for sure. He's not going to play for the Flyers next year. He is a quality athlete and a quality goaltending prospect. If you look at the history over the last 5-10 years, they've done a great job of developing goaltenders over there. We're in no rush with him, but we’re excited to have him as part of the group. We’ll see how he develops here in the next coming couple years.
I know you guys obviously say “best player available” is the overarching philosophy, but were there any goals in terms of filling out positional depth in the pipeline going into the draft? And if so, do you guys feel like you achieved them?
A little bit. I think if you look at our draft, we had an opportunity in some cases with smaller defensemen, we probably stayed away from that area just because what we have already in our system. We have some really good young players that are undersized, so we probably stayed away from that side and a little bigger on the back end. Some of our smaller skill up front in a couple of picks. As far as position, we didn't really go there. It just worked out we kind of spread it around a little bit.
With how fluid this year's draft was, was there talk at any point from round three or wherever of potentially moving up to grab somebody?
We tried it, actually in a couple cases and weren't able to. In one case, actually the player that we were targeting went. Some years it works out, some years it doesn't. In this case with giving up our first already, we weren’t really going out of our way to give up multiple picks for one pick if we didn't have to. We targeted a couple players in a couple instances and it just didn't work out.
Flyers Scouts on 2021 Draftees
Joakim Grundberg on Samu Tuomaala
“Obviously very excited getting him. He was rated as a first round talent. We were able to get him in the middle of the second round, so we’re really excited about that. To us, he has elite speed and high skill. Very good shot. High-offensive upside. There’s things he’s got to work on like his overall game and obviously getting stronger. We’re really excited. We see a lot of upside there.”
Grundberg on Brian Zanetti
"Raw kid. We see him down the road as a D-man with size and mobility. Can be a good defender and help you with the puck.”
Nick Pryor on Ty Murchison
"Ty is a good-sized defender. Played two years at the NTDP in Plymouth. Good-size. Good range. Moves real well. Plays with some aggression. That’s something that we really like. Something that we think he has a future in our organization with those attributes.”
Mark Greig on Ethan Samson
"Couple things that come to mind right away is that he’s got good size. He’s close to 6’2” and his frame’s going to still fill out as he’s an August birthday. He’s got some room to develop. Right-hand shot and for a D-man it’s always an asset as we find them harder to find. I think he’s got a lot of development left. He’s going to play on a good team in PG and for a good coach. He’s got upside.”