MANNING SIGNS ONE-YEAR CONTRACT
For the second straight year, restricted free agent defenseman Brandon Manning has signed a new one-year contract in late August. Yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers inked the 24-year-old blueliner to a two-way contract for the 2014-15 season.
The deal pays $700,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 if Manning is assigned to the American Hockey League's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He is eligible to be a restricted free agent again next summer.
Last year, Manning came to terms on a contract on Aug. 29. His two-way deal called for a $675,000 salary at the NHL and an $80,000 salary in the AHL. Manning, who has appeared in 10 NHL games for the Flyers over parts of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, ended up spending the entire 2013-14 campaign with the since-relocated Adirondack Phantoms. He posted eight goals, 31 points and a career-high 231 penalty minutes in 73 games.
Nicknamed "Mandog", Manning has served as a Phantoms assistant captain for the last two seasons. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he is of average size for a pro defenseman but Manning is known for playing an aggressive and sometimes risk-taking brand of hockey at the AHL level. He is considered a mature young man and has been a take-charge player with both the Phantoms and the WHL's Chilliwack Bruins.
Manning is at a crossroads in his career. He is entering his fourth pro season and is now an AHL veteran. Unless the Flyers carry eight defensemen next season (as they did in 2013-14 with Erik Gustafsson and Hal Gill as the seventh and eighth players on the depth chart), Manning is likely to spend another year with the Phantoms.
In the meantime, the Flyers have numerous more highly regarded young defensemen in their prospect pipeline who could displace Manning on the system depth chart in the near future. For starters, Shayne Gostisbehere is entering his first full pro season in 2014-15. Robert Hägg will play his first full season in North America. The Phantoms also have second-year pro Mark Alt. Samuel Morin, Philadelphia's first-round pick in 2013, will turn pro by the 2015-16 season and Flyers 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim could follow within one year of Morin.
As such, Manning is rapidly getting to the now-or-never point in his quest to stake down a full-time NHL roster spot in Philadelphia. In the past, most scouts with whom I spoke pegged Manning's NHL upside as that of a passable sixth or seventh defenseman.
Manning does not possess overwhelming natural talent. He is not quite effective enough defensively to handle tough matchups and, while an above-average offensive defenseman at the AHL level, is not going to score his way to a major NHL role. He is reasonably mobile and makes a good first pass but is not off the charts in either area.
However, the combination of his tenacity and respectable offensive game that have given Manning a shot at working his way up to a supporting cast spot at the top level. In his two cups of coffee in the NHL with the Flyers, he has kept his game simpler than he typically plays at the American League level.
Throughout the Flyers organization, Manning is regarded as a diligent and competitive player with a strong work ethic. He has become popular with teammates and Phantoms fans alike. Media members also tend to gravitate toward Manning because he is earnest, well-spoken and a good quote.
In years past during the Flyers annual Development Camp, Manning served as a mentor to first-time participants as well as a spokesman of sorts when it came time to do interviews with the media. Manning was only 22 himself at the time but carried himself like a much older player. During on-ice drills, Manning was a good benchmark for where other prospects stood in their development in certain areas. Ian Laperriere noted that other players should pay attention to what Manning was doing, because there was a reason he had a few games in the NHL under his belt.
During the 2014-15 season, Phantoms' head coach Terry Murray will rely on Manning and Oliver Lauridsen to be the veteran leaders of what is otherwise a relatively inexperienced blueline corps. Manning enters the season having played 184 career games for the Phantoms. Among players currently in the Flyers organization, only Jason Akeson (208 games) and Oliver Lauridsen (189 games) have had longer tenures than Manning.
Over the course of his career with the Phantoms, Manning has produced 20 goals, 51 assists, 71 points and 447 penalty minutes. He played in the AHL All-Star Game in 2012-13 as the Phantoms' lone representative. Originally unselected in the NHL Draft, the Flyers signed Manning to an entry-level contract at age 20.
FLYERS ADD THERIEN TO TV BROADCASTING CREW, COATES TO RADIO
In a move that has been rumored for months and has now been announced officially, former Flyers defenseman Chris Therien has been added to the CSN Philadelphia television broadcasting crew as the ice-level commentator stationed between the player benches. Longtime broadcaster Steve Coates will switch places with Therien, moving to the radio booth as color commentator alongside play-by-play announcer Tim Saunders.
Therien has spent the last six seasons as the Flyers' radio analyst, replacing Brian Propp in that role. "Bundy" and Saunders developed a rather unique chemistry on the air, marked by frequent humor between the two and Therien's unapologetic candor. In addition to Therien's radio hockey broadcasting work, he has appeared as a television studio analyst on Comcast SportsNet’s Flyers Postgame Live show, and has did part-time gigs on various radio shows.
Coates, a former minor league player for the old Philadelphia Firebirds who briefly played in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings, has been part of the Flyers broadcasts in a host of different capacities for decades. He's done everything from postgame highlight voiceovers in the 1980s to television broadcast booth, ice-level and studio appearances after the creation of Comcast Sportsnet. He also has done previous Flyers radio broadcasting work, including back when future television play-by-play announcer Jim Jackson was the club's radio announcer.
PHANTOMS ANNOUNCE 2014-15 SCHEDULE
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms announced their full 2014-15 preseason and regular season schedules. Formerly based in Philadelphia prior to the closure and demolition of the Spectrum and then out of Glens Falls, NY, the club has relocated to Allentown, PA. The Phantoms will play their home games at the brand new PPL Center.
The first event at the Phantoms' new home will be an Oct. 1 exhibition game against the club's traditional archrival, the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate). The regular season opener will be held on Fri. Oct. 17 against the Adirondack Flames. The Calgary Flames' new AHL affiliate replaces the Phantoms as the AHL's Glens Falls representative).
As is typical of the AHL, 27 of the Phantoms' 38 home games this season will be held on weekend nights or days. There are 14 Saturday games, 10 on Fridays and three Sunday tilts.
The Phantoms' full 2014-15 schedule is available here
in PDF form.
QUICK HITS: AUGUST 28
* Today in Flyers History: In 1989, the Flyers traded a 1991 seventh-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for the rights to Czech defenseman Jiri Latal. Originally drafted by the Leafs with the 106th overall pick of the 1985 Draft, Latal was a fast-rising star in Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution marked the end of the communist regime and it became easy for players to come to North America without defecting (or obtaining permission from the government and national hockey federation).
Latal played three years for Sparta Prague in what is now the Czech Republic and two for Dukla Trencin in what is now Slovakia. Latal played a prominent role for Team Czechoslovakia at the 1985, 1986, and 1987 World Junior Championships, winning a pair of silver medals and being named to the tournament all-star squad in 1987.
When Latal arrived in Philadelphia at age 22, he came with a lot of hype as a potential star defenseman with considerable offensive upside. He started out in the AHL with the Hershey Bears in order to get acclimated but was clearly too good for that level. In 22 games for the Bears in 1989-90, Latal racked up 10 goals and 28 points. He was then called up to the big club.
Unfortunately, the player struggled mightily in the NHL with both consistency and injuries (including knee surgery, a separated shoulder and cracked ribs). Latal did not like the much more physical nature of the North American game on the small rink and sometimes became skittish when pressured by NHL-caliber forecheckers.
Latal, who had been touted as someone with two-way upside, ended up having trouble defensively in the NHL. Injuries limited him to just 92 games over three years. However, Latal's undeniable puck skills occasionally shined. He posted a very respectable 12 goals, 36 assists and 48 points for subpar Flyers teams that missed the playoffs each season.
After a serious knee injury and decreased playing time with the Flyers Latal returned to Europe. He played part of a season in Norway, one full season in Finland and three additional seasons in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, further injury issues kept him out of the lineup more than he was available to play -- Latal only suited up in a combined 31 games in 1993-94 and 1994-95 and he retired before his 28th birthday.
Following his playing days, Latal served for a time as the Under-20 level general manager of Team Czech Republic. He assembled the squad that competed in the 2009 World Junior Championships.
* Today in Flyers History: On Aug. 28, 1990, the Flyers signed Martin Hostak to a two-year contract. Drafted by the Flyers in the third round (62nd overall) in the 1987 Draft, Hostak's stay in Philadelphia was even more disappointing than Latal's.
As with Latal and other countrymen, Hostak was able to freely come to North America following the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound winger was blessed with a combination of puck skills, strength and speed that had many predicting stardom for him.
Hostak exploded into his own at age 22, racking up 26 goals and 53 points in 53 regular season games and 11 points in 11 playoff games for a championship winning Sparta Prague in what was at the time still a talent-laden Czechoslovakian league. He then won a bronze medal at the 1990 IIHF World Championships prior to signing with the Flyers.
Unfortunately, Hostak seemed completely overwhelmed by the NHL game. He played a defensively responsible style for the Flyers but his much touted offensive capabilities were nowhere to be seen at the NHL level. Despite his size and strength, Hostak avoided traffic and was reluctant to press the attack. Off the ice, he struggled to learn English during his stint in North America.
Hostak dressed in 55 games for the Flyers over parts of two seasons, producing a meager three goals and 14 points. He ended up mostly playing in the AHL in his second season, where his skill level made him a point-per-game player (27 goals and 63 points in 63 games in 1991-92).
The Flyers were disappointed with Hostak's lack of NHL-level impact and the player was unhappy in the AHL. At the end of his contract, Hostak returned to Europe. Hostak spent most of the remainder of his career in Sweden, where he instantly became an impact offensive player for Modo, Södertälje and Luleå. He also continued to appear regularly for the Czech national team.
Hostak retired as an active player after the 2000-01 season. Today, he is a television hockey commentator in the Czech Republic.