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Medvedev, Hakstol, Mason, Lecavalier, Chief, Son of a Thief & More

May 20, 2015, 9:23 AM ET [849 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
FLYERS SIGN VETERAN KHL STAR MEDVEDEV

Early on Wednesday morning, word broke from the KHL's Ak Bars Kazan club that veteran blueline star Yegveni Medvedev had come to a mutual agreement with the team to terminate the rest of his contract with the club. Several hours late, the Philadelphia Flyers announced that Medvedev has signed an NHL contract.

The biggest question mark with the defenseman, who will turn 33 on August 27, is whether he can successfully make the transition to the smaller-rink game and North American style at an advanced age. He has long been considered an NHL-caliber defenseman in terms of his two-way skill set, size (roughly 6-foot-3, 190 pounds) and mobility.

Medvedev has won two Gagarin Cups (KHL championships) with the Ak Bars (2008-09, 2009-10) and has been a three-time KHL All-Star (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14). He is also a regular on the Russian national team, including the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and the just-completed 2015 IIHF World Championships in the Czech Republic.

During the 2014-15 regular season, Medvedev posted 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) and a plus-12 rating in 43 games for the Ak Bars. During the postseason, he logged an average 22:32 of ice time in 14 games and chipped in four points (one goal, three assists).

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MELTZER'S MUSINGS: MAY 20, 2015

1) In yesterday's blog, I profiled what the Flyers (and Flyers fans) can expect from new head coach Dave Hakstol. If Hakstol's lengthy coaching tenure at the University of North Dakota is a reliable indicator of the swarming defensive system he will install at the NHL level, one of the players who should ultimately benefit the most is goaltender Steve Mason and the Flyers backup.

Over the course of Hakstol's collegiate tenure, it was pretty common for UND goaltenders, including their most recent starter -- Zane McIntyre, a sixth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2010 -- to post outstanding statistics. Before McIntyre, Hakstol brought out the best in the likes of Aaron Dell (who spent the 2014-15 season in the AHL with the Worcester Sharks), Brad Eindsness (drafted but never signed by Buffalo as he opted instead to pursue law school), Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (passed through the ECHL and AHL before playing in Austria's EBEL) and Jordan Parise (Zach's brother, played in the AHL and secondary European leagues).

Far and away, established NHL starter Mason is the best goaltender that Hakstol has ever had at his disposal. Mason is coming off a career year in 2014-15 despite the Flyers' terrible road record, which was the number one thing that cost the Flyers a playoff spot and ultimately cost Craig Berube his job.

Berube's system was a pretty structured one in its own right, and the Flyers actually made underrated progress in terms of commitment to team defense as the season progressed. It wasn't there consistently enough -- there were still a few too many games where Mason had to perform near-miracles to keep the team close -- but there were also stretches of games where even top opposing teams mostly got a diet of unscreened perimeter junk out of their puck possession time.

Defensively, the Flyers finally got on the right track after the All-Star break, but it was already too late by then to play at the type of winning pace -- with almost no margin for error -- they would have had to in order to make the playoffs. Then again, Ottawa pulled it off this season and actually caught and passed the Flyers along the way.

On an individual basis, Mason had an outstanding 2014-15 season when healthy enough to be in the lineup. But do not fool yourself into thinking it was entirely self-contained, especially in the post-All-Star break portion of the campaign. I have always been a believer that goaltending and team defense are deeply interwined; one will eventually help lift the other or cause it to sink.

In 2014-15, Mason's stellar play and mediocre won-loss record -- which was more an indicator of team play than anything else - should have been humiliating to the rest of the team. Eventually, the Flyers finally bought into to the notion that the goaltender was picking up for them so they needed to do the same in return.

The reason why so many coaches in today's NHL are heavily team defense-oriented is that defense can be taught and coached much more readily than scoring goals. Forechecking systems and power play design are coachable but finishing ability, willingness to go to the "greasy" areas and awareness are really not. Berube actually got the team to make progress in terms of two-way commitment, but further steps are needed.

Hakstol is a completely unproven coaching commodity at the pro level, much less the NHL. But the style he successfully had UND play is one that can be translated to the NHL level if there is sufficient buy-in from his players and strong enough goaltending. As long as Mason stays healthy, the latter part of the equation is already in place.

2) Much has been made over the last couple days over the fact that Ron Hextall has now twice hired coaches for whom his son, Phantoms forward Brett Hextall played before turning professional. When the younger Hextall was at Northwood School prior to attending the University of North Dakota, he played for Mark Morris.

After Ron Hextall left the Flyers to become the Los Angeles Kings' assistant general manager and the GM of the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs, one of his first moves was to hire longtime collegiate coach to be the Monarchs' bench boss.

It would be concerning if the Morris hire did not pan out, but it did. Twice in his first four years of AHL coaching -- including his first season -- Morris got his team to the Calder Cup semifinals. Although the team had trouble getting out of the first round thereafter, coaching was not the problem. Morris is now in the NHL as a Florida Panthers assistant coach.

3) It is going to be very interesting next season to try to get to know Hakstol a little bit as a hockey coach and see what his demeanor will be like under NHL (and Philadelphia market) pressure both in good and bad times during the upcoming season and beyond. I expect that he will present himself as calm and confident no matter what, but it remains to be seen how much beyond standard "coachspeak" he is willing to go in more relaxed settings.

Berube was never at his best in formal settings. He was always impeccably dressed and held his temper in front of the cameras and microphones, but he tended to say as little as possible. He was actually much, much better in more informal discussions.

For example, on game nights at the Wells Fargo Center, Berube typically had two separate media availability sessions: one immediately after the morning skate (with TV cameras rolling and a crowded room with visiting reporters and other assorted media) and a second one roughly two hours and ten minutes before a 7:00 p.m. game. The second one was for the benefit of the beat reporters -- of which I have become an extension, although my presentation format is different than traditional newspaper coverage.

Inevitably, Berube was relaxed and more willing to talk in-depth in the latter session. That was especially true once the routine question-answer session was wrapping up and tape recorders were turned off.

This was where he'd reveal much more about his hockey philosophies, talk about things like his view of the use of analytics (he paid more attention to analytics than most Flyers fans think he ever did, including make references to various proprietary in-house analytics the Flyers use that look at things that are not directly tied to shot attempt differentials). Sometimes, he'd even go a bit further than coachspeak in explaining why he used certain players certain ways.

Things with Berube were always couched in team-wide terms, and I assume that will be the same with Hakstol. He always said he believed in his team. Most commonly, he emphasized areas where he saw progress -- which ma but he didn't sugar coat things. That was never his way. There was nothing disingenuous with Chief, nor was there paranoia that speaking his mind on his own terms could have negative consequences. If he said it, he meant it and so be it if others didn't like it.

There were many times that I walked away from Chief's latter-day small-group sessions where I felt like I left with a little better understanding of why he did certain things as a coach. Whether or not I personally agreed with everything was irrelevant. There was always a specific reason why Player X was in his lineup and Player Y was not or why he had a certain line combination together or broke it apart. It was NOT haphazard, despite the way some portrayed it.

Some Flyers players have said they didn't know why Berube would do certain things, but he really wasn't all that tough to read if a player was being truly honest with himself. There were times that he perhaps gave too much slack to certain players and not enough to others, but that can be said of most coaches. I hope Berube gets another crack at an NHL head coaching job at some point -- and I think he will, because the majority of hockey people from outside the organization think he did a pretty good overall with the Flyers -- but I also think there is an opportunity for Hakstol to expedite the process of improving the Flyers if he pushes the right buttons and if Ron Hextall gets him the right upgrades to his roster. Those are two big ifs for a rookie pro coach and a GM facing cap constraints.

I just hope that, along the way, Hakstol is willing to be as generous as Berube actually was in sharing of his hockey mind with those who got to know him and built up a degree of trust. Such information is not sensational -- it won't drive website clicks, sell advertising or create talk-show fodder -- but it is appreciated by those who want to understand what truly goes into being the head coach of an NHL team. Actually, Berube's restraint and stoic professionalism in holding himself back from people who were openly antagonistic toward him was impressive.

Hakstol's calm and measured expressiveness in his introductory press conference was impressive. If that's how he'll be once the team actually starts playing, it's going to be fun to cover his team and track its progress. If he pulls back and says virtually nothing in any setting -- basically makes himself impossible to get to know -- the wins and losses alone will have to do all the talking. On a team that is still retooling at the NHL level while being a bubble team for playoff contention and trying to develop a corps of young players in the pipeline to create a brighter future, the short-terms wins and losses may not be enough to truly appreciate whatever will make Hakstol unique as an NHL head coach.

4) I suspect that the hiring of Hakstol as head coach did nothing to change Vincent Lecavalier's feelings about whether he has a place and a role on the Philadelphia Flyers. To the best of his ability, Hakstol is going to try to install a highly structured system that emphasizes skating, back-pressure and 200-foot play with the forwards carrying significant defensive responsibilities and the defensemen supporting the play offensively. I do not foresee Lecavalier being the right fit to get the type of ice time he needs to be effectively.

I especially do not think the longtime star player will buy into notion of going the extra mile for a coach who never played in the NHL and has no prior pro-level coaching experience telling him he needs to buy into a different way of playing than what worked for Lecavalier in the past and did not work for him under Berube.

This might be Lecavalier's best bet, because he's going to be tough to trade this summer and Hextall is adamant about not buying him out. According to the data that was on Capgeek before the site went offline, Lecavalier is due a $2 million installment on his signing bonus this summer. That installment likely must be paid to him on July 1, 2015. After that date, there really is very little reason for him not to essentially walk away from the Flyers by coming to a mutual contract termination agreement in which he'd forfeit the rest of his contract (including a $500,000 signing bonus installment due on July 1, 2016) but be an unrestricted free agent with the rest of the summer to find a new team.

There are clubs that would probably still have interest in Lecavalier on a modest contract that costs them no assets. Don't forget that Lecavalier is still collecting substantial annual checks from Tampa Bay for his amnesty buyout from the summer of 2013 on top of the $2 million he is due to collect from the Flyers. A termination on July 2nd would save the Flyers cap space in future seasons and would give Lecavalier absolute freedom to find a team where he's a better fit.

By going public on cleanout day about things his agent had said previously, Lecavalier essentially said he was done with the Flyers. While he left the door open to come back based on Berube's (then-impending) dismissal and the installation of a new system in which he fit, the new coach and the new system are probably not what he had in mind.

Will Lecavalier agree to terminate after July 1st so he can have his freedom? I have no idea. But it seems like the best arrangement of mutual benefit. Otherwise, it's still going to be tough to find a trade partner. The thought of Lecavalier going through another season as a bit player and/or healthy scratch is something that neither he nor the Flyers should even fathom. It's better to just agree to part ways, but there's no way Lecavalier will -- or should -- do it before he gets his money.

5) A few weeks ago, I was searching for additional materials I could weave into the 38th anniversary memorial article on the life and career of Barry Ashbee published on the Flyers Alumni Association's official website. As sheer luck would have it, I stumbled upon the "Son of a Thief" website owned and operated by Blake Allen.

If the site owner's surname sounds familiar, it's not a coincidence. Blake is the son of the late Keith "the Thief" Allen, the legendary general manager (and first coach) of the Flyers, who was the man most responsible for building the teams of the 1970s to mid-1980s and for the hiring of Fred Shero as head coach. Blake's site has a lot of great stories and first-hand information of what it was like to grow up as the son of the Hall of Fame hockey general manager.

Blake is also a professional musician and his site naturally has sample tracks and links to his discography. He is a talented artist -- I was unfamiliar with his work previously -- so the site is certainly worth checking out for that reason as well as the Flyers stories from years gone by.

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FLYERS ALUMNI FANTASY HOCKEY CAMP

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The Flyers Alumni will host a fantasy hockey camp from August 21-24 in Atlantic City, open to anyone age 21 and older. Instructors and Alumni participants will include Bernie Parent, Brian Propp, Ian Laperriere, Todd Fedoruk, Andre "Moose" Dupont, Dave "the Hammer" Schultz, Joe Watson and Bob "the Hound" Kelly.

The registration deadline is June 1. Participation costs $3,000 apiece but it is free to register a spot online. Over on the Flyers' Alumni website, there is more information on camp-related activities and on-ice schedules.
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