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Quick Hits: Flyers Daily, Debrincat, Nichushkin, TIFH

June 23, 2022, 11:44 AM ET [171 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Quick Hits: June 23, 2022

1) Flyers head coach John Tortorella is Jason Myrtetus' guest on today's edition of Flyers Daily. Among other topics, "Torts" discusses how he defines accountability, why he doesn't worry about or get offended by outside perceptions of him and the difference between talking about team identity and living up to it.

2) I would be quite surprised if the Alex Debrincat trade rumors play out into an actual trade this offseason. I also do not think the Flyers are in a position to make such a trade. Two reasons: 1) Other organizations have more attractive trade packages they can offer; 2) The same reasons that make it conceivable that Chicago might trade the 24-year-old winger who scored 41 goals and 78 points in 2021-22 also make it very risky to put together a blockbuster package to acquire him.

DeBrincat is signed through 2022-23 and then can become an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. He currently carries a $5.4 million cap hit but will earn a $9 million real dollar salary next season. As a result, Chicago (or his new team if he's traded) must make a $9 million qualifying offer for the 2023-24 season. An even bigger issue: DeBrincat, if he so desires, can become an unrestricted free agent come July 1, 2024, if he elects not to sign a contract extension beforehand.

Let's say the Flyers went all out to trade for DeBrincat, and succeeded in getting the deal done. There would be a very real possibility that they'd either have trade DeBrincat as a rental player to a contender come the 2024 trade deadline -- after just 1 3/4 season in Philadelphia -- or the olayer could simply walk as a UFA that summer. All he'd have to is accept the $9 million qualifying offer (which, under CBA rules, is a one-year contract) next summer. He could also try to drive his 2023-24 salary higher by rejecting the qualifying offer and seeking arbitration instead and receiving a one-season award from a salary in the range of perhaps $10 million or higher. Either way, he'd have UFA rights in the summer of 2024 barring an extension.

There is no doubt that the 5-foot-7 left winger is a fine offensive player. He's already a two-time 40-goal scorer and three time 30-plus goal scorer who has twice tallied 76 to 78 points. There's not doubt that playing with Patrick Kane has boosted Debrincat's production. However, he's qute a talent in his own right. He'd score for any team.

At the same time, in what's been a flat salary cap environment for several years, it's going to take creativity (i.e., likely acquisition of LTIR-bound players with big cap hits) for a team near the cap ceiling to be able to absorb DeBrincat's likely cap hit beyond 2022-23. Although the cap ceiling may get bumped up more significantly in upcoming offseasons, there's only so much liquidity in the system.

3) Colorado Avalanche right winger Valeri Nichushkin has followed up a very strong regular season (25 goals, 52 points, traditional +21 in 62 games played) with what has been an excellent playoff run so far including eight goals and 13 points in 18 games. It will be interesting to see where 27-year-old forward lands this summer an unrestricted free agent and how much salary/term he commands. He's sure to get a signficant bump up on his current $2.5 million cap hit ($2.8 million real dollar salary this season).

Nichushkin, originally drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 10th overall pick of the 2013 Entry Draft, was a frustrating player during his years in the Stars organization. He was physically mature even as a teenager and clearly skilled. But he was also rather emotionally immature, and he did not click under Lindy Ruff's hard-pushing coaching style (which the player apparently took personally, telling the Russian media that Ruff was "crazy"). Nonetheless, especially when playing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, there were flashes of high-end potential from the young forward.

Nichushkin's early progress in the NHL was slowed by injuries that limited him to 13 games (eight in the NHL, five in the AHL) his second season. He seemed to regress in year three and pouted when scratched by Ruff.

After the 2015-16 season, Nichushkin then elected to back home to Russia for two years and play in the KHL, where he had decent (although not overwhelming) success. Above all, though, the player seemed to regain some of confidence he'd lost over the previous few years.

At age 23, Nichushkin returned to the Stars on a two-year, $5.9 million contract. Ruff was gone by this point, as was his successor Ken Hitchcock. The Stars had a new head coach in Jim Montgomery. While the Stars as a team clicked under Montgomery's system, Nichushkin had a disastrous season.

In 57 games played, Nichushkin did not score a single goal or take a single penalty (even an accidental one such as getting his skates tangled with an opponent and being called for tripping). He had 10 assists. Fairly or unfairly, there were loud whispers that Nichushkin had quit on the season and mailed it in.

After the season, Stars general manager Jim Nill pulled the plug on Nichushkin. Dallas bought out the second season of the player's two-year deal and turned the player loose as an unrestricted free agent. At 24, Nichushkin signed with the Colorado Avalanche.

It was strictly a reclamation project at the time; a one-year, $850,000 "prove it" deal. To his credit, Nichushkin made the most of what otherwise would likely have been his final chance at an NHL career. He established himself as a two-way forward and seemed to mature in being able to bounce back if something didn't go his way. He wasn't the top-of-the-lineup type that he was touted to be in his early days in Dallas but he was a more well-rounded and more valuable player to Colorado than he'd ever been with the Stars.

In 2021-22, Nichushkin has had the best all-around season of his career including offensively. It could hardly have come at a better time, as it came for an Avalanche team that was clearly a legitimate Stanley Cup contender (and is now one win away from the championship) and also in a contract-drive year.

There are some lessons to be learned from Nichushkin's career arc. Just because a teenage player is physically mature and skilled -- and has some early success -- it doesn't mean that he's also emotionally mature enough to deal with the ups and downs. There's also a lesson about the need for teams to stay patient through the growing pains and realizing that a lost developmental season caused by injury can have a longer-lasting impact than just the one year. Just because progress goes slower than expected does not automatically write off the chance the player could eventually blossom into an effective NHLer.

It's not all on the Stars. Nichushkin didn't inspire much faith that he'd turn the corner especially during his disastrous one-season return to Dallas after two years back in Russia.

Actually, I have wondered how Flyers fans would have responded to Nichuskin or any other former 1st round pick if he'd had a 0-goal season in 57 games here at age 23 -- "Another bust of a pick by this organization"' "Only this incompetent staff would draft this stiff instead of Player X", "Zero value, zero heart; get rid of him." -- and then turned things after getting a fresh start somewhere else. I suspect there would have been a 180 done by some of the same people.

I don't know if Nichushkin will become a perennial 20-to-25 goal scorer beyond this season. I do know that the ability to do so has always been there, but it took a lot of time and growing pains to get there. In the meantime, I suspect he's going to get paid handsomely as a UFA this summer, whether the Avs find a way to keep him within their cap management plan or whether he goes elsewhere.

4) On Wednesday evening, Tortorella made an unannounced appearance to greet high-performing graduating seniors from Ed Snider Youth Hockey and Education at a graduation celebration at Wells Fargo Center.

Tortorella met with students and offered remarks about the importance of education. During his remarks, he underscored the importance of taking what is learned on the ice and applying it to life outside of the rink. All of the attending Snider Hockey students will be enrolling in post-secondary programs this fall, including four-year colleges, community colleges, or trade schools.

5) Today in Flyers History: Richards and Carter Traded

On June 23, 2011, the Flyers made dual blockbuster trades that sent Mike Richards to the LA Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a 2012 second-round pick (later traded to the Dallas Stars for Nicklas Grossmann) and Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft (Sean Couturier) and a 2011 third-round pick (Nick Cousins).

On the Flyers website a couple years ago, I spoke at length with Paul Holmgren, who gave a detailed account of how everything went down that day and the process by which the Flyers selected Couturier with the first round pick acquired from the Blue Jackets.

The Flyers scouts seriously considered a couple of defenseman -- now-retired scout Simon Nolet recalled Jonas Brodin being atop the Flyers' best-available prospect list at the final pre-draft meeting, while others have said it was a tossup between Dougie Hamilton and Brodin with Couturier also a possibility. Holmgren, the team general manager at the time, spoke up in the final meeting and strongly suggested that they rethink the strategy because the team had just dealt two centers in Carter and Richards and Couturier had entered his Draft year as the consensus top overall prospect before he was set back by a bout of mono and had a largely similar year production wise rather than showing increased dominance.

Another round of debate followed and the consensus pick shifted from Brodin or Hamilton to the big center.
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