Medvedev Addition Buys Us Time >
 
 

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by Michael DeNicola


Thursday, May 21, 2015 --



We all know the Flyers added another defenseman on Wednesday – news broke around noon, and the long-tenured KHL blueliner, Evgeni Medvedev, becomes one of nine roster defensemen for the 2015-16 League Year (assuming Hextall re-signs Del Zotto.) It’s a one-year deal between Medvedev and Philadelphia, and one which swings an average annual value of $3 million – hardly a 7th Dman’s salary, or even a bottom-pairing guy.


Evgeni (or Yevgeni, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) has been scouted and scored as a Top 4 NHL Defenseman. His skill set incorporates skating agility, speed, and above average puck skills. Head coach, Dave Haxtol, seemingly has a system in place that needs lots of offense generated from his defensemen in defensive situations, as well as on the transition. Guys like Del Zotto and Mark Streit standout in a fluid role such as this, and we’re assuming Medvedev was added to perform similarly. As a major plus, Evgeni is quite the Swiss Army knife – the 32-year-old skater was once a forward (C, LW) up until the age of 21 when he was assigned blueline duty. He has stuck there ever since. So the man sets quite the indifference curve.


Now, here’s where the whole thing gets hairy – obviously Hextall and his cabinet do not operate under the public opinion. That much has been proven thus far, and thank God. Ron Hextall is setting up his chess pieces, and preparing this organization to travel a road of retooling and development; none of which will be influenced by the impatient howling from the general fanbase.


Once the Medvedev news broke, there was an enormous gust of hot air from the Philly faithful. Of course, I’m generalizing; I’ve had the pleasure of reading about and discussing this move with several blogs and fans who’ve managed to compute the bigger picture. And to them, I say they’re a small minority. The majority reaction seems to be frustration—we have a slew of highly touted defensive prospects in our pipeline, and all of us want to see these kids dominate one day. Most of us are a tad too eager to see them in a Flyers uni sooner than (maybe) they should be. It’s understandable, but again, the bigger picture mustn’t get lost in clouded, bias lust.



“We have too many defensemen!”


I laugh when I read that particular response. I mean sure, presently we really do have too many one-way contracts on the Flyers blueline. But A) You can never really have too many defensemen, and B) We don’t have enough of the right kind of defenseman—Top 4 Defensemen particularly.


With the addition of Medvedev on payroll, we’re almost guaranteed to see Hextall trade two or three contracts this Summer—probably contracts belonging to defensemen—not just to be cap compliant at the start of the 2015-16 schedule, but also to generate legitimate opportunity for guys like Brandon Manning, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg to battle it out in camp for one or two spots.



“Why are we packing more defensive contracts under the cap? Our offense sucks; sign a forward!”


Defense goes hand-in-hand with offense. Especially in today’s game of NHL hockey. The Flyers had a very bad habit of being pinned in our own zone. We were beat by the entries, the angles, the forecheck, and the cycle. In a nutshell, our team has lacked the competency to overturn possession in a defensive situation, and generate a scoring chance from it.  A lot of that has had to do with our poor defensive corps. This MUST change in order for Dave Hakstol’s ideology to develop into reality and action.


Once this team’s blueline routinely executes in every facet of the game, this entire world will see the Flyers scoring more, both on even-strength and on the Power Play. Simply put, we’ll spend less time covering our own ass, and more time trying to put the puck on goal.



“Bring up the kids!”


You mean our prospects? Well, that may absolutely happen. But also, don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t. Let’s start with reasons why, prospect by prospect –

  • Travis Sanheim – You love him. I love him. But the kid has zero pro experience. He’s got all the tools to turn our defense into a significant scoring threat someday, but he’s got to learn how to play without the puck at the pro level. At the pro level, all the players are almost as good or just as good as Sanheim… or better. His physical abilities are there, but it’s his mental game that needs developing. I’m not a professional scout, but I’m not counting on his readiness by next season. Nor should anyone with objective expectations.
  • Samuel Morin – Like Sanheim, Morin has skills, but zero pro experience. It’s rare that a kid steps from Junior to the NHL in one Summer. It has obviously happened and will continue as so, but it’s never anything we should automatically expect. It would do Morin some good – as well as this organization from an investment angle – to acquire some pro experience with the Phantoms in 2015-16. At that level, he’s logging 18 – 20 minutes a night; his mistakes won’t weigh so heavily as they would in the NHL arena; and he’ll learn to tweak his mental game accordingly.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere – We know this kid has all the makings of being a super star in Hakstol’s system. He’s literally what you pictured when Hak and Hextall were discussing the plan in their interview. And yes, Shayne has pro experience at both the AHL and NHL stage. The obvious problem there is, that experience was limited and fell short due to a season-ending injury. He was back on the ice practicing in the closing months/weeks of the season. But he will more than likely need most of the experience he missed out on. However, I’m willing to bet he’s closer to NHL-ready than I’m giving him credit for. And the same goes for our next contestant…
  • Robert Hagg – Not a flashy or sexy defenseman by any stretch, but this guy had pro experience (SEL) under his belt at the time Holmgren drafted him. He was playing against grown men, and performing well. Hagg is arguably the most NHL-ready of any Flyers defensive prospect: sound decision-making, hockey smarts, crisp playmaking, special teams player…. Overall, his game is hardly ever a liability. But he was subject of criticism at times last season with the Phantoms. Analysts thought he wasn’t giving a consistent effort on the ice, and took some shifts off. This won’t buy you a ticket to the Big Club, so he’ll have to deposit a jaw-dropping performance in camp.
  • Brandon Manning – he has recently signed a one-year extension. The contract is one-way, which tells me the Flyers are ready to give him a permanent home on their blueline.


Here’s the skinny… with a number of our defensemen on the final year of their contracts, we’re looking at a lot of open spots on our blueline for 2016-17. By signing Medvedev to a one-year deal, Hextall is buying time in the interim. It’s so obvious that he’s readying the roster to absorb a number of our prospects by 2016. Between now and then, and assuming he’s able to trade a couple players this offseason, the Flyers are manufacturing flexibility; we’re producing options along the timeline so that they may one day synthesize into Hextall and Hakstol’s model.


Whether that model leads to our third Stanley Cup and more remains to be seen. But fanatical impatience and close-mindedness ain’t gonna get us there any faster—it’s just going to create more white noise ignored by the men who know what the fuck they’re doing.  



AFTER THE FACT:

Once I posted and shared this article from Facebook and Twitter, I received a very thought-provoking, interesting response from Brad Keffer of Evening The Score...




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