VOORHEES – Sure, the Flyers can use some help but any influx of talent should know how to play hockey “the right way.’’
Those last three words were something that both general manager Chuck Fletcher and interim head coach Scott Gordon stressed during their end-of-season press conferences on Monday at the Skate Zone.
When all the dust from contracts has settled, Fletcher figures to have somewhere in the $15 million range in salary cap space to add a couple free agents.
And don’t rule out the possibility of a trade – perhaps for a proven veteran defenseman to help with all the Flyers’ young backliners.
That said, the Flyers give the impression they want to change their culture, becoming more of a defense-minded team than one which concerns itself so much with goal scoring.
As pointed out on Sunday, the Flyers scored 244 goals (just one less than playoff-bound Carolina) but finished with a minus-37 goal differential. The Hurricanes were a plus-22.
“I think we need to add a couple more proven players, for sure,’’ Fletcher said. “I think we could add in any area. Clearly we need to find a goaltender to play with Carter (Hart). Certainly a veteran defenseman could help. I think some help up front as well.
“I think we score, but maybe finding another experienced guy that can help with that mindset, playing the right way, that could contribute both ways. Another part, you could look outside for help. You can get better defensively which is a key.’’
It’s Fletcher’s hope that whomever winds up coaching the team can get it to change its ways, play better on both sides of the puck. Teach old dogs new tricks so to speak.
“I hope we get better in the continued improvement of the young players and that has to be part of it,’’ Fletcher said. “You can’t go outside your group and add four or five guys every year. It’s just hard to expend all those assets to go outside your system, so we’re going to continue to need growth from the payers that are here. We’re going to actively look for some outside solutions, but part of getting better next year will be see continued growth from the key young players.’’
A lot of the young players sported big minus numbers, including Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-20), Ivan Provorov (minus-16), Oskar Lindblom (minus-9) and Nolan Patrick (minus-8).
Can someone like Gordon get these players to change their ways, particularly when it comes to puck management in critical places such as the offensive zone?
Fletcher said the culture change begins at the top.
“It starts with me,’’ he said, “then it goes to the coaches, then to the leaders and then players.
“It’s not just mindset, it’s actual details. It’s doing things the right way repeatedly. That’s how you gain confidence and that’s how you learn to play the right way.’’
So often, the Flyers would score to take a one-goal lead this season, then give it right back a minute or two later.
“Defending well again, there’s different ways of doing it. It’s not just systems,’’ Fletcher pointed out. “It’s puck management, game management, being in the right spot, holding onto the puck offensively, making more plays offensively, retrieving pucks and winning battles.
“There’s a whole host of things that go into it. We have some bad habits right now, flying the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things. It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.’’
Fletcher wants his players thinking that way right out of the gate come September.
“I think that’s going to be a focus in training camp, trying to do things day after day early when you have the practice time. It’s difficult once you get into the season. You don’t have practice time. You have mandatory days off, you have travel days. Second half of the year, you rarely practice as you folks saw. It’s just too difficult.
“Training camp is a great opportunity for an organization to implement changes and develop habits and then you build that up to the beginning of the season.’’
Gordon couldn’t agree more.
If he’s back next season, look for him to try to get the roster headed in the direction Fletcher wants. . .especially the young players.
“They (young players) do want to get better,’’ he said. “As I talked about with the video, (they are) very engaged, very interested to see what you have to show them. So, from that standpoint, there is a caring — learning to win. That’s something that comes with time and winning. Having the right mindset that sometimes things aren’t going to be good for your personal situation of where you are in a game, but sometimes you have to make decisions and plays that are good for the team.’’