Here is the transcript of our interview with Bill Meltzer from Thursday of last week. Enjoy!
Listen to the interview on Apple Podcasts here
Dan Esche: All right everybody, welcome to Brotherly Pod. It is Thursday April 30th, the last day of April. Finally! It has been a very long month here, but we’ve got a very special episode for you here this afternoon. Anthony is joining me. He is usually over on Flyers A. D. and he’s here today. Anthony, how you doing?
Anthony DiMarco: Not too bad Dan, yourself?
Dan Esche: I’m doing pretty good. It’s starting to rain here and it is rather warm in the studio, but I will be fine. Our very special guest, Flyers writer Bill Meltzer is here. Bill, how are you doing?
Bill Meltzer: I’m doing fine, how about you?
Dan Esche: I’m doing pretty good. I guess I am going to open this up with the same question that I have asked all of our guests lately. How you holding up? What is Bill Meltzer doing to keep himself busy during quarantine?
Bill Meltzer: Well, I am thankfully staying busy. If you look on the Flyers official website (www.flyers.nhl.com) we have content on there virtually every day. Yesterday, I had a one-on-one opportunity to speak with Alain Vigneault, so that that was one of the topics for today and we’re doing a series of profiles on every player on the team. Today was Philippe Myers turn, so that’s on the site as well today too. So, there’s pretty much something every day to do. I’m still writing for Hockey Buzz, and still working with the Flyers Alumni Association. You know I stay busy but I do very much miss the chance of being at the rink, seeing the guys there, seeing my colleagues. That’s pretty tough and I think we’re all anxious to get going if and when we can.
Anthony DiMarco: So Bill, it’s no secret that given where the Flyers were around 15 months ago when Chuck Fletcher took over this team, they have taken a pretty massive step forward. I think anyone would say that. So, I ask you; what was Chuck Fletcher able to do when he came in November of 2018 in the first calendar year almost, and have such a pulse for what this team needed? You know he brought in Alain Vigneault at coach, he brought in Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, and Matt Niskanen. All moves that seemingly paid off in aces. What was he able to see that Ron Hextall didn’t, or was just Ron Hextall not ready to take that step that Fletcher clearly was?
Bill Meltzer: Well, I think that he took a lot of things that Hexy did. Hexy left him with a very good farm system. He left him with a lot of draft pick assets and young players on the team. Where I think that he took it the next step was that he hired an experienced very capable head coach in Vigneault and also put together an experienced coaching staff. Fletcher and Vigneault did it together. You know whereas when Hexy hired Dave Hakstol, for a pretty significant period of time the Flyers had no one on staff who’d ever been a professional level head coach. You know, guys that had a lot of experience as assistant coaches, but nobody had ever been a head coach at the pro-level. It’s pretty much the polar opposite now where you know Michel Therrien has been an NHL head coach, Mike Yeo has been an NHL head coach. To have that experience in combination with Vigneault – who is a guy who has taken two different teams to the Stanley Cup Finals, he’s been a Jack Adams winner, he’s been the head coach of teams that have won the Presidents Trophy in the regular-season. So he has a lot of know-how and ability and so he had instant credibility with the group. I’m not trashing the previous regime or anything like that, but the experience absolutely has made a difference. The second thing that I think that Chuck Fletcher did is that he didn’t necessarily go for the big splashy moves; except for maybe the Kevin Hayes acquisition, and even that had its critics. But the things that he set out to do first and foremost was he wanted to cut the team goals against average. Now some of that was going to come from Carter Hart continuing to develop, and hopefully Brian Elliott was going to stay healthy this year. That gamble paid off as well. One of the Flyers biggest problems last year (until Carter Hart came up) was the revolving door of goaltenders and nobody was healthy on top of it. So just having Carter Hart continue develop was a piece of it. Bringing Matt Niskanen in – that’s the kind of move that Hexy generally stayed away from; bringing older veterans in, and that has significantly paid off. Matt Niskanen has been worth his weight in gold to this team. Not just the stats he’s put up, but in terms of his influence on Ivan Provorov as a defense partner, in terms of the calming influence he has in the locker room and on the bench, and just in being able to situate your defense pairings. You know, he can still pull down 20 minutes a night and then therefore, Travis Sanheim is on the second pair and they were able to situate things accordingly. Also, they brought in Justin Braun who’s helped along in those regards too especially in the penalty kill. You know Kevin Hayes gave the Flyers depth down the middle. I would hate to think about where the team would be actually if Kevin Hayes hadn’t been brought in, and this is before we even knew that Nolan Patrick wasn’t going to be able to play this year. I don’t know where this team would be if it was just Couturier and if they had to go full-time with Claude Giroux back at Center again. So just the talent down the middle with a one-two punch of Couturier and Hayes, and then subsequently at the deadline they added Derek Grant. But if Nolan Patrick could come back that’ll be a big positive. Also, other under the radar kind of moves like bringing in Tyler Pitlick. He was a player I really liked when he played for Dallas. He’s been the same player here and maybe there was a little bit of a gamble involved because he was coming off of wrist surgery, and then actually last summer he got hurt again. Once he settled in after a little bit of a slow start, Pitlick has been outstanding addition it in terms of his forechecking ability, and the north-south speed that he brings. You know, one thing that all these guys kind of have in common that they have brought in the door have been that they are all pretty good two-way players. So you know if you cut your goals against significantly, that’s a big piece of it where you are going to be able to compete most every night. Add the coaching piece into it, and the players buying into what Vigneault has done, those have really been the keys. The biggest thing to me also that he’s done is that he’s been able to add these elements and he really didn’t have to tear up the farm system to do it. They still have good young players in the system and draft picks to come. So for the first year with the team, you know I can’t speak highly enough about what Chuck has done.
Dan Esche: Let’s talk about the newest addition to the team – Linus Sandin, who they just signed a few days ago. Can you give us the 4-1-1 on what to expect when he hits the Flyers lineup?
Bill Meltzer: Yeah. A big forward. Right-handed shooting right-winger. I wouldn’t say that he’s going to score like Oskar Lindblom did, but if you picture Oskar’s style of play he gets involved down low, gets to the net, wins a lot of battles behind the net. There is a little bit of a Michael Raffl type in him as well. He’s a guy you can move around the lineup a little bit. I think he’s going to compete for a bottom-six role, but he might be a guy you might be able to plug in different places in the lineup. And maybe you know even spend some time even in the top six. Probably not the full-time guy, and I think that the depth that he brings, again the element of size, his tenacity around the puck, and his work ethic. He is already going to have a little bit of familiarity with the team. Well, not of the team but with some of his new teammates. Robert Hagg is from the same hometown that he is. They train together in the offseason, so he should be a guy who kind of hits the ground running with the team. He can give you around 10-12 solid minutes a night. Over in Sweden, he was playing power-play and penalty-kill. I don’t know that he’s going to step right on to specialty teams on the Flyers, but I think he would be groomed to do that and see some PK minutes. And if all goes well, maybe even get on some supplementary second power play unit. Who knows? All that remains to be seen. Also, the Flyers have some free agents to sign this offseason and probably not a lot of cap space to do it with the cap likely to remain flat. Even though they would like to bring Pitlick back, maybe they won’t be able to do that. A guy like Grant maybe they won’t be able to bring back, so you know he is a guy who can step in and address something like that. He is not going to come in and be a major impact player, a huge goal scorer, but he is a piece of a puzzle along the same kind of lines as guys that they’ve been bringing in. A guy who can come in and play the style of hockey that Vigneault wants and play a disciplined brand of hockey as well. So, it’s a nice little signing. The Flyers had competition; several other teams were interested. He will come over on a one-year deal so there’s no long-term commitment. If it works out, great. And if it doesn’t, you know it’s one year.
Dan Esche: You mentioned Grant and Pitlick. Now that they have they’ve also signed Wade Allison and Laczynski who are former draft picks, Chuck Fletcher has done a good job of giving himself options in the bottom six where you know guys like Pitlick and Grant – even though they are playing big roles – they can be replaced. So do you think that works into the cap space next year? Maybe that Laczynski and Allison may get a shot as well?
Bill Meltzer: Yeah I do. You know in Allison’s case, just because he’s missed so much hockey over the last three years I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent a little bit of time with the Phantoms. Probably not a ton of time, but I mean yeah. Those are guys that can come in and compete for spots. Laczynski is very mature physically. So is Allison. They’re in their twenties by now. You know, these are guys who might be in the mix and as you said with the cap considerations; if the cap ceiling remains flat for next year which it looks like would probably be the case, then you have limited money you can spend. And you do need some young depth options you can bring in and you’re not tied into overpaying for bottom six guys. That’s sometimes where a team gets itself into trouble with the cap. You have a player who you want to keep, and you like, and you find him useful; but it’s also you know what are you what are you getting for the salary level you are getting. You mentioned Grant. Well, Grant this year signed a one-year contract before he was traded to the Flyers and he made the NHL minimum this season. I mean, one of the best values in the league. But he has a career-high 15 goals and is going to be looking to get paid more. And maybe the numbers aren’t there and it seems to be a fairly good chance that it won’t be. You know, to have a guy like Laczynski; a man who can play centre or he could play a wing as well. So, you know to have guys that are versatile, guys that are physically mature and have some game to them. It’s definitely a feather in the cap to get them signed in terms of system depth. And listen, these are also guys that Hexy drafted so again you got to give some credit to Ron for that too.
Anthony Di Marco: So, the Flyers now have a farm system that you know Daniel brought up the names of Allison and Tanner Laczynski. A lot of people are looking forward to seeing what Yegor Zamula brings. We saw Frost a bit at the NHL, but spent the majority of the season in the AHL. You know, the Flyers probably since 2015 have been almost like a factory for producing young NHL talent. You see Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart – these are all guys that were drafted in Hextall’s first three years in charge in Philadelphia. But now you have a farm system where all of these guys have elevated and graduated to the NHL. When you look at the current farm system, do you think it has a pool of talent that could match what the Flyers had 5 years ago, and what in general should the fans be expecting from this new crop of prospects?
Bill Meltzer: Yeah, well as you said a lot of guys graduated to the NHL. In terms of guys who have really high end offensive potential talking about the forwards, and Morgan Frost would be the guy who has the highest upside potentially. Morgan has to go and get more consistent in his game. He could still get stronger. I don’t know whether Morgan’s long-term fit is going to be at center or wing. They like him at center. It’s a little easier defensively to play wing in some regards so, you know we’ll see we’ll see what Morgan’s timetable is a year from now. His own play will determine most of that and also I guess Nolan Patrick’s situation might dictate some of that as well. You know in terms of guys who are going to be major impacts and you know offensive players, there is not a lot. I mean, it’s going to be a few years I think until Bobby Brink is ready for the NHL, but I think he’s going to be good player. Joel Farabee just turned twenty years old and he’s just scratching the surface, so in a lot of ways even though he’s been at the NHL level most of the season, he still is a prospect and in a lot of ways still pretty inexperienced. Cam York, the defenseman the Flyers picked in the first round a year ago has very high upside. As an all-around player but especially as a guy who can help on the powerplay. He skates really well. You know he is a guy worth being excited about. He’s going to play at least one more year of college hockey so he’ll be back with Team USA at the World Juniors next year and should see a lot more minutes than he saw this year. This year he hardly played for whatever reason, but next year he should play a much bigger role on Team USA. And then there is a guy like Jay O’Brien who is a wild card. The Flyers took him with one of their two first round picks two years ago. It did not work out for him at all at Providence College. Based on the NCAA transfer rules, he had an option of either sitting out a season or going and playing in in an amateur league somewhere else, so he played a year in the British Columbia Hockey League. He had some injury issues, but he dominated that league at the level you would expect someone who was a first-round pick to. He was a little bit older than some of the players in that league. It is not quite like major junior, you do have some older guys who play there before they go on to play collegiate hockey, so it’s not exactly the same as the way the major junior systems work but he’ll be at Boston University next year. It’s going to be a really big year for him; he will be officially a sophomore and I think the Flyers will have a better sense of what they have in him a season from now. So, to me he is a wild card type. They have some other defensive prospects in the system. Wyatte Wylie just signed his first professional contract. He is a guy they see as a penalty killing type. He did put up numbers as a junior player this year, but they’re not expecting him to be an offensive guy at the pro level. So, there are all a number of pretty good prospects that they have in the system, plus some other guys on the Phantoms as well. Isaac Ratcliffe is a year removed from being a 50-goal scorer in the Ontario league. He had his ups and downs as a first year AHL player, it is still going to be a process with him. You know, a lot of times those big forwards take time to develop and he showed signs in the second half of the season (of a pretty tough season for the Phantom’s at that) of starting to come around. You know, there are guys there that can definitely bolster the system and have the potential to develop. Frost to me, is still the guy who excites me the most among the forwards as I said. So, there are guys who can play but you know but there isn’t the same number of high-end guys just because the Flyers picked a run of forwards pretty high in the draft (Konecny, Farabee and those kind of guys). So, the system depth is pretty good. It’s not as not as high-end as it was a year or two ago, but it’s in good shape. The Flyers needed to get some more defenseman in the system because they were kind of in a transitional phase with some of the defense. They went defense with their first pick in the draft this year and I think they have a good one this year in York. So, we’ll see where that are all that goes but I think that if you look on a league-wide basis the Flyers are still solidly in the top third of the league in terms of prospects.
Dan Esche: Maybe one of the more interesting things heading into the offseason is the goaltending. You know, Carter Hart still has one year left on his ELC. But Brian Elliott’s contract is up at the end of the year. Do you think that they go with Elliot again for next season or do you think they look out into the market and maybe pursue somebody like Lehner, or maybe a Greiss, Halak, or Anton Khudobin or somebody like that?
Bill Meltzer: When I talked to Chuck Fletcher about that, they’re happy with the arrangement with Elliott. He gets along well with Carter. He is well-respected on the team. As long as he stays healthy and the numbers are right for both sides, I think they’re going to go one more year with him. You know he does have some recent injury history, so we’ll see. If some other team were to say ‘hey we have more games for you’; you never know what could happen, but I think the most likely scenario is that they go one more year with Elliott.
Anthony Di Marco: So Bill, a common trend that comes up when you talk about the current Philadelphia Flyers and it’s happened with us as we’ve been discussing the new players and the prospects is Ron Hextall. And I think when you look at his tenure as GM, the first 75% of it was A+. You know, he’s rectified the cap situation. He cleared out a lot of older contracts and in doing so he drafted all of these high-end prospects who right now make up much of the core on the team. What exactly went wrong in the Ron Hextall regime given how many positives that still linger on this team as a result of his tenure, and how was it resulted of how the Flyers upper management is run as a whole?
Bill Meltzer: I think that there were there were several pieces to it. I think there was some impatience to accelerate the push, to try to get a little further than sneaking into the first round of the playoffs. You know, I think that over the course of those number of years the Flyers got in twice (even at add a ninety-eight point in season in the mix), but I think there was an expectation particularly going into last season. He did sign James Van Riemsdyk so that was a pretty aggressive move there, but there were opportunities to do things I think similar to what Chuck Fletcher did. Where you’re not tearing up your farm system, but you’re also bringing in some veteran stability and you’re not giving up things. Listen, there are a lot of years there where Claude Giroux takes heat sometimes, and Voracek takes heat. Couturier doesn’t really take a lot of heat, but I mean you know some say, ‘well this has been your core group and you can’t get out of the first round’. Well to me, the only reason the Flyers have even been a bubble team and even got into the playoffs was because they were high end players and you gave up a lot of their prime years during the rebuild. And I understand the necessity of it, but I think it got to be a point in time where you say ‘okay, are we a year away or are we ready now’. And I know a lot of people bring up the coaching piece of it. From everything that I’ve been told, on and off the record; the plan initially was to hopefully give Dave Hakstol the rest of last season, but then things went so off the rails. It’s kind of unfair to leave your coach twisting in the wind anyway. You know, most GM’s bring in their own guys. They finished the year with Scott Gordon as interim head coach, but I think Chuck came in prepared to give Hak the rest of the year but I think there would have been a coaching change quite honestly at the end of the year. And I do think they would have looked for somebody more experienced. I think that was that was a piece of it to. I don’t think Ron was ever under the gun like ‘okay you’ve got to get rid of Hak’. I just think that it was part of a general dissatisfaction with the rate of progress. And then there are various internal things too, because there’s a lot of pressure and heavy is the head that wears the crown, right? You know, there were some internal issues within various departments and between Hexy and management and things kind of fell apart on those fronts as well. You know, when Ron was up for the Minnesota Wild job; a lot of the same issues that pushed Ron out were some of the same issues that pushed Fenton out in Minnesota. So I didn’t know if Ron was going to be the right fit in Minnesota, unless he had changed his thinking on some key areas. Of course, they ended up hiring Billy Guerin. I think it’s a matter of time though, until Ron gets his next shot in the NHL. Whether it’s a team that’s looking to rebuild, or just… You know Ron is a very bright guy, a very reflective guy. For whatever heat Ron got for being overly controlling or micromanaging you would hear those terms. And I mean, I worked with Ron on a somewhat limited basis as a website writer, but I will truthfully say (and Ron read everything that I would write), that I never felt censored by Ron. I always felt Ron was supportive. He was always accessible to me and always shot straight with me. I can only speak for my own dealings. All I can say is that I didn’t find that he tried to control the flow of information or anything like that or try to control the messaging. That being said though, some of the changes that were brought about like not being able to talk to the assistant coaches, not really wanting the assistant general manager to talk, wanting the message to come from Ron or come from the head coach. Those are areas that were different Paul Holmgren was, and different than other general managers are as well. But I mean, I think when you when you weigh everything that Ron did as a first-time general manager, I think he did a nice job. Honestly, if you look back in Flyers history, I know I might be before your guys time but the Flyers had a General Manager named Russ Farwell in between Bob Clarke’s two tenures as General Manager. And Farwell was a very good drafter. He had been the General Manager of Seattle in the Western Hockey League. And during the period of time when he was General Manager, a lot of good players that came up in the mid-90s when Bob Clarke came back were guys who were drafted by Farwell or Farwell moved them in trades to assemble the pieces that Bob Clarke built on. I think you’re seeing a similar kind of thing here. So I think that there are a lot of learning experiences. All tenures have to come to an end. I wish it wasn’t so messy with Ron, and I’m speaking very honestly. It just didn’t feel very good the way it all went down. You know, you hear two sides of the story, and there is really three sides to every story and the truth is always somewhere in the middle. And it was kind of painful when you have people that you like on both sides and now the relationship fell apart. Hockey reasons and you know just day to day kind of reasons. It is a very complicated thing. There’s no one or two things. I think the one thing is that communication is vital, and I think the communication broke down between the two sides and that’s not just one person’s fault. I don’t know how helpful that is, how much clarity that gives, but I think that it hopefully expresses some of the complexity of it.
Dan Esche: You wrote a piece today on Phil Myers, who has been just an absolute joy to watch develop in the AHL and now has taken the big step into the NHL. What do you realistically think his ceiling is, because he seems to be just a jack-of-all-trades kind of player?
Bill Meltzer: Well, yeah. I mean for a guy with his size and his mobility I think he’s a little more than that. You know he still is a young player in the league; he’s played 70-something games, so you know he was a guy that was undrafted originally. Still a lot of raw materials to put together, and defenseman tend to take longer to mature. You know, I think that his mobility is very high end, in combination with his size, and his ranginess (as I was talking about in the article itself). His offensive game is still pretty raw but you see some hints of it. He had goals in three games in a row at one point. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a power-play one guy as a pro. Maybe not even power two, but he’ll chip in some goals here and there. I think as you go along, you’ll see him play a bigger role in the penalty kill than he plays right now. And I do see him as being a guy because you know what I saw with the Phantom’s, I think he’s going to grow into the same thing with the Flyers. Being a guy that can give you 20 minutes a night much of the time and give some physicality. So, you know I believe he can be above-average in a lot of different areas, and again in terms of size, strength, and mobility he is way above average. He is an intriguing young player and he is one of those guys that’s scratched the surface of what he can do. I think he’s going to continue to get better, but I don’t think he’s ever going to be a big point producer. I know some people seem to think that. I don’t see that for him, but I see him as being a guy who plays in the second pairing hopefully with Travis Sanheim. Keep them together for a whole lot of years. That’s a pretty exciting pairing for the combination of skills and speed that they bring.
Anthony Di Marco: You brought up Phil Myers and his potential ceiling. And he joins a defensive corps that is amongst the best in the NHL. You know it’s no secret that the Flyers were anchored this season from how good their defense played. Provorov and Niskanen, Sanheim and Myers, along with Justin Braun. Those five really were the core and the nucleus of probably the best defensive group we’ve seen on the Flyers since the days of Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen (along with Matt Carle and Brayden Coburn). But one big talking point that still lingers even with the season on pause is the number six defenseman. You know, for the majority of the season it was Robert Hagg, and by all accounts he played very well. But there’s still a certain group (particularly in the analytical world) that really have something against Robert Hagg and are in favour of Shayne Gostisbehere who has just been on a downward spiral for almost 24 months. What does Robert Hagg bring to the team in the eyes of the coaches and his teammates that maybe the fans don’t see, and in what terms do you think is Shayne Gostisbehere’s standpoint right now with the Flyers and does he have a future long-term with the team?
Bill Meltzer: Let me tackle the Ghost part of it first. I think over the long-term, the Flyers see Cam York as being a more well-rounded version of Ghost. He’ll give you a guy who plays in all game situations. But I don’t think York is going to be ready a year from now. I think he is still going to need a little time in the AHL. Certainly, he needs to mature physically. So Ghost still has some time here, but I don’t think that Ghost is going to be a guy who spends his whole career here. I don’t think Ghost is untouchable by any means; the fact that he has spent a significant amount of time this year as a healthy scratch does tell you something. It tells you about the confidence level that AV has in him. Listen, we have seen Ghost play at a very high-level at times over his career. In his rookie year, his third-year, and even in some of his up and down years there have been stretches of seasons that were pretty solid too. So, you know I’m not closing the book on Ghost. I think when he is playing at the top of his game, playing with confidence, Ghost is a guy who needs to be producing points to be playing well in other areas. I think he is a guy who can help the team if they are able to resume the season and go into the playoffs. He could have a playoff series when he does get out on the power play and get a couple of big goals. I think that he’s a player who it has been a disappointment this year; last year wasn’t what he wanted either, but you know I don’t think he’s done as an effective player in the NHL and he still has something to contribute too. But clearly right now he is not a guy who Vigneault is leaning on. I mean when Ghost recovered from the knee injury, they were still running Robert Hagg out there every game. So, I think he’s a guy whose future is in flux. As for Hagg, there are different things that coaches value than the analytics people necessarily value. There are some guys who they don’t care one iota what the analytics say; and that’s just the truth. There are guys that do care about that and look at it or whatever. Vigneault as well as any other coach can look at expected goals, he can look at Corsi, he can look at Fenwick, he can look at any of those metrics that get cited. Robert Hagg they want out there to help block shots, to battle on the walls, be a player that plays a pretty simple game. He is not there for his offense, but he will chip in the odd goal or two but that is not why he is in or out of the lineup. If you could find a version of Robert Hagg that moves the puck better but gives you some of those same other elements too, then he could be out of the lineup. After Robert started all 82 games last year and started I think the first 70 for Hakstol the year before that, before he got hurt and then sat a little bit at the end of that season. This has been what, four coaches now who he has been a regular starter for. And coaches don’t care what previous coaches have done. They’ve looked at them and they’ve seen them as a guy who belongs in the line up. So you know, I think Robert is a guy who just tries to keep his game simple. But listen, there are clear areas where he has to improve. And I know from Scott Gordon talking about it, it’s not so much off the boards and out with the puck, he had to get better with retrievals. Just take a simple peak the shoulder to see who is coming, taking an extra second to see where you’re going with the puck, and what passing options might be there. When Robert first joined the Phantoms as a 19-year old, he kind of was viewed as a guy who was an offensive-minded defenseman in a lot of ways. He had been a powerplay guy. In his draft year in 2013, International Scouting Services rated him third in offense from the blue line. So he had to change what he did, because he was turning a lot of pucks over, trying to be a little too aggressive with the puck, and some of it is Kjell Samuelsson’s influence too. Kjell said, ‘Listen, you are a big strong guy. You’re best play is not with the puck, so be an off puck guy’. And that’s what he’s focused on doing; simplifying his game, making the 10-foot pass rather than trying to make the stretch pass, and so you know he’s not a high-end puck mover. He’s not a star, he is a foot soldier. But I mean he does bring to a line up some of the things that coaches look for. For example (and I know it is not a popular thing in analytics either) but Robert Hagg, if you look in terms of board pins, pinning his guy against the wall (which does mean someone else has to go get the puck). But he’s effective at that, and coaches still appreciate at least having one guy in the lineup who does things like that. And when you have enough guys who can move the puck (and the Flyers do have that), you know that guy will have a spot in the lineup. Again, Robert Hagg is kind of a foot-soldier type. Is he a guy who you might see move down to the number seven role if someone else comes in the offseason? Sure. He is a guy who’s going to be playing for his job. But you know I’m not in line with any of the ‘worst defenseman in the NHL’ or whatever. The guy that is the worst defenseman in the NHL does not play regularly for four coaches. He just doesn’t. So, I think Hagg plays a particular role that’s not very geared towards being strong analytically, and you know you can have a guy like that in your lineup if you have enough guys who do the other things. And that really is how I would sum it up.
Dan Esche: Obviously, the current events we find ourselves in are very fluid, but do you think that we see a continuation of the season, a finalization for the season? Obviously, you know something new happens every day and every week there seems to be some new scheme, some plan to bring the league back and finish the games in empty arenas. Do you think this kind of comes to a mound? It seems like no matter what happens that there’s going to be some bubble team that’s unhappy, or that they are treated unfair, or left out. So, with that in mind; you know even with all the TV rights and stuff do you think that they pick up the season if they’re allowed to?
Bill Meltzer: Yeah, I do. They want to get they want to get regular season games in. I don’t know; personally, if it were just my choice, I would move into a postseason scenario sooner rather than later. I’d like to see them have as close to a regular offseason as they can. I don’t want to see next season delayed by too much. There’s not going to be a perfect scenario where you know every team is going to be happy. I mean, there are going to be teams around the bubble that are going to miss out and you know it’s just not going to be ideal. And if they expand the playoff format as has also been discussed as a possibility, there’s going to be some team that would be out of the playoffs and all of a sudden will get hot at just the right time, and all of a sudden as opposed to being out of the playoffs they find themselves throwing a scare into some team, maybe winning a round or two. Who knows? You know, anything can happen in the postseason. But with the length of the delay, I mean it does increase the chance that everybody’s kind of starting all over again. Any momentum the teams had is kind of out the window. So, I think that it makes for a lot of intrigue as far as I see it, but there is also the financial piece of it too. Games mean revenue, and even in empty buildings there’s television revenue. They are going to look at every possibility; go deep into the summer, even to September if they had to finish it. I think that as long as the situation is one that permits them to do that, you know play in empty arenas, maybe four buildings as they’ve talked about. I think they’re going to try all out to be able to do that.
Anthony Di Marco: So Bill, just one last one for you here and then we’ll let you go. You know, given where the Flyers were before the season’s pause, we were all kind of wondering how far is this team from legitimately scratching on the surface of being a bona fide Stanley Cup contender? And like I just mentioned earlier, I think it is fair to say that the Flyers were anchored by their defense for much of the season where they went through parts when they got a lot of inconsistent offense. So, do you think heading into next season (whenever that may be), that a guy like Alex Pietrangelo would be an option for Chuck Fletcher?
Bill Meltzer: Yeah, I don’t see the cap money being there to be truthful. I think that every year you reassess the window. Just allow me to fantasize here for a second. Let’s say that Nolan Patrick is able to come back and you go into the postseason and Patrick is your third center and Grant is your fourth center. You know, I’ll tell you a 1-2-3-4 down the middle of Couturier, Hayes, Patrick, and Grant. That’s a Stanley Cup caliber group in terms of depth down the middle, especially when you have a guy like Laughton you could move back in if you have to, and then all the sudden Nate Thompson is your 13th forward. So, little variables like that. Goaltending is always crucial. If Carter Hart has a great series and steals a few games if you need him too, you can win. I mean, I don’t think they’re very far. Look at the postseason last year and how many top teams got upset, especially in the first round, right? Or look at a team like St. Louis who had the worst record in the league in January (7 or 8 days in January they had the worst record in the league), well they get hot at just the right time and they go all the way and they win the Stanley Cup, and they are a top team again this year. The gap between the haves and the have nots is not as much as people think. So, would the Flyers be a favorite to win the Cup now or even a year from now? No. But to me they would be in that mix of teams as long as you stay healthy in the right positions. But, in terms of adding a guy like Pietrangelo, I just don’t see the money being there especially with a flat cap. I mean, if you do that you are plugging one spot and you’re potentially ripping other holes too, so you got to keep that in mind as well. So, I don’t see teams making too many big moves this off-season, especially as they are figuring out what they’re able to do. But I mean, I think the Flyers have turned a bit of a corner and they have a little bit of a window of time while guys like Voracek and Giroux are still young enough to not put up huge numbers but still be important contributing parts to a Cup contender. And then the next step is you’re going to have to have guys (some of these young guys), stepping into those bigger roles to stay where you’re at and potentially move beyond that. But I think that this Flyers team is the real deal in terms of being a really good club that should get better. You have Niskanen for another year, and hopefully he has another strong year left in him. And by that point, then some of your young defenseman are experienced defenseman, so there is a plan in place. No one has a crystal ball to say how well that’ll work out, but I think it’s going to be a good hockey team for quite some time.
Dan Esche: All right. Well Bill, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. In case there are any of our listeners that don’t know (I don’t know why they wouldn’t); where can they find you on Twitter, and where can they read your writing?
Bill Meltzer: On Twitter it’s just @billmeltzer. My writing is largely in three different places: the Philadelphia Flyers website which is www.philadelphiaflyers.com or flyers.nhl.com. I’m the content manager for the Flyers Alumni Association and we’re at www.flyersalumni.org. And geez. It’s getting to be 14 years now I’ve been on www.hockeybuzz.com and I am the Flyers blogger there (formerly I also used to blog about the Dallas Stars but focused exclusively on the Flyers the last few years. You can find me at any of those places and I have content pretty much every single day.
Dan Esche: All right. Well Bill, thank you very much. As for everybody else, Anthony and I will be back a little later with Flyers A. D. where we will talk about the Flyers 2017-18 season there. But until then everybody, goodbye and good night!
***Thanks for reading our interview with prolific Philadelphia Flyers writer Bill Meltzer!
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