Yesterday, we spoke with Flyers Assistant General Manager John Paddock. First, we'd like to thank Paddock for taking the time to speak with us, especially in between the Draft and Free Agency. Second, a special thanks to the Flyers' PR staff, specifically Joe Siville.
With all the talk about goaltending going on around here recently, we figured we'd keep the questions focused on just that. Sure, maybe we could have talked about Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall, but we still have Tim McManus for those updates.
While the Phantoms season may have been disappointing, Paddock was still able to see some positives. "Well, I think any time you don't make the playoffs it's disappointing. But our young defensemen played very well for us there. Johan [Backlund] played good in goal. We're a little bit disappointed with some of our forward production, but it's not unlike the National Hockey League now."
The maturation of the team's defensemen and the play of Backlund obviously wasn't enough to cover the team's deficiencies. Having the forwards as a whole regress put quite a damper on the season as a whole. As Paddock said, "this isn't the end of the world, but do we want a better performance? Yes."
Specifically, Paddock told McManus in an earlier article that a major disappointment from last year's team was the performance of the three veteran forwards signed in the offseason - Krystofer Kolanos, Jason Ward, and Lukas Kaspar. When asked about that, Paddock stood by the earlier comments and spoke about what that can teach the team going forward.
"We'll look to bring in two or three guys that we're a little bit more sure of, that understand the role or situation or what they're going to bring to the table for us and hopefully that just works out better." Because the team is so young - Paddock estimated that the team has 16 forwards under contract, CapGeek lists 12 - he expects a more up-tempo style that may not fit with most veterans.
"We think we're going to be an exciting team and we'll look to add just a different type of veteran that provides some intangibles there that those guys didn't seem to provide."
But what about the multiple goalies in the organization?
Surely you've heard how well Johan Backlund played in Glens Falls this year, and Paddock reiterated as much. While admitting that Backlund can always get better, Paddock doesn't think Backlund could have done anything more for the Phantoms.
"I think the final ringing testimony to that was when he got called up/injured, and that sort of both happened at the same time, the [Phantoms] lost 9 out of the last 10 games so we'd be foolish to think that he wasn't the MVP and that he wasn't giving the team a chance to win every night."
So does that mean Backlund could start the year in the NHL next season? Well, those are decisions made by the players.
"Players make those decisions for [the coaches and management], for you, with their performance on the ice. This is a guy who trains extremely hard. He worked hard on his game to fix a lot of things including the European game to the North American game. He's going to be given an opportunity to play."
It was just bad luck that prevented Backlund from getting more of a chance with the Flyers last year. "I think last year he had the unfortunate thing of a team up here (NHL) going bad at the times he was called up, and no matter how he was playing down there (AHL), you just can't throw a rookie in when you're four games under .500 in November or whatever when he was called up the first time. So it's like you have to go with a more veteran guy."
And now? "I think everybody who has seen him now were impressed up here during the spring and has a little more knowledge of him. He'll get an opportunity. I don't know what that or when that means. I do know he signed a two-year contract next year as a one-way deal. So maybe he's in the minors this year, maybe he's not, but after that he's probably going to be in the NHL."
Next, we discussed newly signed Sergei Bobrovsky. Who is Bobrovsky, you ask? Well, even John Paddock isn't really sure. "I don't know anything about him myself. I don't know why he's sort of fallen under the radar, but we hope that we got a bit of a sleeper here who can come in and someday be a top-flight goalie."
But that doesn't mean the Flyers don't know who he is. "He's somebody who, people we had watching over there thought he was excellent. His numbers were very good. He's somebody who played alongside, in their junior times, with [Semyon] Varlamov in Washington, sometimes played ahead of him."
Looking to next year, the Flyers have the same expectations they do for Backlund: See what happens. Based on these and later answers, Paddock (rightly) refused to slot players into positions prior to training camp. Nobody is - at least publicly - given roles in the organization. If Bobrovsky comes in and is the best goalie in camp, he could wind up in Pittsburgh on opening night.
When asked about how Bobrovsky will adjust to the North American game, Paddock gave an interesting quote. "I think normally you say yes, but it depends. If he's a goalie that's a little bit aggressive already, and plays atop the crease and not deep, then he's already one step closer than others would be. So we'll just have to wait and see."
Now, we aren't in the business of putting words in other people's mouths, but hearing, typing, and reading that quote makes me think of a particular Flyers UFA goalie. Could the two be related? Maybe, maybe not.
The only other goalie under contract (besides Brian Boucher) is Brian Stewart. He came to the organization after the Flyers were scouting some teammates of his and eventually recommended him to the team.
"It's sort of a, I don't want to say a shot in the dark, but here's a big guy who's really athletic, who is mature now physically and [is] tough because he's 25. He hasn't had a lot of coaching, so maybe with a little coaching we can catch lightning in a bottle. It's sort of a long shot in a way because of age but the other side of that is, goalies, Michael Leighton is an example, they don't hit their prime until 27 or 28. We just felt that there was no risk and there was potential for lots of reward."
And here we see the name Michael Leighton. Again, the comparison to Brian Stewart is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the free agent netminder.
The signing of those two goalies, presumably to play in the AHL, seemed to signal the end for Jeremy Duchesne and Michael Teslak. When asked if they will be back next year, Paddock gave his most succinct answer yet: "They're not coming back." Both Duchesne and Teslak started the year in the ECHL last year.
Turning to goalies who will not be turning pro this year, the Flyers still have Jakub Kovar in the system. Kovar was selected in the 4th round of the 2006 draft and has been battling injuries for the past two years. Since leaving the OHL after the 07-08 season, he's only played 17 games in the Czech Republic.
"He has to improve and continue to improve and he takes the next steps after that. So we're going to wait and see with him and hopefully he can play more and get going along with the recovery road a little bit for his injuries and progress towards playing pro hockey," Paddock said.
But after being drafted four years ago, is there a time limit on how long he stays property of the Flyers? Paddock answered, "I'm not sure of his age or whatever, but at some point you have to make a decision. I don't know whether it's next year or two years from now, I'm just coming to the organization, this will be my third year, and second as a manager, I'm not sure what year he was drafted. It's not an indefinite time, that's changed, so sometime in the next year or two he'll have to give us some reason to move ahead and we'll have to do that if that's the case."
Now, maybe Paddock has just never been asked about Kovar before, but when you pull out the "this is only my third year in the organization" card to explain why you don't know much about the player, that's generally not a good sign. If Kovar can't unseat Roman Turek this year, he's likely done in the Flyers organization.
The Flyers also control Notre Dame goaltender Brad Phillips, selected in the 7th round of the 2007 draft. He's part of a three-headed monster in college, only playing 15 games the past two years combined. When asked where he stands in the organization, Paddock again put the onus on the player.
"We're going to get a good feel for him, he's coming to the development camp in July here in a week or ten days time and we'll have a better idea and see where we go with him. We want to see where he's at and then make that decision. Hopefully he would play more in college. If you're not playing in college then there's not much chance that he's probably ready to play pro hockey."
Last season, the Flyers had three different goalies playing in Major Juniors; Adam Morrison, Jacob De Serres, and Nic Riopel. First, Paddock spoke about Morrison's season.
"He had a good start and then tailed off a little bit, he didn't play quite as much, and then had a concussion late in the season. He's somebody that we're high on, Neil Little our goalie scout, still is high on. But this is a big year for him in Junior. He needs to be the #1 goalie [in Saskatoon], play 60 games and get the job done."
Jacob De Serres was the Flyers 3rd round pick in 2008 and the Flyers decided not to tender him a contract this year. He is now a free agent. When asked if he had gotten a chance to watch De Serres in the Memorial Cup, Paddock said "no, we had people up there but because we kept playing in the playoffs, I didn't go out. I was scheduled to go up but I didn't go up. Neil Little was there and we had two different scouts there for part of the Memorial Cup, so we had a good viewing on up there."
Why wasn't De Serres signed? "He just, we decided not to renew because we had lots of young goalies and he didn't have as good a season that we needed him to. His season/Memorial Cup wasn't up to what he needed to be at."
Lastly, and some would say most importantly, is the status of Nicola Riopel. There was some confusion regarding whether Riopel was a free agent or not, but Paddock put those fears to rest. "He's still Flyers property. He can't go back to Juniors. He's going to be playing pro hockey and where he plays will be determined by, again, the players themselves."
So with Riopel, the Flyers have 4 goalies - in addition to Backlund, Bobrovsky, and Stewart - fighting for two spots in the AHL next year. As Paddock said, if any of them prove to be the best goalie in camp, they can start in the NHL. But with that said, the four are realistically going to be in either the AHL or ECHL.
To close, we asked Paddock - a former Wheat King himself - if he is familiar with Matt Calvert. "I've heard the name, but no, that's the extent of it." So he's not being looked at for a possible acquisition? "No."
Well, my dreams are crushed. Enjoy Columbus, Matt!
Again, thanks to both John Paddock and Joe Siville for helping get this done.