PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said he’s “very disappointed” Travis Konecny isn’t at training camp. General manager Chuck Fletcher said he still has “a ways to go,” that it’s “been a little quiet recently” and the team and player “just can’t seem to get on the same language on this one.”
As the orange and black kicked off training camp and a new era at Flyers Skate Zone on Friday with their No. 1 defenseman newly locked up for the next six years, Konecny was absent. The restricted free agent remains without a contract, and from the sound of it, a resolution could take quite some time.
“I’ve been doing this 25 years and I think we go about it the right way, but we just can’t seem to get on the same language on this one,” Fletcher told reporters Friday. “They have some specific demands with respect to term, and we’re trying to work with them in that regard.
“I think we are a little more flexible. I think we would look at a two- or-three-year deal or a longer-term deal, and they prefer a longer-term deal. Certainly, that makes it a little more difficult when you narrow the scope of the length of term you are negotiating on. We’ll continue to work at it.”
On Thursday afternoon, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the root of the contract dispute appears to be Konency’s ice time vs. even-strength production.
According to McKenzie, “the crux of the problem seems to be PHI is basing its offer on the fact Konecny has averaged just under 15:00 TOI in his first three seasons but the player’s counter-argument is that he’s amongst the better even-strength goal-scorers for his age/experience over last two seasons.”
The crux of the problem seems to be PHI is basing its offer on the fact Konecny has averaged just under 15:00 TOI in his first three seasons but the player’s counter argument is that he’s amongst the better even-strength goal-scorers for his age/experience over last two seasons.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 12, 2019
Both arguments have validity. Konecny hasn’t established himself yet as a player who can stay in a top-six role as he does have some warts defensively — but not for a lack of effort. That said, one could argue the previous coaching regime didn’t take the handcuffs off him fully.
Konecny’s two-way play has improved, but when analyzing his game, defense isn’t what’s expected. The 22-year-old is here to score goals and create offense.
Through three seasons, Konecny has done exactly that. He has back-to-back 24-goal seasons with about 90% of those 48 goals coming at even strength. In fact, only Sean Couturier (48) and Claude Giroux (44) have scored more even strength goals than Konecny (43) over the past two seasons for the Flyers.
In his comparables, Konecny ranks fifth in the NHL at even strength scoring behind Auston Matthews (54), Kyle Connor (46), Brayden Point (45) and Sebastian Aho (44) over the past two seasons.
While Konecny’s standoff continues, Vigneault and the Flyers move on without one of their top even-strength goal scorers — and it’s a no-win situation for both.
With a new coaching staff, each day Konecny misses is another day he falls behind in learning Vigneault’s system and what is expected from the new coaches. If Konecny’s dispute costs him considerable training camp time, he’ll put himself in a difficult situation — and could even cost himself a top-six role.
Entering training camp, the Flyers had an open right wing spot on the third line. All the breadcrumbs point to Fletcher wanting a rookie to win the position battle, and all eyes are on Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe. Konecny was expected to be on the top line with Giroux and Couturier.
On Friday and Saturday without Konecny, Farabee found himself playing with Giroux and Couturier. It was the first two days of training camp and it’s a longshot that the 2018 first-round pick begins the season on the team’s top line, but one thing Fletcher said Friday stands out.
“These are good young players, we may as well put them with good players and give them a chance to show what they can do,” Fletcher said. “There is no sense putting them with checkers. Let’s give them a chance to show what they can do.”
The point is, without Konecny there is more opportunity for a prospect like Farabee, Frost or Ratcliffe to cement their standing in camp and preseason. If the contract dispute lasts into preseason games, what happens if, say, Farabee clicks with Couturier and Giroux and proves he’s capable of playing a top-six role now?
While Konecny should be a top-six player, nothing is guaranteed. In that scenario, it’s plausible to see Konecny start on the third line when a contract is signed.
That would be a clear loss for Konecny.
Without Konecny, though, the Flyers are also losing as it’s a direct hit to their forward depth and scoring attack.
Fletcher had a solid offseason despite some thinking that he didn’t do enough to push the needle forward. He traded for and then signed Kevin Hayes, who was the best realistic free-agent option on the market for the Flyers.
Hayes’ addition gave the Flyers a formidable top-six with potential for a strong third line as well. Konecny was penciled in by many to play with Giroux and Couturier — a line that has had previous success — while Hayes would center the second line with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek.
That would push Nolan Patrick, the 2017 No. 2 overall pick, to man the third-line center with Oskar Lindblom and whoever won the camp battle at right wing.
But with Konecny out of the picture, the Flyers will potentially have to fill two right wing spots — including one in the top six. That’s a clear loss for the Flyers.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see Konecny’s dispute lasting long into the regular season. There’s too much at risk for both sides for this not to get done before Oct. 4.
The Flyers need Konecny in camp, and the sooner the better. Konecny needs to be in camp to get acclimated of what Vigneault expects of him — the sooner the better.
Right now, it’s no fun for any party involved — the player, the team and the fans. Contract disputes are ugly, and the solution is somewhere in the middle.
Hopefully, both Konecny and the Flyers meet there quickly.