Brian Elliott

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New Flyers goalie Elliott hoping to build on strong second half

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When Brian Elliott joined the Calgary Flames before the start of the 2016-17 season his new team was expecting him to help solidify a position that had been a major weakness the previous year.

Through the first half of the season, things did not go according to plan for him personally as he ended up struggling and even losing some playing time to backup Chad Johnson. But things started to turn around for him in the second half of the season as he finished with a .924 save percentage of the final three months.

He is hoping to build on that strong second half and carry it over to the start of the 2017-18 season when he joins another new team, the Philadelphia Flyers, that will be counting on him to help fix a position that was a major weakness the previous year.

“As a team, we came together, and I benefited from that,” said Elliott, via Philly.com’s Sam Carchidi. “I felt real good from the middle to the end of the season in Calgary, and I want to continue that feeling. You feel confident and feel that, no matter what, you can make that save. When you have that feeling and that confidence back there, then the guys can go and do their job.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a one-year, $5.5 million contract this summer and will use him along with veteran goalie Michal Neuvirth in what will mostly likely be some sort of a platoon role. Neuvirth split time the past two seasons with Steve Mason. The duo was outstanding — and an incredible bargain — during the 2015-16 season but badly regressed this past season and played a major role in the team’s disappointing  year.

The Flyers are hoping that Elliott can help fix that.

General manager Ron Hextall has already said he does not consider this season to be a rebuilding year in Philadelphia and that he expects the team to compete, and if it is going to i it is going to need a big year from its two goalies playing behind what will be a mostly young defense.

Flyers goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz out indefinitely (knee surgery)

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A bumpy summer got a lot worse recently for Philadelphia Flyers goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz, as the team announced that he’s out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

The 23-year-old already saw increased (albeit likely expected) resistance to his ascension up the goalie depth chart with the addition of veteran netminder Brian Elliott. Even when healthy, Stolarz would be positioned behind Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, and that’s without any other netminders leapfrogging him.

Now his growth gets stunted by this injury, although he still has time to get back in the mix when it matters the most. Both Elliott and Neuvirth are on two-year contracts, so it’s clear that the window is most likely to open after this coming season, anyway.

Stolarz put up solid numbers in the AHL, but the towering goalie’s limited NHL work was quite impressive; he went 2-1-1 while managing a splendid .928 save percentage in seven appearances with the Flyers in 2016-17. Such work inspired some (PHT included) to wonder if he might be worth a longer look with the big club.

That day might come, but it could be a while for the 45th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. Stolarz signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Flyers back in July.

This setback opens up a chance for Leland Irving, a goalie who hasn’t lived up to being the 26th pick of the 2006 draft.

Ron Hextall wants you to know this isn’t a rebuilding season for the Flyers

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Coming off of their third non-playoff season in the past five years the Philadelphia Flyers are expected to have some young, inexperienced players take on some big roles this season.

You can call this upcoming season a lot of things for the Flyers, but one thing general manager Ron Hextall doesn’t want you to call it as a rebuild. Or a rebuilding season. Or anything have to do with the word “rebuild.”

He made that very clear when speaking to Sam Carchidi this past week.

An excerpt from Philly.com:

“You’re not rebuilding when you’re competitive,” Hextall said in a firm tone. “A rebuild, to me, is when you go to the bottom and you pick high, high, high – and essentially, you’re not trying that hard to win. That’s not in our DNA. We want to win. We want to win as many games as possible. We’re not going to go to the bottom of the league and pick first overall for four or five years. That’s no way to build culture. Our vision was to stay competitive, and build, and get younger — and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

He also later added, “How would you like to be a player going into an 82-game season knowing the team is rebuilding so basically has no expectations to win. Think about that. That’s not in our DNA.”

So don’t call it a rebuild, okay?

The 2016-17 season was kind of a bizarre one for the Flyers. They entered the year with some fairly high expectations after making the playoffs in 2015-16, but stumbled out of the gate by only winning nine of their first 22 games. Then in mid-November they started what would go on to be a 10-game winning streak that seemed to bring them back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. But as soon as that winning streak ended the bottom completely fell out on the season and they went just 19-22-6 the rest of the way.

They ended up finishing 19th in the overall league standings but made a massive move in the NHL draft lottery, jumping all the way up to the No. 2 overall spot where they could take Nolan Patrick.

Along with Patrick, the Flyers are going to lean on a lot of younger players this season, especially on defense with Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg all expected to play major roles at some point during the year.

But they still have a core of veteran players in place led by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and recent additions Valterri Filppula (acquired before the trade deadline this past season) and Jori Lehtera (acquired over the summer for Brayden Schenn). They also attempted to fix their goaltending position by bringing in Brian Elliott to pair with Michal Neuvirth.

Given the overall veteran makeup of the roster it’s probably fair to not call it a rebuild, which kind of puts the Flyers in an odd spot. They have a lot of young players, but they haven’t totally torn the team down to the ground. But is this a roster that is going to compete in the Eastern Conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and even the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs? They’re probably in that blurry middle ground teams can sometimes get trapped in where they’re not rebuilding and they’re not really contenders.

Sometimes that can take longer for a team to get out of than a full scale rebuild.

Under Pressure: Mike Smith

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

Goaltending has been a major issue for the Calgary Flames in recent seasons and for the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position, bringing in two new faces in an effort to fix it.

Replacing Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson this season (after Elliott and Johnson replaced Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio the year before) will be the veteran of duo of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack.

Both goalies are looking to rebound with a fresh start in a new city.

Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is going to be the starter and is going to have the most pressure on him.

Not only because the Flames are still on the hook for the remainder of his contract (more than $11 million over the next two seasons) but because he is going to be playing behind a defense that is going to be one of the best in the NHL, led by Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic. That is an outstanding group and even average goaltending should make the Flames one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

Smith, however, has not always performed at that level in recent seasons.

Looking at his past three years total his even-strength save percentage of .920 places him 38th out of 61 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games, while his overall save percentage of .911 places him 45th out of that group (his new backup, Eddie Lack, is 46th over that same stretch). Even if you look at only his performance from this past season in Arizona (a .914 save percentage) it wouldn’t be that big of an upgrade over what the Flames were getting out of the Elliott/Johnson duo.

Now, that was good enough to get the Flames into the playoffs and make them a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to preventing goals.

But the Flames are at a point now where their objective should be more than just simply “make the playoffs” or be an average defensive team.

If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have traded for a 35-year-old goalie and been willing to pay him more than $11 million over the next two seasons.

This is a team that has what should be on paper one of the best quartets of defensemen in the league, it has some outstanding young forwards that are just now entering the prime of their careers (Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund) and some emerging young stars in Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett.

They are clearly in what they believe to be a “win-now” mode with a chance to compete in the Western Conference.

For them to do that they are going to need a big season from their new goaltender.

It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

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The Calgary Flames made it back to the playoffs in the spring, but were swiftly swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.

General manager Brad Treliving then went to work, making numerous changes to the roster, most notably in goal.

The Flames moved on from the duo of Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott after one season and acquired Mike Smith prior to the expansion draft trade freeze. They also picked up Eddie Lack from Carolina at the end of June.

The move to acquire Smith would suggest the Flames believe they’ve entered a window to win right now, with what should be a strong top-four unit on the blue line and a nucleus of skilled and still youthful forwards, including 2016 first-round pick Matthew Tkachuk, who made the roster at age 18 and had an immediate impact.

On defense, Treliving added Travis Hamonic from the Islanders, giving the Flames a top-four defensive unit of T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and Hamonic. The Nashville Predators may still be the envy of the league with their top-four on ‘D’ but the Flames appear to have a formidable group of their own heading into the upcoming season.

Calgary also re-signed defenseman Michael Stone, who they picked up in a deal with Arizona before last season’s trade deadline.

With only a few days left until September, Treliving still needs to get restricted free agents Sam Bennett, Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon under contract.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Flames with training camp approaching.