Michal Neuvirth

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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.

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Report: It looks like the Flyers could be turning to Brian Elliott in net

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After being unable to add a veteran goalie during the NHL draft Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall remained confident in his ability to add a goaltender this offseason because it was a buyer’s market at the position.

It seems that he has found his man in Brian Elliott.

According to a report from Andy Strickland of Fox Sports Midwest, the Flyers are expected to sign Elliott to a two-year contract worth $2.75 million per season when free agency opens on Saturday.

Teams are allowed to speak with pending free agents this week but are not supposed to discuss terms and contract, but … well … things happen.

Elliott would be the latest in a long line of goaltenders given the task of trying to fix what has been an almost constant point of weakness for the Flyers’ organization. He would be forming a tag-team duo with veteran Michal Neuvirth.

Elliott’s career has been an interesting one to this point because he has had seasons where he has been among the league’s most productive goaltenders and seasons where he has been among the league’s least productive. He has led the league in save percentage in two different seasons, but has also struggled to get a true No. 1 job in any of his previous stops, whether it be with the Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues or most recently, the Calgary Flames.

His 2016-17 performance was a tale of two seasons. Through the end of January he struggled mightily and at times even lost his starting job to Chad Johnson, before rebounding in the second half and playing lights out over the final three months of the season.

Assuming he signs with the Flyers on Saturday he would be replacing Steve Mason after he and the Flyers decided to go their separate ways after four-and-a-half years together.

Elliott is three years older than Mason and their performances this past season were nearly identical, so it will be interesting to see this would play out for the Flyers. Elliott’s reported deal would be worth $1.75 million less than the contract Mason played on this past season.