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Flyers add Pickard to pile of goalies

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To answer the age-old question of Philadelphia Flyers goaltending, maybe GM Ron Hextall is aiming for the “Voltron” approach: stack a bunch together to form a fearsome puckstopping bot.

Putting aside references dating back to the first Bush presidency – Flyers goaltending questions, giant mechs with gnarly swords – the Flyers’ goaltending situation really is confounding, which dulls some of the excitement with the actually-quite-wise decision to claim Calvin Pickard off of waivers.

Consider the situation Pickard, 26, has been pulled into by pondering each potential option for the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, their AHL affiliate:

  • Pickard: walking into a crowded goalie situation is an all-too-familiar feeling for the former Avalanche netminder.

As a refresher: the Golden Knights scooped up Pickard from Colorado during the expansion draft, only to kick him to the Maple Leafs. Pickard got lost in the shuffle with Toronto, as Curtis McElhinney (also claimed off of waivers today) beat him for the backup gig at the NHL level, while Garret Sparks outplayed him with the Marlies.

That might give you the impression that Pickard isn’t any good, but instead, it seems like he’s been unlucky more than anything else.

Sure, it does seem like he buckled under the pressure of being a go-to guy considering a tough go of things in Colorado (a weak .904 save percentage in 50 games during the 2016-17 season), although it would be silly to place all the blame on Pickard. Just about every Colorado player probably wanted a mulligan there.

Generally speaking, Pickard’s easily been effective enough to be an NHL backup. Pickard generated a sparkling .932 save percentage over 16 games in 2014-15, and wasn’t much worse in 2015-16, generating a .922 save percentage in 20 appearances. With an average career save percentage of .913 in 87 games, not to mention perfectly respectable work in a tough situation with the Marlies last season, Pickard could be a sneaky-good addition for the Flyers.

The question is: where does he fit in?

  • Brian ElliottThe 33-year-old’s debut season with the Flyers was inhibited, at least in part, due to injuries that eventually required surgery. Elliott comes into 2018-19 as the starter and generally the surest thing for Philly.

At least, he is when you look in the short term.

The good news is that Elliott is affordable (2.75 million cap hit), and his contract expires after this season, so if things don’t work out, the Flyers aren’t on the hook for a problem contract.

Elliott occasionally looks like an elite goalie, and he tends to do his best work when people don’t expect it, so maybe he’ll raise Philly’s ceiling amid all of these questions? He’s not that far removed from strong work with the Blues.

  • Michal NeuvirthHextall essentially pushed goalie questions down the line by handing short, affordable contracts to Elliott and Neuvirth. The good news is that such decisions kept the Flyers from being stuck with an Ilya Bryzgalov-type albatross contract. The bad news is that the organization still answers the goalie question with “TBD.”

Neuvirth, 30, seems likely to begin the season on IR thanks to Pickard’s waiver claim. He’s limping into this season with some injury concerns, which is sadly part of the story of Neuvirth’s career.

Like Elliott, Neuvirth enters a contract year; in his case, his cap hit is $2.5M. Pickard, meanwhile, carries an $800K cap hit, and his deal also expires after this season.

  • Carter HartWhile some scouts may prefer, say, Ilya Samsonov, Hart is generally regarded as one of the most promising goalies not playing in the NHL. One couldn’t help but wonder if the Flyers might want to change that by just giving him a chance to run with a starting or backup job; instead, they seem content to keep him on this current timeline, which means he should be the AHL starter.

Hart turned 20 in August and put up dominant work in the WHL. It may, indeed, be wiser to let him go from junior to the AHL, rather than the larger leap to the NHL. Even so, some Flyers fans are probably feeling anxious, especially considering the iffy options at the top level.

  • Anthony StolarzStolarz is large (listed at 6-6) and carries decent pedigree as a second-round pick (45th overall in 2012), yet this turn of events indicates that the Flyers would rather not risk having the 24-year-old serve as Brian Elliott’s backup.

Interestingly, Stolarz most promising recent moments have come in spot duty with the big club (.928 save percentage in seven appearances), while his numbers at other levels leave a lot to be desired.

Once injuries clear up, things could get awkward between Neuvirth, Stolarz, Pickard, and …

  • Alex Lyon: Another injured Flyers goalie. Lyon, 25, put up respectable AHL numbers, yet he didn’t really wow in 11 games with the big club (.905 save percentage) last season. His most recent moments of promise came during his strong college years with Yale.

The good and the bad

To summarize: the Flyers’ goaltending situation, right now, feels like a prime example of quantity over quality.

That said, goalies are highly unpredictable, and Hextall might not be outrageous in throwing a bunch of darts at the problem. Elliott’s enjoyed strong enough moments to earn an All-Star appearance, and Pickard’s at least enjoyed some pretty nice moments as an NHL backup.

Even if none of these veterans work out in 2018-19, the Flyers aren’t locked into any problem goalie contracts. Personally, I’d take that over sweating bullets regarding Carey Price carrying a $10.5M cap hit through 2025-26.

Sooner or later, Carter Hart must emerge as a difference-maker. If not, the Flyers will need to go back to the drawing board, once again.

But, hey, maybe they just stumbled upon a pretty good backup?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Will goalie be selected in first round of 2019 NHL Draft?

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As much as you need an elite center and a star defenseman, goalie remains the make-or-break single position in hockey. Unfortunately, it’s easier to herd cats than predict goaltending performances.

With that in mind, it’s not that shocking that the Marc-Andre Fleury/Rick DiPietro/Roberto Luongo era of goalies going high in drafts is no more. Instead, it’s increasingly common for there to be zero goalies selected in the first round of a draft. None went in 2018, for example, as the Rangers were the first team to select a netminder when they tabbed Olof Lindbom in the second round (39th overall).

American goalie prospect Spencer Knight recently admitted to NHL.com’s Jessi Pierce that he’s pictured becoming one of the rare recent goalies to go in the first round.

“You do think about it, and if I told you I didn’t I’d probably be lying,” Knight said “You do think about all the different ways it could go, but I think the biggest thing is to worry about the small things, the everyday things. It’s very cliché but it’s true. You do have to focus on one day at a time and enjoy the process because all these things only come around once. You only play in this (All-American Prospects Game) once, you only get drafted once.”

Here’s a quick glance at goalies who went in the first round since PHT began draft coverage in 2010.*

2017 – Jake Oettinger (26th pick)
2015 – Ilya Samsonov (22)
2012 – Andrei Vasilevskiy (19)
2010 – Jack Campbell (10), Mark Visentin (27)

* – If I happened to miss one, please note in the comments, email, or social media.

It’s too early to tell if the Dallas Stars will be glad they selected Oettinger (although, oof, they could have landed Eeli Tolvanen), and the same can be said regarding the Washington Capitals and Ilya Samsonov. The Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning do a solid job of shining a light on the highs and lows of drafting goalies with such prominent picks.

While it was refreshing to see Campbell earn a few nice starts with the Kings, the goalie hasn’t justified his draft status. That said, the Stars themselves haven’t had much luck finding answers in net, whether they’ve tried in other rounds, free agency, or via trades. Instead, they’ve sunk a ton of money into bad options, and the hope is that Ben Bishop can reverse that trend (and maybe hold down the fort while Oettinger develops?).

On the other hand, the Lightning knocked it out of the park with Vasilevskiy, who’s on the short list of hyper-promising young NHL goalies. It almost makes too much sense that Tampa Bay’s success in drafting Vasilevskiy allowed them to part ways with (wait for it) Ben Bishop.

Ultimately, there are only 31 starting jobs, and only 62 NHL goalie gigs including backups, aside from those rare stretches where three netminders make a roster.

/nods to J-F Berube.

There have been some fascinating, semi-recent studies regarding drafting goalies early, and the high risk-reward factor.

Back in 2016, TSN’s Travis Yost laid out one of the many arguments against drafting a goalie in the first round. Yost, like many others – including, clearly, NHL teams – notes that there’s simply an incredibly heavy opportunity cost with such an investment. That’s particularly true since many of the NHL’s standout goalies come later in the draft. Henrik Lundqvist and reigning Vezina winner Pekka Rinne went in the seventh and eighth round of their respective drafts, as just two prominent examples.

On the other hand, the payoff from finding a high-end goalie can be enormous. Hockey Graph’s Matt Cane summarized such thoughts following Yost’s post:

Drafting is an inexact science; there isn’t a team in professional sports that hasn’t whiffed badly on their selections. As a New York Giants fan who’s marinating in the poor choice of Saquon Barkley at second overall (mesmerizing talent, terrible value), going against the grain can hurt that much more.

You ultimately have to trust your scouts and your gut while making the decision, whether it be with Knight in 2019 or any other prospect.

It makes you wonder: which teams might want to take such a plunge next year? One could picture a team with aging goalies looking for answers (maybe the Senators if they do manage to trade for a first-rounder?) or teams that seem to be in perpetual pursuit of puckstoppers (the Hurricanes come to mind, in particular).

The smarter, studied route may be to accrue information by seeing goalies succeed overseas, in junior/college hockey, in the AHL, or even on another NHL teams.

Still, if you can identify a Vasilevskiy, you can really reap the benefits. That’s easier said than done, much like goaltending in general.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Washington Capitals.

2017-18
49-26-7, 105 pts. (1st in the Metropolitan Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Won the Stanley Cup in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights.

IN
Nic Dowd
Brooks Orpik (technically)

OUT
Alex Chaisson
Jay Beagle
Anthony Peluso
Tyler Graovac
Jakub Jerabek
Philipp Grubauer

RE-SIGNED
Tom Wilson
John Carlson
Travis Boyd
Devante Smith-Pelly
Michal Kempny
Madison Bowey

– – –

Stanley Cup champions.

Alex Ovechkin and others diving into the Georgetown fountain.

Two things that will never be forgotten in the nation’s capital.

In reality, it’s the first one that will be etched in history forever. The Capitals, a team that had always come up short, always underperformed when they needed their best performance, finally broke through, sent all their demons back to where they came from and hoisted Lord Stanley in June.

And in true Capitals form, none of it came easy.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]

From dropping the first two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets to losing three straight after taking a 2-0 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals had to work for the Cup.

Beating Pittsburgh in the second round was historical. Not since 1994 had the team bested the Penguins in the playoffs, and they’d been plagued by the Penguins ever since, including the previous two seasons where they were stopped in their tracks by Crosby and Co. in the second round.

Furthermore, the window appeared to be closed on the Capitals. They had won the Presidents’ Trophy two years running, but couldn’t figure it out when it mattered most. Their roster also appeared to be dealt a serious blow with key departures during last offseason, including Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt.

They still had their core, but good cores need good complements and Washington lost several.

The team endured Braden Holtby losing his starting job for a time late in the season, only to regain it in Game 3 against the Blue Jackets and never look back. Holtby appeared to be his elite self, especially in the final two games to close out the series against the Lightning, where he posted back-to-back shutouts against the regular season’s most potent offense.

In the Cup Final, Holtby bounced back from allowing five goals in Game 1 to post four straight wins and a .938 save percentage during that span.

The Caps simply trudged along, taking every bump in stride and never wavering too far off course.

Ovi scored 49 to capture his one-millionth Rocket Richard Trophy and Evgeni Kuznetsov rebounded from his 59-point season (which followed a breakout campaign with 77 in 2015-16) to post career bests in both goals (27) and points (83). Kuznetsov’s form carried over into the playoffs where he paced the league with 32 points. Ovechkin finished second in scoring and first in goals with 15 and Nicklas Backstrom rounded out the top-three point producers.

There’s been a lot of partying this summer, nothing foreign to a team that’s won hockey’s greatest prize.

Keeping John Carlson is the most important thing the Capitals have done this offseason.

Signing Tom Wilson to a lengthy extension worth many millions of dollars is the most controversial decision they’ve made.

Not re-signing head coach Barry Trotz might be their biggest mistake. Assistant coach Todd Reirden takes over the reins while Trotz will be the bench boss in Long Island.

The Caps head into next season with much of the same team intact and a belief now that they can overcome anything. We know they’re going to score goals. We know their power play is going to be elite. A bounce-back regular season from Holtby should keep the Caps at the top of the Metropolitan once again.

A conversation involving the Caps and the Stanley Cup used to elicit laughter. Now, it emits chatter of a repeat.

How times have changed.

Prospect Pool

Ilya Samsonov, G, 21, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL) – 2015 first-round pick

Three years of elite numbers in the KHL has the hype train carrying Samsonov moving at full force. The 21-year-old signed an entry-level deal after Metallurg was bounced from the Gagarin Cup and will play in North America this. The only question now is, where?

Samsonov is expected to be given a shot to be Holtby’s backup with Philipp Grubauer now out of the picture. Samsonov will face competition from Pheonix Copley, who will also be vying for the bench job. Samsonov appears as ready as one can be to make the jump, but allowing him some time in the NHL to adjust and adapt to the American game wouldn’t hurt. He’s still going to see time with the Caps this year.

Alexander Alexeyev, D, 18, Red Deer (WHL) – 2018 first-round pick

The 31st and final pick in the first round this past June, Alexeyev had a breakout season with the Rebels with 37 points in 45 games.

He’s big, too, at 6-foot-4, 196 pounds and has plenty of room to fill out his frame. Alexeyev won’t be turning pro this year, and another season of development in the WHL will be good as he continues to adapt to the North American game. He’s got some good mentors in Washington, including fellow Russian defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

“He’s a really intelligent player, extremely patient with the puck, good shot, skates really well,” Washington assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. “I think he’s going to have a really bright future with us.”

Lucas Johansen, D, 20, Hershey (AHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Johansen made a nice transition from junior with the Kelowna Rockets to professional with the Bears last season, scoring six times and adding 21 assists in 74 games.

A second year in Hershey is in the cards for Johansen, the younger brother of Nashville Predators forward Ryan Johansen. Washington’s three defensive pairings aren’t going to change in training camp, but an injury could change all of that.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to play here,” Johansen told the NHL at the team’s developments camp in June. “But I know I have a lot of things to improve on and [for] the jump to the NHL you have to be strong, you have to be fast. But I’m looking forward to committing myself to getting better and I’m going to come to camp and do the best I can to make this team and whatever happens from there, I’ll be happy.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Capitals top prospect Ilya Samsonov suffers concussion during KHL game

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More bad news if you’re a fan of the Washington Capitals (as if the team’s 6-6-1 start wasn’t enough), as one of their top prospects was injured in the KHL on Thursday.

Goaltender Ilya Samsonov suffered a concussion in Mettalurg Magnitogorsk’s 3-1 loss to the Lada Togliatti, according to former head coach Ilya Vorobyov (he was fired after the game).

Here’s a fun fact for you: Former Capitals forward Viktor Kozlov was named the team’s new head coach.

Samsonov wasn’t even the starting goalie for Magnitogorsk in this one. He entered the game in relief of starter Vasily Koshechkin.

The 20-year-old was Washington’s first round draft pick, 22nd overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Samsonov has accumulated a 6-5-1 record with a 2.77 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage in the KHL this season.

Of course, this injury doesn’t affect the Capitals on the ice this season, but concussions can be tricky to deal with, which means they’ll want Samsonov to be extra cautious during his recovery time.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.