Chuck Fletcher, Alain Vigneault and the Flyers may have a blueprint in the Islanders

Chuck Fletcher, Alain Vigneault and the Flyers may have a blueprint in the Islanders

The Islanders went 35-37-10 for 80 points and a seventh-place finish last season in the Metropolitan Division. They allowed the NHL's most goals per game and were 31st in attendance. Less than three months after their final game, they lost superstar John Tavares in free agency.

This season, Vegas gave New York an over/under projected point total of 82.5. USA TODAY Sports had it at 32 wins and 77 points.

Instead, the Islanders finished 48-27-7 for 103 points and are playing in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How in the world did New York pull that off the very next season?

You can bet such a turnaround was on the mind of Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher when he was in the process of hiring Alain Vigneault as head coach. Entering the offseason, it very well could be a blueprint rolled up in Fletcher's back pocket as the Flyers gear up for an important 2019-20 season.

The Flyers have visions of jumping right back into contention, which the Islanders impressively accomplished when the circumstances appeared bleak.

Lou Lamoriello was named president of hockey operations last May. He brought on Barry Trotz as head coach a month after his hire. Trotz was fresh off a Stanley Cup championship with the Capitals — an accomplished bench boss that could shift philosophy, nail home fundamentals and get the best out of his players.

And it worked beautifully.

"Look at the job Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have done," Fletcher said April 18. "They've gone from a team that looked far away and lost a key piece this summer, and they're in the second round right now.

"We've talked about the playoffs, there have been some teams that I think a lot of people are surprised have been knocked out already, some other teams you're surprised to see winning series or have won series. We're all close. Confidence and momentum early in a season can really lend itself to great things. That's why the most important time of the year will be our training camp and we'll be ready to go."

Lamoriello made underrated signings by adding Robin Lehner, Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov. Lehner is a Vezina Trophy finalist after putting up a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, while Filppula scored 17 goals in 72 games and Komarov played all 82 and was a plus-18.

These weren't earth-shattering moves, though.

The Islanders are a different team in massive part because of Trotz and his systematic magic. After surrendering a league-worst 3.57 goals per game in 2017-18, the Islanders permitted an NHL-low 2.33 per game this season. They scored 2.72 goals per game this year compared to 3.18 last season, but an increased emphasis on details, commitment, smarts and puck management transformed New York.

Fletcher harped on all of those characteristics 12 days ago when the Flyers introduced Vigneault, who has a history of success in Year 1 on the job and molding postseason clubs.

"I think that's a hallmark of top coaches," Fletcher said. "Nine consecutive years of making the playoffs, that's where you want to be. I'm a big believer in trying to be competitive every year. Maybe not every year you're perfectly positioned to contend for a Cup, but if you get in year after year after year, you're going to give yourself some shots."

In 2019-20, Vigneault will get his first shot at cleaning up the inconsistent Flyers.

Oftentimes, teams aren't as lost as they look. Trotz and the Islanders are case in point.

"People talk about playing good defense and that's the forecheck or the D-zone coverage," Vigneault said. "Yeah, it is, it's because you don't have the puck, but you've got to know what to do with the puck, and when you do know what to do with the puck, then a lot of times you're not defending as much.

"The job that Barry did in Long Island is an incredible job. An experienced coach that went in there with a definite mindset on what he felt needed to be done. Got to give him full credit and full marks for what he did. I believe that I know what it takes for a team to have success on a consistent basis and that's what I intend to do here with the Flyers."

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5 Flyers takeaways: Why Brian Elliott is back, what could be next, more

5 Flyers takeaways: Why Brian Elliott is back, what could be next, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers continued their busy roster construction with the re-signing of goalie Brian Elliott on Wednesday afternoon to nail down the team's backup for Carter Hart in 2019-20.

General manager Chuck Fletcher has made things happen, while the start of the July 1 free agency period has yet to arrive.

With that said, let's get into five takeaways on the recent developments with the Flyers:

1. Good for the Hart?

The Flyers did their homework in search for a backup goaltender. After exhausting and analyzing all avenues, they were confident with bringing back Elliott, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent.

"We took full advantage of the shopping period, as I believe he did, too," Fletcher said Wednesday at Flyers Skate Zone. "We spoke to quite a few goaltenders this week, quite a few agents for goaltenders this week. We did a lot of due diligence looking into everyone's background, medical histories and stats — everything we can do."

Fletcher said the Flyers talked "extensively" to both Elliott and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Cam Talbot. Ultimately, Talbot indicated to the Flyers that he was "looking for a situation where he felt he might play a little bit more than what he anticipated playing here," Fletcher said.

As we wrote here, Elliott was a cost-effective, internal option for the Flyers. Does his recent injury history make the decision a risk? Absolutely, but Fletcher noted how Elliott finished the 2018-19 season healthy and said the 34-year-old feels "the best he's felt in a while" since his core muscle issues.

He has a full summer of training. He's not just rehabbing, he's training.

At the end of the day, we know Brian as well as, if not better than, everybody — we know his medical history, we know how he fits in the room, we know how he fits with Carter and we know how well he plays.

He takes care of himself, he's a high-end competitor and he's a good teammate. For us, it made a lot of sense.

2. Net gains

Elliott is competitive and will push Hart for playing time. Given Talbot was eyeing more starts elsewhere, it's clear Elliott was receptive to the situation with the Flyers: Hart is the guy. It doesn't mean Elliott won't be needed. After all, Hart will be only 21 years old and in his first full NHL season, while the Flyers have 17 back-to-back sets on their schedule.

"I anticipate both guys playing," Fletcher said. "I think the days of a 65- to 70-game goaltender are probably gone. Somewhere in the 30-to-50 range for each guy … it'll depend on performance, health and schedule."

If the Flyers can get 30 games out of Elliott, they'd take it. Even after he missed a 40-game stretch last season with a lower-body injury, Elliott still managed to play 26 games.

3. Placing Pitlick

The Flyers on Monday acquired forward Tyler Pitlick in a trade with the Stars.

How does the 27-year-old work into the team's plans?

"He's been mainly a bottom-six player," Fletcher said. "He's played the third line, he's the played fourth line, he brings good size, he's a good skater. Has a pretty consistent north-south, physical game. Brings a lot of energy. Shoots the puck pretty well, he can certainly score a goal, but his bread and butter is that puck pressure, forechecking type of game. The size and the speed fit well with what we want to try to create in terms of our bottom six."

The Flyers definitely want to be tougher to play against and Pitlick should help. If anything, he gives Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff another piece. Moving Ryan Hartman in the deal offered the Flyers a bit more cost certainty with the cap and signing their restricted free agents.

4. More to come?

Are the Flyers done adding? Not necessarily.

The club has around $16 million in cap space if Philippe Myers makes the roster over David Schlemko. Fletcher still needs to sign four restricted free agents in Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

"We have plenty of cap space to bring our players back," Fletcher said. "Whether we have enough to go add another player, I'm not sure about that."

With the way the offseason has gone, don't ever rule out a trade. But it sounds like if the Flyers are seeking anything else, it will come in the form of depth at forward.

"We feel we've made some key additions, we've filled some holes and we have some pretty good young kids coming, too," Fletcher said. "I think our depth will be significantly better and hopefully on July 1 and 2, we'll have some more announcements to make on some players that can come in and help our organization — whether it's in Lehigh Valley or Philadelphia. I think we'll be in a good space in having good players and having sufficient depth."

5. A kid's game

Fletcher has not ruled out a prospect taking a job within the group of forwards. That, along with the cap, are reasons for why the Flyers don't appear overly eager to land a high-end forward before training camp.

Some prospects that could potentially fill out the Flyers' lineup: Aube-Kubel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"We have five real good wingers — certainly better wingers than any team I've been a part of," Fletcher said. "To me, that wasn't an area of weakness. But we'll see. We'll also see what comes out of training camp. Just watching this development camp, there are a lot of young kids, and ideally they all get some time in the American league, but there's a lot of high-end talent here.

"It's been impressive to see. Our scouting staff has done a tremendous job. This is the most talent I've seen in a development camp in my whatever number of years I've been in the business — both in terms of quality and quantity and every position.

"At some point, there are certainly players in this camp right now that could impact our roster in a positive way."

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Flyers sign Brian Elliott to 1-year contract extension

Flyers sign Brian Elliott to 1-year contract extension

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers have their backup for Carter Hart.

Brian Elliott on Wednesday signed a one-year, $2 million contract extension with the Flyers. The 34-year-old was set to become an unrestricted free agent after two seasons with the Flyers in which he went 34-22-8 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .908 save percentage over 69 games (65 starts). He has battled injuries each year, missing a 40-game stretch last season because of a lower-body injury and significant time in 2017-18 following core muscle surgery he underwent on Feb. 13.

The backup to Hart will be crucial in 2019-20. Not only will Hart be just 21 years old and facing his first full NHL season, but the Flyers also play 17 back-to-back sets, which is four more than they did a year ago. Thirteen of those sets will be a part of stretches in which the Flyers play three games in four nights.

"Brian has played well for us the last two seasons," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a release by the team. "He is a proven, quality goaltender who competes and battles hard every time he has the net. We are excited to have him rejoin our team."

The Flyers had Elliott and Cam Talbot, two soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, as No. 2 options. They also could have gone the trade or free-agent market route. Fletcher, though, had more pressing areas to address like signing Kevin Hayes to bolster the forwards, reshaping the defense and creating as much cap flexibility as possible. Elliott was a veteran, cost-effective, internal option, but was he the best option?

While Elliott doesn't appear as the most reliable backup given his age and recent injury history, he's played in a tandem for most his career, is familiar with the Flyers and has at least been productive when healthy. He'll have to prove he can stay healthy enough to spell Hart from time to time. If he can't, the Flyers could be in trouble — again — and scrambling for somebody that can be trusted.

At his end-of-the season press conference, you could sense Elliott's competitiveness.

"The mentor thing gets kind of caught up. It's a tough word choice," Elliott said. "I think [Hart] needs someone that is going to help him along the way and push him to be better. Hartsy is a great young goalie and is going to be good in this league for a long time. The Philly fans have a lot to look forward to."

The Flyers have around $16 million in cap space if Philippe Myers is on the roster over David Schlemko. Fletcher has to re-sign restricted free agents Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

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