Flyers

Why Michal Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

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Why Michal Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

Michal Neuvirth, cloaked in all black with his hat backward, paused for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he was permitted to talk about what was wrong with his own body.

“I don’t know if I am allowed to tell you,” Neuvirth said last week.

The season is over and whatever in-season mandate the Flyers have about never disclosing to the public precisely what’s wrong with their players no longer applies. No more “upper-body” and “lower-body” injuries that lead to speculation and misinformation.

“My hips,” Neuvirth said.

With that, Neuvirth outlined his offseason game plan. He will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips. He’s staying in Philadelphia and then heading to Kelowna, British Columbia, for 10 weeks for training.

Then comes the most significant change, which, considering the player, might not be that big after all. Neuvirth will be switching trainers for the third straight year.

“It’s just not working out for me,” he said. “I know I can play in this league. I know I can be the difference maker. I just got to find a way to stay healthy.”

Neuvirth now turns to sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, who has worked with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, as perhaps his last resort.

Injuries have plagued Neuvirth throughout his career, especially with the Flyers. Neuvirth, in each of his three seasons in Philly, has been a constant on the upper/lower body report, and his games played have decreased each season, from 32 in 2015-16 to 28 in 2016-17 and 22 this year.

At some point, though, Neuvirth will have to stay healthy. He’s making the necessary adjustments this offseason, but on his third trainer in three years, the question will soon no longer be asked. If injuries continue to haunt him, he’ll no longer be trusted, in Philly or elsewhere. A reputation is hard to shake, and this one’s stapled to his name.

“It’s tough for me to say,” Jake Voracek said, adding he’s been lucky to avoid major injuries. “Everybody knows their body. If you are 30-years-old, you should know what to do to get better.”

Statistically speaking, Neuvirth was far better in 2017-18. After finishing 2016-17 with the worst save percentage among qualified goalies in the NHL, Neuvirth bounced back for a .915 clip.

Neuvirth started 18 games — back-to-back twice, and four straight games in February after Brian Elliott required core-muscle surgery. In that fourth start in February, Neuvirth suffered another “lower-body” injury. Then, the Flyers were forced to trade for Petr Mrazek, which brings us to the elephant in the room. Are they still comfortable with their tandem?

“I’m comfortable where we are as an organization with our goaltending,” Ron Hextall said. “I think Neuvy knows where he is at in terms of his career. He needs to have a big year next year. He needs to find a way to stay healthy. We fully support what he’s doing.”

Reading between the lines, Neuvirth’s spot next season isn’t a lock despite being under contract. Hextall views goaltending as tandems and gave a ringing endorsement for Elliott. To be fair, he said Neuvirth is a good part of a tandem too. But Hextall also sounded like he wanted to see a progress report on Neuvirth’s training program before making a decision.

Both Elliott and Neuvirth enter 2018-19 in the final year of their contracts as the Flyers wait for their kids to graduate. One can only hear Carter Hart is coming before it gets old, but the 19-year-old turns pro next season.

As for Neuvirth, he has to find a way to shed the stature as the guy who always gets injured.

“I can’t change the history. I can only change the future,” Neuvirth said. “I will do whatever it takes to stay healthy and help my team on a regular basis.”

His NHL career hinges on it.

Flyers at Flames: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Flames: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

The Flyers will once again try to match a mark set by the team in 2011-12, when the club last went to the playoffs.

The last time the Flyers opened the regular season with at least a point in four straight games was 2011-12 (3-0-1). The 2019-20 Flyers (2-0-1) have a chance to do that Tuesday night when they visit the Flames (2-3-1).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 9 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Scotiabank Saddledome
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• The Flyers could not have asked for a better start from Travis Konecny, who signed a new six-year, $33 million contract last month.

The 22-year-old winger has three goals and three assists in three games. His six points are the most by any Flyer through the first three games of a season since 2009-10, when defenseman Matt Carle also had six on one goal and five assists.

Going back to last season, the Flyers are 17-4-2 when Konecny scores a goal.

• Keep an eye on Chris Stewart, who is playing his first NHL regular-season game since March 29, 2018. In that game, he was playing for the Flames and scored a goal. Interestingly, he has his most career points against Calgary — 22 on 12 goals and 10 assists.

Also keep an eye on Jakub Voracek, who saw a demotion in the third period of last Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks. Let's see how he responds with his normal minutes and role.

Voracek and James van Riemsdyk are scoreless through the Flyers' first three games.

• The Flames were 26-10-5 at home last season, while putting up 50 wins and 107 points overall, most in the Western Conference.

Johnny Gaudreau is as good as they get, while Sean Monahan has killed the Flyers with 10 goals in 12 career games against the orange and black.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Kevin Hayes-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Carsen Twarynski
Tyler Pitlick-Michael Raffl-Chris Stewart

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim-Matt Niskanen
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere

Goalies

Brian Elliott
Carter Hart

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Flyers sign Chris Stewart to contract after lengthy NHL pro tryout

Flyers sign Chris Stewart to contract after lengthy NHL pro tryout

Updated: 12:40 p.m.

The work and the wait have paid off for Chris Stewart.

The Flyers signed the veteran winger on Tuesday to a one-year, one-way contract worth $750,000. Stewart, who turns 32 years old this month, had been with the Flyers on an NHL pro tryout since the beginning of training camp.

"We're happy to have Chris under contract," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a release by the team. "Chris came into training camp with a great attitude and a strong work ethic. He brings size and a veteran presence to our lineup."

Stewart projects to be the club’s extra forward. However, according to FOX Sports Midwest's Andy Strickland, Stewart will be in the lineup Tuesday night against the Flames (9 p.m./NBCSP).

The Flyers had cap space and roster space for Stewart. Through the first three games, the team did not carry a 13th forward and had only 21 players on the roster. With the waiving of defenseman Andy Welinski, who is headed to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, the cap space was created to finally add Stewart, a good insurance policy for the Flyers.

When Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) returns, there will be an odd man out in the Flyers’ lineup and it projects to be either Connor Bunnaman or Carsen Twarynski, both 21-year-old rookies. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to have either of those two watch from the press box instead of further developing with the Phantoms.

Meanwhile, Stewart will welcome the opportunity after being out of the NHL last season and playing for the EIHL’s Nottingham Panthers. He’ll be a positive personality in the dressing room, a quality guy for practice and a capable fourth-line power forward if the Flyers need to call his number.

At 6-foot-2, 243 pounds, Stewart brings size and physicality, which the Flyers value. Those traits can play well in head coach Alain Vigneault's system.

Stewart has ties to Fletcher and assistant coach Mike Yeo, from their days in Minnesota. Stewart played parts of three seasons for the Wild from 2014 to 2018, putting up 25 goals, 20 assists and a plus-6 rating in 146 games.

Overall, he has played 652 career NHL games between six teams, with his best season coming in 2009-10, when he scored 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) over 77 games for the Avalanche.

“Chris, to me, this is a guy who scored quite a few goals in the NHL,” Fletcher said Sept. 26. “He’s got a lot more skill I think than people give him credit for. He’s a really good skater, especially in a straight line. He’s lean this year. This is the best shape he’s been in in years, at least that I’ve seen, and he obviously brings the physical element. He brings the elements of being a pretty quality power forward.”

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