Brian Elliott

End to End: How should Flyers tackle their goalie situation?

End to End: How should Flyers tackle their goalie situation?

The topic: How should the Flyers tackle their goaltending situation?

John Boruk
I’ve been contemplating the goaltending quandary for the better half of the past month and how it might sort itself out. As we’ve discussed, there are six NHL/AHL caliber goaltenders at a table that seats just four.

For starters, we could have some clarity during the draft if general manager Ron Hextall makes a trade (or two) that would give the Flyers a draft pick, a prospect or a player that can help the team next season.

I expect Hextall to work the phones to find an interested team for Petr Mrazek, or inevitably he becomes a free agent on July 1.

Brian Elliott returns as the Flyers' No. 1 when 100 percent healthy.

Carter Hart is the future franchise netminder and he needs to play and play a lot, which is why you can pencil him in as the starter for Lehigh Valley to begin next season.

That leaves injury-plagued Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz (also returning from major knee surgery) and Alex Lyon. I just don’t see the organization parting ways with Stolarz (a 2012 second-round pick) until it knows with certainty what it has once he’s healthy.

I would take all five goaltenders into training camp come September and let the situation play itself out. There’s plenty of injury risk on this team so why deplete the position especially when you consider how last season unfolded.

Tom Dougherty
Guess what. As another summer approaches, we're left talking Flyers goaltending. Fun!

I don't know how the Flyers can go into next season trusting Neuvirth. He has another year left on his contract, but there are ways around that. Neuvirth is a talented goalie who can never stay healthy. He's unreliable and that's a problem.

The Flyers have a goalie numbers problem. Lyon and Stolarz are restricted free agents and Hart is turning pro. Unless Hart shocks all, he'll be with the Phantoms full-time.

If the Flyers' plan is to bring back both Elliott and Neuvirth, that leaves one spot open in Lehigh Valley and that spot belongs to Lyon. He earned another contract with his play down the stretch, in the AHL playoffs and his time with the Flyers last season.

It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Stolarz returns to the club. It's a shame because he lost his spot on the depth chart because of injury, but that's hockey. If Neuvirth comes back, it's safe to say one of the AHL goalies will see NHL time next season.

There's too much of an unknown with Stolarz's health to choose him over Lyon. Theoretically, both could come back. The Flyers own both of their rights. But I could see Hextall trading Stolarz to let him get a fresh start elsewhere.

If I was in charge, I would find a way to move on from Neuvirth and allow Lyon and Stolarz duke it out for the NHL backup job. The loser heads to Lehigh Valley to mentor Hart.

Jordan Hall
It's never a bad time to talk goalies in Philadelphia, right?

Currently, there's a boatload to break down.

I don't see a major problem heading into the season with Elliott and Neuvirth as your tandem again. If both are healthy — I understand that's a big if — they can be reliable and have shown that to the Flyers with stretches of play. Both goalies are on the final year of their contract, so you enter 2018-19 with those two as your guys and if they can't stay injury free, then the good thing is the organization has options.

Right now, it just feels like Stolarz is the odd man out. You can probably bet Hextall is working the phones a tad on Neuvirth, Stolarz and obviously Mrazek. A trade is more than possible, but Hextall won't decimate his depth just because the Flyers have a lot of players at one position.

Ultimately, I don't foresee any big surprises. Looks like Elliott-Neuvirth in Philly and Lyon-Hart waiting in the wings at Lehigh Valley.

More on Flyers' goalies

• Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Elliott?

• Why Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

Are Flyers next? How Hart won over his junior GM

• After incredible effort, Lyon solidifies case for contract

Could this be a troubling sign for Flyers?

Could this be a troubling sign for Flyers?

Jakub Voracek listed off the things that many ponder about these equivocal Flyers.

He was running down all the positive developments to the team's 2017-18 season.

For one, Voracek himself had a career year (65 assists, 85 points). So did Claude Giroux (34 goals, 68 assists, 102 points) and Sean Couturier (31 goals, 45 assists, 76 points). Shayne Gostisbehere did the same (52 assists, 65 points), while Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov made significant leaps in Year 2. Even an injury-ravaged Wayne Simmonds managed 24 goals.

Yet, here the Flyers were, needing all 82 regular-season games to clinch a playoff berth before losing another first-round series that felt more lopsided than even. The Flyers were outscored by the Penguins, 28-15, while dropping all three games at home by a combined tally of 18-6.

Then again, they were able to push the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions to six games and would have forced a Game 7 had they held a 4-2 second-period lead. Konecny felt the Flyers had Pittsburgh "exposed." Brian Elliott was convinced they were winning the series after that two-goal advantage.

But, really, how close were they?

"It seems like we were really far," Couturier said two weeks ago at the Flyers' end-of-the-season press conferences. "They dominated us, but at the same time, I feel we were that close to beating them. Maybe it's funny to say, but if we capitalized on a few chances earlier in games, if we're a little more disciplined, then they don't take over and it's a tight series."

From a personal standpoint, so much went right for the Flyers during the regular season. Still, this offseason, they're left in the same position they've been in since 2012-13: no playoffs or a first-round defeat.

"Even if we didn't have a great playoffs, we basically almost pushed the Stanley Cup champions into a Game 7," Voracek said.

"We've got to win at least a playoff series next year. But a lot of bright futures, lot of guys that had great years and hopefully we're not that far off."

Which is a phrase the Flyers have reiterated at past clean-out days. And it's hard to blame them. The players are supposed to believe general manager Ron Hextall's plan is moving forward and nearing greater accomplishments.

In 2017-18, the problem certainly wasn't the core pieces, at least not during the regular season. 

What might be the biggest issues?

Many say it's the goaltending. Some may think it's the coaching. Or maybe the Flyers are just a year away from the youth finally meeting the core in perfect harmony.

"Now we have young players coming up and making a difference," Giroux said. "You look at our team and we have a good balance of older and younger guys. I'm not sure what the plan is coming September, but if we have the same team in the locker room, we're going to be pretty happy about that."

However, what's worrisome is the Flyers' mainstays (and even some of the kids) were significantly productive across the board but the end result remained the same.

So, sure, there are plenty of questions.

With more cap space, should the Flyers add in free agency? How much different will the defense look? Which prospects are next? Will the goaltending tandem hold up?

But these ones should go near the top of the list: can the big boys do it all again and will it even be enough?

Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Brian Elliott?

ap-brian-elliott.jpg
AP Images

Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Brian Elliott?

It was April 11, Game 1 of the Flyers-Penguins first-round playoff series.

Brian Elliott's life had changed drastically — and quickly.

Here was Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel flying at him from all angles.

About a month ago …

"I couldn't put on my socks or tie my shoes," Elliott said.

"It was gloomy there for a little bit when you're reaching down and you can't even put your sock on to walk out the door."

Elliott had gone 53 days without playing an NHL game because of core muscle surgery he underwent Feb. 13. Then, after just two regular-season outings in which he struggled and was hardly challenged, Elliott was tasked with slowing down the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.

It didn't go well.

The 33-year-old went 1-3-0 with a 4.74 goals-against average and .856 save percentage. He was yanked twice and did not finish the series as Michal Neuvirth took over for Games 5 and 6 — a victory and a season-ending loss.

All of which begged the question: was Elliott 100 percent or was his return premature?

"It's hard to put a percentage on it, but I definitely came back a little early … crawling on the table after the games," Elliott said last Wednesday from the team's dressing room at Flyers Skate Zone. "You're just trying to push through it. I had a couple practices before getting back into games and you're kind of in between trying to push yourself to get back into form and also taking care of your body so you're not too sore to skate the next day. It was just hard to manage it a little bit, and I'm still dealing with issues as far as the injury is concerned."

The Flyers needed all 82 regular-season games to clinch a playoff berth. They were in desperate need of their No. 1 goalie — or at least just one of the two that opened the regular season on the roster. While Elliott was healthy enough to play, he opened up about some of the issues that may have hampered his performance.

"It's tough, but at the end of the day you have to go out there and play to tear up some of the scar tissue stuff because you can only massage that stuff out of there before you've got to just tear it up the way you play," he said. "The last couple games, I'm glad they kept it under 20 shots because I don't think I could do any more than what I had. It got better every day just because of that and you have to tear that stuff up to get full range of motion again. I'm confident that it will get back to normal, but it definitely wasn't normal."

Elliott was unsure if he would need a follow-up procedure to help clean out some of the remaining issues and expedite his recovery. Speaking a day after the goaltender, general manager Ron Hextall did not know yet either.

Regardless, Elliott expects to be 100 percent come training camp. Prior to his injury, he went 15-5-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .912 save percentage since Dec. 4, a span of 22 games.

"I'm comfortable where we are as an organization with our goaltending," Hextall said. "Brian Elliott played extremely well for us until he got hurt there.

"We've got our kids coming. We've got the kids up in Lehigh. We feel very comfortable with where we are at; in saying that, we need some growth, too." 

And that leads to the biggest question of can Elliott — and Neuvirth (see story) — be reliable enough in net during 2018-19, a year with much more on the line (see story)?

In the final season of his two-year contract, Elliott may not be the future, but he's here while the team is starting to reach its own.

That makes him as important as anybody.