Nick reacts to coaching changes, the draft lottery and the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in progress while providing an update.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Philadelphia Flyers and their outlook for the summer.
The 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers pulled themselves into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division with a late season surge ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils by one point.
Philadelphia’s 42-46-14 record lauded them 98 points on the season under the guidance of head coach, Dave Hakstol, and in a First Round matchup with their intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
Despite a breakout performance in the postseason by Sean Couturier and back-and-forth offense all series long (in games that weren’t lopsided), the Flyers succumbed to Pittsburgh in six games on home ice in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason meeting with the Penguins since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
As usual, goaltending was an issue with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sustaining injuries late in the season, leading General Manager Ron Hextall to acquire Petr Mrazek as an insurance policy down the stretch from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a conditional 2018 third round pick and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Hextall has two first round picks at his disposal with the 14th overall selection via the St. Louis Blues (thanks to last June’s Brayden Schenn deal for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 first round pick) and their own 19th overall selection in the 2018 Draft.
With two mid-round picks in the first round, Hextall can lay claim to two of the best available picks or go off the board in accordance with however his scouting department values talent– I’m not the expert here. Then again, he could flip one or both first round picks for assets.
But if you’re a Flyers fan, you likely could see Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley walking up the draft stage in Dallas in less than a week grabbing a hold of Philadelphia’s classic orange-and-black sweater.
Pending free agents
Philly has about $17.200 million to spend on free agents this summer and only a handful of pending UFAs and RFAs.
Read only appeared in 19 games for the Flyers this season, scoring one goal and recording 16 shots on net. After reaching the 40-point plateau twice in his career with Philadelphia in 2011-12 and 2013-14, his offensive production has only declined since 2014, yielding 30 points in 2014-15, 26 points in 2015-16 and 19 in 2016-17.
Filppula was traded to the Flyers by the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline, served as an alternate captain this season and had 11-22–33 totals in 81 games. His numbers are respectable, though he hasn’t replicated his 58-point season with the Lightning in 2013-14.
A third round pick (95th overall) of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Filppula should see more time in the City of Brotherly Love if there’s a mutual attraction. Just maybe not at the $5.000 million cap hit he had on his five-year contract he signed with Tampa in July 2013.
24-year-old Taylor Leier makes up the only pending-RFA forward on Philadelphia’s roster and played in 39 games with the Flyers this season (the most he’s been a part of since breaking into the league in 2015-16). Leier had one goal and four assists (five points) and is not an offensive threat by any means.
Hextall could let Leier walk without tendering a qualifying offer and that’d be fine.
It’s not so much about what the Flyers do this summer, but rather what Hextall and his front office is proactively planning to do next summer that makes a world of a difference (glancing at the current NHL roster alone and ignoring any potential additions via trade or free agency).
There’s six players currently on Philadelphia’s NHL club that could test the open market in July 2019, including Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.
The obvious standouts of those names are Simmonds (who’ll be in the midst of his prime and entering his 30s) and Konecny (who will be coming off of his entry-level contract). Both are sure to expect a raise and long term deals if they see themselves attached to the city for a while.
And with only two roster players signed past the 2021-22 season in Jakub Voracek (2023-24) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2022-23), Hextall will soon have to start navigating the future of the new core in Konecny, Nolan Patrick and crew.
Perhaps Hextall would float the idea of moving 29-year-old forward, Dale Weise, and his $2.350 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season with the future in mind.
Manning, 28, had his best season with 7-12–19 totals in 65 games played, while Oduya, 36, signed with the Ottawa Senators last July as a free agent and was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia on February 26th. The Swedish defender recorded four goals and four assists with Ottawa this season and played in one game for the Flyers.
Hagg, 23, played his first full-season with Philadelphia in 2017-18, amassing 3-6–9 totals in 70 games played in his rookie season.
Both Manning and Hagg are part of the solution on Philly’s blueline, while Oduya will more than likely test the waters of free agency once more in the NHL.
In goal, Elliott, 33, Neuvirth, 30, and Mrazek, 26, are currently listed on the NHL roster.
Elliott had one-year left on his two-year deal with a $2.750 million cap hit, while Neuvirth also has one-year remaining on his current contract at $2.500 million.
For the second year in a row, Elliott’s goals against average increased and his save percentage worsened as a starting goalie. In 43 games this season, he had a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%.
Neuvirth improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in six fewer games as Philadelphia’s backup, finishing the year with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SV%.
Mrazek is a pending-RFA coming off his worst season. In 22 games with Detroit this season, the Czech goaltender had a 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. That’s less than ideal, but considering the Red Wings ongoing rebuild… Mrazek didn’t do himself any favors with a playoff bound team in the Flyers, amassing a 3.22 GAA and .891 SV% in 17 games.
On the surface it may appear as though the annual revolving door of goaltenders in Philadelphia may continue, but there’s some promise in their goaltending prospects.
Philly could have a situation very much like their rival in Pittsburgh currently has where Matt Murray is the starter and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith constantly battle for the backup role while all being close in age.
The Flyers should make Neuvirth their starter– in the meantime, as the search continues for a legitimate starter– with Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz (both pending-RFAs this July) competing for the backup role.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Reece Wilcox (RFA), Colin McDonald (UFA), Samuel Morin (RFA), Tyrell Goulbourne (RFA), Alex Lyon (RFA), John Muse (UFA), Dustin Tokarski (UFA), Danick Martel (RFA), Anthony Stolarz (RFA), Will O’Neill (UFA)
By: Nick Lanciani
With Matt Murray’s impressive 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff run for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is it time for them to think about their future in goal and realize the future is now? Let’s decide whether or not it’s time for the Penguins to trade Marc-Andre Fleury.
Trade Him, Trade Him Now
Everyone’s making a big fuss over goaltenders these days, yet it seems like the smart thing to do would be to stick with your number one goalie all along. The St. Louis Blues fallout in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the now-headed to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, San Jose Sharks, had nothing to do with shaky goaltending, despite being outscored by a large margin.
Brian Elliott was the Blues clear starting goalie in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs as Jake Allen lost his way in the final month and a half of the regular season and was relegated to the backup role in the playoffs. Allen’s Game 5 loss to the Sharks comes as no surprise, given well, let’s just say Elliott is the clear number one goaltender as of right now for St. Louis’s 2016-2017 season opener (and I’m not just saying that because of a bet I made with Connor).
The Penguins rode the momentum of their tremendous run on the backs of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff this season, but one thing has emerged as a clear choice to make. Is it time to replace Fleury?
Look, that might sound surprising— okay, I’m even surprising myself— but let’s face it, Fleury is coming off his greatest season ever and there’s no greater time to amass a significant return than right now. Especially when Matt Murray put up similar numbers in the regular season to the currently elite Washington Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby’s rookie year.
Fleury went 35-17-6 is 58 games played this season with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 SV%. He recorded five shutouts this year, which put him at 20 shutouts over the last three seasons. Last year, Fleury went 34-20-9 in 64 appearances, with a league leading and career high 10 shutouts and a 2.32 GAA and .920 SV%. For the lack of a better summarization, Fleury’s been on fire in recent years.
His success seems to be unusual, considering how Fleury often flutters out of peak performance in the playoffs— oh wait.
Having been out of the lineup since March 31st with a concussion, Fleury returned to his first game action in relief of Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning on May 20th. Fleury made his first start in nearly two months on May 22nd in Game 5.
In two playoff appearances, Fleury is 0-1-1 with a 3.03 GAA and an .875 SV%. In other words, not good for his first couple of games back on the wings of a spectacular Vezina Trophy worthy season (it beats me why Jonathan Quick is a finalist this year and Fleury is not). A good playoff goalie is expected to make an impact on the series, bar none.
I get it, he’s coming back from being mostly inactive for the last couple of months, but he is considered a regular at what he does for a living and should not have even started Game 5, based on Murray’s performance in the playoffs as a whole. You don’t change your goalie in a series unless it’s goalie change in a relief appearance or heading into an elimination game— otherwise you’re only tinkering with momentum and robbing a goalie’s confidence (and perhaps the rest of the team’s confidence).
But Matt Murray is ten years younger and making an impact as good, if not better than Fleury, when it comes to crunch time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In Murray’s 13 regular season games this season, he went 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 SV%. His rookie season save percentage almost mirror’s Holtby’s .934 SV% as a rookie 21-year-old back in the 2010-2011 season. Holtby also went 12-10-2 in 14 games with a 1.79 GAA, for the record, that year.
While Holtby set himself apart from the rest in 12 playoff appearances this year with a 1.72 GAA and .942 SV% at 26-years old, Murray’s been Holtby-esque spectacular, all while defeating the Capitals and taking his team further than Holtby’s ever been in the playoffs.
In 14 playoff appearances, Murray is 10-4-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .924 SV% in his first run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby went 7-7-4 in 14 games played with a .935 SV% and a 1.95 GAA in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs (his first taste of playoff hockey). While the numbers might seem misleading, Holtby allowed 30 goals on 459 shots against that year and Murray’s allowed 32 goals on 420 shots against thus far in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For a 21— 22-year-old goaltender, this kind of a run is insanity, no matter how you look at it.
For a general manager, living in the Braden Holtby-as-top-dog-in-net era, it’s certainly worth considering moving Murray up not only from the third-string position, but to your number one spot for good.
I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury as he is now.
I’ll repeat that. I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury.
However, at $5.75 million with 4 years left on his contract and Murray only costing $620K with two years left and a plethora of other talented pending RFA’s in the next couple of seasons for the Penguins, it’s worth the time to see what other teams would give up for a surefire number one goalie for at least the next five years (if not longer- Fleury isn’t showing signs of turning into the next Ryan Miller anytime soon).
And given the relationship between the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Phil Kessel deal in the offseason, it might be worth investigating just how badly Toronto needs a goaltender. Let alone other teams scampering around the Maple Leafs in the standings.
One more tidbit of information; Fleury’s rookie campaign of the 2003-2004 season only saw a 4-win, 14 losses and 2 ties performances in 21 games played with a 3.64 GAA and a .896 SV% at the age of 18 going on 19.
The fact of the matter is that the Penguins could lengthen the life of their success with a young goalie like Murray putting on a performance similar to their rival in Washington’s goalie (Holtby) and still be built on the currently successful Chicago model of running a team.
A team built on interchangeable scoring, a shutdown defense and a goalie that is clutch when you need him to be, but can be bailed out as he grows with the team in front of him.
Trade Fleury while you can. Make a pure hockey move, reminiscent of the days when the Boston Bruins acquired prolific goal scorer Phil Esposito in a deal that worked out for everyone involved— Blackhawks included— or like when the Colorado Avalanche landed Patrick Roy from the Montréal Canadiens— except the Canadiens didn’t really get much out of that deal and it was kind of forced on them (or by themselves, depending of who you ask).
Bottom line, hockey is a business and in a business you’re always looking for the here and now and where you’re headed in the future. Otherwise you’re only doomed to mismanagement at its finest. Pittsburgh has a chance to avoid poor management by trading Fleury while the price is still high and avoid falling in the standings by the grace of the rest of their organization and Matt Murray in goal.