In years past, July 1 was like a mini Christmas for the hockey world. Free agency brought out big contracts, massive payouts and exciting new names in new cities and jerseys. In recent years, free agency, especially for the Flyers, hasn’t been as exciting, and 2017 was no different.
Ron Hextall made one new signing and looks content with just that. There’s been plenty of examples of teams getting burned by free agent contracts, so I can’t say I’m upset, but there is a guy still available I wouldn’t mind seeing the GM make a play for (and no, it’s not the ageless wonder and future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr).
The Flyers moved on from their third-winningest goalie in franchise history, Steve Mason (no, sadly I’m not making that record up). Mason, who seemed a little rankled at not getting a new contract at the end of the season, has moved on to Winnipeg with a two-year, $8.2 million deal. For that payout, I’m happy the Flyers didn’t re-sign him.
Mason wasn’t awful for the Flyers. In five years with the Orange and Black, Mason posted a .918 save percentage with a 2.47 GAA, winning 104 games and earning 14 shutouts. The numbers don’t shout “amazing,” especially when you compare them to Sergei Bobrovsky, whom the Flyers traded to Columbus. He’s gone on to win two Vezina trophies, posting a .923 save percentage with a 2.36 GAA, winning 139 games with 19 shutouts.
Now, the GAA and win totals are more representative of the team as a whole, I will always steadfastly claim that. But the fact of the matter is, Mason was a good goalie that showed flashes of brilliance, but never proved he should be the padded dude in the crease long-term.
Brian Elliott has had some ups and downs in his career, with five stellar seasons in St. Louis where he finished with a .925 save percentage and 2.01 GAA earning 104 wins and 25 shutouts. You may be sitting here going “why are you not happy then?” Fair question. In response, I say that I’ve never thought Elliott was a stellar goalie, benefitting from a stellar defense in St. Louis and his sole year in Calgary makes me worrisome of signing a 32-year-old netminder that, outside of his time with the Blues, has been average at best.
Elliott says there are a few reasons why his play didn’t sizzle as much in Canada as in America’s heartland–he had his first child with his wife, meaning there were (obvious) added pressures at home, he had to learn a whole new system as well as deal with the stresses from moving to an entirely new city.
I think the time he had to adjust helped him–he went 3-9-1 with a 3.31 goals against average and .886 saver percentage last year before finishing his last 36 games at 23-9-2 with a 2.27 GAA and .919 save percentage. At first glance, it looks like the Flyers improved their goalie situation, especially with Elliott’s feelings toward platooning with Michal Neuvirth (courtesy of NHL.com).
“I’ve been in the same type of situation my whole career,” Elliott said. “It’s not something I shy away from or am concerned about. I want to play as many games as I can. With how the new NHL is and the schedule, it’s tough to play all those games. Lot of teams are switching to having two guys that can hold down the fort. There’s still competition, you want to be the guy that can be counted on game in and game out. If you’re playing well you get rewarded … If you’re going to keep winning you’ll stay in the net.”
Props to Elliott for accepting the situation but also saying he’s going to work to earn the lion’s share of games. That’s what you want to see.
I still don’t think he’s the answer to making the Flyers Cup contenders. Though, teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings of the past have proved you need a solid goalie if you have a great defense in front of them. There-in lies the Flyers’ biggest issue…the defense. They’re improving there for sure with Ivan Provorov and other prospects in the pipeline, but they aren’t a top defensive team in the league.
Elliott should do fine in Philadelphia, maybe give him a little time to adjust.
As far as Hextall staying put on other signings, I’m honestly fine with it. He wants younger players to push for roster spots, which in today’s league is going to help with the cap and typically help the team out going forward. But there is one player available I wouldn’t mind seeing them offer a contract to–Thomas Vanek.
I loved Jagr when he played in Philly and I understand he still wants to play. But he’s slowing and it finally became noticeable in his game last year with Florida. I think if a team has a lot of young players that need a seasoned vet to help them, that’s the team Jagr would fit well in. But the Flyers have enough veteran players and Jagr is no longer a top-six guy, stats wise.
Meanwhile, Vanek could be. His seasons in Buffalo where he scored 40 goals and 80+ points are gone. I don’t doubt that. But at 33, he can still score and slot in on the second power play unit, while providing the team with a much needed winger with some pop. He signed a small one-year deal with Detroit last year and was eventually trade to Florida, managing 48 points in 68 games. He averaged about 11:30 minutes of ice time in 2016-17, which isn’t a large amount of minutes, but he was effective, with an even-strength scoring rate of 2.61 points per 60 minutes, sixth in the NHL in players with at least 20 games (thanks, again, NHL.com).
The Flyers need scoring and adding a guy like Vanek could benefit Claude Giroux, who has seen his numbers tumbling south since the exits of Jagr and Scott Hartnell. Vanek isn’t a “must-have” player, but if Hextall can snag him on a one-year, $1.5 million deal, I think the pros outweigh the cons.