The Flyers are a playoff bubble team but won’t improve until they get better between the pipes. There are plenty of candidates in free agency and on the trade block.
After reaching the playoffs in 2015-16, expectations were high entering this season for the Philadelphia Flyers. Their 10-game winning streak early in the campaign suggested another postseason appearance was in the cards.
It was not to be, as the Flyers’ struggled through the second half to finish outside the playoff picture for the third time in five years. GM Ron Hextall will spend this off-season assessing his problem areas and attempting to address them.
CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio reports goaltending is Hextall’s biggest issue. With a goals-against per game of 2.82, the Flyers were near the bottom third of the league in that category. It was a significant factor in their failure to reach the playoffs.
Hextall surprised many observers by re-signing Michal Neuvirth to a two-year, $5-million contract extension. Though oft-injured, the 29-year-old Neuvirth was an affordable signing. He can also be left exposed in the June expansion draft, allowing Hextall to protect promising Anthony Stolarz.
Steve Mason’s future with the Flyers, however, is uncertain. He’s slated for unrestricted free agency in July and is coming off a three-year, $12.3-million deal.
Inconsistency plagued the 30-year-old netminder. Panaccio observes Mason’s overall numbers (26 wins, 2.66 GAA, .908 SP) weren’t good enough to get the Flyers into the postseason. But in his final 16 games, Mason was 10-5-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .933 SP. Still, Panaccio considers Mason too risky to re-sign even at a discount.
Goaltending’s been the Flyers’ biggest weakness for years. If they’re to improve next season, Hextall must shore up his depth in the crease.
One option would be Los Angeles Kings veteran Ben Bishop. A finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2016, he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2015 Stanley Cup final and to last season’s Eastern Conference final.
As the top goalie in this summer’s UFA market, the 30-year-old Bishop could seek a significant raise over his current $5.95-million cap hit on a long-term deal. Factor in his recent injury history and he becomes an expensive gamble.
Other UFA options include Brian Elliott of the Calgary Flames, Scott Darling of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Bernier of the Anaheim Ducks and the Lightning’s Peter Budaj.
Elliott is the most experienced of the bunch. Like Mason, consistency’s been a concern for him. Bernier and Budaj had surprisingly strong seasons, but they benefited from playing for defensively strong clubs. Darling’s played well backing up Corey Crawford in Chicago and appears ready to become a starter.
Some point to the young goalies in the Flyers’ system (Stolarz, Carter Hart, Alex Lyon and Felix Sandstrom) as reason why they should instead land a short-term improvement until one of those kids are ready for prime time.
If free agency won’t suit that need, perhaps the trade market could produce that type of bridge goalie. The Rangers could shop Antti Raanta and the Washington Capitals could move Philipp Grubauer rather than risk losing them for nothing in the expansion draft.
NEW KINGS’ GM BLAKE WILL BE BUSY
Between 2011-12 to 2013-14, the Los Angeles Kings were one of the NHL’s dominant clubs. They won two Stanley Cups and advanced to the Western Conference final three times. Only the Chicago Blackhawks rivalled the Kings.
But while the Blackhawks remain a perennial Cup contender, the Kings declined. They’ve now missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and swiftly bowed out of the opening round of the 2016 postseason.
GM Dean Lombardi’s largesse was largely to blame. Following the Kings’ championships he re-signed Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik to expensive long-term contracts. Their performances subsequently declined, eating up valuable cap space and leaving Lombardi little room to bolster his roster.
Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter paid the price for the Kings’ recent woes as both were fired on Monday. New GM Rob Blake faces a daunting challenge to free up cap room and and address their anemic offense.
The Kings have over $59 million invested in 16 players for 2017-18. The cap ceiling isn’t expected to substantially rise over the current limit of $73 million. Blake won’t have much room to re-sign restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson and bring in another scorer.
Prior to the firings of Lombardi and Sutter, Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal said the Kings “absolutely will be shopping one of their second-pairing defensemen – Alec Martinez or Jake Muzzin – for scoring help up front next season.” It remains to be seen if Blake will go that route.
Matheson considered Martinez, who turns 30 in July, the better puck-handler but also notes Muzzin is two years younger. He suggested one of them could be replaced next season by Paul LaDue or Kevin Gravel.
Martinez or Muzzin could attract considerable interest in this summer’s trade market. The Tampa Bay Lightning need another top-four defenseman and could part with a scorer such as Tyler Johnson. The New York Rangers could also be a suitor, though their preference is for a right-handed shot and Martinez and Muzzin are lefties. The Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs could also come calling.
Blake could also put forward Jordan Nolan on the block. He’s got a year left on his contract worth $950,000 and was a frequent resident this season in Sutter’s doghouse.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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