Last years offseason was full of question marks. The two main conflicts had to do with the action behind the blueline. The Flyers had two open spots on defense, with three rookies vying for a position. They also had a gap in their crease, and needed a stopgap solution until kids like Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz, amongst others, were ready to take the reins.
The latter was answered when Ron Hextall decided to ink netminder Brian Elliott to a two year deal worth 5.5 million dollars. Elliott came into Philadelphia, knowing that he would be part of a timeshare with Michal Neuvirth, but also knowing he would probably end up being 1A due to Neuvirth’s history with injuries.
Fast forward one year, and Elliott proved to be just a tad bit more valuable than Neuvirth. Sure, Neuvirth’s 9.15 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average were better than Elliott’s, but Elliott had better numbers where it mattered: the win-loss columns.
Neuvirth started 18 games and posted a 9-7-3 record, while Elliott started 42 games for a 23-11-7 record. Elliott clearly had the better record when it comes to goaltenders, even if his personal statistics lagged ever so slightly behind Neuvy’s.
Brian Elliott was clearly the better choice to start over Michal Neuvirth when both were healthy. However, does that mean that Elliott was the right choice when it comes to backstopping the Flyers until the prospects come up through?
Elliott was part of a shallow free agency class when it came to netminders. Goalies like Jonathan Bernier, Ryan Miller, and former Flyer Steve Mason highlighted the goalie class of 2017. The Flyers were in search of that goalie who could give them a couple years of solid performances, at least until Carter Hart made his way to the pros.
Ryan Miller once was regarded as one of the premier goalies in the NHL. His age is finally catching up to him, which was prevalent in his contract he signed with the Anaheim Ducks last offseason. Miller inked a two year, four million dollar deal to backstop the Ducks, and didn’t disappoint. He only appeared in 28 games, but posted a 12-6-6 record with a stat line of .928/2.35.
Given the Flyers’ goaltending situation, they would have likely had to lean on Miller more than Anaheim has. Even when depended upon more than he was this past year, Miller puts up better numbers than Elliott did this year. Would that have made him a better candidate for the Flyers than Moose? Of course.
Another name that was thrown around during last offseason was Jonathan Bernier. Bernier inked a one year deal worth 2.75 million dollars with the Colorado Avalanche. There, he appeared in 37 games and posted a 19-13-3 record. With the injury to Semyon Varlamov, Bernier was forced into action on a more regular basis than he may have been ready for. He posted a .913 save percentage while allowing 2.85 goals per game.
His deal made him just as much as the Flyers were paying Elliott, but his numbers were very similar. Elliott played in slightly more games, but still had a better record than Bernier. If we’re talking more “bang for your buck,” it appears that Elliott was worth the deal given to him over Jonathan Bernier.
The last reasonable goaltender that was worth looking at was someone many Flyers fans are familiar with. Steve Mason was the odd man out when general manager Ron Hextall was forced to decide between the two. Hextall extended Neuvirth, while letting Mason’s deal expire, ultimately letting him hit free agency.
Mason signed a two year deal with Winnipeg worth 8.2 million dollars. Mason was the highest paid goaltender out of all the goalies signed last offseason, and also underperformed greatly. He appeared in 13 games for Winnipeg, posting a 5-6-1 record, a .909 save percentage, and allowing 3.24 goals per game.
Mason gave way to Vezina-nominated Connor Hellebuyck, which ended up spelling doom for the 30 year old netminder. Mason was scarcely used all year, mainly at the beginning of the season. Once Hellebuyck hit his stride, Mason rode the pine for a majority of the rest of the season.
Could Mason have done better if presented with the opportunity? Of course. He was a decent netminder when minding the crease for the Flyers, but was also streaky. When Mason was bad, he was pretty bad. When he was good, however, he was damn good.
Would it have made sense for Hextall to bring Mason back for 4.1 million dollars per year? It could have. Does it make sense knowing Hextall paid Elliott almost half of that, and he still outperformed Mason? Of course not. Elliott was surely the better option of the two, even more so considering the locker room dynamic with Mason in the fold.
The glaring problem with Elliott is the fact that he spent nearly a month and a half on the sidelines with a core muscle injury, needing surgery to fix the problem. Even with his injury, he still posted a decent record, and played in 43 games to boot.
The fact of the matter is, there was a better option on the table when Hextall decided to ink the then-32 year old goaltender. Ryan Miller may be older than Elliott, but is still posting stellar numbers for a goalie his age. Not to mention, Miller is making 750,000 dollars less than Elliott is. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much money, but with extensions coming for Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, Hextall can use any penny he can get his hands on.
There were better stopgap solutions out there at the time of the Brian Elliott signing. There are still better options out there. However, Carter Hart is AHL bound, Alex Lyon has established himself as a solid AHL goaltender, and Anthony Stolarz is on the mend. The Flyers have options in net, and that’s something that hasn’t been said for years.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports