Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

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Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

Paul Holmgren is fond of saying how much he “likes” his roster.

He’ll say it three or four times a season.
 
And then go out and make a couple of changes.
 
You can always “like” something else better out there. Given the Flyers' multitude of problems this season, it would be foolish to assume the roster will remain the same, regardless of how much he “likes” it.
 
It can’t.
 
To do so would only doom the franchise to another non-playoff season.
 
“We need a few changes on the back end,” one source said recently, referring to the Flyers' blue line.
 
The Flyers’ defense will change. Even Holmgren alluded to that.
 
“We’re always looking to get better on the back end,” he said of the blue line. He also mentioned getting “bigger,” which was interpreted to mean bigger up front, perhaps at center where the Flyers are a trifle small right now.
 
“I still like our team,” Holmgren said. “When we are healthy, we’re a good team. We had a lot of unhealthy players this year. I think we will be better next year. We will look around and makes ourselves better. Let’s see what we can come up with.”
 
Holmgren gave full support behind coach Peter Laviolette’s “attack” system even though the club’s five-on-five play was horrific until the final 15 games of the season.
 
“We didn’t perform to the level we needed to perform,” he said. “Not any individual or system. We just didn’t get the job done.”
 
Scoring off the rush was a problem the entire season at even strength (see story). The Flyers had just 83 goals playing five-on-five.
 
At times, the Flyers looked slow at even strength. By season’s end, however, they were just as quick, if not quicker, than the opposition despite a depleted lineup. No one really can figure out why that happened.
 
“There were times this year I would agree,” Holmgren said when told the club seemed slow at even strength.
 
“Other times, especially in the last little stretch, we looked faster than other times in the year. Some of that is understanding how we play defensively. There is a little bit of a catch-up.
 
“We had a tough time in our zone a lot this year. When you have tough time in your own zone, you don’t get the puck up into the forward’s hands. Maybe you don’t get opportunity to attack on the rush with speed.”

With the problems the club had on the back end and injuries up front, the defensive schemes attempted to slow things down to prevent goals off transition, and that affected five-on-five rushes.

The Flyers lost a ton of everything when they didn’t re-sign Jaromir Jagr. Not the least of which was someone trusted –- a future Hall of Famer –- who had a profound impact on their younger players. One reason for the sophomore slumps of Brayden Schenn and in particular, Sean Couturier, was not having Jagr around. Look what Jagr did for Jakub Voracek (see story).
 
“Probably not as good as they had hoped or we would [have hoped],” Holmgren said of both players’ slumps.
 
“We didn’t have Jagr, so why even talk about it. We didn’t have a chance to get him. Lots of guys didn’t have the years we wanted them to have or they wanted to have. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
 
Holmgren said he was very happy with the Flyers’ compete level at the end of the season and the almost instant transformation of Steve Mason as a competitive goalie again, one who should lend stability to what was a non-rotation this year with Ilya Bryzgalov being worked into the ground.
 
He also said that prospect Nick Cousins will need more seasoning to work on his defensive game and won’t be NHL-ready for a while.
 
Scott Laughton? He’s expected to challenge for a spot next fall.
 
“He dominated at his level, at times, and that is encouraging,” Holmgren said.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Brian Elliott

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Brian Elliott

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Brian Elliott
Age: 32
Height: 6-2
Weight: 209
Last team: Calgary Flames
2016-17 cap hit: $2.5 million

Scouting report
Drafted in the ninth round (291st overall) of the loaded 2003 draft by the Ottawa Senators, Elliott didn’t find much success in the NHL until he wound up in St. Louis in 2011-12.

Elliott joined Ottawa full time in January of the 2008-09 season and played his way into splitting goaltending duties with Alex Auld. In 2009-10, he was 29-18-4 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. He was traded to Colorado at the 2010-11 trade deadline for Craig Anderson. He played just 12 games for the Avalanche.

After Colorado declined to qualify him, Elliott signed a one-year deal with the Blues in 2011. He shared the net with Jaroslav Halak and ended up having his best season in the league. In 2011-12, Elliott was 23-10-4 with a 1.56 GAA and .922 save percentage.

He was an All-Star in 2011-12, too. He ended up playing four more seasons in St. Louis, but the Blues eventually moved on from him with the emergence of Jake Allen. The Blues traded him to the Flames at the 2016 draft but lasted just one season in Calgary.

Last season, Elliott struggled with the Flames before being relegated to the team’s backup. He eventually did regain the No. 1 job but didn’t do enough to please the Flames’ front office. He was 26-18-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

Dougherty's projection
Elliott is one of the options on the market that I think would fit well with what the Flyers are looking for, and that is a proven veteran who has shown he can be a part of a tandem.

I know he didn’t pan out in Calgary and missed his opportunity at a big payout, which could very well could be his final chance to get a decent contract. I was a fan of him in St. Louis, especially when paired with Allen and Halak. I think he’s a good tandem goalie.

Financially, I think he’ll be a fit. I don’t see him getting much of a raise from his $2.5 million cap hit he carried on his previous contract. And I don’t think this goalie market is going to drive that price up, either. There aren’t many teams in the market for goalies.

So for what he’ll cost — probably in the $2.5 million range, maybe a little more — Elliott would be a solid option for the Flyers, but he may find more opportunity in Winnipeg, which reportedly is looking for a veteran goalie to pair with Connor Hellebuyck, 24.

I would imagine an Elliott-Michal Neuvirth pair would certainly give enough stability in net for the Flyers to compete next season and creep back into the playoffs.

For the Flyers, Elliott is an attractive option and one they’ll likely reach out to. Whether he comes to Philadelphia is something we’ll find out soon enough.

I still feel Jonathan Bernier is the early favorite but Elliott would make for a good signing.

At the right price, of course.

Hall's projection
Elliott fits the Flyers' plans here.
 
He's a 32-year-old veteran that has backed up and split time in net for much of his nine seasons in the NHL. At this stage of his career, he might not be looking for much more — he would likely be open to a cost-efficient deal in the ballpark of two years, as he's never had a higher average annual value than $2,500,000.
 
Ever since joining the Blues in 2011-12, Elliott has been pretty darn good. His 2.55 goals-against average with the Flames last season was his worst since 2010-11, which shows you his reliability. He also has a relatively clean health history, he's proven to be durable and also owns plenty of experience, including 41 postseason appearances.
 
This just makes a lot of sense for the Flyers and their current state. Elliott helps now and shouldn't block the future.

Paone's projection
The thought of Elliott in net for the Flyers next season makes sense for a few reasons.

First, he fits the mold of what Hextall and his staff are looking for. They want a netminder with some experience who can be trusted to step in and carry stretches work if needed. Elliott has the experience and he's played long stretches during his time in both St. Louis and Calgary. And with Neuvrith's injury history, the Flyers could very well need someone to step in for long stretches. So check that box off.

Second, he'll come at the right price for Hextall and the Flyers' brass after a tough season in Calgary. His season fizzled after the Flames gave him the chance to be the No. 1 guy on a talented team. But the reality is that lowered the price and will likely land Elliott a shorter-term deal, both of which can only pique the Flyers' interest some more. Check both those box off.

Third, Neuvirth would be a clear No. 1 option ahead of Elliott. That's not meant to slight Elliott, but, if you ask me, Neuvirth is the better of the two. I'm not the biggest supporter of full-on platoons because I feel confidence is of the utmost importance for a goalie and it's so much easier to be confident and get in a groove when a goalie doesn't have to constantly look over his shoulder. And that would be the case here as Neuvirth would be the guy in that situation.

Yes, Elliott's best seasons came behind a sturdy St. Louis defense that featured the likes of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, among others. And while he may not be the sexiest option on the market, he is a sensible option for the Flyers.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.