You know, there are probably a ton of hockey fans out there who do not know what a clean-shaven Joe Thornton looks like. The San Jose Sharks forward has been growing out his beard for several years now — likely because when you hang around with Brent Burns long enough, anything can happen. Isn’t that right, Paul Martin?
But on Monday night, on the eve of Thornton’s 21st NHL season, he decided to make a change and say goodbye to the beard as Burns did the honors.
Burns, by the way, went clean-shaven in 2013 while raising $23,403 for two charities.
“My wife’s been wanting this done for a long time and the guys kind of got on it and all of a sudden the shaver came out, and there it was on the plate,” Thornton said via the Mercury News. “My 5-year old wasn’t happy this morning. When he woke up, he didn’t want to see dad. I’ve got to make it up to him somehow.”
The finished product made its debut during Tuesday’s practice:
The beard has been through a lot. There was the graying as the 39-year-old Thornton aged. The “ESPN Body Issue.” Those weird Guy LaFleur comments. There was David Backes taking a tug while the two were involved in a scrum. And who could forget Nazem Kadri, an obvious fan of Jumbo’s facial hair choices, wanting a piece for himself so bad that he ripped out a chunk as the pair tussled last season.
Now that he’s a little lighter, Thornton, who noted he regretted the decision as soon as Burns starting shaving it, should be challenging Connor McDavid and Dylan Larkin in the Fastest Skater competition in no time.
There are real, meaningful hockey games starting on Wednesday, and that means it is time to take our first real look at the Power Rankings for the 2018-19 season.
After spending most of the summer ranking everything from the best trades of the summer, to the most absurd mascot moments, to the people around the NHL that need to be better this season, to the best teams to not win the Stanley Cup yet in the salary cap era, to those old, random third jerseys it is finally time to start looking at where the NHL’s 31 teams stand entering this season.
Our plan for the season is to do a bi-weekly traditional power rankings, and then mix in a different sort of ranking on the off week in between (similar to what we did over the summer).
To the rankings!
1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have potential award winners behind the bench (Jon Cooper), on the top line (Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), on defense (Victor Hedman) and in net (Andrei Vasilevskiy). The top of the roster is as good as any other team in the league, and the complementary players are outstanding. You don’t become a final four team in three of the past four years by accident. Now they just have to figure out a way to go from being a consistently great team to a championship team.
2. Nashville Predators — Their defense is, at worst, the second best group in the NHL and they have to goalies that are good enough to start and play at a high level. They will be one of the toughest teams to score on once again and a top-10 offense.
3. San Jose Sharks — They are loaded, especially on the blue line where they have three players that are regulars in the Norris Trophy voting. That alone should make them Stanley Cup contenders. Then you add in the fact they have a solid goalie and a deep group of forwards and it is hard to find a weakness here.
4. Washington Capitals — It is pretty remarkable — and kind of funny — that the Capitals team that finally did it, that finally overcame the postseason demons, that finally brought a championship to Washington, was probably one of the weaker Capitals teams (at least on paper) during this era. That this was probably one of the “weaker” teams is also a testament to how consistently great and competitive they have been, because it was an obviously great team.
5. Winnipeg Jets — The forwards on this team are incredible, especially on the wings where they boast one of the best depth charts in the league. Patrik Laine scoring 50 goals this season is a legitimate possibility. If Connor Hellebuyck comes close to matching his performance this team could win it all. If he does not they could disappoint.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins — If Derick Brassard has a bounce back year after a disappointing debut with the Penguins following the trade this lineup could be laughably deep.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs — The oddsmakers have them as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, and they are definitely loaded with talent up front especially after adding John Tavares in free agency. But they also have some flaws that could hold them back, particularly on defense and in potentially in net if they overwork Frederik Andersen again. We also have to acknowledge the fact that before they can win the Stanley Cup they have to get out of the first round of the playoffs, something they have not done in two NHL lockouts. I know, I know, different teams, different players, different times. But facts are facts.
8. Boston Bruins — The depth is a question mark after the top-line, but they have some really intriguing young players all over the lineup. Tuukka Rask could be the one player that makes or breaks where this team goes.
9. Vegas Golden Knights — Asking them to repeat the success and magic from year one might be asking the impossible, but this is still a really good roster with a lot of salary cap flexibility and the assets (prospects and draft picks) to make another big move if needed.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Even with all of the preseason distractions relating to the contract statues of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky this is a really talented team. Talented enough to finally get through the first-round of the playoffs? That remains to be seen, but a talented team nonetheless.
11. Minnesota Wild — The Wild are going to make the playoffs where they will likely run into a powerhouse Nashville or Winnipeg team in the first round, and should they happen to get through that they will probably have to face the other one in the second round. They are good. They are not good enough to get through both of those teams.
12. Philadelphia Flyers — Could see this team making the playoffs and winning a round (maybe even two?) or being a massive disappointment and missing the playoffs because the defense and goaltending end up not being good enough. A true wild card of a team. At least the mascot rules.
13. St. Louis Blues — The Blues were one of the best defensive teams in the league a season ago and missed the playoffs because they could not score. They tried to address that over the summer with Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon. O’Reilly is the big addition here because he is an awesome two-way player that does everything well, mixing shutdown defense with 60-point offense, and a tough, hard-nosed style of play that does not result in him taking penalties.
14. Anaheim Ducks — Losing Corey Perry hurts the offense, but the defense and goaltending should be good enough to carry this team back to the playoffs in a weak (after the top two teams) Pacific Division.
15. Florida Panthers — They were the hottest team in the league in the second half and added a 25-goal scorer to a core group of forwards that already boasts one of the league’s best two-way players (Aleksander Barkov) and some top-line talent in Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck.
16. Dallas Stars — Maybe first-year coach Jim Montgomery can find a way to get something more out of this team than what Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock were able to get in recent years. Still a lot of talent on this roster even if it never seems to translate to success in the standings.
17. Los Angeles Kings — The most stunning thing about the way the Kings were swept out of the playoffs isn’t just that they dropped four consecutive games to the Vegas Golden Knights, scoring just three goals in the series, it is that they looked completely overmatched, slow, and never seemed to be a threat to score. It was like they were playing a different sport.
18. Carolina Hurricanes — Absolutely love this defense with Dougie Hamilton joining the team and Justin Faulk remaining there (for now). But will Scott Darling be better than he was, and what sort of impact will rookies Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov make on an offense that was one of the worst in the league and traded one of its leading goal-scorers over the summer?
19. Colorado Avalanche — The big question here will be what type of player Nathan MacKinnon is and will be. After a great rookie season his career kind of stalled a little bit. It is not that he was bad, but he just did not really build off of that debut year in a big way … until 2017-18. Will the Avalanche get that Nathan MacKinnon or will they get the 60-65 point Nathan MacKinnon?
20. New Jersey Devils — A healthy Marcus Johansson will help, and Nico Hischier looks like he has star potential, but what if Taylor Hall does not duplicate his MVP level performance? Even with that performance this was a very average team.
21. Calgary Flames — Like the signing of James Neal in free agency as he should be able to add some secondary scoring to a team that badly needs it. Love Johnny Gaudreau and the way he plays. Hate the Dougie Hamilton trade, the mindset behind it, and the return they got for him.
22. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid is going to dominate, but who is going to help him? This is still a team lacking depth, defense, and goaltending.
23. Arizona Coyotes — Call me crazy but I think this team has the potential to make a big leap this season, especially if Antti Raanta can stay healthy and repeat what he did a year ago. A breakthrough year from Dylan Strome would also be helpful. Probably not a playoff team yet, but certainly a better team.
24. Buffalo Sabres — Jeff Skinner is a great pickup for that price, even if he leaves after this season, and they have a couple of preseason Calder Trophy candidates on this team in Casey Mittelstadt and 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin. Jack Eichel is pretty great, too.
25. New York Rangers — There are a lot of questions for the Rangers as their rebuild begins. Among them: How much does Henrik Lundqvist have left? Can a healthy Kevin Shattenkirk make a difference? Which veterans are the next go be traded?
26. Chicago Blackhawks — If Corey Crawford is not ready to go this team could be a mess again, and as we sit here on Monday on the verge of the season opener we still do not what he will be able to do or when he will be ready to go.
27. Montreal Canadiens — They traded a lot of offense this season with Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk leaving town, and this was not a great offense with them. Shea Weber may be starting to break down and the rest of the defense around him is suspect at best. They will need an MVP season from Carey Price to have a chance.
28. New York Islanders — I am not sold on what they are doing in the short-term with the grit-and-sandpaper approach to building a roster. What is most concerning is how many of those players are signed to long-term contracts. That does not even get into the state of the defense and goaltending.
30. Detroit Red Wings — Henrik Zetterberg may not have been Selke contender and Conn Smythe winning Henrik Zetterberg anymore, but he was still probably the best player on the team. Now his playing career is over, Mike Green is not ready to start the season due to a health issue, and the rest of the roster does not inspire much confidence.
31. Ottawa Senators — This was a bad team with Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson. Now they are both traded for nothing that is going to make a significant impact this season and they are almost certain to deal more players off of this roster. Their fans do not even have a first-round draft pick to look forward to. Things are not going to be fun in Ottawa this season.
At some point, it will feel natural for hockey fans to see Erik Karlsson wearing San Jose Sharks teal. Such a vision may never stop feeling unsettling for their unfortunate opponents.
In November 2005, the Sharks sent shockwaves through the NHL by landing Joe Thornton, who went on to win the Hart Trophy, propel San Jose to years of being Stanley Cup favorites, and make Jonathan Cheechoo rich. Could the Sharks reap similar rewards by acquiring Karlsson in a blockbuster trade? Might things work out even better – with San Jose landing that elusive championship – or far worse, with the blockbuster flopping “Waterworld”-style?
No doubt, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer must be giddy to make the most of a foreboding defense that now includes Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Then again, he’ll look pretty foolish if he can’t cook with such premium ingredients.
Let’s consider the biggest factors working for and against the Sharks as PHT previews the 2018-19 season.
The Sharks were already a playoff team
In 2015-16, the Sharks fell two wins shy of finally winning that Stanley Cup. They’ve clinched playoff berths three seasons in a row, only missed once since 2003-04, and only missed twice since 1997-98.
(Easy to forget how much success this team has enjoyed, huh?)
Even with Thornton on the mend from a knee injury that ultimately required surgery, the 2017-18 Sharks managed to sweep the Kings before falling to Vegas during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fittingly, a splashy trade (landing Evander Kane) propelled San Jose to a higher level.
The Pacific Division arms race may have complicated things at times, but don’t forget that the Sharks have been favorites to win the division even before they bamboozled Ottawa to grab Karlsson.
Karlsson, 28, is a two-time Norris Trophy-winner, and you could make a sound argument that he’s been the best defenseman in the world for more than just two seasons.
The stupendous Swede’s scoring should speak for itself, but as a reminder, he finished sixth in scoring among defensemen (62 points, only six behind leader John Carlson) despite missing 11 games and possibly being banged-up physically. Oh yeah, he managed that deluxe season – poor by his terms, miraculous by most others’ – with the drama-rich, talent-poor Ottawa Senators.
Of course, it’s not just about the scoring with Karlsson.
Even a “down” season places Karlsson among the truly elite. Simply put, Karlsson tilts the ice in his team’s favor when he’s on duty, and he’s been the sort of big-minutes defenseman who can carry a team to, say, overtime of Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.
Other All-Star defensemen almost always pale in comparison to Karlsson when it comes to crucial puck possession and transition skills. (Sorry for linking this, Brent Burns.)
Some quibbles with Karlsson, and the Sharks
Granted, there are some caveats when it comes to Karlsson.
The biggest concern, particularly if the Sharks aim for a contract extension, comes down to injury risks.
As you may remember, hockey fans got their first real introduction to Eugene Melnyk’s eccentricities when the Senators owner wanted a crime-scene investigation regarding Matt Cooke tearing Karlsson’s Achilles tendon back in 2013.
Karlsson’s incredible play during the Senators’ deep playoff run became downright jaw-dropping when you consider that he was gutting it out through hairline fractures in his foot. Plenty wondered if Karlsson was hindered by that issue through last season, and who’s fully certain that he’s even at full speed now?
Overall, Karlsson hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest injury luck.
Considering all of the mileage he’s put on his body, you could probably get away with calling Karlsson “an old 28.” He’s easily worth the risk of lingering issues, but it’s a risk nonetheless.
It’s remarkable that the Sharks’ defense was already in the NHL’s upper crust before adding Karlsson.
Burns is the only defenseman who’s really matched or exceeded Karlsson’s offensive production, so the Sharks boast the most offensively explosive duo of defensemen in recent memory.
After years of lugging around some limited (or downright abysmal) defensive partners in Ottawa, Karlsson figures to play alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, easily one of the most proficient “shutdown” blueliners in the NHL.
DeBoer could easily mix and match in other ways, as while Vlasic – Karlsson makes sense on paper, he might conclude that Vlasic and Burns could be the better match. After all, the Sharks have other nice defensive options, with Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon standing out.
It’s to the point where the Sharks might need to part ways with a fairly productive depth defensive scorer in Tim Heed, as Elliotte Friedman discussed in the Sept. 27 edition of his “31 Thoughts” podcast.
Finding the right fit
All of that said, DeBoer must figure out a way to align all of these pieces in the right way, and the power play stands as the most fascinating challenge.
According to Left Wing Lock, the Sharks’ current top power play unit features Karlsson, Burns, Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture. It’s easy to picture that set of five players enjoying immense success considering the mixture of handedness (three right, two left shots), hockey IQ, and sheer talent.
This remains a situation to watch, however.
After all, Karlsson and Burns are both right-handed defensemen who are used to calling the shots – and in Burns’ case, taking a ton of shots – while quarterbacking a power play. Talent tends to trump these concerns, but it’s also worth noting that analytics argue that you tend to get more out of an alignment of four forwards and one defenseman than you would from the more traditional three-forward, two-defensemen setup.
There’s also some evidence that, for all of his strengths, Karlsson hasn’t always been dynamite on the power play.
By going with Karlsson and Burns on the top unit, Evander Kane and others settle for secondary opportunities.
As much as anything else, this task may come down to managing egos.
[Karlsson trade part of a dream summer for hockey fans]
Again, there are counterpoints for why this would work, even beyond the obvious notion that San Jose is just loaded with talent. Burns was drafted into the NHL as a forward, so he likely would know what he’s doing if deployed in more of that way on the PP.
It’s also promising at A) DeBoer seems generally to be a bright coach and B) he’s already shown a knack for integrating star players. Burns’ ice time skyrocketed around the time DeBoer took over in San Jose, and the coach deserves a decent chunk of the credit for the Wookie-like defenseman getting the green light to shoot the puck with reckless abandon.
Old and new
In the grand scheme of things, Karlsson possibly being “an old 28” isn’t a huge worry in 2018-19.
Things could go sideways if Father Time comes knocking with other players, though. Beard or no beard, Thornton is 39 and comes off of knee surgery for the second consecutive year (both knees). Pavelski is somehow 34, and Burns isn’t far behind at 33. Both Vlasic and Braun are 31. Even Couture is 29, nearing the big 3-0, when the aging curve can sometimes be cruelly steep.
Wear and tear can really rear their ugly heads for older players, especially ones who’ve regularly made the playoffs and represented their teams in international competition.
On the other hand, the Sharks have some decent younger forwards who could conceivably stem some of the tide. Timo Meier generates hype as an up-and-comer, and supplied some steak with that sizzle already considering his 21 goals in limited ice time last season. Kevin Labanc isn’t a superstar in the making, but he’s another guy who can step up if there’s serious decay and/or injuries.
A legit contender
This post breaks down many of the fork-in-the-road concerns for the Sharks, but what’s the general outlook?
Well, Karlsson gives the Sharks the most offensively dynamic defense in the NHL – on paper – and you could make a legitimate argument for San Jose having the flat-out best defense overall. NHL teams rarely get two Norris winners on their rosters, particularly in the salary cap era. (The Ducks landing Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger comes to mind, and even then, Karlsson makes San Jose’s combination younger.)
Combine an elite defense with a robust offense and a reliable goalie in Martin Jones, and the Sharks don’t really have many – if any – glaring holes.
As we saw with the Golden Knights team that dispatched the Sharks in 2017-18, there’s a ton of uncertainty in the NHL. Adding a superstar to an established winner isn’t the slam-dunk for the Sharks as it is for, say, the Golden State Warriors.
We can only speculate about how well Karlsson will mix with San Jose’s impressive group, but with the information at hand, it sure seems like a tide-turner for the Sharks. It might just be enough for them to finally win it all.
PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
• Atlantic Division
• Metropolitan Division
• Central Division
• Pacific Division
• Power Rankings: Who is the NHL’s best team entering 2018-19?
NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL is moving forward with plans to expand to Seattle.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday the Board of Governors’ executive committee recommended proceeding with Seattle’s expansion application, with an eye on voting to approve the league’s 32nd franchise in December. The recommendation came a few hours after key stakeholders presented their case to the committee and hit it off enough that Seattle could be awarded the league’s 32nd team two months from now.
”The notion is have the board vote on expansion,” Bettman said. ”And assuming, as I think everybody is, that it would be approved – I don’t want to be presumptuous of the board’s prerogative – but everything seems to be on track.”
It’s the best possible news that could have come out of the meetings for proponents of the NHL in Seattle. Bettman agreed with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan that the preference is for the team to begin play in the 2020-21 season, and that’s still a very real possibility as long as renovations to KeyArena in downtown Seattle proceed as scheduled.
”I’m very confident we’re going to be able to move forward and get what we need from the NHL and the team and stick to the schedule so we have hockey in 2020,” Durkan said. ”They know we want it in 2020 and (the league would) like to have it in 2020, too, if we get the team.”
When the board next meets Dec. 3-4, Bettman expects a full report on Seattle expansion and said the goal is to for the governors to vote at that time, with 24 of 32 needed for approval. It’s conceivable the board votes to give Seattle the green light for 2020 contingent on the arena with the option to push things back to 2021 if necessary.
Approval seems assured at this point. Bettman said the endorsement by the nine-owner executive committee ”speaks volumes,” and it seems unlikely the board will turn down a $650 million expansion fee for the opportunity to expand to the U.S. Pacific Northwest, provide a natural geographic rival for the Vancouver Canucks and balance the Eastern and Western conferences at 16 teams each.
”It looks good,” Vancouver owner Francesco Aquilini said. ”It’s exciting. We want a team in Seattle. It’s great for Vancouver. It’s great for the league. It’s eventually going to happen. KeyArena is going to be built. So I think it’s imminent.”
After meeting with the executive committee for well over an hour, Durkan, Seattle Hockey Partners President and CEO Tod Leiweke, majority owner David Bonderman did not want to do a victory lap yet.
”It’s been a long time coming and we can be patient,” Leiweke said.
Tod’s brother, Tim, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and fellow minor owner David Wright were also part of the contingent that made what Bettman called an ”excellent” presentation.
”With the mayor’s help, what we tried to get across was Seattle is ready for a team, we got potentially a facility that will get built, a partnership with the city and away we go,” Bonderman said. ”All we need is a franchise.”
The NHL had been at 30 teams since 2000 when it decided in 2016 to expand to Las Vegas. The Golden Knights began play a year ago and made a stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
That process began with a season-ticket drive the league approved in the winter of 2014 to see if Las Vegas would be a viable hockey market. Seattle sold 10,000 season-ticket deposits in 12 minutes, and team officials say they now have 32,000 as excitement builds for the return of a major professional winter sports team in the biggest U.S. market without one.
The ticket numbers, a plan to renovate KeyArena and a video showcasing the benefits of Seattle expansion were all part of the presentation at the league office. What did not come up in that meeting was the status of the collective bargaining agreement, which the owners or players could choose in September 2019 to terminate effective Sept. 15, 2020.
Bettman downplayed the buzz about a potential 2020 work stoppage and said arena construction was a bigger hindrance to a 2020 start for Seattle.
”They have a lot of work to do initially,” Bettman said. ”They’ve got to stop using KeyArena, there’s some demolition, they’ve got to dig a bigger hole, they’ve got to put the steel in. Once that’s all accomplished . we’ll have a better sense. But everybody’s goal is 2020 if it can be accomplished. If it’s not, then we’ll do it in ’21.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
The hits keep coming for the Anaheim Ducks, and the headaches are unsettlingly familiar.
Last season, particularly early on, the Ducks were forced to deal with significant injuries, often needing to put far too many AHL-caliber forwards on the ice. Remarkably, the Ducks mostly kept their heads above water thanks to John Gibson and whoever else was able to suit up.
(You know, when Gibson wasn’t injured.)
Well, the Ducks haven’t even played the first of a looming 82-game grind, and it’s already looking like they’re going to need to stitch things together.
About a week ago, word surfaced that veteran winger Corey Perry would miss five months because of knee surgery. The Ducks announced more bad news today, as speedy winger Ondrej Kase is out indefinitely thanks to a concussion.
Kase, 22, suffered the concussion during the Ducks’ final exhibition game against the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 29. The team didn’t provide specifics about how Kase was injured, so we’re left to wonder if this violent moment with Drew Doughty might explain it.
Either way, the Ducks are hurting entering the 2018-19 season. Perry and Kase are out, Ryan Kesler‘s entire season is cloudy, and Patrick Eaves is dealing with the sort of health questions that transcend the sport.
Anaheim also still has Nick Ritchie‘s RFA situation unsettled. Yikes.
With Wednesday’s season-opener (airing at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) nearing, the Ducks’ dire situation may best be seen in projected forward lines. Here are the latest combinations, via Left Wing Lock:
Good grief. Some of those names are so obscure, you’d almost assume they were randomly generated like draft picks in NHL 19’s franchise mode.
Considering the addition of Erik Karlsson, the Sharks stand to make even fully-featured teams look silly at times this season. On paper, this could be an incredibly one-sided matchup to begin the season.
At least the Ducks have experience making things work with such a threadbare roster.
To answer the age-old question of Philadelphia Flyers goaltending, maybe GM Ron Hextall is aiming for the “Voltron” approach: stack a bunch together to form a fearsome puckstopping bot.
Putting aside references dating back to the first Bush presidency – Flyers goaltending questions, giant mechs with gnarly swords – the Flyers’ goaltending situation really is confounding, which dulls some of the excitement with the actually-quite-wise decision to claim Calvin Pickard off of waivers.
Consider the situation Pickard, 26, has been pulled into by pondering each potential option for the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, their AHL affiliate:
- Pickard: walking into a crowded goalie situation is an all-too-familiar feeling for the former Avalanche netminder.
As a refresher: the Golden Knights scooped up Pickard from Colorado during the expansion draft, only to kick him to the Maple Leafs. Pickard got lost in the shuffle with Toronto, as Curtis McElhinney (also claimed off of waivers today) beat him for the backup gig at the NHL level, while Garret Sparks outplayed him with the Marlies.
That might give you the impression that Pickard isn’t any good, but instead, it seems like he’s been unlucky more than anything else.
Sure, it does seem like he buckled under the pressure of being a go-to guy considering a tough go of things in Colorado (a weak .904 save percentage in 50 games during the 2016-17 season), although it would be silly to place all the blame on Pickard. Just about every Colorado player probably wanted a mulligan there.
Generally speaking, Pickard’s easily been effective enough to be an NHL backup. Pickard generated a sparkling .932 save percentage over 16 games in 2014-15, and wasn’t much worse in 2015-16, generating a .922 save percentage in 20 appearances. With an average career save percentage of .913 in 87 games, not to mention perfectly respectable work in a tough situation with the Marlies last season, Pickard could be a sneaky-good addition for the Flyers.
The question is: where does he fit in?
- Brian Elliott: The 33-year-old’s debut season with the Flyers was inhibited, at least in part, due to injuries that eventually required surgery. Elliott comes into 2018-19 as the starter and generally the surest thing for Philly.
At least, he is when you look in the short term.
The good news is that Elliott is affordable (2.75 million cap hit), and his contract expires after this season, so if things don’t work out, the Flyers aren’t on the hook for a problem contract.
Elliott occasionally looks like an elite goalie, and he tends to do his best work when people don’t expect it, so maybe he’ll raise Philly’s ceiling amid all of these questions? He’s not that far removed from strong work with the Blues.
- Michal Neuvirth: Hextall essentially pushed goalie questions down the line by handing short, affordable contracts to Elliott and Neuvirth. The good news is that such decisions kept the Flyers from being stuck with an Ilya Bryzgalov-type albatross contract. The bad news is that the organization still answers the goalie question with “TBD.”
Neuvirth, 30, seems likely to begin the season on IR thanks to Pickard’s waiver claim. He’s limping into this season with some injury concerns, which is sadly part of the story of Neuvirth’s career.
Like Elliott, Neuvirth enters a contract year; in his case, his cap hit is $2.5M. Pickard, meanwhile, carries an $800K cap hit, and his deal also expires after this season.
- Carter Hart: While some scouts may prefer, say, Ilya Samsonov, Hart is generally regarded as one of the most promising goalies not playing in the NHL. One couldn’t help but wonder if the Flyers might want to change that by just giving him a chance to run with a starting or backup job; instead, they seem content to keep him on this current timeline, which means he should be the AHL starter.
Hart turned 20 in August and put up dominant work in the WHL. It may, indeed, be wiser to let him go from junior to the AHL, rather than the larger leap to the NHL. Even so, some Flyers fans are probably feeling anxious, especially considering the iffy options at the top level.
- Anthony Stolarz: Stolarz is large (listed at 6-6) and carries decent pedigree as a second-round pick (45th overall in 2012), yet this turn of events indicates that the Flyers would rather not risk having the 24-year-old serve as Brian Elliott’s backup.
Interestingly, Stolarz most promising recent moments have come in spot duty with the big club (.928 save percentage in seven appearances), while his numbers at other levels leave a lot to be desired.
Once injuries clear up, things could get awkward between Neuvirth, Stolarz, Pickard, and …
- Alex Lyon: Another injured Flyers goalie. Lyon, 25, put up respectable AHL numbers, yet he didn’t really wow in 11 games with the big club (.905 save percentage) last season. His most recent moments of promise came during his strong college years with Yale.
The good and the bad
To summarize: the Flyers’ goaltending situation, right now, feels like a prime example of quantity over quality.
That said, goalies are highly unpredictable, and Hextall might not be outrageous in throwing a bunch of darts at the problem. Elliott’s enjoyed strong enough moments to earn an All-Star appearance, and Pickard’s at least enjoyed some pretty nice moments as an NHL backup.
Even if none of these veterans work out in 2018-19, the Flyers aren’t locked into any problem goalie contracts. Personally, I’d take that over sweating bullets regarding Carey Price carrying a $10.5M cap hit through 2025-26.
Sooner or later, Carter Hart must emerge as a difference-maker. If not, the Flyers will need to go back to the drawing board, once again.
But, hey, maybe they just stumbled upon a pretty good backup?