Brian Elliott offers nice value given what Steve Mason got on the open market. But Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will simply continue the Flyers’ two-decade trend of netminding mediocrity.
Brian Elliott was long one of the sport’s best backup goaltenders. He played a 1B role in St. Louis for years and often wowed. He set the modern-day save percentage record at .940 in 2011-12, albeit it was broken a year later. His advanced metrics in 2015-16 suggested he deserved Vezina Trophy consideration. He was that good.
So Elliott deserved the shot the Calgary Flames gave him last year when they acquired him on draft day to become their starter. Elliott struggled mightily out of the gate, though, ceding starts to Chad Johnson, and while Elliott caught fire at mid-season, he flopped when it mattered most: in the playoffs. The final image of him as a Flame flashed before us when coach Glen Gulutzan pulled Elliott from Game 4 of Calgary’s sweep loss to Anaheim after he got beat roughly five minutes in. It appeared Elliott squandered his shot at being a starting NHL goaltender. And it especially appeared that way once the Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes made moves in June to secure new No. 1s.
The Philadelphia Flyers, however, were just about the only team out there with a potential vacancy in their crease, and they rolled the dice on Elliott with a two-year, $5.5-million contract. The Flyers re-signed platoon man Michal Neuvirth earlier this year for two years and $5 million, so the money tells us this will be an open competition. It wouldn’t be surprising to see each netminder play 40 games or so. After Neuvirth struggled in 2016-17 and battled injuries, however, the job will be Elliott’s to lose. General manager Ron Hextall wouldn’t have signed him otherwise.
Considering the Winnipeg Jets inexplicably paid departing Flyers 1A Steve Mason $8.2 million over two years, the Elliott contract looks like a steal for Hextall. Mason’s career even-strength SP sits at .922 and Mason’s .921, so the Flyers at worst appear to have replicated Mason’s ability at a much lower price.
On the other hand, Elliott enters a notoriously unforgiving sports market in Philadelphia and started very slowly the last time he earned the high-pressure role of starting goaltender. It will be interesting to see how he manages the space between his ears as a Flyer. In the grand scheme of things, Elliott will likely go down as just another ho-hum stopper in the endless sea of temporary fixes we’ve seen in Philadelphia over the past two decades. It’s only fitting that the Flyers’ last long-term star netminder, Hextall, is now the GM tasked with finding the next one. Maybe a prospect such as Felix Sandstrom or Carter Hart will be that guy. For now, it’s up to Elliott and Neuvirth to plug the leak as so many other journeymen have done before them in Flyers uniforms.
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