Flyers Deadline Extensions for Neuvirth, Bellemare are Fair


(Kate Frese/Sports Talk Philly)

By Dan Heaning, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

This past Wednesday, the NHL’s trade deadline came and went. The Philadelphia Flyers used that time to acquire Valtteri Filppula and a couple of draft picks for Mark Streit and to re-sign goaltender Michal Neuvirth and fourth-line forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

Based on the reaction to extending both of the potential unrestricted free agents, one would think they were re-signed to Andrew MacDonald-type contracts.

However, once the knee-jerk reactions fade, both deals are actually quite fair.

Bellemare was re-signed to a two-year, $2.9 million deal with a cap hit of $1.45 million. This is in line with other fourth-line players like Jay Beagle and Derek MacKenzie.

The thing about Bellemare is he is a grunt, one of head coach Dave Hakstol’s soldiers who will hit the ice game in, game out and do what the coach wants him to do. He's earned the respect of his coaches and teammates through his mucking and grinding so much so that he's now one of the alternate captains.

To some fans and commenters though, he is bad at his job because he doesn’t score and the penalty kill has an average rank among the league. However, when compared to Beagle and MacKenzie, Bellemare is right where he should be in terms of contract and play.

Beagle makes $300,000 more than Bellemare will next season. With the higher pay comes more incentives, like nine even-strength goals, a faceoff percentage that’s four points better and a superior relative Corsi on the PK. With all of that said, Beagle plays for a vastly superior team.

Yet Bellemare, who is often lampooned for his advanced stats, actually has a better five-on-five relative Corsi than Beagle this season. Career-wise, they’re practically the same regarding that statistic.

Beagle has turned the puck over way more than he’s retrieved it as well. At five-on-five, Beagle has 14 giveaways to his four takeaways. In the same situation, Bellemare has 12 takeaways and nine giveaways.

Bellemare’s on-ice save percentage while shorthanded is actually better than Beagle’s too despite having significantly weaker defense and goaltending than Beagle.

MacKenzie, who makes $75,000 less than Bellemare will, has a -10.4 relative Corsi compared to Bellemare’s -3.4 at five-on-five. They have the same amount of five-on-five goals and Bellemare wins slightly more faceoffs in that situation as well.

On the other hand, MacKenzie is the better penalty killer. His relative Corsi and on-ice save percentage while down a man is better than Bellemare’s.

Not to mention that Bellemare has been responsible for containing some really good players this season like Connor McDavid and Aleksander Barkov and has held his own in the process.

But by being able to compare Bellemare to these similarly paid fourth-line centers and penalty-killing specialists, we can see that the “Bellemare is bad” argument is more about reactionary bias than being based in truth.

Bellemare, like Beagle and MacKenzie, is a grunt. He’s going to be paid like a grunt. His contract extension is merely his market value.

Neuvirth’s contract also had some peeved. There’s no denying that the 28-year-old goalie’s performance this season has been a far cry from his previous campaign’s effort. But there are more factors to this. Despite this, he was given a two-year, $5 million extension.

For starters, the Flyers need a goalie to expose in the expansion draft. With Neuvirth signed, they can protect Anthony Stolarz or they can expose the Phantoms goalie and protect Neuvirth. Either way, they’ll have one goalie, if not both, on the roster after the expansion draft.

Second, between Steve Mason and Neuvirth, the Czech goalie was always going to be the cheaper option. With this contract, he gets less than a $900,000 raise and is still making backup goaltender money comparable to Carolina's Eddie Lack. Many were anticipating Mason commanding an annual salary of $5 million or higher.

Third, the starting-caliber netminders available come free agency would all demand a much higher contract than Neuvirth’s. If the Flyers were to go a tier down and find a less-talented goalie, they would still command a similar deal to Neuvirth’s. As for the rest of the UFA goalie market, anyone else would be an experiment to see if they could hack it as a starter.

In this instance, general manager Ron Hextall took the option he knew in place of the unknown. Essentially, that’s what Hextall did in both signings. He’s sticking to what he and the team are used to rather than testing the free agency market and overpaying for someone who might flop.

It’s easy to punch down and criticize these moves because Bellemare is a grinder who lacks any scoring punch and Neuvirth is struggling while the Flyers fade out of the playoff picture. However, bringing back these players does not mean those struggles will continue despite what the reaction from some may imply otherwise.