The Flyers’ Goaltending Curse
There is something a little creepy about both Ray Emery and Michael Leighton going down to long-term injuries during the course of a season. In fact, Ray Emery’s hit the IR list twice this season. Even Brian Boucher went down for a bit with a minor injury, which is what actually brought Leighton into the unlikely success he witnessed before getting hurt.
What about Johan Backlund, the low-risk high-reward goalie they signed out of Sweden last offseason in the hope of something special? Well, he got hurt too. That is why Jeremy Duchesne, a prospect likely without an NHL future, is currently the Flyers’ back-up.
How much disaster can one position take?
It’s not fair to blame General Manager Paul Holmgren for these goaltending tragedies that keep unfolding. Experts on a professional analyst panel will tell you that goaltending has been the reason the Flyers have not hoisted a Cup since the days of Parent or even been to the finals since the days of Hextall. Why would they tell you that? It’s because, from an outsider looking in, that’s exactly how the Flyers look. The unfortunate reality of this goaltending mess the Flyers have witnessed since the late 90′s is that the play between the pipes has not been holding back the team.
In every postseason since Hextall took the Flyers to the finals in 1997, there is an obvious reason why the Flyers didn’t win it all. None of those are because of goaltending.
Still, there is a certain amount of truth to the claims. An organization and a team on the ice both need a goaltender they are comfortable in for the long haul. Was Emery that goalie? Maybe before he got hurt. Was Leighton that goalie? Probably not despite his incredible rise to the starting position and his hot streak. Is Boucher that goalie? Certainly not.
Biron was a little too unsteady and wanted too much money. Niittymaki was plagued by injury here as well despite a great pedigree. He also may have been the fall-guy for a horrible on-ice team. Esche certainly wasn’t going to win us a Stanley Cup in a less than perfect world. Neither was Vanbiesbrouck, and though Cechmanek did finish as a runner-up for Vezina, he is no longer in the NHL.
All of these goalies could have won a Stanley Cup had the team in front of them not had other severe flaws with Emery and Biron having the best legitimate shot. After all, goaltending is largely based on the team in front of it. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if the Flyers had someone they could rely on it net every once in a while when the team is in some trouble?
You can’t prevent injuries. That’s basically what the Flyers’ 2009-10 season boils down to.
Still, with plenty on the line over the next coming seasons, it’s hard to believe the Flyers won’t finally decide to use some of their assets to go goaltender hunting.
What are our options?
- Marty Turco - Age: 34 – Was mediocre for a large portion of his career but often struggled behind a poor Dallas defense.
- Evgeni Nabokov - Age: 34 – Is regarded as one of the top 10 goaltenders in the game today but will either cost a nice chunk of salary or will be re-signed by San Jose.
- Jose Theodore – Age: 33 – Up and down mediocre goaltender who Washington overpaid for though he could still be a decent starter for cheap.
- Dan Ellis – Age: 29 – Had a rough career in Nashville with struggling teams but always performed very well and could be a best possible UFA goaltender if Nabokov gets re-signed.
- Marty Biron – Age: 32 – The Flyers have been down this road but would have probably held onto him had he asked for less money which he will this offseason.
- Ray Emery – Age: 27 – If his career was not ended by his unfortunate injury, he is a definite cheap possibility in net if the Flyers are willing to risk it again.
- Antero Niittymaki – Age: 29 – He knows the organization well and has rediscovered his talents with the Lightning but still may not be consistent enough to start in Philadelphia.
- Michael Leighton – Age: 28 – He was in talks with the Flyers for an extension before getting hurt, but the Flyers wanted to wait until the saw him in the postseason before making any decisions.
Possibly Available Through Trade
- Jhonas Enroth (BUF) – Age: 21 – Under Contract – With Miller penciled in as their goaltender for the foreseeable future, the Sabres could use Enroth as a bargaining chip to improve their roster.
- Josh Harding (MIN) – Age: 25 – RFA – He has struggled at times on a poor Minnesota team, but since the Wild have decided to go with Backstrom long-term, the team could move Harding in a desperate attempt to make their roster half-decent and acquire anything that even remotely resembles a prospect pool.
- Carey Price (MTL) – Age: 22 – RFA – With the emergence of Halak as their starting goaltender, there are rumors that the Canadiens could move Price in order to fill in some holes on their roster.
- Jaroslav Halak (MTL) – Age: 24 – RFA – Though Halak has emerged as a very talented starting goaltender, the Canadiens are in a bind with two capable netminders and some holes to fill on their team.
- Cory Schneider (VAN) – Age: 24 – RFA – Now that Roberto Luongo is signed until 2022, Cory Schneider is likely available this offseason when the Canucks have to re-sign him for some defensive depth, which the Flyers have plenty of.
- Michal Neuvirth (WAS) – Age: 21 – Under Contract – The Capitals at this point are likely going to be looking at Simeon Varlamov to be their future between the pipes, so if they feel their desperate need for defensive depth is striking enough, they could part with Neuvirth.
Those are pretty much the Flyers options for next season. A number of those tradable goalies probably won’t be able to start next season either, but in a perfect world, the Flyers manage to lock up Dan Ellis for a couple years at a reasonable contract and trade for Cory Schneider. It’s no secret that Vancouver could use some defensemen, and the Flyers have plenty of them.
Whatever happens this offseason, it’s sure to be something substantial. Then again, we did say that last offseason when Biron and Niittymaki were replaced by Emery and Boucher. Was that substantial? Of course it was, but things don’t always turn out like you hope.
The Flyers’ mentality will not change. They’re never going to drop high-end pieces like vanRiemsdyk, Giroux, or Carter to acquire a goalie like Vokoun. They won’t overpay for a veteran on the free-agent market either. They will wait until someone establishes themselves in between the pipes and the organization feels comfortable with them.
The recently acquired Carter Hutton has been turning some heads in Adirondack on a tryout basis. A 0.921 SV%, a 2.50 GAA, and a win against the AHL heavyweight Hershey Bears over the course of two games certainly helps. Meanwhile, Joacim Eriksson is off in Sweden trying to play Leksand up to the SEL. There’s also Nicola Riopel, who went back to the QMJHL for the remainder of this year in order to follow up his QMJHL record-setting GAA from the 2008-09 season.
The Flyers have some good things going on in goal underneath the NHL level for the first time in a long time, but they need something this offseason. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will be between the pipes next year.