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Leighton injury to change organizational mentality?

Posted by Chris Shafer On March - 23 - 2010

With Michael Leighton unlikely to return and Ray Emery's career in jeopardy, is a change in organizational philosophy on the way?

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?

Unrestricted Free-Agents

  • 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.

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  • az21

    I think that if the flyers should get anyone on that list, i think it should be either Michal Neuvirth or Carey Price. Both goalies are young and are very capable of playing in philadelphia. Neuvirth has been doing good in washington. Either one of these goalies would be good for the flyers

  • zechohman

    Love any article you post about the Flyers!
    This recent “collapse” that the Flyers are going through has really made me rethink the direction I thought the Flyers were going towards. Like most i thought this team was going to make a deep run into the playoffs and who could blame me when major sports writes thought the same thing. Though this mess we are in now has me thinking this team needs to go through a complete overhaul from the top to the bottom. First management needs to change. Though Ed Snider fails to see that hockey has changed since 75'. If the Flyers wanna win and play cap era hockey they need management that has NEVER worn the orange and black. Paul Holmgren has created a mess that even Burke would have a hard time digging out of. I agree you can't blame Homer for this goalie injury epidemic. Though for years the Flyers have settled for cheap goalies. The only recent team i can think of that won a stanley cup were the red wings but look at how that team was built. Putting them off to the side if you look at past teams that won they had star goalies making $$$$. The Flyers need to see that till the money rolls to goaltending they can't get much more done. Though i do agree the goalies in the system have some light. Nicola Riopel and Joacim Eriksson have posted solid number and i seen Carter Hutton play in Hershey on Sunday and he came up big (but only 2 games, can't get much from that). Now back to this mess of a hockey team. Homer has traded away a team that had younger players( sharp and draft picks and made this team a joke of an organization. Snider will not fire Homer just like he couldn't bring himself to fire Clarke. The trades Homer has made has been questionable (to put it nicely). Yes he's made some steal. Like getting Coburn, but look at him now. Matt Carle. Sorry but between him and Coburn, I don't know who turns the puck over more. (Yes good stats but when playing next to Pronger its hard to look bad.) Getting Carle we gave got ride Eminger and head case steve downie. Though we got Eminger because we trade a 1st round pi!
    ck. Thou
    gh im not sure if it was John Carlson they drafted with are pick, wouldnt it be nice to have him in our system? Upshall trade, yes it was for cap reason but if Homer knew how to manage the cap he wouldn't of had to trade a 2nd round pick to go with Upshall for Carcillo. Trading Umberger again cause Homer cant manage the cap. Though Sharp wasn't from him it just shows young and possible prospects that we could of had. Lets not forget though the contracts Homer hands out. I may be wrong but didn't knuble want 2 million? Cause of the cap we couldnt have him and now he has 25 goals. Where as Hartnell who makes what around 4 million with a NTC has 14?!?! I hope i wasn't the only one who knew that his 30 goal season was a fluke. Homer just gives out NTC to anyone it seems. He's constructed a poor team. Another thing I see no team do is have so much tough guys. Players needed yes. Though we have 4! Cote (yes he never plays) Asham, Lappy, Carcillo and you could even say 5 with Hartnell for all his stupid penalties. Sorry to let the flyers no but the days of the broad street bullies is over and has been. Snider needs to wake up and see that! The style of play of bossing people around is over. Skill beats tough guys now. I thought this off season we address the fact that we weren't going to look at it was just one game anymore. This team continues to still talk the talk but has yet to walk the walk. Our captain needs a sucker punch to the face. His binge drinking days gotta go. The letter “C” on his jersey needs to go. Its no secret that Richards will be the leader of the team but he shouldn't be now. In my opinion i feel the Flyers did what they could to try and keep Richards as close as they could to Crosby. Being a Philly fan it should be law to hate cindy but he's a better star then Richards and that is just fact even if he wears a diaper. Till change comes, stanley wont visit philly.

  • Chris Shafer

    Great comments.

    There is so much material here that I'm actually going to write up a post about this shortly. Sorry about that, but I hope you'll be satisfied with what I have to say.

    Thanks again for taking the time to voice everything. I know where you're coming from.

  • zechohman

    No that is fine. I look forward to reading it. Hopefully Backlund has a good game this afternoon and the team shows up to support him.

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    [...] concluded.The following is a response session for a comment posted by zechohman on an article found here.This recent “collapse” that the Flyers are going through has really made me rethink the [...]

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