As has come to be expected, the Flyers outlook between the pipes is in question once again this year. Mason or Neuvirth?Bobrovsky or Boucher? Mason or Emery? Bryzgalov or… the humongous big universe? The uncertainty seems never ending. It’s not unreasonable to believe that our beloved franchise hasn’t had a stable goalie situation since legendary Bernie Parent patrolled the crease back in the glory days of the Broad Street Bullies. Now, heading into the 2017-18 season, it seems we’ll suffer through more of the same.
Ron Hextall faced a difficult decision this off season: whether or not to keep a goalie that had been the teams starter the previous four seasons or to move on and shake up the landscape a bit.
During his time in Philadelphia, Steve Mason proved to be one of the more successful keepers to ever don the orange and black. He amassed the third most wins and the second highest save percentage in franchise history. After Hextall ultimately decided to pass on resigning Mason, many fans were legitimately sad to see him go. On the other hand, others were not so heartbroken, some even rejoicing in his departure.
Through highlight reel saves and embarrassing blunders, Mason never lacked genuine emotion. At times he let those raw feelings get the best of him, letting his game slip as a result. At his best, Money Mase showed signs of being a star in this league, and at his worst he barely looked like an NHL backup let alone a starter. For better or worse, the era of our zombie-loving goaltender has come to an end. All we can do now is look to the future.
New name, same story?
With Mason out of the picture and a fleeting confidence in prospect Anthony Stolarz, Hextall looked to the free agent market to fill the void. On July 1st, veteran goaltender Brian Elliott signed with the Flyers on a two-year, $5.5M deal, giving the team one of the cheapest tandems in the league. Elliott’s career has been nothing short of a roller coaster, going from a late round pick to an all-star and now settling into a long stretch of inconsistency.
In many ways, Elliott doesn’t seem like a huge change from our last number one goaltender. Both Elliott and Mason could be considered talented starting goaltenders who go through long stretches of poor play. Elliott has a slightly better career save percentage and also owns a better career goals against average. Mason, on the other hand, has played almost 100 more games than his replacement even though he started his NHL career a year later than Elliott. The stats are so similar that one could say that Elliott seems like more of a stop gap than a real, long-term solution.
Regardless, Elliott is still an improvement in net for the Flyers. He’s more capable of stealing games and won’t be a glaring weakness like Mason was at times. Do I think he’s the goalie of the future? No, not by any means. He will simply do a better job than Mason did of leading this very capable team into the playoffs.
The REAL solution…
Ron Hextall has done a fantastic job of building up the best prospect pool in the league. He has stockpiled grade A talent at every position, including goaltenders. The pipeline has been loaded with so many genuinely talented keepers that it’s hard to believe that at least one of them isn’t a stud. The crown jewels of the bunch are Alex Lyon and Carter Hart, two names every Flyers fan has to know.
First off, the 2017-18 season looks to be Lyon’s time to stake his claim as a part of the team’s future. He’s an older prospect having played in the NCAA and needs to earn a chance to showcase his talents this year. A lot of legitimate talent is clipping at his heels in Felix Sandstrom and Anthony Stolarz, so a big year is necessary to secure his place as a part of the Flyers’ answer to their 40 year long goaltending question. If I had to guess, I’d say Lyon gets his time to shine this year when an injury or poor play forces either Neuvirth or Elliott out of the crease. I believe he’ll impress, and as a result will earn the right to play in a 1B type role with the Flyers’ true goalie of the future, Carter Hart.
With all the great talent clawing their way up the ranks, the goaltending heir-apparent certainly doesn’t have an easy path to the throne. Hart will have to truly prove he’s a star in order for the Flyers’ brass to let him own the crease without interference. Otherwise, Hextall could be tempted to let his other elite prospects have a shot to prove themselves at the NHL level, cutting into Hart’s starting role. Even with the competition that he faces, Hart’s emergence as our goalie of the future seems inevitable, with one of the great talents below him serving as his extremely gifted backup.
Looking towards the future!
The beauty in the overstocked pool of youngsters Hextall has collected is that it’s simply not possible for all of them to make the team. If Hart or someone else is the only goalie prospect to progress into an NHL talent, then at least we have a legitimate starter for the first time in a long time. On the other hand, if most of or all of them end up proving they’re NHL caliber, then we have options and more importantly, trade bait.
When having too much talent is our team’s biggest problem, we’re in a great place! One thing is sure, the future is bright in the city of brotherly love. In summation, my money’s on Carter Hart and Alex Lyon serving in a 1A-1B system, taking pressure off of Hart to be a workhorse and wear himself down. Such a tandem would also allow Lyon to flourish on a promising team and play his part in taking the Flyers back to the promised land. Regardless of what happens, we’re on the right track!
Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports