We see it all too often in sports, athletes going down way before they hit the prime of their careers. Barry Sanders, and how much greater he could have been. Glenn Coffee, the 49ers running back who decided to sacrifice for his country as opposed to his football team. Arguably the greatest boxer ever to grace a ring, Rocky Marciano, at 49-0 decided to hang up the gloves. The kicker? He was only 31.
So why is it that at the age of 23, are we talking about Flyers netminder Anthony Stolarz potentially hanging up the skates and calling it quits? It most certainly isn’t his play. Since turning pro, he has posted a .905 save percentage in the 14-15 season, .916 in 15-16, and with the Flyers, he is 4-2-1 including a shutout with a save percentage of .928 and a goals against average of 2.07. Those numbers don’t exactly scream early retirement.
The problem that exists is the fact that at the ripe young age of 23, Stolarz is already on his 2nd knee surgery, on top of a laceration to the back of one of those legs that required 55 stitches. Sure, two surgeries are a cake walk for most athletes, but we’re talking about knees, and also, we’re talking about an athlete who needs those parts of his body to be even remotely successful at his position.
The laceration that Stolarz endured happened in 2014. He caught an errant skate to the back of his leg, got stitched up, and healed for about 2 months. At the tail end of the 2016-17 season, in the midst of an intense playoff push with the Phantoms, Stolarz tore his medial collateral ligament, requiring surgery and a few more months of hanging out on the sidelines. Fast forward to a little over a week ago, and boom, Stolarz tears his meniscus in his opposite knee, and is out indefinitely.
A torn meniscus is in no way a definite season ending injury. People have come back in the same season after worse injuries. However, you have to think that with the frequency at which these injuries occur, and the severity of these injuries, is it time for the Flyers to part ways with the young man in crease?
Looking at the recent acquisition of long time AHL goalie Leland Irving, there’s reason to believe Stolarz will be back, and reason to believe that he won’t. Mainly, it seems that Irving is just a plug and play guy who will back up number one goalie Alex Lyon in Lehigh while Stolarz gets that meniscus back in shape. Irving in now way is an outstanding netminder. Yes, he will fill in admirably for Stolarz, but there is absolutely no reason to think that he has been brought in to take over for Stolarz.
For starters, Irving is a 9 year vet that is 29 years old. I’m sorry if you’re reading this Mr. Irving, but you probably are past the point of developing, and hopefully have come to terms with the fact that you’re going to be a fill in guy until the real guy gets back to being healthy. No sleight on Irving, just speaking to what I believe.
Over the span of Irving’s career in the AHL, his save percentage is .907 with a 2.5 goals against average. Nothing spectacular, nothing terrible, just pretty average. Those numbers aren’t the kind of numbers that would replace a young up and comer like Stolarz. Sure, Stolarz’ numbers aren’t that much better, but the fact of the matter is that they are better, and they are still getting better.
It isn’t fair to push Stolarz off to the side just because of this injury. Goalies amass injuries all the time. Every star goalie in the NHL has succumb to injuries before, and I’m sure they will again. Meniscuses can be repaired, and Stolarz’ spot can be earned back if need be. He is more than capable of coming back and earning back, at the very least, his backup spot behind Alex Lyon. Stolarz is under contract for this year. It will be a true indictment of the Flyers brass’ faith if they decide to renew his contract at the end of the year.
In my honest opinion, this guy deserves his shot. They passed him up when Neuvirth was brought on board, and rightfully so because he flat out wasn’t ready. However, when he was ready for an NHL spot, at least ready in my opinion, they passed over him in favor of signing veteran backstop Brian Elliott. Stolarz’ clock is ticking due to the sheer amount of raw talent the Flyers have at the goalie position coming up through the ranks. If this was Stolarz’ make-or-break year, it’s going to have to be put on hold until next year potentially.
Stolarz will be back in the orange and black. He is going to be the Phantom’s goalie next year, whether he’s the starter or the backup has yet to be determined. This injury is but a bump in the rocky road that has been his career thus far. When Stolarz makes his comeback, expect there to be a newly sparked fire lit under his posterior, motivating him to play better than we have ever seen, and ultimately shoot through the ranks and into a spot with the Flyers.
Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports