This year, like many, many before, has been a year riddled with injury in net. Elliott is out about five weeks, and Neuvirth just injured himself Sunday afternoon against the Rangers. The Flyers just can’t catch a break.
The worst part about it all is that the deadline is a week away, and nobody knows what’s going to happen. We can all sit here and scream until our faces turn blue about trading for a goalie, but we all know that won’t make it happen. Hextall has proven that he will wait until he gets the perfect offer, exemplified by the fact that he was offered Petr Mrazek from Detroit in exchange for a 3rd round pick, to which Hextall countered with a fourth. Eventually, Detroit told Hextall to kick rocks.
So here we are, with Alex Lyon being the lone goaltender on the Flyers, assuming Michael Neuvirth is out for the next game or so. Barring a move, the Flyers may call up Dustin Tokarski from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms so that they have two competent goaltenders on the roster. However, what about the bigger picture?
Sure, we have a lot of hockey remaining, but the Flyers are in a very precarious situation with their goaltenders. Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth are under contract until the end of next year. Alex Lyon is a restricted free agent after this year, while Dustin Tokarski is an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile, you have the second coming of Bernie Parent in Carter Hart, who is AHL and NHL eligible next year. It seems as if the odd man out of this equation is the man who could potentially begin skating here shortly after coming back from his second major surgery, Anthony Stolarz.
There is no shortage of prospects in the pool for the Flyers, and that holds especially true when talking about their netminder situation. Between Hart, Sandstrom, Ustimenko, and Stolarz, the Flyers could have their net shored up for a very long time. However, this being a contract year for essentially all three of their AHL goaltenders, who is going to be coming back for the Phantoms next year? Do the Flyers deal one of their goaltenders during the offseason and bring up one of the Phantom’s goalies? If so, who’s it going to be?
This whole scenario relies on the success of Alex Lyon. He has a chance, right now, to impress Philadelphia’s brass, and leave a lasting impression if he can get a few wins, and score a few stellar outings in the coming games.
Late last year when the Flyers were down to one starting goaltender, they brought up Anthony Stolarz. Much like Lyon’s situation this year, Stolarz was thrust into action and expected to hit the ground running. Well, he did. He posted a 2-1-1 record with a .928 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average, and recorded one shutout. At first glance, Stolarz and Lyon’s numbers in the AHL are very similar. Both have a .911 save percentage, both have a goals against average right below 3, and Stolarz only has three more wins to his resumé than Lyon.
With that being said, at this point in time, Alex Lyon holds the key to Anthony Stolarz’ future. It may sound farfetched, but if Alex Lyon performs admirably in these next few games for the Flyers, Stolarz may not find himself being offered a contract by the Flyers organization. The reason is actually pretty simple.
In a league of “what have you done for me lately?” the answer is “not much” when it comes to Stolarz. He missed this entire season thus far due to injury. While out, Alex Lyon staked his claim to the Phantoms starting gig in net, and the Flyers went out and snagged Dustin Tokarski from Anaheim to back Lyon up. Tokarski’s numbers aren’t enough to blow anyone away, but for a backup in the AHL, it’s not too shabby. Add in the fact that Carter Hart may be AHL, or even NHL, ready, and Felix Sandström may make the jump to the AHL as well. Let’s say the Flyers don’t end up bringing back Tokarski, but everyone else makes the jump to the AHL or NHL. Stolarz could still be the odd man out.
That’s why these next few games are key as to whether or not we will see Anthony Stolarz suit up for the Flyers, or another team next year. Let’s say Alex Lyon goes out and plays either extremely well, or well enough to keep the Flyers on pace for a playoff spot. The Flyers trust him now. At the very least, he remains the starter for the Phantoms. Maybe Lyon doesn’t pass the eye test and lays a few eggs during this stretch. Again, at the very least, and mostly due to reputation, Lyon will still have a job with the Phantoms.
The point being, that Alex Lyon isn’t going anywhere. If he is, it may be to the Flyers to be a backup. Tokarski will likely be the odd man out. Stolarz is still young, and has proven that when pushed into action at any level, he can come up big when needed. Tokarski, while being a decent option, will likely not be re-signed by the Flyers in favor of a younger, more promising Stolarz.
Stolarz’ future may not hinge directly on how Alex Lyon performs, but his potential to reach the NHL may hinge on how Alex Lyon performs in these next few days. Stolarz seemed in line for a backup gig with the Flyers, but he suffered a season-ending injury towards the end of the season and still hasn’t returned to action. Reports say that he may be skating by March of this year, but may need more time to adjust to the pace of the game.
At any rate, Anthony Stolarz was penned as the next great Flyers goalie. Then the Flyers drafted Carter Hart. If both goalies live up to their potential, the Flyers could end up fielding one of the greatest goalie tandems in recent history.
Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports