The Rubik’s Cube. A complicated cube of colors that takes people days and days to solve. Also, a very fitting name for the Flyers crease as of late. There are six sides to each Rubik’s cube, and the Flyers crease has six potential names to take up four spots between the Flyers and Phantoms. Incumbents such as Brian Elliott and Alex Lyon are likely to stay put. However, names like Petr Mrazek and Michael Neuvirth may be on their way out. The wildcards in all of this are Anthony Stolarz and Carter Hart. If Stolarz gets healthy and back to how he was before his surgery, he will make this competition very difficult. On the other hand, Carter Hart will most definitely make things hard on the coaching staff, coming in red hot after winning CHL goaltender of the year for the second time, and WHL player of the year. Time will tell what Hart can bring to the table, and the clock is ticking faster than ever.
Six options, four spots, let’s take a look at who’s a lock for next season, and who could find themselves looking for a new crease to call home.
Brian Elliott was as consistent as you can expect a goalie to be, playing behind a mediocre defense. If it weren’t for his injury halfway through the season, Elliott may have posted better numbers than his 23-11-7 record, .909 save percentage, and 2.66 goals against. He also floundered in the series against the Penguins, leading to Michael Neuvirth coming in and almost saving the day (again).
Elliott, when sharing time with another competent goaltender, can be incredibly solid. If he has a partner to ease the load, Elliott has proven to be a very steady hand in net. If he can get that kind of stability behind him, he could be an absolute force to be reckoned with come his second year with the orange and black.
Expect Brian Elliott to be back in net for the Flyers next year, regardless of any move Ron Hextall may make.
Michael Neuvirth is an enigma. Simply put. You will never know what you’re going to get out of Neuvy. If he’s healthy, he can help bring you back within two games of winning a playoff series after being down 3-0. If he’s hurt, he’s going to let in the softest of goals. To put it in terms that everyone will understand, Neuvirth is a liability.
Michael Neuvirth spent a good bit of time on the bench this year. Between the time share that was the Flyers net, and his inability to stay healthy, Neuvirth started 19 games with a 9-7-3 record. He posted a .915 save percentage and aa 2.60 goals against average. While his numbers were decent, his knack for coming down with an injury at the most inopportune times really kept him from having that one season that would convince this fan base that he deserves to stick around.
Michael Neuvirth just cannot stay healthy long enough to garner his time share. Don’t be surprised to hear his name either on draft day, or before the regular season starts, in regard to a trade. He won’t be worth much, but could get Hextall a mid round pick.
Expect Michael Neuvirth to be suiting up for another NHL team next year.
Oh boy, where to start with Petr Mrazek. After acquiring him from Detroit, Mrazek showed the fans why Hextall gave up what he did to get him. He played out of his mind for the first week. You can call that the honeymoon phase, because after those first few games, it was all downhill from there. Mrazek finished the season with a 6-6-3 record, a sub .900 save percentage and a 3.22 goals against average.
Mrazek now becomes a restricted free agent, with his negotiating rights belonging to the Flyers. His rights won’t be traded away, namely because they aren’t worth much. He won’t be tendered or re-signed by the Flyers, so expect Mrazek gone from Philadelphia this fall.
Alex Lyon was worth his weight in gold when he came up for his stint with the Flyers after Neuvirth and Elliott both went down. He may not be flashy, or the best netminder the Flyers have in their system, but he gets the job done. His .905 save percentage and 2.75 goals against may not tell the whole story. A majority of his value was when he came in relief of Mrazek. He was as good a closer as Mariano Rivera. I joke. Regardless, Lyon was presented with a very tall task, and he did pretty well, considering the circumstances.
To top things off, Lyon brought took his Lehigh Valley Phantoms all the way to the AHL eastern conference finals. Even more so, he stopped 94 shots on 95 attempts in a 5 overtime game against the high-scoring Charlotte Checkers, winning 2-1. Lyon has done enough to be considered for a backup role with the Flyers. Not to mention, moving Neuvirth in favor of Lyon would also free up a spot for Carter Hart, who we will discuss later.
Expect Lyon to back up Brian Elliott for the Flyers next season.
Anthony Stolarz is wildcard number one. Coming off of another knee surgery, Stolarz was pretty impressive when he made his debut in the NHL. He was 2-1-1 with a .928 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against average. Yes, small sample size, but if given the opportunity, Stolarz always seemed up to the challenge.
He noticeably was not himself when coming back for a stint with the Reading Royals, which is usually the case for a goalie coming off of major surgery. Now, with a whole off-season to heal, Stolarz could potentially come back next season and return to form, becoming the Phantoms number one goalie now that Lyon will be with the Flyers. He has definitely earned the chance do defend his spot as the number one goalie, having never really lost the spot in the first place.
This one is the toughest to call, because the Flyers may elect to not bring Stolarz back at all. His contract is up at the end of this season, which makes him a restricted free agent. With other players possibly taking priority over Anthony, and a mass of young goaltenders making their way up through the system, Stolarz may find himself the odd man out in Philadelphia/Lehigh Valley, and may be offering his goaltending services somewhere else come October.
I would expect a one year, earn it kind of deal, and I would expect Stolarz to be the Phantoms goalie, maybe being next years “Alex Lyon,” who the Flyers call up in a pinch.
Last, and obviously not least, we have the net minding Messiah, Carter Hart. This past season was his last with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, making him pro-eligible for the next season. Hart will be given every chance to make the Flyers next year, but it could prove tough given Hextall’s firm belief in not rushing his prospects, especially his top prospect at the toughest position in the game.
Fans should show patience with Hart, it’s not every day that the Flyers have this kind of prospect at their fingertips. If his progression is rushed, it could throw off his development and doom him for the rest of his career. If taken too slow, it could hinder his development, and he could never develop into the generational goalie that many see him to be.
Regardless, Carter Hart seems to be the Phantoms starting goaltender for next season already, considering Lyon could be NHL-bound and Stolarz may either still be recovering, or could be out of a job. To make it simple, the Phantoms starting goalie spot is Hart’s for the taking.
Expect Hart to start the season down in the AHL, but don’t be surprised if you see him in a Flyers sweater sooner rather than later.
Other goaltenders like Kirill Ustimenko and Felix Sandstrom are on their way up, but Ustimenko will likely spend one more year in juniors, while Sandstrom may be headed for Lehigh Valley, which makes Stolarz’ options a little murkier.
This is the first time in a long time that the Flyers have had some options in the crease. Hextall has his work cut out for him, deciding what to do and which moves are worth it and which are not. This offseason could shape up to be one of the more interesting offseasons in years past, and the prospect of a never ending goaltender carousel finally coming to a stop makes this offseason even more enticing than ever.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire