As is with every offseason, the Flyers seem to have somewhat of a carousel at the goaltending position. However, these aren’t the days of Michael Leighton/Brian Boucher, even Steve Mason/Ray Emery tandems. The Flyers finally have a problem where the end result could mean they have finally found their franchise goaltender.
To say Carter Hart has dominated the WHL would be an understatement. Just this past year, he posted a .947 save percentage and a 31-6-3 record, 7 of those wins coming by way of shutout. Yes, the pace of play is drastically different when making the jump from Juniors to the NHL, but if his skills translate to the next level, the Flyers could be solid in the crease for years to come.
With Hart beginning his first year of his entry level contract this coming season, the time could be now. However, aside from players like Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Ivan Provorov, Hextall has shown that he doesn’t mind letting younger players marinate in the AHL before coming up to the bigs.
So where does that leave the state of the Flyers crease? Brian Elliott is sure to be the opening night starter, even bell cow for a majority of the season if he stays healthy. The rest is a bit cloudy.
On one hand, you have the incumbent Michal Neuvirth, who has shown flashes of brilliance, but has also shown an inability to stay healthy for long periods of time. On another hand, you have Alex Lyon, who has shown he is capable of backstopping at the NHL level, but only in a limited role. He isn’t as quick in the crease with his reactions, but his stats aren’t the worst fans have ever seen.
The two wildcards are obviously going to be Anthony Stolarz and Carter Hart. Both seem destined for AHL time, with the former maybe needed some time down in the ECHL to fine tune his game after coming off of his second major knee surgery. Carter Hart will more than likely be the Lehigh Valley Phantoms opening night starter, but could find himself up with the Flyers if he has a stellar camp.
Last week during an interview, Ron Hextall was quoted, saying:
“I’d rather have too many goalies than too few… We saw it last year. All of a sudden, a couple of goalies go down and you’re scrambling for goalies. If we start with five, we start with five. Not a perfect situation, but again, Id rather start with five than with three.”
Five goalies is better than three, but four could be even better. If a deal is to be made between now and the beginning of the season, Michal Neuvirth could find himself grabbing a bus out of town. Hextall will be reluctant to deal Neuvirth due to a couple of things. One, when healthy, Neuvirth is still a very good goalie. His reaction speed is stellar, and he has very good instincts. Two, the return for a player labeled injury prone, it’s very hard to find a suitable trade partner because not many teams want to take on that type of risk.
The biggest variable in all of this is Anthony Stolarz, and he could play a crucial role in what happens with Neuvy. Stolarz is still somewhat on the mend, having ended last season in the ECHL on a rehab stint from his second major knee surgery. Prior to those injuries, Stolarz got his shot with the Flyers and ran with it. He played 7 games with the NHL squad and posted a 2-1-1 record with a 2.07 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Yes, 7 games is a very small sample size, but he proved that he can hang at the NHL level, and at least deserves the chance to try and regain his form pre-surgery.
If Stolarz regroups and returns to form, it could make Michal Neuvirth expendable. Depending on how camp goes for Carter Hart, he could find himself up with the big club. If Hextall doesn’t believe he is ready, Alex Lyon could get the call to back up Brian Elliott, leaving Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz to man the fort down with the Phantoms.
The most likely scenario to play out would be Neuvirth staying with the Flyers until, at the very least, the trade deadline. That gives him enough time to put together a solid body of work, and if he stays healthy, his trade value increases. If Anthony Stolarz is ready to roll by then, Neuvirth could end up being dealt.
Carter Hart is the franchise goaltender waiting in the wings to take the helm. Alex Lyon just signed a two year deal, with the last year being a one way year, so likely he won’t be going anywhere. Stolarz has been tendered, and is with the Flyers for at least one more year. Both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are on the last year of their respective contracts, making one of them the better option to be dealt, or let them walk when their contract is up.
Given his history with injuries, paired with the status of the other four netminders in the Flyers system, Neuvy is the obvious choice to be moved if Hextall sees fit. He may not net the biggest return for the orange and black, but the Flyers would be better off rinsing their hands of him, rather than the other goalies on the roster.
Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports