With playoff hockey in full swing, the Philadelphia Flyers are making moves to remind us that they still exist. Ian Laperriere was hired as the newest head coach of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Sunday afternoon. Samuel Ersson signed his entry-level contract Thursday as well. If that wasn’t enough to make you go, “meh,” Felix Sandström has announced that he will be playing hockey over in Finland this upcoming season. Monday it was announced via Twitter that he had signed a deal with HC TPS of the Liiga.
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but the grass may be greener for Felix Sandström on the other side of the Atlantic. With Ersson in the fold now and Kirill Ustimenko set to return from injury, chances may be few and far between for Sandström. It may be a battle to get a solid amount of playing time with the Phantoms this upcoming season. However, the organization may look to take the same approach with Ersson that it did with Ustimenko and Sandström when they made the jump to North America. If that happens, the Phantoms may need a steady veteran hand in net to help Ustimenko along.
Re-enter Alex Lyon.
Lyon has become a fan favorite in Allentown. Rightfully so. He’s been a great goalie for the Phantoms since coming into the AHL in 2016. He’s led them to multiple playoff appearances and been stellar in the postseason. Lest we forget, he backstopped the Phantoms during the longest game in AHL history. Five overtimes and six hours later, Lyon stopped 94 of 95 shots against the Charlotte Checkers back in May of 2018. While his performance in the NHL when called upon leaves much more to be desired, he’s a solid AHL starter who could help mentor younger players during their time in the American Hockey League.
Like any professional sporting league, the AHL is as competitive as the next. There’s no reason to assume the Phantoms wouldn’t want players on their team that gave them the best chance to win. Say what you will about it being a developmental league, the players playing in it are there to win. If the Phantoms decide to enter the 2021/22 season with Ustimenko and Ersson as their one-two punch in net, it could be a rough go of things.
It’s not for lack of talent, but there will be situations that they’re faced with that they may not have encountered to this point. If that’s the case and there’s no veteran there to help them through that rough patch, things get harder. If Alex Lyon stays on with the Phantoms, both netminders will have a guy to turn to if they start struggling. Not to mention, he’s perfectly capable of winning games.
During Lyon’s AHL career, he’s amassed a 75-54-22 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.75 goals against average. It’s nothing spectacular, but solid enough to win games. He knows the players. He knows the system. Surely he’s familiar with the coaches even with Laperriere taking over. It’s a low risk move that could reap major benefits for this team.
Alex Lyon brings leadership to the table
As mentioned above, Alex Lyon has a plethora of experience at the AHL level. He more than makes up for Ustimenko and Ersson’s lack of just that. Bringing him back into the fold allows the latter two to develop with the advantage of a leader being present. There’s something to be said about having someone around to show you the ropes. While Ustimenko has shown some promise, he’s coming off of surgery to repair a torn labrum. While many see Samuel Ersson as the best goalie prospect in the Flyers system, he’s going to experience things here that he hasn’t while playing in Sweden.
Lyon being present in the locker room means someone to turn to for help. Whether it’s a mental block or a slump, Ersson and Ustimenko would benefit greatly from having someone who’s seen it all and can help them through their struggles.
We’ve seen it happen in the past. The Flyers brought Sandström and Ustimenko over in the same offseason, creating a logjam at the goalie position with the organization. Both started out the year with the Reading Royals while Alex Lyon and Jean Francois-Berube manned the crease in Lehigh Valley. With the net taken care of in the AHL, that left Ustimenko and Sandström to split starts with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.
The Flyers organization may see it fit to start Ersson out in Reading much like his predecessors. While Sandström struggled a bit in Reading, Ustimenko took to the North American game like a fish in water. Chuck Fletcher may think he can replicate that type of success with Ersson in Reading. If that’s the case, that leaves a hole to be filled with the Phantoms.
Again, re-enter Alex Lyon.
A guy that knows the organization, Lyon would be the perfect candidate to fill the gap left behind, regardless of whether it was left by himself. Him and Ustimenko could provide the Phantoms with a solid one-two punch in net. Again, he could be a mentor to Ustimenko and help him get to that next level. He may not be the best fit when it comes to a call-up to the NHL, but if Ustimenko picks up where he left off and posts solid numbers, Lyon may not have to worry about another stint in the NHL.
There are definite positives to bringing Alex Lyon back to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. You have a steady hand who can not only win games, but provide leadership and be a mentor to the younger goalies that are new to the organization. He likely won’t command much more than what his previous contract is worth, so that’s not much of a concern either.
The only thing that may hold up a deal between Lyon and the Flyers would be his ability to hold the fort down when called upon in the NHL. If the Flyers are looking for a goalie that’s more capable than Lyon when it comes to just that, they may dip into free agency and see what’s out there. If they’re going to prioritize mentorship over NHL performance, which is a slippery slope and a conversation for another time, then Alex Lyon is their guy.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre