Flyers Goaltending in Prosperous Position

Flyers' Samuel Ersson
TARRYTOWN, NY – SEPTEMBER 18: Philadelphia Flyers Goaltender Samuel Ersson (33) makes a stick save during the New York Rangers Development Camp Rookie Game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers on September 18, 2021 at the MSG Training Facility in Tarrytown, NY (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

Ahead of the 2022-2023 season, it was a priority for the Philadelphia Flyers to become younger and cheaper at goaltender.

Martin Jones was on a one-year contract in 2021-2022 for $2mil. After he signed the same deal with the Seattle Kraken, including a modified no-trade clause, the market was slim on veteran goaltenders.

Ivan Fedotov remained detained in Russia, leaving his availability out of the Flyers’ hands. Fedotov was a lead candidate vying for the backup role with Felix Sandstrom. As soon as it was clear Fedotov wasn’t an option, the backup role became a wide-open position battle.

A season ago, Sandstrom made his NHL debut. He was winless in five starts (0-4-1.) His competition became Samuel Ersson, who was winless (0-3-1) with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season, making his AHL debut. Additionally, Chuck Fletcher signed Troy Grosenick to a one-way, one-year deal.

Fast-forward to this point in 2022-2023. John Tortorella said ‘rebuild,’ and Carter Hart is recovering from a concussion after replacing Ersson in his first NHL start against the Carolina Hurricanes. The goaltending situation in Philadelphia is in a sink-or-swim period. Ersson is responsible for back-to-back victories for the first time since November 8th, 2022. By the end of the west-coast road trip, an inexpensive solution might play out between the crease for the Orange and Black.

Hart Healthy

It’s an occurrence each season. At some point, Hart is going to miss a few scheduled starts. In each season of his NHL career, his health became a concern.

  • 2018-2019: lower-body injury
  • 2019-2020: abdominal strain
  • 2020-2021: back, lower-body injury, MCL sprain
  • 2021-2022: COVID protocol
  • 2022-2023: concussion

He famously called the COVID protocol ‘a joke’ following a positive test with mild symptoms.

The backup goaltender role is critical to the success of an NHL team. A starting goaltender handles the brunt of the workload, but a well-managed roster has an inexpensive placeholder.

Goaltending is becoming an unplanned silver lining this season.

Hart will return to the lineup after his stint on injured reserve. He traveled with the team on the road trip. He’ll likely start against the Anaheim Ducks.

The 2G Battle

During the preseason, Ersson made a case to challenge Sandstrom for the backup role. Grosenick didn’t compare to the goaltending prospects already in the system.

Sandstrom is a former third-round pick from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. In his debut against the San Jose Sharks in 2021-2022, he saved 43/46 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss. This season, Sandstrom is 1-6-1. He earned his first victory versus the St. Louis Blues, saving 27/28 in a 5-1 win.

Once Sandstrom suffered from an illness, Ersson recalled from the Phantoms.

Ersson is a former fifth-round pick from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. His debut didn’t give Hart the rest required, resulting in his concussion once Tortorella pulled Ersson. Tortorella started Ersson between the pipes with Hart on injured reserve. Bouncing back from an abysmal debut, Ersson collected two wins against the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Technically, in the NHL, Ersson is undefeated.

Is there a proper answer to the Flyers’ 2G question? Not exactly; the sample size doesn’t provide clarity. However, either option will be in their mid-twenties and cost less than $1mil.

Goaltending in 2023-2024

Over the next 44 games, Philadelphia is looking for another goaltender to create a resemblance of dominance articulated by Hart. Great goaltending must be at the forefront of this rebuild; something Tortorella was transparent about since his arrival.

There isn’t a question about Hart. On a team where just about everyone has a price; Hart is priceless. Fletcher and the Flyers must become less pricey.

On October 7th, 2022, Grosenick hit waivers.

Ersson is waiver-exempt. Sandstrom must pass through waivers if sent back to Lehigh Valley. There is a possibility that these two could pick up their position battle during ‘Camp Tortorella’ in 2023. Calling upon Sandstrom after back-to-back wins by Ersson is the logical step in this 2022-2023 campaign.

Ahead of 2023-2024, Fletcher and Tortorella know they have goaltending candidates to complement Hart. Philadelphia has the rights to Fedotov indefinitely but isn’t in the same bind they were before 2022-2023. Cap strapped in the middle of a rebuild creates a reliance to hit on a goaltending prospect. Unplanned; a little dumb luck helped find potential placeholders on cheap deals. Potentially, one critical need figured itself out.

(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)