Flyers Need Their Goaltenders to Return to Jennings Trophy Conversation

The goaltender(s) from the NHL team that allowed the fewest goals against in a season are awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy. This requires the winner(s) to play at least 25 games in a full 82-game schedule. This league award can be shared between multiple goalies and teams, as there is no tiebreaker for the least amount of goals allowed.

This doesn’t make it any less difficult because there are always a few teams contending year in and year out. The Philadelphia Flyers are a team that played their first season in 1967-68. They created the Jennings Trophy ahead of the 1980-81 season. Fun Fact — the Vezina Trophy was awarded to the goaltender(s) of the team(s) that allowed the fewest goals against in a season before the William M. Jennings Trophy was created.

This means that any Flyers’ goalie(s) that won the Vezina Trophy between 1967-1980 would have allowed the fewest goals against in the league. It, in fact, did happen on multiple occasions, a time where the Flyers would love to recreate in today’s day in age.

Flyers’ Award Winners & Runner-Ups

The Flyers have led the NHL in the least amount of goals allowed on four separate instances, in part by the play of five different goalies, none named Ron Hextall.

The Flyers won their first-ever Jennings Trophy, icing two different goalies. They won the first as a franchise in 1985-86 with the goaltending duo of Bob Froese and rookie Darren Jensen. Hextall was the sole runner-up for the William M. Jennings Trophy in 1986-87 as a rookie one year later.

Ron Hextall Philadelphia Flyers
Former Flyers goalie Ron Hextall (Photo by John Giamundo/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until 1999-2000 that the Flyers even got close to winning the award again when John Vanbiesbrouck and rookie Brian Boucher came in second to the St. Louis Blues’ Roman Turek. This was a stretch that saw them win their division on two occasions but miss the playoffs for five consecutive years in the early ’90s.

The Flyers again completely changed the look in net and won the Jennings Trophy with Robert Esche and Roman Cechmanek in 2002-03, three seasons later. They split the award with goaltender Martin Brodeur for his third of five total Jennings Trophies.

That was the last time we would see the Flyers in the same conversation as the award. The closest they’ve come is sixth, allowing 186 goals against in 2003-04, 22 more than Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. In a full 82-game season since then, they have failed to even break 200 goals against. Only nine times in their 50 years playing a full schedule have they allowed fewer than 200 goals. And in their first season as a franchise, when they accomplished that, there were only 74 games.

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Bernie Parent was the first great goaltender in the Flyers’ franchise history, having taken home the Vezina Trophy twice in 1973-74 and 1974-75. The first season, he split the award with Chicago Blackhawks’ legend Tony Esposito and claimed full possession of the trophy the following season.

As mentioned earlier, before the William M. Jennings Trophy was created, it was essentially the Vezina Trophy. So, Parent was the first Flyers goaltender to lead the league in goals against. Will there be a goaltender that can repeat the success of goalies from Flyers’ history, and if so, who?

Flyers Struggle to Return to Glory Days

This has been a talking point and question asked for so many years now — will the Flyers ever find a goalie like Hextall, the last great in goal for them? There has been a revolving door ever since, with it stopping on Carter Hart right now. He looked like the savior in the crease that fans have been waiting for through his first two seasons. But last season took a turn and have followers second-guessing their early conclusions. The Flyers have a history of parting ways with goaltenders after a short amount of time. It didn’t matter if they had great seasons or bad seasons.

Carter Hart Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bob Froese played parts of five seasons for the Flyers, and after winning the Jennings Trophy in 1985-86, he played three games the following year and was gone from the team. They immediately moved on to Hextall, who like Parent, played for the Flyers early in his career and left, only to return after a couple of seasons.

To end the Hextall saga in Philadelphia and the league, the team introduced Vanbiesbrouck at age 35 to start over Hextall. He then retired, and Vanbiesbrouck proceeded to finish second in goals against in the league with Boucher backing him up/splitting time. Vanbiesbrouck was gone the next season, another goaltender who would last a short amount of time as a Flyer, and the start of a theme in Philadelphia.

This forced them to bring in Cechmanek, who started for the Flyers for three seasons before departing as well. His last season was when he and Esche won the Jennings Trophy, but quickly moved on right after. Esche moved to the starter role and then played less in the years following until he was gone before the 2007-08 season, marking his shelf life in Philadelphia at four seasons.

Next on the procession of Flyers goalies was Antero Niittymaki, who only played three games in a trial run in 2003-04. He then assumed the starter role for two seasons until Martin Biron won it from him for Niittymaki’s last two seasons with the franchise. After two great seasons from Biron as a starter, he was also out as the Flyers’ goaltender.

Sergei Bobrovsky made his NHL debut with the Flyers and only lasted one season as the starter before they added Ilya Bryzgalov to the mix. This forced Bobrovsky into a backup role after a very good rookie season, and he was then traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They had themselves a winner in him as Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy the year after he left and again in 2016-17. That year he was also runner-up for the Jennings Trophy as a member of the Blue Jackets.

Bryzgalov, who the Flyers had high hopes for, lasted two seasons in Philadelphia after weak showings. The Arizona Coyotes system worked well for him, and he just couldn’t transfer that over to his new team.

Sergei Bobrovsky with the Flyers (cr: clydeorama@flickr)

Steve Mason, who backed up Bryzgalov and only played seven games in his first season with the Flyers, was the starter for the next four full seasons. He regressed .01 in save percentage (SV%) from season three on until he finished at .908 SV% in his final season with the Flyers.

They then brought over Brian Elliott, a former William M. Jennings award winner with the St. Louis Blues in 2011-12. Elliott started for his first season, and then current goaltender Hart broke into the league and started/split time with Elliott until his departure this offseason for Tampa Bay.

No goaltender since Ron Hextall has spent more than five seasons with the Flyers, and with Hart beginning his fourth season, his time may be limited in Philadelphia if the trend continues. The Flyers are hoping it can work out between the two parties, but if he doesn’t have a bounce-back season, we may have to wait a lot longer for the next goalie to actually stick around. Hart showed the potential to develop into a goalie that could bring the William M. Jennings Trophy back to the city, and since he’s still young and hasn’t expressed any intent to leave the Flyers, we will see how it all plays out.

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