As the wild offseason continues for the Philadelphia Flyers, the search for a backup goaltender is up next on the list of priorities. After making a trade for Ryan Ellis last week, the Flyers continued to build their blueline by trading for Rasmus Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabers. The addition of Ellis and Ristilainen solidifies the backend for the Flyers next season, but a backup goaltender to go along with Carter Hart is still needed.
Former Flyers backup goalie, Brian Elliot, chose to test the free agency market after backing up Hart for the past two seasons. As a goaltending tandem, Elliot and Hart performed well in key moments over the course of the two and half years, but something was always missing between the two. With the list of available goalies growing this offseason, the Flyers will attempt to pick the best partner to fill the missing void.
As it was recently reported by Rick Dhaliwal of the Athletic Vancouver, Vancouver Canucks goalie, Braden Holtby will be bought out of the contract that he signed last season. After spending one season with the Canucks, Holtby made the decision that he wanted to move on from the organization and explore other options. In 21 starts during the 2020-21 season, he posted a 3.67 goals-against average (GAA) and a .889 save percentage (SV%). While he did not play well this past season, he would be a huge acquisition for the Flyers.
The 2016 Vezina Trophy winner spent all but one season of his career with the Washington Capitals, where he was drafted 93rd overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Over the course of his career, he has played 489 games and has a winning record of 289-133. His career GAA of 2.58 and SV% of .915 rank among the best in the NHL over the course of the last decade.
The 31-year-old goaltender would be the perfect pairing with current goalie Hart. The Flyers gave up the most goals in the NHL during the 2020-21 season, so goaltending help is much needed. The addition of Holtby would lock down the Flyers net and provide outstanding support and mentorship to a young goaltender. When Hart was up and coming in the league, he was mentored by Holtby after losing the 2017 World Juniors.
“Obviously, that was after kind of a tough loss, and you want to keep him encouraged because that’s a pretty big stage, the World Juniors in Canada,” Holtby said after his call with Hart. “So for a young kid to have that pressure, you want to make sure he knows he’s doing all right and just keep going.”
The interest from the Flyers appears to be there, so it would depend on if they had enough cap space to make a deal. It would be likely that he would make somewhere in the realm of $4 million per season, which could work for the Flyers. At the end of the day, it comes down to what the team is able to afford, but Holtby would be the perfect backup and mentor for Hart.
Pierre LeBrun believes the Flyers are one of the teams interested in Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper has bounced around the league a bit over the course of his career, making stops in Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Arizona. He played 27 games during the 2020-21 season, where he posted a .907 SV% and 2.56 GAA.
Kuemper could play an important role in filling the backup goaltending position for the Flyers. He has played well over the course of his career but is clearly on the declining side of things. The opportunity to fulfill the backup role for the Flyers would be a great chance for him to get back into the swing of things while not playing major minutes. He would be a solid option if something happens to Hart during the season, and he needs to eat major minutes between the pipes.
As the free agency market opens Wednesday afternoon, Jonathan Bernier’s name will be of interest to the Flyers. Bernier, 32, has spent 13 years in the NHL with Los Angeles, Toronto, Detroit, Anaheim, and Colorado. He won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, where he served as the backup to Johnathan Quick.
Bernier is familiar with the backup role but is also comfortable with playing major minutes. He was the guy during his three seasons with the Maple Leafs, where he posted a .915 SV% and 2.81 GAA. He has been a solid goaltender during his career, providing unique support to each of the teams he has been with.
His veteran presence and leadership capabilities would be fit right into the Flyers roster, which is currently going through a major rebuild. His experience in the league would provide valuable knowledge to Hart as he progresses through the start of his career.
With names like Holtby, Kuemper, and Bernier available on the goaltending market, the Flyers will be able to find an incredible backup to go along with Hart, a young star goalie in need of veteran leadership. Regardless of who the Flyers decide to go after to fill the backup role, one thing that is clear is Hart will be the starter going into the 2021-22 season.
The team currently has about $10 million in cap space to play around with but still needs to sign a few current players, including Hart. The coming days are going to be interesting as the team looks to build on their moves so far this offseason. It appears that Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher is not playing any games and clearly wants to win moving forward.
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Bobby Bader Jr. is a freelance journalist born and raised in Philadelphia, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the start of the 2020-21 National Hockey League Season. He currently works with the Hershey Cubs Hockey Club (USPHL Premier) as the team’s media coordinator and serves as the Assistant Sports Information Director at Penn State Harrisburg. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Bobby on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo in articles like this one.