Finding a Goalie for the Flyers

This summer there seems to be no secrecy in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz will be gone, against fans’ wishes it appears coach Dave Hakstol will be back and the goalie tandem for next year will not be Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz.

Most had assumed with Neuvirth re-signed, the team would move on from Steve Mason and begin a new era in net with the 23-year-old Stolarz, who appeared in seven games this year. For good reason, that will not be the case.

Neuvirth had a huge step back this season and while Stolarz carried a 2-1-1 record, including one shutout, it seemed he needed a little more seasoning before full-time duty in the NHL.

Instead, it now appears Neuvirth will be the backup for at least another season (he was signed to two) and general manager Ron Hextall will begin scouring the market for a starter, or someone who can handle at least half the games. Finding one, though, will not be simple.

Goalies To Rule Out

Hextall says he doesn’t want to sign a goalie to a long-term contract. Given the prospects his team has, that makes sense.

The biggest free agent among netminders this summer, Ben Bishop, can automatically be forgotten. The Flyers had past interest in him, but the 30-year-old will be looking for at least six years or longer.

That’s also probably a big reason why they’ve decided to walk away from Mason. As a 28-year-old hitting free agency for the first time, he’ll be looking for term and money. A four-year deal, for example, isn’t too long of a contract compared to some out there, but with prospects in the wings, that may be a shade too lengthy.

On the trade market, Semyon Varlamov was rumored to be available from the Colorado Avalanche and only has two years left on his current deal. However, the Russian netminder would be a reclamation project after a terrible 2016-17 season and a mediocre 2015-16. He also carries a $5.9 million cap hit, which the Avs would have to retain a part of if they’re moving him.

flyers goaltending options
Semyon Varlamov. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Then there’s the issue of finding a netminder who can handle 45 to 55 games. In free agency, that’s going to dry up a good amount of the market. Chad Johnson, Ondrej Pavelec, Keith Kinkaid and Peter Budaj, among plenty others, are wiped right off the board.

Johnson’s probably the most intriguing of that group, but he’s 30 and has never played more than 45 games in a season. Budaj had one of the best feel-good stories of this past season, earning a 30-21-3 record after several years spent in the minors, but did it mostly behind a defensive Los Angeles Kings team.

Backup goalies aren’t difficult to find in a trade, but that won’t help the Flyers issues. With its parameters, Philly has already limited their options for a goalie.

Free Agent Goalies

A popular route in the NHL lately is to trade for a goalie in their mid-20s that has spent years as an apprentice in a backup role. It’s how the San Jose Sharks got Martin Jones and the Edmonton Oilers Cam Talbot.

The good news is that there are some of those types of goalies available in free agency this year including Scott Darling, Darcy Kuemper and Anders Nilsson. None of them are too experienced, but all have spent years in a backup role.

Anders Nilsson (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Darling would probably be the most interesting. He played 33 games this year, winning 18 and sporting a .924 save percentage, though with a strong Chicago Blackhawks team. Still, the 28-year-old would probably top the list for experienced, short-term deal and low-cost.

The biggest issue with any of the three, though, is obvious. None have the experience of being a starter and handling 50 games could be too much.

Ryan Miller (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Toronto Maple Leaf starter Jonathan Bernier will also be hitting the open market. He has experience and after some rough seasons in Toronto has found his game again in Anaheim. However, he should be able to command more years with his resume. At least a three-year deal wouldn’t be out of the question.

Ryan Miller and Brian Elliott are a couple of veteran free agents that may catch Hextall’s eye. Miller’s 36-years-old, but still put up respectable numbers with the Vancouver Canucks over the past three years. Plus, age isn’t that much of an issue when a team’s just looking for a stop-gap.

Elliott got off to a slow start in Calgary but finished with 26 wins after the team in front of him started to improve. He’ll be a decent commodity on the market, but if the Flyers are willing to pay a little more, the former Blue could be a perfect two-year soldier.

Finding a Goalie in a Trade

No matter the position, it’s always more difficult to acquire a player in a trade rather than in free agency. Both sides have to agree on a price and there’s always a question of if a player is available. Besides Varlamov, there should be some goalies on the market.

The most logical place is in Dallas where the Stars have two netminders costing them a ton of money. However, both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen aren’t world-beaters and probably aren’t full-time starters.

Antti Niemi, Dallas Stars, NHL, Hockey
Antti Niemi hasn’t been the most consistent option for the Dallas Stars lately. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That being said, Niemi is the better option with a smaller cap hit and only one year left on his deal. The good part is that neither would be worth much in a trade.

One of the two Stars’ goalies will be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft, which also highlights some options that could be available. Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury could all be open for trade.

Fleury, with his two years left on his $5.75 million AAV, would be a perfect match, but there’s no explanation needed for why the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will never trade. The Pens will probably look elsewhere to move the netminder.

Howard and Halak are both middle-tier goalies, both always fluctuating between starter and backup material. The latter was sent to the minors this season, but the New York Islanders recalled him for their stretch run where he won six out of seven games.

Halak has one year left on his deal at $4.5 million, which would be doable for the Flyers. Howard has two left at over $5.2 million. It’s easy to see which should be on top of Philly’s list.

Hextall said he didn’t know what he was going to do with his goalies. It’s easy to see why. There are plenty of options — risky ones, costly ones and experimental ones — but no fool-proof ones. Finding that goalie is Hextall’s biggest task this offseason.