Why the Flyers might not roll the dice with a free agent goalie

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Just about anyone who discusses hockey as a whole will expect the Philadelphia Flyers to go after a goalie this summer. When you look at the big picture, it’s unclear if that would be the best move, though. Peter Laviolette, for one thing, was fairly non-committal regarding that subject today.

To some, it’s an outrageous track to take. But when you think about, there are three big reasons why the Flyers might not be as crazy as they seem.

1. The Flyers could have some salary cap issues

If the cap ceiling rises to $62.2 million for the 2011-12 season as expected, the Flyers would have about $4.5 million in cap space remaining with 18 roster spots covered. While Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Carcillo are toss-ups, the team would probably like to bring Ville Leino and Darroll Powe back. Leino could end up being a bit pricey, so that $4.5 million could go away fast.

The team also has two goalies under contract for next season. Sergei Bobrovsky’s cap hit is $1.75 million and Michael Leighton’s due to make $1.55 million. The team might be able to stash one of those goalies in the minors, but if they pay big for a starter, then they’ll also pay big for a backup.

2. There aren’t many expected gems in the goalie market, either.

The two biggest unrestricted free agents are Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov (and that’s assuming Breezy won’t re-sign with the Phoenix). Beyond those options, there’s two past-their-prime former No. 1 players (Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marty Turco) and 41-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson. (Again, that’s assuming that Roloson will even hit the market.)

How certain can the Flyers be that Vokoun or Bryzgalov would succeed in Philly? Vokoun is a stats blogger’s dream goalie while Bryzgalov has been an elite regular season performer in Phoenix, but both goalies are used to very different situations. Each netminder played in smaller markets behind low-octane systems, so what happens when they might play in a more aggressive system with brutal fans?

I’d imagine both would count as upgrades for Philly, but would they be big enough upgrades to justify their expense? The team would probably need to dilute its depth to bring one of those two players in, so they’d have to be certain that one of those goalies would make things better.

If you’re about to scream Evgeni Nabokov’s name, I have two responses: 1) can you imagine how quick Philly fans would turn on Nabby? and 2) how can we know he’ll be any good after a year away from the league?

3. Goalies are unpredictable

The funniest thing about all the Flyers-bashing is that a lot of hockey fans seem to think it’s easy to find a great goalie. It’s almost as if people expect a goalie fairy to wave its magic wand and give you a sure thing in net.

Look around the league and ask yourself: how many teams are glad they’re paying big money for supposed sure-things in net? Let’s take a look at a telling trend in the league, noting the fact that the Flyers will spend about $3.25 million combined on goaltending if they stick with Bobrovsky-Leighton.

Teams who missed the playoffs despite spending $3.5 million or more on a single goalie:

Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff – $5.88 million); Carolina (Cam Ward – $6.3M); Dallas (Kari Lehtonen – $3.5M); Edmonton (Nikolai Khabibulin – $3.75M); Florida (Vokoun – $5.7M); Minnesota (Niklas Backstrom – $6M); New Jersey (Martin Brodeur – $5.2M); NY Islanders (Rick DiPietro – $4.5M); Ottawa (Pascal Leclaire – $3.8M); St. Louis (Jaroslav Halak – $3.75M); Toronto (Giguere – $6M).

Their results varied, but it’s stunning that 11 out of the 14 teams who missed the playoffs spent big on a single goalie.

Contrast that picture with the lower numbers paid by the Flyers, Capitals, Red Wings, Sharks, Kings, Canadiens* and Lightning. Instead of being crazy, the Flyers might just be grimly realistic about the unstable but important position.

***

Goalies are important but unpredictable beasts. Surely the Flyers would love to find a goalie they can count on, but something tells me they prefer their situation to the locked-in-a-shaky-marriage scenarios faced by teams like the Wild and Flames.

* Carey Price is a solid bargain at $2.75 million per year.

The Buzzer: Bruins can’t handle Eichel; Jets beat Bolts

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel

Remember when people were really worried about Jack Eichel receiving $10 million per season? (Cups ears.) Hmm, not hearing much of that these days.

Eichel gave the Bruins more than they can handle on Sunday, collecting two primary assists (including a beauty on Jeff Skinner‘s game-winner) and two goals to help Buffalo beat Boston. He was really all over the place in this one, firing six shots on goal, enjoying a +3 rating in what was mostly a tight contest.

Buffalo’s captain now has 14 goals and 45 points in 34 games in 2018-19. A healthy portion of that total came during this current six-game point streak, as Eichel has nine goals and four assists for 13 points during that span.

The win was notable for the Sabres, as they at least briefly passed Toronto for second in the Atlantic.

Skinner’s two goals give him 24 for this season, matching last year’s total in just his 34th game of 2018-19.

2. Mark Scheifele

Once you go beyond Eichel, you really start splitting hairs, as there were a lot of three-point games on Sunday.

One tough call is Scheifele vs. his Jets linemate Nikolaj Ehlers. After all, while Scheifele’s three points came from one goal and two assists, Ehlers grabbed two goals and one assist. Under certain circumstances, you’d go Ehlers.

Scheifele assisted on Ehlers’ second goal, which sent the game into overtime. Scheifele then cleaned up a loose puck created by a nice drive to the net by Patrik Laine, ending the game with an overtime game-winner. It’s his second consecutive game with an OT-clincher, apparently.

It sounds like Scheifele has a knack for these situations.

3. Brent Burns

When in doubt, make a significant milestone a tiebreaker. Burns is a rare breed even when you ignore the notion that he could nest baby birds in his beard:

Brent Burns generated three assists as the Sharks took down the Blackhawks on Sunday. With that, he now has 600 points in his career. One can only imagine how many points Burns would have if he had blossomed earlier/a coach as smart as Peter DeBoer came along sooner and optimized his unique set of skills earlier. (His stats with Minnesota vs. San Jose are resoundingly stark, and he really started to get monster minutes around the time DeBoer took over, though Todd McLellan did get that started.)

Other highlights

Maybe a 48-save game wasn’t enough for Andrei Vasilevskiy? The Lightning’s ultra-talented goalie earned a second assist on Sunday, and it’s one of the primary reasons this is such a fun highlight. Just a fantastic goalie-pass:

If Linus Ullmark pans out like Buffalo hopes, opponents better watch out for the Sabres.

More Factoids

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the list of all-time wins for goalies.

In case you’re wondering, Jacques Plante ranks eighth all-time with 437 wins.

Few teams can match the Flames’ top-end talent, and this Johnny Gaudreau/Matthew Tkachuk stat really drives that point home. Gaudreau’s one of those players who had three points on Sunday, by the way.

Scores

VGK 4 – NYR 3 (OT)
CAR 3 – ARI 0
CGY 7 – STL 2
BUF 4 – BOS 2
SJS 7 – CHI 3
WPG 5 – TBL 4 (OT)
VAN 4 – EDM 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Will Flyers’ disastrous road trip spell end for Hakstol?

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To put things mildly, there are a lot of reports and rumors revolving around the Philadelphia Flyers possibly firing Dave Hakstol to make Joel Quenneville their new head coach.

With a lot of conflicting information in the air (things do seem dire for Hakstol in most scenarios), let’s consider how the Flyers got to this point.

Terrible road trip

Look, the Flyers weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before the disastrous five-game road trip, which concluded on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping by the Vancouver Canucks.

Optics obviously matter, though, and things really devolved as this went along.

After beating the Sabres 6-2 on Dec. 8, the Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak, only managing a single standings point in a 6-5 OT loss to Calgary on Dec. 12.

Three of those four losses were absolute blowouts; Philly fell 7-1 to the Jets on Dec. 9, then really stunk up the joint during the last two losses, falling 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday and 5-1 to the Canucks on Saturday. There was little denying the negative feelings about that team, and Hakstol drew a lot of the blame for seemingly tepid efforts.

After scrapping their way to a somewhat surprising berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points in 31 games (12-15-4).

Good and the bad

If there’s one obvious tweak Hakstol made that produced huge dividends for the Flyers, it was moving Claude Giroux from center to the wing.

Heading into 2017-18, there were serious concerns about Giroux. It seemed like his offense was slowing down, possibly pointing to him hitting the dreaded low end of the aging curve. Instead, Giroux appeared to be liberated by the freedom of playing the wing, often ceding the center duties to Sean Couturier this season. Giroux enjoyed an MVP-like season, powering his way to career-highs of 34 goals and 102 points.

One can debate how Hakstol used younger players versus veterans. You could do that with many teams, not to mention other Flyers staffers, whether you’re pondering Carter Hart or, say, Travis Sanheim.

There have been some structural issues. Much like Todd McLellan in Edmonton, much of Hakstol’s tenure has been marked by a questionable strategy to lean heavily on shots from the point.

Sure, it’s nice to get the puck on the sticks of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere when it makes sense, yet you’re far more likely to hit paydirt if you generate high-danger chances from the slot. Easier said than done? Yes, but some teams emphasize shots from defensemen to the detriment of creativity, making things too easy for the opposition.

The fall of a great power-play unit and a generally terrible PK might explain some of Hakstol’s struggles.

Since Hakstol came into the league in 2015-16, the Flyers’ PK unit has killed 77.1-percent of penalties, the worst mark in the NHL. If Quenneville or another coach could find answers where Hakstol and his crew failed, that could be a nice area of growth.

On the bright side, the Flyers have often had a deadly power play, although their overall mark (19 percent) under Hakstol is actually just tied at 17th.

Some of that might be tied up in Philly’s steps toward adding more talent over the years, but either way, that unit hit a big wall in 2018-19. They’ve connected on just 12.9-percent of their PP opportunities, the third-worst percentage in the NHL.

Hakstol didn’t sign the Flyers’ goalies, and it wasn’t his final call to opt against getting someone more established to compliment Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. A new coach’s system could absolutely make life easier for whoever ends up in Philly’s net going forward, but that could still be an area of serious concern.

A new coach – if the Flyers were to make such a rumored change – might be able to install systemic changes that could help optimize this team. Some might come from finding more innovative special teams strategies, or maybe tweaking personnel decisions. Leaning on different players in different situations may also move the needle.

It’s not necessarily a matter of Hakstol being a terrible head coach, but rather that there could be areas of improvement.

Granted, the Flyers have dug themselves a big hole, so if they’re making changes, they might want to keep their expectations in check.

Big decision coming Monday, and more later this week?

Working past the understanding that people have been wondering about Hakstol for a long time, and beckoning for Coach Q to take over in Philly basically the second he was fired, things seemed to escalate on Sunday. Business picked up as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported that the Flyers would make that decision. Things got blurry from there, with TSN’s Darren Dreger describing the situation as “status quo” and that “no decision has been made.” Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo reports that Hakstol’s firing could be announced “within 24 hours,” but an interim coach may be named, possibly because there might be some wrinkles to iron out with Quenneville. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi backs that up, noting no change officially happening Sunday night, yet to expect a “busy” Monday.

Maybe some of this comes down to semantics (official versus looming?), it all seems a touch odd, and a bit confusing.

A lot to take in, right? PHT will keep you updated, whether Monday ends up being busy or just … awkward for Hakstol and the team, if nothing is actually happening. Buckle up.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford leaves game with concussion

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As the hockey world wonders what’s going on with former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville (is something happening with Philly?), Chicago worries about more immediate concerns.

Sunday’s game between the Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks already began as a tough one for goalies, as Martin Jones was eventually pulled after allowing three goals, including two on Chicago’s first two shots. The night is rougher for Crawford, however, as he left the contest late in the first period after a very hard collision involving Blackhawks teammate Dylan Strome.

Crawford isn’t that far removed from vertigo and other issues that prompted at least some concerns about his career being in jeopardy, so seeing his head hit the post so hard was very disconcerting:

Afterward, the Blackhawks announced Crawford had suffered a concussion.

“Crow is such a big part of our team,” said defenseman Connor Murphy. “To lose him is not good. You just feel for him. In a game like that where there were parts where our goalie is hung out to dry and then for them to take guys crashing on him is not fair either.”

Some have wondered about the Blackhawks possibly hitting the “reset” button by trading Crawford (among others), yet you wonder if other GMs would be worried about health challenges.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ilya Sorokin submits save of the year candidate at Channel One Cup

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With a little more than two weeks left in 2018, goaltender Ilya Sorokin wanted to make sure he got his name on the list of potential saves of the year during Saturday’s Channel One Cup game against the Czech Republic.

During a 7-2 victory, the Russian netminder, a third-round pick by the New York Islanders in 2014, made an incredible stick save to keep the Czechs at bay. One that you will really appreciate once you see it through the various camera angles.

There’s a chance we see Sorokin later this season in the NHL. As Arthur Staple of The Athletic reported earlier this month, the 23-year-old Sorokin could join the Islanders once his season with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow ends. Through 24 games he’s posted a 1.18 goals against average and a .943 save percentage, continuing a trend of strong numbers since the 2015-16 season.

As the Islanders figure out if their answer in goal for the future is Robin Lehner, Thomas Greiss, or maybe even Sergei Bobrovsky, Sorokin’s presence gives them a possible in-house option to ponder.

Stick-tap Jeff Veillette

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.