It’s a place where goalies go to die.
Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov, who famously said as much when talking about coming to the Philadelphia Flyers in the lead up to the Winter Classic in 2012 against New York Rangers.
‘Bryz’ righty predicted his own fate, sharing the same doom as many others who came before him in the City of Brotherly Love, falling off the map not long after and never finding his way back.
Recent memory hasn’t been kind to the Flyers at the goalie position. They once had Sergei Bobrovsky, but traded him, essentially, for a bag of pucks to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There, Bob went on to supplant Steve Mason in goal and win two Vezina’s.
Mason ended up signing with the Flyers and managed a decent season in his first year. But from there he started to spiral downward. This summer, after an injury-plagued season with the Winnipeg Jets, who signed him last summer as a free agent, was bought out by the Montreal Canadiens following a trade right before Free Agent Frenzy kicked off as the Jets looked to dump salary.
We can go back further, too.
There was the Robert Esche era, the Antero Niittymaki experiment, Martin Biron, Brian Boucher and a host of other failures in the Flyers’ crease.
Last season, Brian Elliott wasn’t exactly earth-shattering acquisition that the Flyers hope he’d be when they snapped him up for two years a year ago. And backup Michal Neuvirth, who might have the potential to be a starter in the NHL, can’t stay healthy for long enough to see it through.
It leaves the Flyers in a precarious position, despite a stable of goaltenders heading into this season.
Both Elliott and Neuvirth’s contracts will expire at the end of this season. The Flyers signed Alex Lyon to a two-year deal on Saturday, ensuring the guy who helped the Flyers into the playoffs last season down the stretch would be around to fight for a spot in the NHL next season (and provide some much-needed depth should Neuvirth go down, again).
The Flyers seemingly have their ace in the hole in Carter Hart, a highly-touted 2016 draft pick out of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.
Hart led Team Canada to a gold medal the World Junior Hockey Championships this past winter and was named the WHL’s Player of the Year, the WHL Goalie of the Year and the Canadian Hockey League’s Goalie of the Year (for the second time) this past season — his last in junior hockey.
His junior stats put him among the pantheon of CHL’s best ever to man the crease.
And all of that has led to a hype train going full-steam ahead for Flyers’ fans, who’ve been starving for a legitimate superstar netminder for years, if not decades.
It remains to be seen what general manager Ron Hextall does with Hart this season but managing Hart’s progression as a pro is paramount.
The last thing the Flyers want to do is rush Hart and stunt his growth. Elliott and Neuvirth can hold down the fort for another season, allowing Hart to get a year of pro hockey under his belt in Lehigh Valley, while having Lyon ready to answer the call should someone get injured on the big club.
If the Flyers move Neuvirth via trade, Lyon seems the de facto replacement to back up Elliott, still leaving Hart time to hone his craft in the minors.
There’s hope, it seems, in Philadelphia.
There has been before.
Whether or not this time is any different, only time will tell.
Hart’s going to have to handle more than just his on-ice game as he works his way into the NHL. Lyon showed some good signs last year under pressure late in the season.
For now, they’re the future beyond next season.
Perhaps, finally, the curse can be broken for Flyers’ fans.
What’s your take, Philly fans?