Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.
37-37-8, 82 points (6th in the Metropolitan Division, 11th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Alain Vigneault – head coach
Andrew Macdonald (buyout)
If you’re an NHL team that sets a league record for most starting goalies used over the course of a single season, it’s unlikely that said record is synonymous with winning.
Here’s the list, in no particular order:
• Brian Elliott
• Anthony Stolarz
• Calvin Pickard
• Michal Neuvirth
• Alex Lyon
• Mike McKenna
• Cam Talbot
• Carter Hart
Eight starting goalies, one more than the previous record of seven held by three other teams with the most recent being the 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings.
Cam Talbot set the record in February, but it was No. 7 that tied the mark that stuck out in more ways than one.
First, when you start seven different goalies by Dec. 18, you can be damn sure things have gone horribly awry.
But No. 7 turned out to be lucky No. 7 in the end. Of all the goalies on that list, it’s 21-year-old rookie Hart who stole the show in the city best known for its goalie graveyard.
[MORE: 3 Questions | Under Pressure | Patrick the X-factor]
The good news, then, is that Hart managed to fend off the grim goalie reaper, starting 29 more times after that Dec. 18 debut and posting a very respectable .917 save percentage on a team that surrendered a pile of shots and the third-most goals against. Mix in horrible power play and a porous penalty kill and a Hart was seeing all sorts of rubber.
If he would have begun the season sooner, he would have been firmly planted in the Calder Trophy discussion, much like Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. More importantly, if the Flyers would have had him playing like he did in the second half of the season, they may have been in the playoff conversation.
Neither ended up being true but finding a potential stud starting goaltender in another otherwise lost season would be viewed as a silver lining that’s not just an illusion.
The offseason will be debated when it comes to its success. Yes, they got a second-line center in Kevin Hayes who will allow for Claude Giroux to play out on the wing, a place he recorded 102 points two seasons ago alongside Sean Couturier. But they paid through the ears and the nose and whatever other orifices you want to name in your head.
Seven years and $50 million is a lot of term and a lot of cash to hand a player who has hit the 50-point plateau just once in his five-year NHL career. One can suppose that if he adds to the spine of the team, takes some pressure of Nolan Patrick and allows Giroux the freedom to do his thing offensively, then the money is well spent.
But this is a player who couldn’t make it as Winnipeg’s second-line center when the job was handed to him at the trade deadline last season. It’s a risky contract, no doubt.
Some of the other moves have been more targeted. Matt Niskanen comes in to help on the blue line and on the penalty kill. Justin Braun, too, is there for defensive fortifications.
And there’s a new bench boss in Alain Vigneault after the team fired Dave Hakstol back in December and rode Scott Gordon in the interim, and a new general manager in Chuck Fletcher after the Flyers decided to ax Ron Hextall.
Are the Flyers reverting back to old ways?
It’s been a wild past 12 months in Philly and who knows how it is all going to turn out.
The Flyers top brass seemed unwilling to allow Hextall’s methodical approach to building a winner. Fletcher comes with a lot more flair, for sure. The jury is still out on whether flair is needed when taking things slow would have been much more desirable, however.
Win, lose or shootout(?), at least there’s Gritty.
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Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck