Getty

It was another rough night for Flyers goalies

5 Comments

Look, Andreas Johnsson is a pretty good player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 24-year-old’s carved out a nice niche for himself, particularly considering the fact that he was a seventh-rounder (202nd overall in 2013). Johnsson would probably be at least a medium-sized deal if he were on a team that wasn’t so loaded with young talent.

Still, it’s not the greatest sign in the world when Johnsson scored a hat trick on you … in a single period. It’s even worse when his hat trick doesn’t even cover all the goals allowed in a troubling 20 minutes.

That’s the plight of the Philadelphia Flyers so far in Saturday’s game, as Johnsson – who came into this game with two goals in 27 career NHL games – delivered such a drubbing, while Patrick Marleau added a goal to provide a 4-0 early edge.

Calvin Pickard ended up allowing four goals while making just two saves, extending what’s been a miserable run with the Flyers. It has to sting a little extra for Pickard, as he went from a respectable backup to something of a journeyman last season, as the expansion draft process scrambled him into the Maple Leafs’ once-deep pipeline of goalies who weren’t quite at the NHL level.

Instead of getting a little bit of revenge against his old club by living well, he instead languished.

By my eyes, Johnsson’s first goal was probably the ugliest, as Pickard really seemed to lose his angle or simply find himself out of sorts:

The second tally was a semi-breakaway that would probably give a lot of goalies trouble, but the third one might be another tally Pickard would want back, although Johnsson was able to wade in with his backhander before any defenders could really give him any trouble.

And that last point is really the thing. You can get in a chicken-and-the-egg argument about who’s most to blame for the Flyers’ goalie issues, at least from a bigger picture standpoint. Because … make no mistake about it, this continues to be a crisis.

Coming into 2018-19, it was somewhat understandable why GM Ron Hextall decided to stand pat, although you could probably charge him with possibly being a little too gunshy.

After all, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are a) quite experienced, b) cheap options, and c) in expiring contracts. The hope would be that those two veterans could hold down the fort while Carter Hart develops. Hextall also made a reasonable (but so far disastrous) decision to claim Pickard on waivers, rather than going the free agent route.

None of those goalies have solved things, and Alex Lyon looked overmatched in his first appearance at the NHL level (and is now hurt), too.

Now, Hart hasn’t been a brick wall at the AHL level, yet this seems like another beacon to the Flyers: why not just roll the dice and see if Hart could be like Matt Murray. The Pittsburgh Penguins probably wanted to let Murray marinate at lower levels a little longer, but injuries sort of forced their hand, and then Murray forced them to keep him around with strong early play.

For the Flyers, Hart standing above his colleagues would be filed under a “good problem to have.” And, worst-case scenario, Hart could instead fail, but get sent down to the AHL to continue working on his game.

(Even if he struggled, management would likely receive a better understanding of how close Hart is to full-time NHL work, and gain greater insight about how to approach either the next goalie free agent summer [Sergei Bobrovsky reunion tour, you might ask?] or the trade deadline [other Bob opportunity?].)

Speaking of standing pat instead of making more aggressive decisions, this latest hiccup and the wave of coach firings naturally make some wonder – again – about Dave Hakstol.

Is it possible that Flyers goalies aren’t put in ideal situations to succeed, too? Should Philly play a system that possibly plays to the strengths of its roster in ways they don’t now? Perhaps the solution might just be to shrug your shoulders at your Swiss cheese in net, hold your nose, and just try to “outscore your problems?”

There are a lot of questions stemming from a rough period of play, and they’ll only bubble up more often if the Flyers fail to find answers. Granted, these issues have been plaguing this franchise since their GM stopped being their goalie, so it’s obviously a situation of easier said than done.

Either way, something has to give, especially if nights like these continue … right?

The Maple Leafs ended up winning 6-0, with Garret Sparks pitching a 34-save shutout. Anthony Stolarz experienced a busy night in relief of Pickard, stopping 33 out of 35 shots.

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.

Flyers’ goalie nightmare continues with Elliott injury

8 Comments

Life presents few constants: death, taxes, and the Philadelphia Flyers’ goalies letting them down.

The latest nightmare comes as the Flyers announce that Brian Elliott will miss approximately two weeks with a lower-body injury. Looking at the Flyers’ schedule, it would probably be safest to assume that Elliott will miss 5-6 games, as there’s a substantial gap between Philly’s Dec. 1 game against the Penguins and their Dec. 6 contest against the Blue Jackets.

Sat, Nov. 17: vs. Tampa Bay
Wed, Nov. 21: @ Buffalo
Fri, Nov. 23: vs. New York
Sat, Nov. 24: @ Toronto
Tue, Nov. 27: vs. Ottawa
Sat, Dec. 1: @ Pittsburgh
Thu, Dec. 6: vs. Columbus

Elliott suffered his injury (or re-injury?) as Kyle Palmieri scored a wraparound goal during the Flyers’ eventual 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Elliott. Not that long ago, Elliott seemed to be getting on track, rattling off a four-game winning streak while allowing just four goals Oct. 30 – Nov. 10 (albeit with one of those victories happening in a relief appearance).

Even during these past two losses, the 33-year-old has mostly given the Flyers a chance to win, allowing two goals each time (though that Palmieri goal was the end of his Thursday night).

With Michal Neuvirth still on the shelf, the Flyers go back to what sometimes feels like an unendingly bleak situation. Calvin Pickard has been the Flyers’ go-to guy, and that hasn’t worked out well at all. While Elliott’s been merely adequate overall (.911 save percentage), Pickard’s sporting a disastrous .865 save percentage over seven games.

This isn’t the first time such woes have inspired many to wonder if the Flyers should just bite the bullet and given much-ballyhooed goalie prospect Carter Hart some NHL-level exposure, and it’s probably not going to be the last time people call for such a decision.

Like it or not, it seems like management (maybe stubbornly?) is sticking to the plan with Hart, as the Flyers instead recalled Alex Lyon from the AHL.

GM Ron Hextall has been loading up with options in net, creating an unsettlingly stark quantity over quality situation. Along with Hart and Lyon, the Flyers could also conceivably turn to Anthony Stolarz if Pickard continues to struggle … yet those goalies are struggling in their own right.

If you look at the small sample size of AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, you won’t see much to like, and Hart’s shaky play (.893 save percentage in eight games) is no exception.

Between huge goalie headaches and plenty of fans calling for the ouster of head coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers have been awfully frustrating lately. Despite all of their talent, perhaps it’s fitting that this team currently sits at a middling 9-9-1?

The temptation would be to imagine how different things would be for the Flyers if they could actually enjoy some good goaltending but … you and Flyers fans know that story all too well.

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.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren remains coy about goaltending options, trading Jeff Carter

5 Comments

Whenever someone discusses the Philadelphia Flyers’ upcoming off-season, it seems like three factors are almost always interlocked: their much-critiqued goaltending, a potential Jeff Carter trade and the team’s salary cap headaches.

Even though the salary cap ceiling is expected to climb up to somewhere between $60.5-$63.5 million, the Flyers are already in a tight spot with a bit less than $59 million wrapped up in 18 players. They must deal with the unrestricted free agent status of quality winger Ville Leino and will be forced to make decisions regarding a few restricted free agents (such as Daniel Carcillo and Andreas Nodl) as well.

It’s tough to come up with an elegant set of answers for the Flyers’ questions. The hockey public wouldn’t be very tolerant toward the idea of Philly sticking with their current goalie duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton, even if that would be a move that follows the team’s stubborn (and often successful) policy regarding netminders. This franchise often walks to the beat of their own drum when it comes to acquiring goalies, but considering the requests of high-ranking executives, it sounds like change will come in some way or form.

The aforementioned free agent questions already hinted that “someone will need to go,” but adding an expensive goalie such as Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun would require the team to move a significant chunk of salary. For that reason, gossipers churned out another round of Jeff Carter trade rumors. While that talk must be considered with a customary grain of salt, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility altogether.

Does that mean we’ve seen the last of Carter in a Flyers uniform?

Not necessarily. Holmgren indicated he’d like to keep the 26-year-old center/winger.

“We’ll see,”‘ he said. “I like our team. Is it realistic to say we’ll be able to keep everybody together? Probably not, but we’ll see. I like our core of players, for sure. I think the longer you can keep a good group together, the better your odds of winning. A lot of these guys have been together for a long time now, and if we can keep them together, I think it’s an advantage.”

Chuck Gormley makes an important point in that story: despite the fact that Carter signed a substantial 11-year, $58 million contract extension, that deal does not include no-movement clause. The 26-year-old sniper isn’t the most versatile player on the Flyers roster, but he is a proven goal scorer in the NHL. He scored 115 goals in his last three regular season campaigns overall, setting a career-high with 46 tallies in 2008-09. He might have some blemishes on his overall game, but it’s hard to find a young player capable of scoring 30-45 goals each season for just a $5.27 million annual cap hit. That line of reasoning means that he could have some serious trade value, but it also indicates that the Flyers might not want to pull the trigger on a deal.

If they did move Carter or another key asset to improve their goaltending, they would risk their staggering offensive depth to roll the dice with a hopeful upgrade in net. It might be more palatable to move young defenseman Matt Carle ($3.44 million cap hit for one more season) instead, although making such a trade wouldn’t bring nearly as much value in return and wouldn’t clear as much space.

The Flyers would clearly like to improve their situation in net, but they must determine that a new goalie will be worth the sacrifices they’ll need to make in other areas. Let’s face it, the goaltending position is an unstable one, especially when a goalie goes from one system to another.

We’ll make sure to keep you updated through an interesting off-season for Philly this summer, whether the Flyers organization follows conventional wisdom by going after a Bryzgalov/Vokoun type goalie or continues to do things “their way.”

Flyers executive Ed Snider on goalie search: ‘I want one too’

1 Comment

Just about anyone with an interest in hockey noticed that the Philadelphia Flyers experienced some troubling goaltending issues in the playoffs. Flyers executive Ed Snider was no exception.

The Philadelphia Inquirer caught up with the chairman of the Flyers’ parent company (Comcast-Spectator) to gather Snider’s thoughts on the team’s playoff struggles in net. Snider told beat writer Sam Carchidi that the season was a major disappointment and wasn’t shy to express an urgency to improve the team’s goaltending situation.

I pointed out that adding a free agent goalie might be a little complicated considering the team’s cap issues and a weak market, but Snider indicated the team could work around many of those issues.

Here’s a snippet of what Snider told Carchidi.

Told that the fan base was lamenting about needing a true No. 1 goalie for a few decades, Snider fired back: “I want one, too.”

He paused.

“So either one of the goalies we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are NEVER going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years again.”

(snip)

“If we trade or go for a goalie (through free-agency), we’ll make it work,” he said. “We can make anything work, even with the cap.”

Snider made it a point to say that rookie Sergei Bobrovsky was viewed as the Fyers’ “goalie of the future.”

That story also brought up the interesting alternate avenue of trading for a promising backup like Vancouver’s Cory Schneider or Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles. That’s an interesting concept since both players sport more digestible cap hits and some intriguing potential, but that isn’t a fool-proof solution either.

Simply put, if Schneider or Bernier fail, the media would probably just harp on the Flyers for going after unfinished products rather than proven veterans. Of course, that’s even assuming the Canucks or Kings would be willing to trade their talented No. 2 goalies, which isn’t a guarantee considering how fickle the goaltending position can be. (Just ask the Flyers, right?)

In some ways, the Flyers might be wise just to stick with Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton, but Snider’s comments indicate that some kind of change might come. It’s unclear if the Flyers will choose to rarget a big name, big-money free agent such as Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun, a cheaper veteran such as Marty Turco or Evgeni Nabokov or go with that outside-the-box backup trade option.

Whichever way they go, there might be at least some alteration to their rotation. Either way, people will criticize their decision making process unless they win their first Stanley Cup since 1975.

The wisdom of the Philadelphia Flyers’ stubborn goalie philosophy

13 Comments

As a hockey fan, if you had to choose between consistent (but less brilliant) success or a mixture of dynamic highs and depressing lows, what would you prefer? This might be a generalization, but I’d bet many casual fans would prefer choice B while most hardcore fans would be happier with the first option.

Ultimately, if you believe that a team can have a great season even if they don’t win it all, then the Philadelphia Flyers rank as one of the most well-run franchises in sports, let alone hockey.

Year after year, people casually bury the team’s front office for failing to put an elite goalie between the pipes. Yet if you take a sober look at their near-constant track record of success, you’d come to a humbling conclusion.

Maybe these guys know what they are doing, after all.

Just take a look at the team’s accomplishments since they last won a Stanley Cup during the 1974-75 season.

  • Sure, they didn’t end up winning it all, but the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals on six different occasions since 75, including 2010.
  • They’ve come close plenty of other times, too. They made the Eastern Conference finals five more times and made two losing semifinals appearances in the era when that was the final round before the SCF.
  • They’ve made the playoffs in all but six seasons since 1975. The Flyers missed the playoffs five straight times from 1989-90 to 1993-94 and one other time in that anomaly season in 2006-07. In other words, Philadelphia’s been irrelevant for one half-decade and one weird season since ’75. There aren’t many (if any) teams in sports that can match their consistency.

At least one “reason to believe” per decade

You can’t just claim that the Flyers’ highest moments were Broad Street Bullies overflow, even if the franchise leans toward physical players. In fact, Philly fans have had a reason to think that their team might win a Cup in every decade since the ’70s Bullies.

Ron Hextall in the 1980s: Anyone who says the Flyers ignored the Bernie Parent element to their success probably slept through Hextall’s innovative, angry days. He won a Conn Smythe in defeat and changed the way goalies move the puck. Hextall even fit in with the team’s rough-and-tumble motif as he was the meanest goalie this side of Billy Smith.

The Legion of Doom line in the mid/late 90’s: Concussions issues leave some “What if?” questions about Eric Lindros, but he still spearheaded a line that received the last great nickname. He also won a Hart Trophy and helped them make the Cup finals, even though they were handled easily by the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeremy Roenick/Keith Primeau in the early ’00s: They didn’t have a long run of excellence, but came within a Game 7 loss of reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. The team also showed some promise with Peter Forsberg, but not to the same level.

Current era: They made the conference finals in 2008 (losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins) and obviously lost to the Blackhawks in the finals last year.

Conclusions

Now, I’m not saying that goaltending hasn’t been a problem in Philadelphia. Instead, I’m hypothesizing that the Flyers recognize that the position is among the most unpredictable in sports, preferring to surround them with great draft picks and strong free agent acquisitions.

It’s not like throwing a bunch of money at a goalie guarantees playoff success, either. The Minnesota Wild spent $7 million on two goalies in 2010-11 and didn’t even make the postseason. The Red Wings moved from paying goalies big money to saving in that area once the salary cap was instituted and they haven’t missed a beat.

Deep down, the Flyers brass would love to have more stability in that area and there have been some curious decisions here and there (especially in this year’s playoffs). But if you think that this team is poorly managed, then you’re ignoring decades of success.