The Flyers enter this off-season with a glaring need between the pipes. This may sound familiar, as the Flyers arguably have never had a definite answer/solution to their goaltending problem since Pelle Lindbergh’s death. Two decades without a true number one goalie, and the Flyers have lost two Stanley Cup Finals, quite a few Conference Finals, and plenty of early first and second round exits. Previous Flyers teams have played strong defense, and always had depth at forward. Yet, they have not been able to get over the hump. Goaltending was not the only issue this season, and it did not ultimately send them packing in the second round. Although the Flyers played poorly in front of their goaltender, it’s hard to imagine that a better goalie would not have at least made things a little easier for the Flyers. Maybe steal a game or two, make some timely saves. The play of the goalies in question wasn’t terrible, but a team with confidence in themselves AND their net minder will be playing a lot better hockey than a team that is scared of their goalie giving up a soft goal (see: Flyers vs. Boston this year). The free agent market this summer has some good goalies whom the Flyers might want to take a look at. There are also trading options with plenty of young to middle-aged goalies playing behind established veterans. And then, there is the hope that Bobrovsky will magically become a number one in only his second NHL season. What do the Flyers do?
Salary Cap Issues
The main issue with addressing the goaltending issue this summer is the salary cap. If the Flyers were to make a trade or sign a free agent that will probably command anywhere from $3.5-$5 million, they will need to make a move or two. Assuming that Brian Boucher, Sean O’Donnell, and Nikolai Zherdev will not re-sign with the team, they are practically touching the ceiling with less than $500,000 in space. The Flyers have been barely cap-compliant for the past few seasons, and with Claude Giroux’s hit increasing to $3.75 next season, it puts a strain on things. And oh yeah, we’ll have to re-sign JVR, and Carle/Coburn after next year. Blair Betts and Kris Versteeg will also become free agents after next season, so the Flyers have to be prudent in their spending or they can find themselves in a summer like the Blackhawks had last year. Don’t forget that Ville Leino also will be seeking a significant raise from $800,000 this year… how are we going to pay him too?
The two biggest names on the goalie market this summer are Thomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov, whom command $5.7 million and $4.25 million cap hits respectively. Bryzgalov will be able to make at least $5 million on other teams willing to pick him up, so the Flyers will have a hard time paying these guys. If they can accept that they will be playing for a legitimate contender and are willing to sign a deal around the 2-4 year mark with less pay than they will get other places, we might get them. The only way we can really pay them is by dumping some salary via trade. I would love to see either of these guys in Orange and Black, but I do not want to overpay for a goaltender given our cap situation. Bryzgalov could work out, considering he’s a Russian goaltender who has adapted to the NHL and could possibly mentor Bobs while he learns the ropes of the North American hockey. Vokoun is a great goaltender looking for a chance to win some games after playing most of his career in Nashville and Florida. Either way, someone will have to go in order to solve this problem. A cheaper option would be Evgeni Nabokov, who’s $570,000 contract with the Islanders ends this summer. He might be a cheap solution to the problem, and is looking to get back in NHL action after stinking it up in the KHL. Who is the best option for free agency if the Flyers were to go that route?
Cory Schneider, Anders Lindback, Johnathan Quick, Johnathan Bernier… all names of young goalies with tons of upside with relatively low salaries at the moment. The Kings will definitely be shopping either Bernier or Quick this summer or next season, but for what price? Lindback from Nashville would be easy to understand if Hartnell or Timonen waived their no-movement clause to go back to their old team. Schneider might be a chip for the Canucks if they decided to keep Luongo in net. Maybe if they can win the Cup this year they keep Luongo? I’d prefer to have Quick or Schneider on our roster out of these goalies, but I’m not willing to overpay. If we acquire one of these young goalies, that also puts a time table on Bobrovsky’s stay in Philadelphia. If/when Bobs is NHL ready in a couple seasons, he or our current goalie will have to go. So who do we get?
Current players I deem as trade-able that do not have no-movement clauses are Jeff Carter, Kris Versteeg, Matt Carle, Andreas Nodl, and Michael Leighton. Carter might be hard to move considering the length of his contract, but the others have contracts ending in a year. Versteeg and Carle also make a lot of sense because they command over $3 million in cap space, are young, and are entering the final year of their contract. I can definitely see Versteeg moved this summer due to this inconsistencies with us this season. Carle and Coburn have contracts ending after next season, but I see Carle as the odd-man out here. Coburn has developed into a strong, physical defenseman with great skating ability. It is my hope that Meszaros and Coburn become our defensive anchors as Pronger and Timonen age. Nodl is also an enticing prospect with one year left of his entry-level contract that would help any team looking for a decent third or fourth line player. Michael Leighton is not exactly a trade-able commodity, but could be packaged in a deal to shed his $2 million because I’m sure we will be burying his contract in the minors if no one wants him.
There are rumors of Carter being liked by Toronto, Los Angeles, and a few other teams… but I hear this stuff all the time. If we can shed any combination of Carle, Versteeg, or Carter’s salary to fill our dwindling prospect pool, we would be in good shape to sign a free agent goalie if we cannot simply trade our players for a goalie we want. I’d prefer to trade our players for prospects rather than a player-to-player trade and sign Vokoun, Bryzgalov, or Nabokov. Holmgren usually gets pretty creative this time of year, so let’s see what he has to offer us Flyers fans this year. Ed Snider wants the goalie problem addressed, the fans do, and I’m sure the players do. Let’s see what he can do.