With a quarter of the season complete, the Flyers have a major issue to address, goaltending.
Unlike previous searches for the savior in net, this year, there is no need to be searching for a long term netminder. Carter Hart is likely being groomed for that role, and despite a slow start in the AHL, he’s still the best long term option. And if not, Felix Sandstrom, Kirill Ustomenko or Samuel Ersson may just be the lucky one for the net.
Prospects are not the issue, rather it’s just the here and now. Michal Neuvirth has been injury prone for a long time. Brian Elliott is hurt and not getting younger. Anthony Stolarz, who had a very promising NHL start during the 2017-17 campaign, found himself derailed by injury last year until Alex Lyon took his job. Speaking of Alex Lyon, he started the season a bit dinged up as well, and his AHL and limited NHL body of work suggest he’s likely more of a swing-man than a full time NHL goalie.
Before going further, it’s important to note that when healthy, Brian Elliott has been quite good in net.
Elliott has saved about 0.4 goals more than average per 60 minutes so far at 5v5. Essentially, like the Flyers, he’s quite good at 5v5, and slammed on the Penalty Kill. To put this in perspective, Elliott essentially prevents 1 goal every 3 games at 5v5, which is 27 goals saved per 82. Now, he won’t play 82 games, but assuming he plays 50, that’s 20 extra goals saved. Over the course of a full 82 game season, six goals usually equals an extra win in the standings, so assuming the backups play to league average, he’s basically adding 3 wins.
Of course, the backups haven’t played to league average. Michal Neuvirth dropped a .762 SV% in his one start and Calvin Pickard’s .852 SV% is flat out unacceptable for an NHL goalie. At this point, Neuvirth cannot be relied on to be healthy, so even if he played his career average .911 going forward, it would be hard to assume he’d be healthy enough to stick around as a backup.
So, what’s the solution?
At this point, the waiver claim of Pickard means a trade would be the best option. The Flyers have a logjam of goalies in the system and finding playing time for everyone will be difficult, but sending out Lyon or Stolarz as part of a package to get a goalie makes sense.
Sergei Bobrovsky is the obvious rental option. Bringing him back would also cost a lot and while the Flyers have the pieces to make it happen, they do have to accept they might get burned for years to come if they send a decent prospect or pick to Columbus.
Craig Anderson can likely be had for cheap out of Ottawa. However, he’s older than Elliott and on a 35+ deal, meaning he’s on for his full cap hit regardless what happens.
One intriguing option, who may not even be available, is Corey Crawford from Chicago. He’s got one year left after this season, and it seems like Chicago has finally run out of salary cap magic that they used from 2010-2015 to win three Cups. To get Crawford, Lyon or Stolarz would have to go the other way, along with probably a pick and a defensive prospect. Crawford also comes with his own health issues. At the same time, if he is healthy, he and Bob are the two best options.
Of course, it’s still early in the season. Most teams won’t be willing to sell a starting goaltender until probably around New Year’s at the earliest.
Which means, right now, Alex Lyon needs to take the step forward and play above his level. It happened in 2010 with Michael Leighton, and the Flyers need that magic again.