As I sit here and watch Anthony Stolarz in the AHL All-Star game, I can’t help but think about the Flyers future. As we all bear witness to General Manager, Ron Hextall’s home grown prospect renaissance, Stolarz is being groomed as, “the Flyers next starting goalie.”
While watching Stoli TheGoalie,it is very easy to get excited about the potential Orange and Black future for this giant masked man. Although interestingly enough, my excitement about Stolarz is tempered by an all too familiar feeling of doubt. This feeling of doubt is nothing personal against Stolarz. Frankly, I haven’t watched him play enough to determine if he’ll be a successful NHLer or not.
So, where does this feeling of doubt come from?
It comes from familiarity.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:
The Flyers are excited about AHL All-Star and future starting goalie, Brian Boucher/Jean Marc-Pelltier/Antero Nittymaki/Anthony Stolarz.
Do you realize what this means? It means that the Flyers have had a legitimate goalie prospect since 1995! There is a decent chance that some of the people reading this weren’t even born when Brian Boucher was drafted 22nd overall of the 1995 entry draft.
So, what gives? How can this organization be seemingly decent at drafting goalies be so notoriously bad at turning these draft picks into starting goalies? To answer that, let’s review the history of “the next starting Flyers goalie.” This journey starts all the way back in 1992 (cue up Boyz II Men’s, End Of The Road to maximize your nostalgia experience).
In 1992 the Flyers sucked. Ron Hextall wass the starting goalie and the Flyers along with the entire league were about to drastically change as Eric Lindros is about to be traded to the Flyers. Hextall of course was part of this historic trade and what made Hexy expendable was the 1990 214th overall draft pick, Tommy Soderstrom.
The thing I remember most about Soderstrom was that Jofa bucket. Just check out that grill. In any case, the Flyers of the early 90’s were pretty bad and it took time before they become the dominant team they became in the late 90’s. Ultimately, Soderstrom was traded in 1994 for the very man he was supposed to replace, Ronald Jeffery Hextall.
Hextall and the newly acquired Garth Snow would become one of the best Flyers goalie tandems from 1994-1998. During that time, then General Manager selects Woonsocket, Rhoade Island native, Brian Boucher with the 22nd overall pick in the 1995 draft.
Boucher would back-up Neil Little as the Phantoms became the 1998 AHL Calder Champions. Boucher would end up having a rather successful NHL career that includes establishing the NHL consecutive minute shutout record of 332 minutes. Along the way, Boucher would even be a part of some the most memorable Flyers moments in recent history which include the 2000 playoff run that had the longest Flyers game ever against the Penguins, a puck being lodged into his cage and this memorable save against Patrick Elias:
Boucher would also be the goalie of record in 2010 shootout win over the Rangers to advance into the playoffs on the last day of the season. Boucher’s destiny to become the “next great Flyers goalie” was stamped out before it started the very next year by everyone’s favorite uni-browed, cranium carrum loving, Roman Cechmanek.
The plan was to have one of Boucher, Cechmanek, or 1997 30th over pick Jean-Marc Pelletier become the starter. Unfortunately, that person ended up being Cechmanek who ultimately set Flyers goaltending back by 10 years.
Pelletier was selected to the 2000 AHL All-Star squad and he was supposed to be a star for years to come. In some ways, Pelletier was ahead of his time in that he was giant goalie prospect that was supposed to be a “can’t miss pick” due to his size. Pelletier only ended up parting ways with the Flyers as part of the Rod Brind’Amour-Kieth Primeau trade in the same year that he was an all-star. He never really made it in the NHL only playing a small handful of games.
Next up on the Flyers “could have been” scrap heap is 1999 22nd overall pick, Maxime Ouellet.
Ouellet and Flyers great, Simon Gagne played together in QMJHL for the Quebec Ramparts. In the year 2000, I was glad that we all survived Y2K and excited about Ouellet. At the time, Patrick Roy was still king of the goalies and everyone was trying draft themselves a little Patty Roy. Ouellet only ended up playing in 2 games for the Flyers with his greatest contribution to the club being the center piece of the Adam Oates trade in 2002.
(You read that right, Adam Oates was a Flyer…
… see! Also this picture is fun because it has Chris Gratton as a Sabre who landed in Buffalo after he was traded straight up for Danny Briere from Pheonix… but that’s a topic for another article)
Between Cechmanek and Pelletier, Flyers nets were riddled with the likes of Sean Burke 10 years past his prime, a commendable Robert Esche, Neil Little and recycled Brian Boucher. Before we entered the lockout and the Martin Biron era, we all couldn’t wait for the 1998 168th overall pick, Antero Nittymaki.
It was the early summer of 2005 and we getting ready to come out of the lockout and Nittymaki was coming off of an AHL playoff MVP performance. Just like Boucher Ouellet before him, I REALLY thought Nittymaki was going to be the starter the Flyers had been looking for since the Hextall stint. But despite all of his potential, Nittymaki was never able to seize full control of the net from Esche. In 2007, Nitty started his true NHL calling as being an ideal backup goalie when Martin Biron came to town.
We can fast forward through Ray Emery, Sergei Bobrovsky, Illya Bryzgalov and 15 other dudes that played goal for the Flyers until we get to the present day tandem of Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth.
All I can say that it has been a wild and whacky trip of Flyers goalie products these last 20+ years. Will the pathetic cycle of growing our very own starting goalie end with Stolarz?
Gosh I sure hope so. The fact of the matter is that it takes longer to actualize into NHL goalie for several thousand reasons. Regardless of how Stolarz’s development transpires I just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself with the Flyers stunting his growth with: A) a flash in the pan (Cechmanek); B) a goalie passed his prime (Hackett/Burke/Biron/Vanbiesbrouck); or C) an overpriced, over valued free agent (Bryzgalov/Vanbiesbrouck again).
On the other hand, if history repeats itself, I will enjoy seeing Jonathan Bernier wear the flying P making $5M/yr while Stolarz leads his new team into the playoffs.