Pssst! We Have Goalies Coming Too

I don’t know if you heard buuuutttttt the Flyers defense is going to be stacked. You may have even read an article or two about how great our rearguard prospects are going to phe-nom-men-al!

This. You already know.

You probably by now are also feeling pretty good about the fantastic Mr. Hextall’s efforts to replenish the forward cupboard as well. True to form, Hextall upheld his title of, Cranial Combustor by trading down and selecting German Rubstov (who is essentially left handed Giroux).

Shoot, Hextall even drafted my new hero, Wade Allison:

But if you come in real close and promise to not to tell anyone, I’ll tell you a secret. Now, make sure you don’t tell anyone. Make double sure you don’t tell anyone from any of the three New York teams this secret.

Look over your shoulder and if someone from Dallas is reading this, quickly poke their eyes out!

Don’t tell anyone, but the Flyers goalie depth is as good, if not BETTER than our defensive depth!

I know. I know. It’s tough to comprehend because none of the goalie prospects have a name that can be spelled with emoticons, but this is a very true statement that I’m not sure if we’re supposed to talk about much. I’ll make sure that you know the names Stolarz, Lyon, Sandstrom, and Hart just as well as you know Ghostisbehere, Sanheim, Morin, and Provorov.

Before we get too excited, let’s talk about the current netminding situation because it sets the table for our super double secret goalie depth.

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Top line is Steve Mason. Bottom line is Michael Neuvirth. Both contracts are up at season’s end. Your intuition will lead you to ask, ‘So who gets traded?’

The short answer is ‘neither.’ Reason being is that we have to remember what the actual value of both of these guys is. While we love both of our goalies who over performed and were even entertaining to watch last year, the truth of the matter is that both of them have reached the peak of their earning potential and the best they each of them can hope for is to flatten out in terms of both performance and earning power and are at their zenith in their abilities. Very few and far between does a “Tim Thomas” come along who exponentially gets better with age. Most goalies start declining once they reach 30.

If Mason’s agent is any good at his job, he should be minimally seeking a three year deal at $5M a clip for his next contract. Neuvirth (whom I actually believe to be a better goalie than Money Mase) will probably seek a modest raise of a one to two year deal at or around $2-2.5M a year depending on where he lands.

What then is the problem here?

Both of these guys can probably be retained for very reasonable and sensible new contracts, but both have serious flaws preventing them from being the goalie of the future. Mason has rebound control issues which it’s only a matter of time before his skills can no longer compensate for this issue. Neuvirth can’t seem to play 20 games without being injured for the next 20.

Okay. Fine. We still actually need a goalie goalie to tend net for us beyond the end of next year.

Enter, Anthony Stolarz:

Just look at his size, flexibility, agility and compete level. Now watch the video again while thinking about how much Stolarz reminds you of Pekka Rinne, and just try to contain your hockey boner.

Stolarz was drafted in 2012 which means that he is right on schedule to start playing 10-20 games a year. Whether it be luck or by design, that is the perfect amount to ask from the young goalie this year. We know that Mason and Neuvirth will be injured for a handful of games in different segments during the season. This is the perfect scenario for Stolarz to step into.

!!When!! Mason and/or Neuvirth get hurt this coming season, Stolarz will be able to cut his NHL teeth in much lower risk environment compared to the end of a super climatic playoff race the Flyers were in when he was the backup for Mason at the end of the season. The temptation would be to think that Stolarz would be able to handle the backup duties right out of camp, and you could trade either Mason or Neuvirth. But reality reminds us that goalies are delicate snow unicorns who’s games and mental capacity can go to poop in the blink of an eye.

So, while I believe that one of, if not both of our current goalies have to find new homes. The only way that Mason or Neuvirth get moved next year to  get Stolarz more games is if someone’s goalie gets hurt. Otherwise, every other team will wait to see who isn’t claimed after the expansion draft, and by then, Mason and Neuvirth will be UFA’s. Which means that the Flyers still need a veteran for the next 2-3 seasons before Stolarz can take over the net full time just like the Frederick Anderson-John Gibson situation.

The easiest thing to do would be to re-sign Neuvirth and let Mason walk/get traded/shot into the sun, whatever. Re-signing Neuvirth makes more sense for these reasons three: 1) He’s cheaper. If you’re somewhat paying attention, the Cap will motivate GM’s to trade their mothers to save a buck. This is important. 2) We know he will get hurt which is a good thing because it opens the door for depth all the way through the system. And 3) Assuming that Neuvirth is is signed to a 2-3 year deal, by the end of that deal it will have given the guy in-line after Stolarz, Alex Lyon enough to properly gestate.

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Next year, the Phantoms’ goalie situation will look like this: Stolarz-some veteran-Lyon. Lyon may even start the year in Reading just to make sure he’s getting starts, but this is the perfect setup because we know that Stolarz is going to get multiple call-ups which means that Lyon can begin to ease his way into the AHL in the same controlled, less pressured way that Stolarz is working his way into the NHL.

It will take Lyon at least 2-3 seasons get to where Stolarz is now. Here is where we witness, yet again, another brilliant stroke genius by our savior, Ron Hextall. The only way we were able to sign Lyon is because we gave him a super friendly 2 year entry level deal and let him burn one of those years last season making him an RFA at this season’s end. We then qualify him for next to nothing and he is essentially a paid goalie-intern for another year. By the time he is ready for a big boy contract (2019ish), his skills will have developed to the point where we will be talking about him being ready for NHL backup duty. If you’re paying attention, that would be right around the same exact time when Neuvirth’s contract is expiring.

This handling of the organization’s top-4 goalies is genius in it of itself. But the even more genius thing is that Hextall has plans D, E, and F already in the works.

 

The reality of the matter is that while Alex Lyon had a fantastic collegiate career, there are a million stumbling points in-between now and him becoming Stolarz’s backup in the NHL. And that is why you draft Carter Hart in the second round.

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This fall, there will be serious conversation for Hart to be Canada’s starting goalie at the World Juniors. Hart, at 6’1″ is “small” in the new NHL. However, he may end up being the best goalie prospect that we have (including Stolarz)! His potential to maybe leap frog the entire pack is because he is the thinking man’s goalie.  He isn’t huge like Ben Bishop. He doesn’t have Dominick Hasek flexibility, and doesn’t appear to have the pure compete level of a Tim Thomas. He is however, an expert at puck-tracking which gives him the appearance of not quite Jonathan Quick, and not quite Carey Price but something pretty darn good in-between. The other thing I really love about Hart is that like Mike Richter, Quick, Ryan Miller, Ed Belfour, and Hasek is that not only is he a student of the game, he is a student of himself. Hart has been seeing a sports psychologist since he was 8!

Goalies love pressure. It is why we decide to be goalies. However, while we like the game on our shoulders, sometimes that pressure causes the foundation to buckle (Henrick Lunqvist throwing his net off its moorings for example). More importantly, Hart having such a strong introspective personality is key because unlike other positions, the road to being an NHL goalies is one where you are the best in each league you play in, but you are also suck and have to start almost completely over when you graduate to the next league.

Could you imagine having to master a league, and then your reward is to have to start over next season from the very bottom? This is why it takes guys until their mid to late 20’s become everyday NHL goalies.

This is also the reason why Hextall has got contingency plans for his contingencies, for contingencies, and so on.

So, let’s pretend that the very unlikely event of Stolarz, Lyon, and Hart don’t pan-out. Well it’s a darn good thing that we have (probable) Swedish World Junior starting goalie, Felix Sandstrom!

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That’s right, I bet you forgot about Sandstrom. He is still probably at least one, if not, two years away before he’s an AHL goalie. But Sandstrom is a legit goalie prospect and it wouldn’t be surprising if he leap-frogged Lyon (I would however, be surprised if he pulls ahead of Hart).

That not enough goalies for you? Oh, well we also have Harvard sensation, Merrick Madsen coming off of a freshman year where he didn’t play at all, to carrying the Crimson into the NCAA tournament.

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(Photo Credit: Amy Irving, 38 Photography)

And just because we can, we have some giant, Ivon Fedatov growing in Russia who will be a backup in the KHL next year!

That being said, if we don’t resign Jason LeBarbarra (which I doubt), we still need a veteran backup that can legitimately play in the NHL for 10-20 games, and who can split time with Stolarz in the AHL. With this in mind, I would like to see Hextall target Jonas Gustavsson, Anders Lindback, Al Montoya, or Jonas Enroth for $1.2M or less over two years tomorrow.

In summation, the Flyers goalie pipeline is made of solid gold and will soon flow super human puck stoppers. Like our defense, it should be the envy of the league.

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