Philadelphia Flyers Notebook: Of Goalies, Winter, and “Untouchables”

steve mason

Marianne Helm / Getty Images North America

By David Strehle (@David_Strehle)

As has been the case for the past several summers, Paul Holmgren has much work to do heading into NHL Entry Draft weekend. Granted, he has created more work for himself with some of the deals he has made, but that’s been the case for most of his time as the Philadelphia Flyers GM.

At any rate, there’s no doubting he will be a very busy man in the coming weeks, and a litany of moves that could be made at the draft in New Jersey will hopefully provide a starting point to recovery.

Without a viable second NHL-ready netminder to go along with Steve Mason for the upcoming year, Holmgren will have to look elsewhere as part of his offseason plan for Mason’s partner after last season’s number one Ilya Bryzgalov was subjected to an amnesty buyout.

It seems a very familiar problem spot historically for the organization has the potential to be a troublesome issue once again, because there isn’t a long list of netminders to come in and replace Bryzgalov.

Jaroslav Halak, who is an UFA in 2014, was upset about his lack of playing time while watching his St. Louis Blues fall to the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of the playoffs behind Brian Elliott.

The Slovak missed a significant number of games during the regular season with a nagging groin injury, finishing with a 6-5-1 record in just 16 appearances, with a sparkling goals-against average of 2.14, an .899 save percentage, and three shutouts.

The Flyers have had interest in Halak in the past, even having the netminder offered to them in a deal while he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens before being shipped to the Blues.

Halak has set up shop in head coach Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse and if the 28-year-old ends up demanding a trade, he could very well become a viable option. The two clubs could also be a perfect match with St. Louis’ need for top-six forwards, which is the only position of strength for Philadelphia.

If unable to make a trade he feels is in the best interest of his club, Holmgren may instead decide to go the route of picking up an older UFA and waiting until the summer of 2014 with which to resolve the issue on a more long-term basis. If that becomes the game plan, the GM could sign a Ray Emery (30), Mike Smith (31) for two years — or even a 34-year-old Roberto Luongo (if bought out by the Vancouver Canucks), 36-year-old Jose Theodore, 37-year-old Evgeny Nabokov, 39-year-old Tim Thomas, or 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin — for a year — to allow management to grow more comfortable with Mason eventually taking over the starting role.

Never put anything out of the realm of possibility as to what the Flyers will attempt.

In addition to Halak, there are other elite-level goalies slated to become UFAs next summer: New York Ranger Henrik Lundqvist, Chicago’s Stanley Cup winning Corey Crawford, and Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller. All three could be inked to contract extensions before they’re allowed to test the free agent waters, and it’s quite possible none of that trio will be available come next summer. The problem for Holmgren is if any of them do actually end up hitting the UFA market at that time, there will be considerable interest from many NHL clubs and the price tags would almost certainly exceed any cap space the Flyers will have available.

One thing that is imperative is the team does not overpay for an aging goalie, and ink them to a term that will last longer than the years they will still remain effective. They do not want to once again find themselves staring in the face of a horrible contract, with no more amnesty buyouts at the ready to rescue them this time around.

That’s why the club should avoid any thought of trading for Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres backstop who was mentioned in rumors on Wednesday linking him to interest from Philadelphia. The East Lansing, Michigan-native turns 33 in a couple of weeks and has had declining numbers since winning the 2009/10 Vezina Trophy. Though an UFA next summer, his cap hit is a whopping $6.25 million this year, over half a million more than that of the amnestied Bryzgalov pact.

Holmgren may want to go another route rather than getting into bidding wars. The Flyers historically do not have much in the way of cap space, and look no further than how attempts to lure the big name UFAs went for the GM last summer when defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise both landed in Minnesota to play for the Wild. Holmgren chased the pair long enough to allow many other options slip away, including valuable blueliner Matt Carle.

The result was a disastrous offseason, one that followed a summer of 2011 where young goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was basically rendered a moot point as to the club’s future plans by Bryzgalov’s nine-year deal.

The lack of impatience that has plagued this franchise so many times in the past decade had come back to bite the Flyers once again.

Mason should not be similarly discarded, and he should not be counted out as the starter for the upcoming season, either. He’s been a number one before, and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie-of-the-Year with a not-so great Columbus Blue Jackets squad in 2008/09.

Even though his time soured in Columbus, he appeared to have new life breathed into him when he was acquired by the Flyers at this past trade deadline. The 6′ 4″, 217-pounder finished his 7 appearances with the club with a 4-2-0 record, with a stellar 1.90 GAA and .944 save percentage.

He made himself large in front of opposition shooters, played angles extremely well, and provided an element of skillful puck-handling that has not been seen in this city for some time. That aspect of his game became a very valuable commodity when coupled with an injury-ravaged defensive corps that had several young rear guards experiencing their first-ever NHL action after getting the call from the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms.

It may come to be that we know the identity of the other half of Philly’s netminding tandem by this time next week, but with Mason already in tow there is certainly no need to panic and overpay to bring in any older, expensive goalie — by monetary standards, as well as in reference to the young players and draft picks it will take as part of a return.

Holmgren is at a crucial point in his tenure, and he must make the correct choice this time around.

Winter Cold About Flyers System and Goaltenders

Ritch Winter, the agent for Bryzgalov, tore into the way the Flyers organization handle their netminders in a piece on Sportsnet last night.

It’s terrible in Philadelphia for a goaltender,” the agent said. “They block shots. They don’t open up lanes. Goaltenders can’t see the puck. The goalie coach has no authority. The head coach doesn’t listen to him. It’s an issue and it’s made it a challenge.”

The Flyers do attempt to block shots, perhaps more than most clubs, and if unsuccessful in smothering the shot, it can oftentimes lead to screening their own goaltender.

As the old adage goes, you can’t stop what you can’t see. Winter even applied that to one of his former clients, one that tended net for Buffalo (and reportedly “had a slinky for a spine”).

But at the foundation of it all, if Dominik Hasek couldn’t see the puck, as much as I admired him and represented him for his entire career, as much as Dom was the greatest goalie who ever lived, if he can’t see it, he can’t stop it.”

It seemed the agent was a bit frustrated with Philly in general, but it sounded as if Bryzgalov had a big problem with head coach Peter Laviolette “not listening to him” as to this issue.

Add to the fact that the club’s defense had trouble clearing the porch in front of their goalkeeper, and there were many times Bryzgalov couldn’t see oncoming shots.

The article went on to say that despite his hatred of bitter, blustery cold weather, Bryz may well be headed to North America’s extreme northwest to play for the Oilers.

I wonder if Edmonton has more parks than Winnipeg?

Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn: “The Untouchables”

Speaking of younger players being demanded as part of a return both Schenn and Couturier have been linked to their fair share of trade rumors in the past five months, with the biggest being in regards to Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber and Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan.

Wednesday Holmgren described the pair as “untouchables”, but it’s doubtful the GM can pull off deals with the ongoing rumors of acquiring some of the bigger names with which Philadelphia has been linked.

Ryan’s name is still in the mix and from time-to-time Weber’s appears again, despite the logic that goes against Nashville wanting to move their captain after shelling out $27 million over the last year in matching the Flyers offer sheet to the then-RFA. Phoenix Coyotes defender Keith Yandle’s name is another that has made the rounds, as well as Sabres goalie Ryan Miller in the last couple of days.

It’s possible Holmgren could instead use any of youngsters Scott Laughton, Nick Cousins, or Derek Mathers — or even the ultra-versatile Matt Read — as trade bait, but it would seem it’s basically a free-for-all with regards to the Philadelphia roster. Outside of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, it would seem that no one is safe.

In other words, it looks to be business as usual in South Philly.

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