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Why the Flyers might not roll the dice with a free agent goalie

May 9, 2011, 10:14 PM EDT

Philadelphia Flyers v Boston Bruins - Game Four Getty Images

Just about anyone who discusses hockey as a whole will expect the Philadelphia Flyers to go after a goalie this summer. When you look at the big picture, it’s unclear if that would be the best move, though. Peter Laviolette, for one thing, was fairly non-committal regarding that subject today.

To some, it’s an outrageous track to take. But when you think about, there are three big reasons why the Flyers might not be as crazy as they seem.

1. The Flyers could have some salary cap issues

If the cap ceiling rises to $62.2 million for the 2011-12 season as expected, the Flyers would have about $4.5 million in cap space remaining with 18 roster spots covered. While Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Carcillo are toss-ups, the team would probably like to bring Ville Leino and Darroll Powe back. Leino could end up being a bit pricey, so that $4.5 million could go away fast.

The team also has two goalies under contract for next season. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s cap hit is $1.75 million and Michael Leighton‘s due to make $1.55 million. The team might be able to stash one of those goalies in the minors, but if they pay big for a starter, then they’ll also pay big for a backup.

2. There aren’t many expected gems in the goalie market, either.

The two biggest unrestricted free agents are Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov (and that’s assuming Breezy won’t re-sign with the Phoenix). Beyond those options, there’s two past-their-prime former No. 1 players (Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marty Turco) and 41-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson. (Again, that’s assuming that Roloson will even hit the market.)

How certain can the Flyers be that Vokoun or Bryzgalov would succeed in Philly? Vokoun is a stats blogger’s dream goalie while Bryzgalov has been an elite regular season performer in Phoenix, but both goalies are used to very different situations. Each netminder played in smaller markets behind low-octane systems, so what happens when they might play in a more aggressive system with brutal fans?

I’d imagine both would count as upgrades for Philly, but would they be big enough upgrades to justify their expense? The team would probably need to dilute its depth to bring one of those two players in, so they’d have to be certain that one of those goalies would make things better.

If you’re about to scream Evgeni Nabokov‘s name, I have two responses: 1) can you imagine how quick Philly fans would turn on Nabby? and 2) how can we know he’ll be any good after a year away from the league?

3. Goalies are unpredictable

The funniest thing about all the Flyers-bashing is that a lot of hockey fans seem to think it’s easy to find a great goalie. It’s almost as if people expect a goalie fairy to wave its magic wand and give you a sure thing in net.

Look around the league and ask yourself: how many teams are glad they’re paying big money for supposed sure-things in net? Let’s take a look at a telling trend in the league, noting the fact that the Flyers will spend about $3.25 million combined on goaltending if they stick with Bobrovsky-Leighton.

Teams who missed the playoffs despite spending $3.5 million or more on a single goalie:

Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff – $5.88 million); Carolina (Cam Ward – $6.3M); Dallas (Kari Lehtonen – $3.5M); Edmonton (Nikolai Khabibulin – $3.75M); Florida (Vokoun – $5.7M); Minnesota (Niklas Backstrom – $6M); New Jersey (Martin Brodeur – $5.2M); NY Islanders (Rick DiPietro – $4.5M); Ottawa (Pascal Leclaire – $3.8M); St. Louis (Jaroslav Halak – $3.75M); Toronto (Giguere – $6M).

Their results varied, but it’s stunning that 11 out of the 14 teams who missed the playoffs spent big on a single goalie.

Contrast that picture with the lower numbers paid by the Flyers, Capitals, Red Wings, Sharks, Kings, Canadiens* and Lightning. Instead of being crazy, the Flyers might just be grimly realistic about the unstable but important position.

***

Goalies are important but unpredictable beasts. Surely the Flyers would love to find a goalie they can count on, but something tells me they prefer their situation to the locked-in-a-shaky-marriage scenarios faced by teams like the Wild and Flames.

* Carey Price is a solid bargain at $2.75 million per year.

  1. psujay - May 9, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    What about teams that made the playoffs?

    • James O'Brien - May 9, 2011 at 11:58 PM

      Good question, like I said in this graph, these teams succeeded without a pricey goalie:

      Contrast that picture with the lower numbers paid by the Flyers, Capitals, Red Wings, Sharks, Kings, Canadiens* and Lightning.

      So that’s seven out of 16. The Bruins, Canucks, Coyotes, Rangers, Sabres and Penguins paid big money for their starters. The Ducks are kind of a weird story, since they paid big for Hiller but started Emery for injury reasons.

      Finally, Pekka Rinne is kind of a toss-up. His $3.4 million isn’t too big, but it isn’t a cheap contract either.

      Ultimately, about half the playoffs teams paid for goalies, but notice that only the Predators, Bruins and Canucks made it through the first round.

      It’s not a black-and-white thing, but most teams would be wise to take smaller risks on goalies, if you ask me.

      • psujay - May 10, 2011 at 12:29 AM

        Ugh…Giguere…

  2. cshearing - May 10, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    All I know is I would be willing to wager quite a bit on Philly never winning a Cup until they solve the goaltending problem. Anyone that tries to say goaltending was not a huge Achilles heel these playoffs were watching different games than I did. Comparing the goaltending to bad teams just makes no sense either, as the Flyers are otherwise an elite team, which those other teams are not.

    Leighton or Boucher will never win a Cup for the Flyers. Bobrovsky has a chance due to the fact he is still young and can improve quite a bit.

  3. ynotflyers - May 11, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    I’m not sure of the exact number of years this ” goalie go round ” has been playing itself out, nor am I going to say I’m the Fan with the answer, but no matter who we’ve had in there and who might be in there next season, we need to Master the Art of Teamwork. I know we have sat witness to some really poor goals against, but we have also watched as this team climbed right back into a lot of those games and came out winners. Ya there are some really great minders out there, and I believe a great goalie adds a positive advantage to a teams ability to fast break and put points on the board. But if your lacking that greatness and you need to help out on the defensive end of the ice then thats what you do. We played poorly the whole second half of the season and it caused problems at the worst area possible. Thats right behind our goalie and in the net…If we can’t spend the money on a net minder then so be it..After all we should be used to that ….Our boys need to build confidence in themselves and their line mates, no one or two guys on a line pullin the weight….This is Philly and we love our Flyers to death….But if you don’t want to give us all you got every time you hit the ice….well then, trash goes out a few time a week, we’ll find a place for ya…Boosh,Bob no matter what B we keep or call the starter or trade, replace, bury,sell no matter.. Or if it comes to pass that there’s a new kid in town, if whoever doesn’t get that Teamwork Help….Only the Names and Numbers will have changed..

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