NHL free agency 2014: Some possible targets for the Flyers at backup goaltender

Tough not to think of Devan Dubnyk as the guy who gave up The Goal That Saved The Flyers' Season. - Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers will need to find someone to back up Steve Mason, and chances are they'll be doing so via unrestricted free agency. Here are some possibilities.

There are a lot of things that the Flyers realistically need in order to upgrade their team to the level they'd like it to be. With free agency starting tomorrow, people will be talking about a lot of those needs. But one slightly less-discussed need that the Flyers will be forced to fill relatively soon is the backup goaltender position.

Steve Mason took the reins early on last season and never looked back, and with a three-year, $12.3 million extension signed last January, it's clear that he has the organization's trust for now. Regardless, having a backup that can play is important. At worst, you get a guy who you can trust to spell your current goalie every so often; at best, you get a guy who's good enough to push your starter and keep him honest and working hard (something that I do think Ray Emery helped Mason do last year).

The internal options for the Flyers don't look like they've got much of a chance at the spot. We learned from Ron Hextall on Saturday that Cal Heeter may not even be given a qualifying offer (the deadline for that is 5:00 p.m. today), so that would seemingly rule him out. And the team's top goalie prospect, Anthony Stolarz, is almost certainly not in the running yet either -- he's likely not ready for the NHL, and even if he was, the Flyers probably would prefer him starting regularly in the AHL to playing 15-20 games with the NHL team.

So unless the Flyers plan on making a trade for a backup -- and giving up actual assets for a guy that you think may only play 20-some-odd games next year seems silly -- we'll probably be fishing from the unrestricted free agent department.

A relatively exhaustive list of UFA goalies (at the least, ones who played eight or more NHL games this season) can be found here, courtesy of Extra Skater. Let's go through some of the names on that list and see who may be a feasible candidate for the Flyers to bring in as Mason's backup. We'll list names in alphabetical order. Why? No reason, I swear ...

Martin Brodeur

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha lolololol lmfao rofl hahaha guys stop it he's really bad

Ilya Bryzgalov

OK so maybe "alphabetical order" was a bad idea.

Devan Dubnyk

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.891 (34) 0.902 .909 (173) 0.918

Hey, now we're talking! An actual NHL goalie who you could see coming to Philadelphia under some realistic circumstances! Dubnyk's coming off of a ghastly year where he never really recovered from a truly awful start to his season in Edmonton. He was traded to Nashville for a fourth-liner (Matt Hendricks) in January, played in just two games, and then was moved again to Montreal for future considerations at the deadline (where he would stay in the AHL for the remainder of the season). However, he's got a decent track record of respectable performance before this season -- he put up save pecentages of .921, .914, and .916 in the three years prior, all behind a never-impressive Edmonton defense.

I'd be somewhat surprised if he gets a serious look from anyone to compete for a starter's job next year, but that could just make him an undervalued asset. If there's even just a chance that last season was an aberration (and I think there is), then Dubnyk's definitely worth considering as a backup.

Ray Emery

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.904 (28) 0.918 .908 (256) 0.917*

We recently recapped the season of the Flyers' incumbent backup, so I won't go into too much more detail here. But basically he ultimately finished the past year with a body of work fitting of a decent backup, and not really much more or less. He's clearly got some limitations to his game and style at this point in his career, and his overall save percentage of .903 wasn't great. I personally don't think he'll be back. But the Flyers have not, as of yet, ruled out a return for Emery, and there are worse options out there.

Thomas Greiss

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.92 (25) 0.939 .915 (69) 0.928

Greiss, a German and former draft pick and backup of the Sharks, has actually been putting up pretty respectable numbers for a while. In his NHL career -- spanning 69 total games, so admittedly we're dealing with a small sample here -- he's put up a .915 save percentage between San Jose and Phoenix (side note: do I have to call them the Arizona Coyotes if they were the Phoenix Coyotes when he was there? I say no). That's pretty respectable for a starter, let alone a backup. He'll be worth looking into here, for sure -- even if he isn't a .915 guy, there's a decent chance that he'll improve the backup position from what Emery gave last year. He turns 29 in January.

Jonas Hiller

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.911 (50) 0.924 .916 (326) 0.927

Travis already addressed this possibility on Friday as a bit of an odd one, though I'll say I'm not nearly as down on it as he is (though I've always liked Hiller. Or maybe it's just because I hate Travis and he stinks). Hiller's been a decent starter for most of his career, but has put up mediocre-to-average-ish numbers in the last three seasons (.910, .913, and .911 save percentages). That said, he's got enough of a long-term track record that I can't help but think he'll get a look at a least a chance to compete for a starter's job.

He was pushed out of Anaheim due to the success of some of the team's younger goalie prospects, but he's good enough to get a chance somewhere else. If he's willing to accept a backup role (and backup-level of pay), though? Think it's definitely worth considering.

Chad Johnson

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.925 (27) 0.934 .926 (37) 0.934

Johnson's situation is a bit like Greiss', but with an even smaller sample size and therefore even more uncertainty. He's coming off of a really solid showing in 27 games as the Bruins' backup (a .925 save percentage). He's obviously not a .925 goalie -- that would be Hall-of-Fame-level good, and his career save percentage in four seasons in the AHL was .909 so I doubt he reached some huge epiphany in the meantime. And the fact that the Bruins could take a ham sandwich and make it look like a good goalie will give teams pause.

Still, Anton Khudobin took a similar opportunity last summer and made the most of it this year in Carolina, so Johnson will likely get the chance to do the same as someone else's backup this year. He could very well be a fit with the Flyers. Plus, if we signed him, I'd make a lot of Ochocinco jokes, and I'm really excited about that possibility.

Michael Leighton

He wasn't on the list above but we all know deep down that this is gonna happen. I'm not even sure why I wrote this article.

Anders Lindback

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.891 (23) 0.916 .904 (85) 0.918

Lindback was traded to Tampa two years ago as an experiment in net following a couple decent years as Pekka Rinne's backup in Nashville. He did poorly there, and was eventually replaced by Ben Bishop. This past year he had the third-worst overall save percentage among all goalies who played at least 20 games. If he's signing for close to the minimum and there are really no other options, maybe you can take a bet on him hoping that a change of scenery from the initial expectations in Tampa will help him get back to at least 'OK backup goalie' level. But I'd pass otherwise.

Al Montoya

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.92 (28) 0.924 .910 (91) 0.917

Montoya's had a bit of a weird NHL career. He's spent each of the last four seasons as a backup with either the Islanders or Jets, and in each of those years has either been excellent (save percentage above .920) or very poor (save percentage below .900). All in all this probably makes him an average backup who's subject to swings much better or worse than that. Who knows. He'd be a clear No. 2 behind Mason and would probably not sign for much (he made $601,000 last year and can probably be had for something similar this year).

Justin Peters

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.919 (21) 0.923 .904 (68) 0.913

Peters played very well for the Hurricanes in 21 starts last year, posting a .919 save percentage as he and Khudobin covered for Carolina while Cam Ward was injured. Those 21 starts were the most he's ever had in a season. But he's got an unimpressive overall track record, with a .904 in 68 career games. He'll be 28 when the season starts, so chances are he's not going to get much better than he is now, and his career save percentage of .909 at the AHL level indicates he's probably nothing special. Wouldn't recommend it.

Tim Thomas

2013-14 SV% (2013-14 GP) 2013-14 5v5 SV% NHL Career SV% (Career GP) NHL Career 5v5 SV%
0.908 (48) 0.909 .920 (426) 0.931*

Man, remember this time last year when we thought we were signing crazy old Timmy? Good times. Following his one-year hiatus, Thomas instead went to Florida before eventually getting moved to Dallas at the trade deadline following Florida's trade for Roberto Luongo. He wasn't awful last year, but wasn't great, and will likely have to accept a spot as someone's backup next year (with a salary that corresponds to that role). Will he, though? As recently as that trade deadline, reports were that he was expecting to stay in Florida as their starter. He's 40, and probably won't be much better than he was last year. I think I'd pass.

* "NHL Career 5v5 SV%" only actually reflects 5v5 save percentage data since 2007-08, since that is the first season that 5v5 data is available for. Emery and Thomas have careers dating back to before 2007-08.

***

There very well could be some other candidates -- goalies come out of nowhere sometimes, and maybe there's another option out there that we're missing. But in terms of unrestricted free agents who aren't clear starters (Ryan Miller, more or less) or really bad (a few other guys on that list who weren't mentioned here), these are pretty much your choices.

Among those options, Dubnyk is the one that intrigues me the most -- I think that's a guy worth taking a chance on, since his long-term track record indicates he's a decent goalie. As far as guys who could be gambles but could have a high reward, Greiss and Johnson are also decent bets for one-year deals on a low salary.

But obviously it all depends on salary and what each of these guys' expectations are. Who's willing to accept a role where he comes in as the clear backup? Tough to say. With the market being a clear buyer's market, though, it may be shrewd of Hextall and the Flyers to wait a day or two and see if you can get anyone to take a lowball offer.

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