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Flyers claim goalie Calvin Pickard on waivers, will likely have three goalies to start the season

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There’s a lot to unpack here.

Colorado Avalanche v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

As Flyers fans waited for today’s waiver news to hit and see whether either of Taylor Leier or Dale Weise would get claimed by another team after getting waived on Monday, they instead received word of another move from Ron Hextall, who finally (on the day that rosters are due) decided that the NHL team’s goaltending situation needed to be addressed a bit more than it had been. Hextall’s move was to claim goalie Calvin Pickard, who was placed on waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

Pickard spent last season in the Leafs’ organization, playing in 33 games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and posting a .918 save percentage in those games. NHL fans may best know him from his time in Colorado, wherein he posted a .914 save percentage in 86 games across three seasons as a backup-turned-starter for the Avs. He was claimed by Vegas in last year’s expansion draft, but was waived and then traded to Toronto before playing in any games with the Golden Knights.

We briefly profiled Pickard last February as a potential fill-in option for the Flyers, back when they needed injury replacements and before they traded for Petr Mrazek. There is an angle of familiarity here for Hextall, who put Pickard on his World Championships team for Team Canada in 2017. He’s a solid enough backup option for a team that probably needs one.

That said, this move does open up a lot of questions. There’s a lot to unpack here, both in terms of what this definitely means and what it could mean. Let’s dive right in.

What this definitely means:

  • Pickard will be on the Flyers for at least their first 10 games. By rule, players claimed on waivers must remain with the team that claimed them for at least 10 games or 30 days, whichever comes first. So he’ll be with the team through their first month.
  • The Flyers, for at least a day, will likely have three goalies on their roster, while Taylor Leier and Dale Weise will be sent to the Phantoms. There are reports that Anthony Stolarz was not placed on waivers this afternoon, and since an official 23-man roster has to be filed with the league by 5:00 p.m. tonight, he will have to be on that roster. That would put the team at 23 players, not including Leier and Weise, who were both waived yesterday and who both cleared waivers today. To make sure they stay roster-compliant, the Flyers will have to send both of those two to the Phantoms, at least for a bit. This does mean that the Flyers will be carrying three goalies for the time being — Pickard, Stolarz, and presumed starter Brian Elliott. Never a dull time with this team.
  • Michal Neuvirth will begin the season on injured reserve. Hextall made it sound at least possible on Sunday that Neuvirth would be healed in time for the home opener, which will take place a week from today against the Sharks. However, the situation described above means there will not currently be any room for Neuvirth on the roster, so he’ll have to hang out on IR for at least seven days.
  • The Flyers now have 47 NHL contracts. A minor note in the grand scheme of things, but teams can only carry 50 NHL contracts. Picking up a player on waivers without losing another one does limit flexibility in the event the team may need it down the road. (The Flyers are still well under the salary cap upper limit.)

What this probably means:

  • The Flyers, whether due to concerns about injury or ability, aren’t comfortable going into the season with Anthony Stolarz as their primary backup to Brian Elliott. Prior to this claim, Stolarz — coming off of a lost season due to two knee surgeries — appeared to have at least temporarily secured the position as Elliott’s backup. But the Flyers wouldn’t have put in a claim for Pickard if they felt they could trust Stolarz in that role. The former 2nd-round pick had a pretty solid preseason for the Flyers, but it’s easy to understand their concerns about a guy who basically didn’t play professional hockey last year. On that note...
  • At least one of Neuvirth or Stolarz is getting waived soon, and it’s possible they both will be. Technically, Neuvirth could remain on IR until Pickard’s grace period is up, and then Pickard will get waived. But odds are that Neuvirth will be “healthy” again before that time, however long it lasts, and when that happens the Flyers will presumably attempt to boot at least one of him or Stolarz down to Lehigh Valley. Stolarz, for reasons pointed out in the previous paragraph, seems like the clubhouse favorite to be the first one sent down. The question then becomes this: if the Flyers find themselves wishing they had a 14th forward before Pickard’s grace period ends (or maybe even after it), could Neuvirth get waived as well? It’s possible that the team decides that, like it hypothetically would with Stolarz, Neuvirth is too much of an injury risk to rely on. And that’s all to say nothing of Alex Lyon, with whom the Flyers will have to go through this whole thing again whenever he’s healthy in a couple of weeks.
  • The Flyers reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally don’t want to find themselves in a position where they have no choice but to call up Carter Hart. The Flyers, by our count, have one goalie in the organization on an NHL contract that is currently healthy, is not a significant injury risk, and is supposedly good at hockey. That goalie happens to be Carter Hart, who is chilling up in Lehigh Valley and figures to be the Phantoms’ starter. That the Flyers elected to throw another body into the mix rather than keep him with the NHL team to try and solve the issue of “not having any healthy, reliable goaltenders” shows you just how desperate they are to make sure that he moves at the speed they want him to, and not any faster than that. Hart will be in the AHL until the Flyers decide he’s ready for the NHL.
  • If it isn’t already one, the goaltending situation is going to be a bit of a mess when (if?) everyone gets healthy. It’s true that the cadre of goalies that the Flyers have assembled isn’t exactly known for its health. Elliott is coming off of two major surgeries, as is Stolarz. Neuvirth is a perpetual injury risk. And Lyon will miss the first couple of weeks of the season and has had injury problems in the past as well. So maybe having too many goalies around isn’t a bad thing, because at a given time there’s a decent chance that at least one of them will probably not be healthy. But chances are, unless some other team grabs a goalie of their own on waivers from the Flyers, the team is going to have a bit of a logjam in the AHL at some point. If (again, that’s a big if) everyone’s healthy, only one of Stolarz, Neuvirth, Lyon, or Pickard can be Elliott’s backup at a time. Whoever’s left over will be down in Lehigh Valley, where the team must prioritize giving starts and playing time to Carter Hart. Perhaps that’s a bridge that they’ll cross when they get there, but if the Phantoms eventually end up taking starts from Hart because they feel like they’ve just got too many mouths to feed, this whole logjam will go from something to point and laugh at to something that’s a problem.
  • Brian Elliott is probably going to play a lot of games to start the season. Health concerns be damned, Elliott is the one guy that the coaching staff clearly trusts at this point, and is the team’s starter. And we know how much Dave Hakstol loves playing his starter, whoever that may be at a given time. The team should manage Elliott’s workload carefully. Will they? Hak’s history says that he’s probably going to play a lot in the next couple of weeks. We’ll find out.