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Making sense of the Flyers goaltending situation

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Now that Anthony Stolarz has signed his qualifying offer, the Flyers have six goaltenders under contract. But where will they play?

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Surprise, surprise, the Philadelphia Flyers have a bit of a goalie problem. This time, however, it has to do with just how many goalies they have. As it currently stands they technically have six goaltenders under contract for the 2018-19 season, but, with Felix Sandstrom returning to HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League, the actual number is five. Still, that’s one too many for the Flyers and the Phantoms to handle alone, so, what’s the solution? Let’s work our way through it.

The first thing that comes to mind would be loaning Anthony Stolarz to another AHL team. A recent example of an organization doing this would be the St. Louis Blues loaning goaltender Jordan Binnington to the Providence Bruins just last season due to the Blues not having an AHL affiliate last season. Loaning Stolarz to a team like the Laval Rocket, for example, who allowed the most goals in the entire AHL last season and had a league-worst .866 save percentage would help both organizations without affecting much from a management point of view. The Flyers would retain all five goaltenders and they’d all be given ample playing time in either the NHL or the AHL. Now where it gets interesting is whether the Flyers, specifically Ron Hextall, feel comfortable with loaning a player to a team that they’re not in control of. When asked about the possibility of loaning a goaltender to another AHL team back on July 2nd, Hextall replied, “We could. I don’t like doing that, but we could. You never know.” Clearly he’s not thrilled with the idea, but he didn’t exactly close the door on it.

Say, for whatever reason, the Flyers keep all five goaltenders and want them to stay within the organization. Sure, you could go to Stolarz and ask him to accept an assignment to the ECHL, but you can’t really expect someone who is three years removed from being an AHL All-Star and just two years removed from posting a .928 save percentage in seven games with the Flyers to accept that. Of course it won’t be Lyon going to the ECHL either, so that leaves them with two options. The first of which has the Phantoms carrying three goaltenders to start the season, not exactly the most common occurrence, but also not the worst of situations, and the second of which being something that would absolutely not go over well with the fan base: Carter Hart starting the season in the ECHL. I know, I know, you don’t want to hear that and that’s fair - he should get as much playing time as possible on the Phantoms this season, I’m with you. That is, however, the only feasible way to keep all five goaltenders within the organization and getting consistent playing time. Don’t worry though, I find that scenario to be extremely unlikely. Well, now that I just jinxed it by saying that, who knows. If it happens, it’s not the end of the world and would likely be a very short term thing.

Lyon finds himself as a member of the Phantoms in both of the scenarios above, but it’s not all that simple. Since he played in his first professional game during his age-24 season, his waiver exemption status was set to last just two seasons - and he’s now entering year three. This means that he would have to pass through waivers in order to be sent to the AHL, but after his eleven game stint with the Flyers, and his incredible performance in the Calder Cup Playoffs, would he clear? The answer to this question lies within the thirty projected backup goaltenders around the league and where they fall under the following categories, relative to Alex himself:

While this is based on a player’s past performance, this isn’t scientific, y’know? A few of these are surely up for debate.

This leaves us with five “possible” destinations should Lyon be put on waivers; Calgary, Montreal, New York, Winnipeg, and Washington. The Flames, who have six goaltenders under contract, and the Rangers, who have five, already have a bit of a logjam at goal themselves, so for the sake of this exercise we will exclude them. Now, the other three teams are all viable options, especially the Canadiens, whose farm team, the previously mentioned Laval Rocket, had their fair share of goalie trouble last season. They’re certainly a team that could see Lyon as an upgrade in net, however, a team’s roster composition is not the only determining factor. Lyon wouldn’t be the only borderline NHL goaltender on waivers - take Calvin Pickard in Toronto, or Michael Hutchinson in Florida, for example. Would a team choose Lyon over either of them? I, for one, don’t think they would, but a 94-save quintuple overtime win just a few short months ago will of course hold a bit of weight in teams’ minds. So, while it does seems unlikely that he’d be claimed, you’d still be running the risk of losing an asset for nothing - something Ron Hextall, and really every general manager, doesn’t exactly love to do.

That leads us to our final scenario, trading Michal Neuvirth. Not only would you be adding an asset in whatever the return would be for Neuvirth, you’d also be giving Lyon the opportunity to be a full-time NHL backup and avoid running the risk of losing him to waivers. Purely from an asset management standpoint, this might just make the most sense of all the options. The tough part here would of course be finding a trading partner. When healthy, Neuvirth has a track record of being a pretty good goaltender by the numbers. (Well, except for his dreadful 2016-17 season. We don’t like to talk about that season.) Making a trade that both teams are content with is easier said than done, but given his play in past seasons, and the fact that he has just one year remaining on his current contract, it’s not hard to imagine multiple teams making an offer for him should he become available. He’s a very good backup goaltender who could probably make it as a starter, if only he could stay healthy.

While there’s no concrete answer to be found just yet, hopefully this can prepare us all for whatever may happen with the goaltenders over the next few months.