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Free agent options for Flyers’ backup role

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Brian Elliott is leaving Philadelphia, so here are some new guys to consider.

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Four Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers were killed by their goaltending last year and it’s no secret that the expectation is for Carter Hart to return to some faint picture of his former, younger All-Star self. But everybody needs some help along the way and with elder statesman Brian Elliott heading into free agency — and maybe retirement — the Flyers are in need of a new top-level backup.

There are still rumors that they might get that goaltender via trade and Braden Holtby is the latest unfortunate netminder to be linked to this team, but trading for the former elite goaltender is a risky one with a sizeable cap hit. So why not just start from scratch and sign one to a brand new contract?

Here are some names and some goaltenders and some numbers.

James Reimer

Reimer was poised for glory as a youngster playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has seen unsteady progression with the Carolina Hurricanes and will certainly be hitting the open market on Wednesday. He appeared in 22 games last year for the Canes and kept a .906 save percentage. Not the best numbers, but that means he will likely be cheap and on a short deal.

The 33-year-old is certainly deserving of another shot in the NHL and with his prior experience as a go-to starter and someone that has also served as a 1B option, it’s certainly an enticing option for play behind Hart. Reimer is also apparently a very nice man, so that can be an added bonus that he’s basically never in a bad mood — he will really need to lean on that in Philadelphia.

Jaroslav Halak

Ah, Halak. The perpetual option for someone that really needs stability in between the pipes, this is essentially a race against time to see if the Very Good Backup can be that once again for another year. He has had three stellar years with the Boston Bruins serving as Tuukka Rask’s barstool whenever he needed a break; posting a .918 save percentage in 90 appearances.

Halak is honestly a good solid bet to make, but since he’s at the twilight of his career, making him play behind the Flyers defense compared to one of the league’s best in the Bruins, might just be cruel. It’s a gamble, and he might be more expensive than the other options. It’s tricky.

Carter Hutton

Signing Carter Hutton to a contract is the definition of a buy-low move, but one that I have actually grown fondly thinking about. He has been dogshit in Buffalo, but so has everyone else. And the only reason why he was even signed to a multi-year deal by the Sabres was his outrageous ability to steal games as a member of the St. Louis Blues, while he served in the backup role for them.

Therefore, returning to that role and relieving him of the mind-melting pressure of playing for a perpetually crap team, can see him return to his former glory.

He’s going to turn 36 years old this season, so, he’s an old dude, but he has just been so good as a backup and he’s likely going to not cost a whole lot, that it’s an interesting backup (sorry) plan. And who doesn’t love having two Carters in net?

Jonathan Bernier

Easily the most sought after free agent netminder, Bernier has been in the news recently because of his involvement in the trade that sent Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings. The Carolina Hurricanes are reportedly in conversation with him and his agent to re-sign before free agency opens, but he might still be out there and willing to hear offers after posting some incredible numbers behind the horrid Red Wings.

In 24 games this season, Bernier earned a .914 save percentage and aside from Philipp Grubauer and Petr Mrazek, is the only available free agent netminder to have posted a positive goals saved above expected. His availability and his performance last season is certainly going to drive his price up, but if the Flyers truly want a formidable backup option for Hart to lean on when he’s in his own head and unavailable, Bernier is the best one they can get.

Antti Raanta

If it wasn’t for injuries, teams would be climbing over each other heading to seal Antti Raanta’s signature. The 32-year-old goaltender is escaping the desert, but has been able to play extremely well when healthy — earning a .921 save percentage in 33 games just last season.

As with any signing, it’s a gamble, and Raanta has had more than a fair share of injuries, but if he comes at a slightly discounted price, this might be the perfect balance between performance, production, and contract. In a pinch he can suddenly become your starter and his name in the starting lineup won’t suddenly make your knees quiver, but it all depends on what the Flyers can fit with their cap.

Before free agency opens, Philadelphia has approximately $10.9 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. With both Hart and Travis Sanheim needing new contracts, and after Sam Morin signed a new one-year deal, that gives the Flyers 12 forwards, 6 defensemen (if you add Cam York like I did to determine the cap space), and no goalies.

Who the hell knows what kind of contracts will be handed out to the two restricted free agents, but there might be enough room for Raanta to come in and provide some actual stability behind Hart. If not, they can go bargain-bin shopping and hope for the backup to outperform their cap hit.