Analyzing free agent goaltender options.
via @DanTheFlyeraFan on twitter
The Philadelphia Flyers entered the 2016-17 NHL season with two quality goaltenders both on expiring contracts. What followed was sub-par and wildly inconsistent seasons from both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, with the latter missing two months of action with an injury. On March 1st the Flyers awarded Neuvirth a new 2 year-5 million dollar contract, that left the writing on the wall regarding Steve Masons future in Philadelphia.
Now, all opinions of the move aside, Ron Hextall will probably turn to free agency to nab a goaltender to work along side Neuvirth. While the skater market this offseason isn’t impressive, there are some options on the goalie market to replace Mason. With names like Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, and Ben Bishop all on expiring contracts with their respective teams, Hextall has chances to work his magic. I’ll be taking a look at both starting goalies and a few quality backup stoppers judging the best fit for the Philadelphia crease.
First, lets compare some starting goaltenders. Arguably the best free agent goaltender is Ben Bishop. The 6 foot 7 starter is almost guranteed to hit the open market. The 30 year old (though he will be 31 early next season) currently playing in his 10th NHL season sports a career 2.32 GAA and .919 save % along with 19 shutouts. Big Ben is coming off a 2 year bridge deal that saw a cap hit of 5.95 million dollars per season. Bishop’s in the prime of his career and will more than likely seek a big money-long term contract. With Neuvirth scheduled to make $2.5 million, there is a chance cap wise Flyers have room to squeek him in. but with a couple high end goaltender prospects on the way, the Flyers may not want to lock someone in for more than 3 or 4 years.
The other bigger name available is Ryan Miller. With Vancouver in a full rebuild, they will probably let the Olympian seek greener pastures. Miller is 36 years old and in his 15th NHL season. With a career 2.61 GAA and .915 save% and 39 shutout, he may be past his prime but has proven he can still turn in star quality performances when called upon. Miller is coming off a 3 year 18 million dollar contract with the Canucks. He has played 50 plus games in the past two seasons, so he can still handle a solid workload. He would more than likely have to settle for a 2 year contract at most. Miller could be a hidden gem for the Flyers as he hits all the boxes they are looking for. A short term deal with a veteran goalie that can still play a lot of hockey (when Neuvirth inevitably gets hurt.)
The 3rd big name free agent is Brian Elliott. After an abysmal start to the season in Calgary where he won just 11 of his first 30 games, He has picked up his game recently (as of the writing of this article) winning 12 of his last 14 contests. After 5 seasons behind an above average defense in St. Louis, he struggled to adapt to the low end defense with the Flames. He sports a 2.41 GAA and .914 save% for his career, but a serious drop from 2.07 GAA and .930 save% in 2015-16 with the Blues to a 2.51 GAA and .911 save% this year. Elliott is coming off of a very reasonable 3 year 7.5 million dollar (2.5 mil avg) contract. Wherever he ends up he will surely make more money. Calgary does not have a deep prospect pool with goalies and have no immediate talent on the way. The Flames also need to re-sign backup Chad Johnson who could see an uptick in his salary as well. Calgary is on the rise and are looking for a franchise goalie to lead their young team to victory, They are probably tossing their hats in the Ben Bishop ring as well.
There are some other options on the market that don’t stack up to be a starter, but could step into big minutes in case of injury. The two that immediatly catch my eye are Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec or Anaheim Ducks backup Jonathan Bernier. Both are former starters turned backups based off their less than stellar play. Pavelec (29) and Bernier (28) both suffered behind bad teams in Winnipeg and Toronto respectively. Hopefully Hextall isn’t interested in either, and frankly the only way he should look at either of them is if he plans on Neuvirth being a starter of 50-60 games.
What does all this mean, well with Steve Mason gone, The Flyers lack a true starting goaltender. They have help on the way in the form of a couple solid prospects, but Anthony Stolarz is at least 2 years away from being a starter at the NHL level. Top prospect Carter Hart already showing world class potential, however he is only 18 years old and is years away from making a splash in the NHL. Assuming Neuvirth makes it through the expansion draft, as of right now the goalie tandem next year would be Neuvirth/Stolarz. While I think Stolie is ready to start seeing NHL minutes, its risky throwing the untested rookie into a full time starter role if Neuvy gets hurt. Ben Bishop could be a great pickup, but he is going to ask for big bucks considering he took his team to the Stanley Cup Finals. Bishop would also be the best option if Philly does think Stolarz ready to see backup minutes. they could roll him out with confidence knowing they have a true starter if things go astray.
The more likely option is Ryan Miller. He could split time with Neuvirth, continuing the 1A/1B scenario that The Flyers utilize now. Being 36, Miller’s career may be winding down, but based off his recent play he can still start the majority of the games. Miller is also the candidate to sign a short term contract. If he signs a 2 year deal, Both he and Neuvirth would expire at the same time, which would let Hextall search for a solid backup in the 2019 offseason (which includes Pekka Rinne and Sergei Bobrovsky), and be able to roll a better developed Stolarz as well. Only time will tell which road Ron Hextall ends up going down, all we as fans can hope is he knows what hes doing letting Steve Mason walkout of Philadelphia.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP) via