There is a great deal of promise and excitement surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers as they get ready to embark on the 2018-19 season. The addition of James van Riemsdyk solidified what should be a very dangerous top six. Though uncertainty still circles the center position on the third and fourth lines, it appears as the Flyers will also have some bottom-six depth as well. Yes, the defense will still have its holes, Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas specifically, but youth movement on the blueline continues to make things interesting.
Once again, the biggest question mark encircling the Flyers involves goaltending. Of course, this is something the fan base has grown accustomed to over the years. The problem this season, however, is slightly different than years passed. Frankly, there are too many goalies and uncertainty surrounding what each of their roles will be this season.
Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz, and Carter Hart will be looking to man the crease in either Philadelphia or Lehigh Valley. Four netminder positions need filling and five individuals capable of doing so. This situation, of course, means there will be an odd man out. Yes, the fifth man could serve as a third Phantoms goalie or play in the ECHL. However, the best option would be to trade a goalie, and Neuvirth is the one to send packing. Though there are times he shines in net, he never stays healthy enough to do so consistently. At this point, Neuvirth merely is in the way one of the younger goalies getting the necessary experience. Now, the Flyers can’t expect a significant return 30-year-old netminder. Still, there are teams in need of assistance in net, and he could fetch a mid-to-late round draft pick.
With Neuvirth out of the picture, Philadelphia will have the necessary four goalies to fill each spot. However, questions about what role each will have remains and that all depends on the readiness of one individual.
Carter Hart is the Flyers goalie of the future and most-hyped prospect. Remarkably, there is chatter that he could be ready to play in the NHL this season. If that is the case, you can expect him and Elliott to share the crease. It is essential that this be a 1A/1B scenario, with each netminder getting close to the same number of starts. Once Hart demonstrates he can handle more playing time, the Flyers can transition Elliott into more of a backup. However, if Dave Hakstol feels Hart is only ready enough to assume a backup role in Philadelphia, he should play in Lehigh Valley as the team’s starter.
Let’s first approach the goalie situation assuming that Hart needs a year in the AHL. That will make Elliott the number-one netminder in Philadelphia with both Lyon and Stolarz as backup options. The best choice at this point appears to be Lyon. His sample size at the NHL-level is small but receiving more starts at that level could be what he needs. Ron Hextall will be able to see what he has in Lyon, hoping he can serve as a reliable backup to Hart in the future. At this point, Stolarz appears to be more of an AHL placeholder. I don’t see Hextall interested in holding onto Stolarz past this season, making the Phantoms backup goalie a proper role.
Now, let’s assume Hart wows the Flyers and makes the opening night roster. First, this would be fantastic news for Philadelphia, placing them ahead of schedule in regards to the overarching plan. As mentioned, Hart and Elliott would likely make up a tandem, sharing starts. Even if Hart proves he’s ready for the NHL, the Flyers aren’t going to throw him to the sharks. Placing him in a 1A/1B role provides more time to learn and develop. After the 2018-19, Hart would take over the reigns as the starting goalie with Elliott becoming an unrestricted free agent. Of course, this would leave Lyon and Stolarz to play in the AHL, with Lyon likely taking on the role of starter.
Uncertainty regarding the Flyers and goaltending is inescapable. Past knowing what Philadelphia has in Elliott and Neuvirth, which is nothing exciting, there are tons of unknowns. Still, even with those unknowns, there is plenty to instill excitement throughout the organization and fanbase. It will be in best interest of the franchise to provide Hart and Lyon every opportunity to not only grow but demonstrate their worth as well. It will be interesting to see how the goalie situation in Philadephia unfolds.