As the calender turns toward April, and the playoffs are approaching, one thing is always certain this time of year; The Flyers have goaltending issues. Such a surprise, I know. For a franchise that has one of the most loyal fan bases in the sport, they still forget to address the most important position in hockey. This issue has been a decade long crisis as I'm sure even the most loyal Philly fan has serious doubts that this team, the way it is currently structured, can win a round in the playoffs if they even qualify. While writing this they sit four points ahead of ninth place Atlanta.
During the off season, the Flyers decided to take a risk by signing the enigmatic, Ray Emery after he was bought out by Ottawa and vanished from the NHL for one year. He had a reputation as having a poor attitude and clashed with players and management. Although he reached the Stanley Cup finals with Ottawa in 2007, he had a terrible year in 2008, and the Senators tried vigorously to trade him, but not one single team was willing to take a risk on him due to the locker room distractions he caused in Ottawa.
To Emery's credit, this summer he said the right things, and had a better attitude going into training camp proving he deserved another chance. After a slow start, Emery posted decent numbers, 2.64 GAA, and a .905 save percentage. He also managed three shutouts, and 16 wins in 29 games.
Emery didn't get to prove himself for a full season with the Flyers as he was battling a hip injury and was declared out for the season on March 2nd. Ironically, it was one day before the NHL trade deadline. The decision for GM Paul Holmgren, was simple. Stick with backup Michael Leighton, who was picked up on waivers from Carolina, but showed flashes of being a number one goalie, or attempt to trade for a goalie such as Marty Turco, Martin Biron (again), Dwayne Roloson, or even Tomas Vokoun.
Philadelphia decided to stick with what they had, and since has lost Leighton to a high ankle sprain and he is probably out for the season. Even if Leighton was healthy, is he really the answer in the playoffs? Now the Flyer goaltending carousel belongs to journeyman, Brian Boucher, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the Flyers TEN years ago. The undrafted, Johan Backlund was just called up this week to back up Boucher, and may make his first start in goal this weekend because the Flyers play back to back games.
Quite simply, you cannot win in the playoffs with shaky goaltending, thus in our opinion the Flyers may be the easiest out of all the potential playoff teams. Throughout the years, they have made poor management decisions between the pipes. Whether it was signing John Vanbiesbrouck, or Sean Burke, when they were past their prime. Or continuing to think that Roman Cechmanek was going to lead them to the promised land, they have failed to draft and develop a solid goaltender. Perhaps, they tried to acquire Tomas Vokoun, and the price was too high. The rumor, was that Florida wanted Jeff Carter, and in that case they were wise to not make that move. I know it's hindsight, but wouldn't either Biron or Roloson have been an upgrade?
Part of the reason that the Flyers are in this situation is that they have salary cap restrictions, as too much money is spent on players such as Pronger, Briere, Carter, Richards, and Gagne. They will have to unload one of those players to be able to sign a decent goalie in the offseason. This again goes back to managements inability to develop a young, inexpensive goalie of the future. One team that can sympathize with the Flyers are the Los Angeles Kings, who have had goaltending issues, probably since Kelly Hrudey, or even Rogie Vachon. Finally, the Kings addressed the issue by using high draft picks on goalies, and it has paid off with Jonathan Quick, and they also have a stud prospect in Jonathan Bernier.
Should Brian Boucher take the Flyers deep in the playoffs I promise to write about it and give him, and the Flyers credit for trusting him. We expect the Flyers fans to be rabid as usual, should they face Washington, or perhaps, Pittsburgh, in the first round. But how many of them actually think they have a legit chance this season, when year after year they have the same issue haunting them?