Flyers face big goaltending decisionby Eric Schwartz
As the Flyers begin their offseason hoping to change the roster only enough to get two more wins than this season, the biggest question mark comes between the pipes.
The goaltender position was a revolving door this season. The Flyers went out and signed Ray Emery last offseason and immediately made him their No. 1 goalie. There were hops that he would find his 2006-2007 form and become the goalie Flyers fans have longed for the last decade. Instead injuries derailed his season and created instability on the backline.
In his place became the combination of Brian Boucher (33 games), Michael Leighton (27 games), Jeremy Duchesne (1 game) and Johan Backlund (1 game). Boucher and Leighton each had their moments in the regular season, but it is hard to say either is of No. 1 caliber.
Boucher produced a 2.76 GAA and Leighton had a 2.48, both more than respectable. Whether either could produce those numbers over a full season is yet to be seen.
Fans grew to love Boucher and Leighton in the playoffs as they helped lead the Flyers on an unbelievable journey to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, both struggled in the finals as the Blackhawks fired puck after puck in the net, particularly in Games 5 and 6. We don’t need to talk about the soft goals goals in Game 6.
Leighton did finish with a 2.46 GAA and three shutouts in the playoffs — tops among all goalies. The Flyers were also 16-5-2 when Leighton started in the regular season.
If the Flyers decide that Leighton is not their man (they already know Boucher will not be the starter) there is a host of free agent netminders to consider. Bellow is the the best of the bunch.
Notable free agents
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose
Marty Turko, Dallas
Jose Theodore, Washington
Vesa Toskala, Calgary
Chris Mason, St. Louis
Dan Elis, Nashville
Martin Biron, New York Islanders
Nabokov is the first name on every fans wish list but is also the most unrealistic. He earned $6 million last season and the Flyers do not have the cap room to add that type of salary to the books. The team would have to move at least one prominent player to make room for Nabokov. If the front office could make a deal work without hurting the team’s offense too much I would be all for it. Top goalies are rarely available and when they are teams should pounce on them. Again I don’t think this move happens, but Nabokov is head and shoulders above the field.
After that things get a bit tricky. Turko and Theodore and respectable options, but each will also be looking for around $5 million. I don’t know if I trust either that much.
From there the choices get real sketchy though. If the team can not get top talent it may decide to save money and stick with Leighton and hope he pans out.
Re-signing Emery is also an option, though I haven’t heard a peep that would lend me to believe that would happen. He is still recovering from hip surgery and it is not known when or if he will be able to return.
The Flyers also have a pair of developing goalies in the minors in 2008 draftees Jacob DeSerres and Joacim Eriksson, but neither is considered to be ready for the big time in the upcoming season.
The final option would be working a trade for Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, who the team had interest in at the trade deadline. Vokoun would be sure thing in net, but again working a trade will not be easy.
One thing that is certain is that money will need to be spent this season. Who it is spent on may very well decide if the Flyers are the ones celebrating with the Cup this time next year.
“I think Michael Leighton cost the Flyers $142,000 this year,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren recently said. “I think it’s fair to say that whoever our goalies are next year are going to cost a lot more than that.”