Why the Flyers might not roll the dice with a free agent goalie
Just about anyone who discusses hockey as a whole will expect the Philadelphia Flyers to go after a goalie this summer. When you look at the big picture, it’s unclear if that would be the best move, though. Peter Laviolette, for one thing, was fairly non-committal regarding that subject today.
To some, it’s an outrageous track to take. But when you think about, there are three big reasons why the Flyers might not be as crazy as they seem.
1. The Flyers could have some salary cap issues
If the cap ceiling rises to $62.2 million for the 2011-12 season as expected, the Flyers would have about $4.5 million in cap space remaining with 18 roster spots covered. While Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Carcillo are toss-ups, the team would probably like to bring Ville Leino and Darroll Powe back. Leino could end up being a bit pricey, so that $4.5 million could go away fast.
The team also has two goalies under contract for next season. Sergei Bobrovsky’s cap hit is $1.75 million and Michael Leighton’s due to make $1.55 million. The team might be able to stash one of those goalies in the minors, but if they pay big for a starter, then they’ll also pay big for a backup.
2. There aren’t many expected gems in the goalie market, either.
The two biggest unrestricted free agents are Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov (and that’s assuming Breezy won’t re-sign with the Phoenix). Beyond those options, there’s two past-their-prime former No. 1 players (Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marty Turco) and 41-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson. (Again, that’s assuming that Roloson will even hit the market.)
How certain can the Flyers be that Vokoun or Bryzgalov would succeed in Philly? Vokoun is a stats blogger’s dream goalie while Bryzgalov has been an elite regular season performer in Phoenix, but both goalies are used to very different situations. Each netminder played in smaller markets behind low-octane systems, so what happens when they might play in a more aggressive system with brutal fans?
I’d imagine both would count as upgrades for Philly, but would they be big enough upgrades to justify their expense? The team would probably need to dilute its depth to bring one of those two players in, so they’d have to be certain that one of those goalies would make things better.
If you’re about to scream Evgeni Nabokov’s name, I have two responses: 1) can you imagine how quick Philly fans would turn on Nabby? and 2) how can we know he’ll be any good after a year away from the league?
3. Goalies are unpredictable
The funniest thing about all the Flyers-bashing is that a lot of hockey fans seem to think it’s easy to find a great goalie. It’s almost as if people expect a goalie fairy to wave its magic wand and give you a sure thing in net.
Look around the league and ask yourself: how many teams are glad they’re paying big money for supposed sure-things in net? Let’s take a look at a telling trend in the league, noting the fact that the Flyers will spend about $3.25 million combined on goaltending if they stick with Bobrovsky-Leighton.
Teams who missed the playoffs despite spending $3.5 million or more on a single goalie:
Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff - $5.88 million); Carolina (Cam Ward - $6.3M); Dallas (Kari Lehtonen - $3.5M); Edmonton (Nikolai Khabibulin - $3.75M); Florida (Vokoun - $5.7M); Minnesota (Niklas Backstrom - $6M); New Jersey (Martin Brodeur - $5.2M); NY Islanders (Rick DiPietro - $4.5M); Ottawa (Pascal Leclaire - $3.8M); St. Louis (Jaroslav Halak - $3.75M); Toronto (Giguere - $6M).
Their results varied, but it’s stunning that 11 out of the 14 teams who missed the playoffs spent big on a single goalie.
Contrast that picture with the lower numbers paid by the Flyers, Capitals, Red Wings, Sharks, Kings, Canadiens* and Lightning. Instead of being crazy, the Flyers might just be grimly realistic about the unstable but important position.
Goalies are important but unpredictable beasts. Surely the Flyers would love to find a goalie they can count on, but something tells me they prefer their situation to the locked-in-a-shaky-marriage scenarios faced by teams like the Wild and Flames.
* Carey Price is a solid bargain at $2.75 million per year.