Petr Mrazek

End to End: How should Flyers tackle their goalie situation?

End to End: How should Flyers tackle their goalie situation?

The topic: How should the Flyers tackle their goaltending situation?

John Boruk
I’ve been contemplating the goaltending quandary for the better half of the past month and how it might sort itself out. As we’ve discussed, there are six NHL/AHL caliber goaltenders at a table that seats just four.

For starters, we could have some clarity during the draft if general manager Ron Hextall makes a trade (or two) that would give the Flyers a draft pick, a prospect or a player that can help the team next season.

I expect Hextall to work the phones to find an interested team for Petr Mrazek, or inevitably he becomes a free agent on July 1.

Brian Elliott returns as the Flyers' No. 1 when 100 percent healthy.

Carter Hart is the future franchise netminder and he needs to play and play a lot, which is why you can pencil him in as the starter for Lehigh Valley to begin next season.

That leaves injury-plagued Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz (also returning from major knee surgery) and Alex Lyon. I just don’t see the organization parting ways with Stolarz (a 2012 second-round pick) until it knows with certainty what it has once he’s healthy.

I would take all five goaltenders into training camp come September and let the situation play itself out. There’s plenty of injury risk on this team so why deplete the position especially when you consider how last season unfolded.

Tom Dougherty
Guess what. As another summer approaches, we're left talking Flyers goaltending. Fun!

I don't know how the Flyers can go into next season trusting Neuvirth. He has another year left on his contract, but there are ways around that. Neuvirth is a talented goalie who can never stay healthy. He's unreliable and that's a problem.

The Flyers have a goalie numbers problem. Lyon and Stolarz are restricted free agents and Hart is turning pro. Unless Hart shocks all, he'll be with the Phantoms full-time.

If the Flyers' plan is to bring back both Elliott and Neuvirth, that leaves one spot open in Lehigh Valley and that spot belongs to Lyon. He earned another contract with his play down the stretch, in the AHL playoffs and his time with the Flyers last season.

It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Stolarz returns to the club. It's a shame because he lost his spot on the depth chart because of injury, but that's hockey. If Neuvirth comes back, it's safe to say one of the AHL goalies will see NHL time next season.

There's too much of an unknown with Stolarz's health to choose him over Lyon. Theoretically, both could come back. The Flyers own both of their rights. But I could see Hextall trading Stolarz to let him get a fresh start elsewhere.

If I was in charge, I would find a way to move on from Neuvirth and allow Lyon and Stolarz duke it out for the NHL backup job. The loser heads to Lehigh Valley to mentor Hart.

Jordan Hall
It's never a bad time to talk goalies in Philadelphia, right?

Currently, there's a boatload to break down.

I don't see a major problem heading into the season with Elliott and Neuvirth as your tandem again. If both are healthy — I understand that's a big if — they can be reliable and have shown that to the Flyers with stretches of play. Both goalies are on the final year of their contract, so you enter 2018-19 with those two as your guys and if they can't stay injury free, then the good thing is the organization has options.

Right now, it just feels like Stolarz is the odd man out. You can probably bet Hextall is working the phones a tad on Neuvirth, Stolarz and obviously Mrazek. A trade is more than possible, but Hextall won't decimate his depth just because the Flyers have a lot of players at one position.

Ultimately, I don't foresee any big surprises. Looks like Elliott-Neuvirth in Philly and Lyon-Hart waiting in the wings at Lehigh Valley.

More on Flyers' goalies

• Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Elliott?

• Why Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

Are Flyers next? How Hart won over his junior GM

• After incredible effort, Lyon solidifies case for contract

Analyzing Flyers' free-agent class, Part 2

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USA Today Images

Analyzing Flyers' free-agent class, Part 2

Here's Part 2 of our two-part series analyzing the Flyers' free-agent class.

For Part 1, click here.

Brandon Manning (UFA)
Manning is one of the players who general manager Ron Hextall informed will not be retained. Manning can have an exceptional game and then follow up with a real clunker. However, he brings a combination of offensive awareness coupled with physicality that you don’t see all that often while playing an average of 18 minutes over the past two seasons.

Comparable player: Brenden Dillon, Sharks
Both players inject a rugged, physical presence along with the occasional offensive punch. However, Dillon is more imposing and doesn’t lose coverage as often as Manning. Because of his unique combination of size and skill, Dillon secured a five-year extension with the Sharks worth $16.3 million in 2015.

Outlook: Don’t be surprised if teams like Vancouver or Edmonton pursue Manning, who would like to be closer to family in Western Canada, and offer him a two-year contract in the $3-4 million ($1.5 AAV) range. Manning is capable of becoming a solid third-pairing defenseman if he lands in the right situation. 

Petr Mrazek (RFA)
After three wins in his first three starts with the Flyers, Mrazek lost out on a major opportunity when he failed to secure the Flyers' No. 1 job heading into the playoffs. His play was very streaky and his agent will argue that his client has never been given the opportunity to become a full-time starter. 

Comparable player: Robin Lehner, Sabres
Interestingly, both goaltenders are roughly the same age, making the same money with very similar numbers over the past few seasons, and both guys are now free agents. Lehner is a much bigger presence in net. Personally, I prefer Lehner, who was surrounded by a defensively porous Sabres squad over the past three seasons. 

Outlook: Mrazek’s not coming back to Philadelphia, so look for Hextall to trade him for a draft pick/player later this month. He has some value, but it’s hard to say what that is right now as the other franchises internally sort out their depth charts and determine how much they value Mrazek, who appears to be more of a backup to an established starter.

Matt Read (UFA)
Hextall informed Read that the Flyers will not be looking to re-sign the 31-year-old forward, who spent the majority of the season with the Phantoms. 

Comparable player: Rich Peverley
It’s hard to find an identical case to Read, who played four years at Bemidji State before earning a roster spot coming straight out of camp in 2011. Read then proceeded to record two 20-goal seasons. Peverley played four years at St. Lawrence University before a breakout season with the Atlanta Thrashers, but was never able to duplicate that and was out of the league in 2015 at the age of 32.

Outlook: The Flyers gave Read’s agent permission to seek a trade this season, and while there may have been slight interest, no one wanted to absorb the $3.625 cap hit or at least half that value. I suspect teams will look at Read after the first wave of free-agent signings. He may have to accept a one-year, two-way deal near league minimum with incentives or possibly take a professional tryout entering training camp.

Anthony Stolarz (RFA)
It was just a year ago the Flyers elected to protect Stolarz over Michal Neuvirth in the expansion draft to protect their second-round pick from the 2012 draft. However, offseason knee surgery derailed Stolarz’s season, and as a result, he couldn’t take the next step in his development. 

Comparable player: John Gillies, Flames
I once likened Stolarz’s situation to Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, as both were selected in the 2012 draft and went from the NAHL to college. Believe it or not, Hellebuyck was a fifth-round selection and has now joined the NHL’s elites. Gillies is a more suitable comparison and has a similar stature as Stolarz. The Flames have been very patient in his development as well. 

Outlook: With Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, there’s an internal logjam at the goaltending position, which is not a bad problem to have. The discussions surrounding Stolarz will be extensive as the Flyers decide what’s the best decision moving forward. This is one I simply can’t predict, but a player of his size will have value for an outside organization looking to improve.

Flyers' goaltending grades and outlook for next season

Flyers' goaltending grades and outlook for next season

Over the next several days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. First up, goaltending: 

Brian Elliott

Regular Season:
(23-11-7, 2.66 GAA, .909 save percentage)

Playoffs: C- 
(1-3, 4.74 GAA, .856 save percentage)

Elliott seized the starting job at the beginning of the season and helped pull the team out of the depths of a 10-game winless streak. His quality start percentage of .476 was below league average, but he was solid in games when given a lead until he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery in February. Dave Hakstol pulled “Moose” in two of the four playoff games he started in the playoffs.

Elliott admitted he needed to tear up the scar tissue once he resumed hockey activities to gain a full range of motion. A month ago, the pain was so unbearable it prevented him from putting on shoes and socks. He certainly wasn’t healthy in the six games he played in April, which contributed to his poor play and he’s still dealing with issues. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Philadelphia and expects to be 100 percent by training camp.

2018-19 outlook: Elliott has one year remaining on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2017 and will enter 2018-19 as the Flyers’ starting goaltender as long as he’s healthy.  

Michal Neuvirth

Regular Season: B- 
(9-7-3, 2.60 GAA, .915 save percentage)

Playoffs:
(1-1, 4.40 GAA, .847 save percentage)

How unreliable was Neuvirth this season? At no point did Neuvirth start three consecutive games as he was plagued with a multitude of injuries. Had the Flyers won Sunday, Game 7 would have been the first time. Neuvirth was solid in the Flyers’ Game 5 victory in Pittsburgh, but he wouldn’t have overcome the Flyers' defensive breakdowns over the course of an entire series.   

Neuvirth will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips and his injury frequency has now led him to hire sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, Neuvirth's third different trainer over the past three years. Francilia has been instrumental in the offseason conditioning of goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Devan Dubnyk. “It’s going to be hard for my family,” Neuvirth said. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Kelowna, British Columbia. 

2018-19 outlook: Like Elliott, Neuvirth is signed through next season and will likely start the season as Elliott’s backup. However, if the Flyers feel Neuvirth’s injury risk is too high, they may be more inclined to trade Neuvirth and bring in someone more reliable.

Petr Mrazek

Regular Season: C-
(14-13-6, 3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade
(1 GP, 3.87 GAA, .857 save percentage)

With three wins in his first three starts, Ron Hextall appeared to have engineered one of the great goaltending heists in Flyers history. However, reality set in and Mrazek’s game quickly tanked. In his final 13 regular starts, Mrazek allowed three or more goals in all but two of those games and was he pulled in the second period in one of those two. His only playoff action came in relief of Elliott in Game 1.

While Mrazek stated in his exit interview he was able to show teams what he could do once he got a chance to play, he ultimately cost himself millions of dollars by slumping in March.

2018-19 outlook: Mrazek is a restricted free agent and the Flyers can qualify him at 105 percent of his $4 million salary for next season. No way that happens, so the Flyers can attempt to trade Mrazek to a team that will qualify him or he will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. 

Alex Lyon

Regular Season: B-
(4-2-1, 2.75 GAA, .905 save percentage)

Playoffs: No grade

With injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth, Lyon provided stability during a stormy period when the Flyers’ season could have gone off the rails. He earned his first win in relief on Neuvirth at Madison Square Garden, and for whatever reason, Lyon had considerably better numbers coming off the bench. He had a tendency of lunging for pucks and he looked unsettling at times, but still found a way to get the job done.  

2018-19 outlook: Lyon is the Phantoms’ starter in the AHL playoffs, but with the addition of Carter Hart next season and the impending health of Anthony Stolarz, there’s a chance Lyon could be third on the depth chart as the Flyers could have a rare surplus in goaltending at the minor league level. Don’t be surprised if Lyon is traded this summer to a team that may view him as an NHL backup or an AHL starter.