General manager Chuck Fletcher has made three major trades in the Flyers’ Great Summer Makeover, but there is still a less glamorous move he figures to make this week: adding a quality backup goalie.
The move is ultra-critical for a couple of reasons.
For one, if Carter Hart struggles like he did last season, the No. 2 guy will get lots of action.
For another, the schedule has been condensed a bit because of the proposed Olympic break. That means two goalies will be needed to give each ample rest, and Fletcher expects his backup to play at least 30 games.
The Flyers appear to be hunting for someone more durable than pending unrestricted free agent Brian Elliott, who at 36, is still a warrior but probably can’t be counted upon to play 30 or more games at a high level.
Hart, who turns 23 on Aug. 13, regressed stunningly last season, compiling a 3.67 goals-against average and an .877 save percentage. He had the Flyers’ worst goals-against average (minimum: 25 games) since Tommy Soderstrom’s 4.01 GAA in 1993-94. Hart has a great pedigree and is expected to rebound, but there are no guarantees.
Hence, the need for a strong No. 2. Felix Sandstrom, who is among the Flyers’ goalie prospects, doesn’t appear ready for that role this season.
Free agency starts Wednesday at noon, and there are a handful of goalies who could interest the Flyers, who will also search the trade market.
After they sign restricted free agents Hart and Travis Sanheim, the Flyers are expected to have about $4.7 million in cap space. Most of that will go toward a No. 2 goalie. They are also interested in a penalty-killing forward and a depth defenseman, but they need them to be inexpensive unless they trade a player and lose his cap hit.
Here are some goalie possibilities, listed alphabetically:
Frederik Andersen, 31, Toronto, UFA: He struggled through an injury-plagued season in 2021 (2.96 GAA, .895 save percentage), but his eight-year career numbers (2.65, .915) are solid.
Jonathan Bernier, 32, Carolina, UFA: Signing him makes lots of sense. He won the 2012 Stanley Cup while a backup for the Kings when Dean Lombardi, now a Flyers senior adviser, was L.A.’s general manager. Bernier is still effective — he and had a .914 save percentage last season with the lowly Red Wings — and would be a great mentor for Hart. While with L.A., he also worked with Kim Dillabaugh, now the Flyers’ goalie coach.
John Gibson, 28, Anaheim (under contract): His name is in lots of rumors, but his contract — he has six years left with an annual cap hit of $6.4 million — makes it difficult to move him unless the Ducks eat a huge chunk of his salary. Once a top goalie, his play has dipped in recent years, and a change of scenery may benefit the Pittsburgh native.
Philipp Grubauer, 29, Colorado, UFA: He is an extreme long shot and, if he doesn’t return to the Avs, will probably go somewhere as a starter. He was 30-9-1 last season and led the NHL with a 1.95 GAA.
Jaroslav Halak, 36, Boston (UFA): He faded a bit during a season, during which he battled COVID-19, and his age makes him a long shot for the Flyers. That said, his track record is impressive. He is not returning to the B’s.
Braden Holtby, 31, Vancouver (under contract): He has one year left on a contract that has a $4.3 million cap hit, and the Flyers would try to get the Canucks to eat some of it. He is coming off the worst season of his career (3.67, .889) , but he is close to Hart, has won a Stanley Cup, and the Flyers might gamble that he rebounds.
Darcy Kuemper, 31, Arizona (under contract): He has a year left on a deal that has a $4.5 million cap hit. Kuemper reportedly is not interested in an extension, and Arizona would like to move him. He had a 2.56 GAA and a .907 save percentage last season but was superb the previous year (2.22, .928).
Petr Mrazek, 29, Carolina, UFA: Mrazek struggled mightily with the Flyers in 17 games in 2017-18 but has since been a quality goaltender in Carolina. Hindered by injuries, he had a 2.06 GAA and .923 save percentage in just 12 games last season and lost his starter’s job to impressive rookie Alex Nedeljkovic.
James Reimer, 33, Carolina, UFA: Reimer had his second straight season with a 2.66 GAA for Carolina, while his save percentage dipped from .914 to .906. He is a steady but not dominating goaltender.
Linus Ullmark, 27, Buffalo, UFA: The Sabres protected him in the expansion draft, but will they be able to re-sign him? If not, he would fit in nicely with the Flyers because he is young and has the ability to play lots of games. In an injury-plagued season, he had a 2.63 GAA, a .917 save percentage, and a commendable 9-6-3 record with the woeful Sabres, whose other goalies went a combined 6-28-4. He may be too expensive for the Flyers.
The Flyers signed defenseman Samuel Morin, 26, to a one-year deal worth $750,000. He could have been an unrestricted free agent Wednesday. He had one goal and was minus-7 in 20 games with the Flyers last season. ... Fletcher said the Flyers’ developmental camp will be held in Voorhees on still-to-be-determined dates in late August. It hasn’t been decided whether fans will be able to attend, but that seems probable. ... The Flyers have extended qualifying offers to RFAs Hart, Sanheim, Connor Bunnaman, and David Kase.