PART 1 OF FLYERS' OFFSEASON RECAP: Goaltending
If there is one aspect of the Flyers' goaltending situation for next season that is settled, it is that Sergei Bobrovsky will be in the mix. That much is certain.
Few have ever doubted Bobrovsky's talent since he first arrived in Philadelphia last September as an unknown commodity.
Now, the only question that Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren will wrestle with this summer, is if he has the patience to allow a young goaltender like Bobrovsky time to continue to develop in front of a team that is built to win now.
"I like Sergei a lot," Holmgren said during his annual breakup meeting with the media on Tuesday. "I think he is a good kid, and a tremendously young goaltender in our league. How that plays out down the road, in terms of when he will be the number 1 goalie? Which I do believe he will, I don't know.
"Could it be next year? There was a time this year [when he was], so I think we just have to see how things play out over the summer. But I am very excited about Sergei as a goaltender, and being a part of our organization."
Holmgren acknowledged that he does not view this current team, as it is assembled, on a time window.
"We still have a core of players that have a lot of years left," Holmgren said. "I don't know what the window is, to be honest with you."
Peter Laviolette said on Monday that he agreed he would like to have a goaltender that he would not have to guess his way through – or one that he would need to change on a consistent basis. Laviolette seems like the type of coach to want to stick with one player repeatedly, or until he has no other option.
What Holmgren needs to ask himself is whether he is willing to ship out a big part of this nucleus (i.e. one of Jeff Carter or Mike Richards) in order to make room for a marquee goaltender.
Tomas Vokoun (Florida) and Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix) are just a few of the names on the market this summer. Every indication out of Vancouver is that many believe Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo's backup, is ready to assume a No. 1 role immediately. Some say Anders Lindback (Nashville) is ready for a starting job as Pekka Rinne's clone.
"Obviously, that is something that needs to be discussed," Holmgren said. "I think we have to take a look at some things. As I said, I am extremely excited about Sergei and confident that he is a goaltender in the future. I think Peter's response to you probably had Sergei in the equation too, so I think we are all extremely high on him. We are always looking try to make ourselves better, at every position, so that is what we will continue to do. The idea here is to win a Stanley Cup. We fell short this year and last year."
Truthfully, the Flyers do not have to go out and acquire any goaltender for next season. Bobrovsky has two years left on his entry-level deal. Michael Leighton ($1.6 million) is under contract for one more season. And Johan Backlund, who struggled through an injury last summer which affected his season, has the final year of his contract flip-flop to a one-way NHL deal starting in July.
"Both of those guys are unique in their situations," Holmgren said. "Johan [Backlund] had a hip issue last year that he struggled with even at the start of this year. He really didn't start playing a lot until the end of the season and started playing good at the end of the year. I think it's a big summer for Johan to see where he fits in. He needs to come to training camp and basically try to win a job.
"And Michael Leighton, his situation is probably not all that different than Johan. He played in one game this year in L.A. and we won 7 to 4. At that point, we made a decision that he needed to go down and work on his game, which he did. When he came back to the team, he played a little bit of the one game, the overtime loss, I thought he played good. Then he got his chance to start and he didn't play good. He is sort of in the same boat as Johan. I think Michael's got to, with the hip surgery he needs, he's got to be around here all summer, working with our medical staff and our training staff to get that strength and to get ready for training camp. I think he's probably going to want a job in training camp too."
For me, I am not one to place all of the blame on the Flyers' misfortune in the playoffs squarely on the shoulders of Boucher, Bobrovsky, et al. Boucher had nearly a 95 percent save percentage in the first round. What more can you ask? Each goaltender had hiccups where they gave up bad goals. That will happen. But the Flyers got through it.
Against Boston, could Boucher have played better? Absolutely. But the goals that were scored – see Zdeno Chara's laser from the middle of the slot – would still be scored on Bryzgalov, Vokoun or even Jacques Plante. No goaltender, top notch or not, will stop those point-blank opportunities.
But now… the Flyers are at a crossroads. Only Holmgren can decide if the juice is worth the squeeze.
PART 2 ON THURSDAY: The free agents
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