"You can't have enough goaltending," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said a couple of times over this past summer, once when signing Alex Lyon to a two-year, two-way deal, once when signing the twice-injured Anthony Stolarz to another one-year, two-way deal as well.
At that point, it was hard to figure where all five goalies the Flyers had under contract were going to play. Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott both were expected to be ready for Thursday's opener. Carter Hart, who they hope will develop into that franchise goaltender they have pined decades for, had to play regularly for the Phantoms. Stolarz and Lyon needed to play somewhere too. Reading? Portland, where Comcast-Sportsnet had moved their newly purchased ECHL franchise?
The ECHL seemed like a harsh reality for two young goaltenders who already had performed adequately at the NHL level.
It all seems silly now. Stolarz will begin the season as the Flyers' backup, and given Elliott's cautiously measured rehab schedule, is likely to play his first NHL game in 18 months at some point next month.
That's because Neuvirth is injured again, with a lower body injury that, when we last saw him skate from the ice, seemed groin related. And it's because Lyon too also came up with a lower body injury at an inopportune time for both him and his career.
With the exception perhaps of his final appearance with the Flyers, Hart played well enough to wear an NHL uniform, but the Flyers are desperate not to accelerate the 20-year-old's development, and given the team's miserable track record of developing goaltenders, who can fault them? Flyers fans don't want to hear this, but the much-anticipated goalie tandem of Hart and Swedish prospect Felix Sandstrom is at least a season away.
Meanwhile, here's the 2018-19 rundown:
Brian Elliott: His play from December until he was injured in early February may have been the biggest reason the Flyers were able to reach the playoffs. Indeed, before he was hurt, the Flyers briefly held first in the Metro Division and remained in striking distance of whoever held that spot. But Elliott's two surgeries since (core muscle, hip), and his age (33) suggest that banking on a recurrence of that this season would be foolhardy.
Michal Neuvirth: As frustrating as his up and down play has been over the x years he has been with this franchise, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for the guy. After a stellar playoff performance against Washington three springs ago, Neuvy, it was hoped, was finally ready to be the No.1 guy that his ability suggested he could be. A slew of injuries, surgery to both hips this season, and a recent groin injury that has him on the shelf indefinitely make that seem like a cruel joke.
Anthony Stolarz: Neuvirth is not likely to get much sympathy from Stolarz, who twice tore his left MCL, costing him the end of the 2016-17 season, and all but a few late AHL and ECHL games last season. Stolly appears to have stepped into a little luck this year however, as he will start the season as Elliott's backup.
Alex Lyon: The former Yale standout was a pleasant surprise last season, filling the void left by Elliott and Neuvirth admirably. He changed minds enough to earn a two-year, two-way deal this summer, and was in line to be Elliott's backup until he suffered his own groin injury during an early exhibition game against the Islanders. Still, Lyon is expected back by the end of the month, giving the Flyers at least some reassurance.
Carter Hart: Two quotes from his untypical mediocre start against the Rangers last week should make fans feel good about their team's future between the pipes. "The biggest thing for me when things aren't going my way is to just compete," he said. "Take a deep breath and just compete on all pucks. On everything." Hart may only be 20, but he's worked with a sports psychologist from an early age and been exposed to big-time pressure as Canada's goaltender in two consecutive Junior World Championships. Got a great head on his shoulders. Hopefully that translates on the ice.