Have the Flyers Finally Solved Their Goalie Problem? Unlikely!
The Flyers were in just their seventh season when they won the Stanley Cup in 1974. They won another one in 1975. Two Stanley Cups in eight years! If the Flyers had stayed near that pace, they’d have had 9 or 10 more Cups by 2013.
Unfortunately for Flyers fans, the team did not keep winning Cups. The last time the team won a Stanley Cup was 1975. Frank Rizzo was mayor. City Hall was the tallest building in the Philly. The NHL had 18 teams.
They have had chances.
Ed Snider has signed big-name free agents and traded for future stars. They’ve been through a succession of coaches and general managers. None of it has worked out: They’ve been to the Stanley Cup Final six times since their last championship, most recently in 2010, but haven’t won. About the only thing they haven’t tried is putting Huey, Dewey and Louie out there.
But the main issue is goaltending. You may not know this, but before he was a sex columnist for Philly.com, Bernie Parent was a Hall of Fame goaltender for the Flyers. (Look it up! It’s even listed first on his Wikipedia page!) Parent started the first Flyers’ first game, a 5-1 loss to the now-defunct California Seals, and split goaltending duties with Doug Favell the first few seasons. After being traded to Toronto and a stint with the Philadelphia Blazers of the rival World Hockey Association, Parent returned to the Flyers and was in net for both Stanley Cup wins.
Since Parent, well, things have been a little shaky. The Flyers have had good goaltenders. They’ve even had great goaltenders. But no matter who the Flyers put in net, they always seem to have a goaltending problem.
But perhaps this is the year. The Flyers didn’t make the playoffs last year for only the second time in 18 seasons, but they made changes in the offseason. They bought out two bad contracts, including oft-maligned goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The team signed Vincent Lecavalier in the offseason, a goal-scoring machine from French Canada who probably spends his summers at the Fleur de Lis Motel in Wildwood. The Flyers now play in the Metropolitan Division, a new division that contains all the teams in the NHL that play in big cities. The Rural Division contains the Florida Panthers (Sunrise, Fla.), the New York Islanders (Uniondale, N.Y.) and the team from Mystery, Alaska. (Um, these are the actual new divisions.) And, yes, they have a new goaltender.
Sports Illustrated‘s NHL preview this year promises the “Flyers may have solved their netminder problem” with the signing of Ray Emery. But he’s not even starting tonight! The Flyers traded for Steve Mason late last season. Broad Street Hockey noted he is “the worst statistical goaltender to hold on to a starting role since the 2005 lockout.” Mason is starting tonight.
But don’t get too excited about Emery or Mason or Neil Little or whoever the Flyers decide to put in net. The Flyers solving their goaltending problem has been a storyline for years:
- “Save! Flyers Solve Goaltending Problem; Boucher-Bobrovsky Share Job,” gantdaily.com, 2011.
- “Ilya Bryzgalov Answers the Goaltending Question for the Flyers,” Bob Long Sports, 2011.
- “Flyers offseason moves should settle goaltender issue,” Inside Hockey, 2010.
- “Flyers: Solved their goaltending problems for the time being by acquiring Sean Burke from Phoenix,” Vancouver Sun, 2004.
- “Flyers solve goaltending problem, The Goalie Store forum thread headline, 2003 (the headline and first post are satirical, but other posters think it’s a good move).
- “Flyers Try To Solve Problems–Start New Goalie Tonight,” Allentown Morning Call headline, 1999.
- “The Philadelphia Flyers solved their goaltending problems once and for all by signing unrestricted free agent John Vanbiesbrouck to a two-year contract with a third year club option,” TheHockeyNut.com, 1999.
- “Flyers Riding High as Vanbiesbrouck Solves Goalie Woes,” Washington Post headline, 1999.
- “Prediction: Signing veteran John Vanbiesbrouck solved the Flyers’ goaltending problem,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1998.
You get the idea.
If this is the year the Flyers actually did solve their goaltending woes, it might be time to reflect on the Flyers’ starting goalies since they last won the Stanley Cup in the 1974-1975 season. Thanks to The Goalies Archive, my new favorite site, for compiling all the actual stats of the goalies year-by-year so I could just go through and write jokes.
1975-76: Ed Snider gave Parent a lifetime contract following the Flyers’ second Stanley Cup win. Perhaps this angered the hockey gods, for Parent missed all but 11 games of the season with nerve damage in his back and neck. He was never the same goalie again. Wayne Stephenson started 66 of the Flyers games that year. Parent played a bit in the playoffs, but wasn’t on form. The Flyers gave up a ton of goals in the Stanley Cup Final, losing in four games to the Canadiens.
1976-77 to 1977-78: Parent played about 70 percent of the games the next two years, with Stephenson getting most of the rest. Stephenson, who sat out the first part of the season in a contract dispute, had a clever goalie mask design incorporating the Flyers logo. Someone should definitely do this again. Awesome fact about Stephenson from his 2010 obituary: After a playoff win filling in for Parent in 1975, “he celebrated with a can of Schaeffer beer.” The Flyers lost in the NHL semi-finals each year.
1978-79: Parent suffered a career ending-injury after an errant stick struck him in the eye midway through the season. Stephenson started most of the games the rest of the way. The Flyers lost in the NHL quarter-finals.
1979-80: Parent was gone. Stephenson was gone. In their place were Pete Peeters and Phil Myre. Peeters might have played for the Flyers earlier, except for this: During the previous season, he refused to report to the team after being called up from the minor leagues. It was Christmastime, and he wanted to be with his family and wife in Maine. Myer and Peeters were the goaltenders during the team’s fantastic 35-game unbeaten streak that year, and Myre recently blogged about it. If you enjoyed those posts, he’s also a motivational speaker! The Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup Final.
1980-81 to 1981-82: Peeters (40 games), Myre (16) and Rick St. Croix (27) shared goaltending duties in 80-81. Rick St. Croix now runs the aptly-named Rick St. Croix School of Goaltending. He’s also the goalie coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Peeters and St. Croix split goaltending duties the following season, with a young Pelle Lindbergh getting eight starts. The Flyers lost in the quarterfinals both years.
1982-83 through 1983-84: Peeters was traded at the end of the season; a reporter had accused him of assault during the previous year. Naturally, Peeters went on to win the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender in 82-83. But don’t fret: That young goalie who played eight games in the previous season, Pelle Lindbergh, started 40 games and helped the team to a 106-point season in 82-83. He split time with Bob Froese the next year. Though the Flyers lost in the semifinals both years, they had solved their goaltending problems.
1984-85: Here we go. Lindbergh won the Vezina Trophy, the Flyers finished with a league-high 113 points and made it to the Stanley Cup Final. They lost to Edmonton, 4 games to 1, but that was to the mighty Wayne Gretzky — nothing to be ashamed of.
1985-86: After drinking in the Flyers’ combination team facility/nightclub after practice, Lindbergh crashed his car into a wall in Somerdale, N.J. He was taken off life support a few days later. His BAC was 0.26. His death left Froese and Darren Jensen in net; the Flyers lost in the division semifinals. Two streets in Far Northeast Philly are named after Lindbergh.
1986-87 to 1988-89: Just like that, the Flyers had another young goaltender. Ron Hextall was an excellent goaltender, but most importantly he actually scored a goal.
Best I can tell from this clip, the entire Flyers team came out onto the ice to celebrate with him even though the game wasn’t over? Sure, sounds like the right thing to do. Oh, yeah, then in 1989 Hextall scored in the playoffs.
Still, this is my favorite Ron Hextall highlight.
Ron Hextall never won a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, but based on these three YouTube clips he’s my favorite Flyers goalie. Sorry, Bernie.
The Flyers went to the Stanley Cup in 1986-87, losing again to Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in 7 games. Hextall even won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player of the playoffs. Hextall, incidentally, is now the Flyers’ assistant general manager, and will likely be the GM if Paul Holmgren gets fired.
1989-90: There’s one more good Ron Hextall video on YouTube.
That happened in the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (How dare Chris Chelios attack Brian Propp!) This got Hextall suspended for the first 12 games of the year. But then he held out, wanting a better contract. When he finally returned to the ice, he kept injuring his groin. Hextall’s aggressive style probably predisposed him to injuries; basically, the Flyers really should have taken advantage of their chance and won the Cup in 1987. Ken Wregget and a re-signed Pete Peeters split time this year with Hextall hurt. The Flyers missed the playoffs.
1990-91 to 1991-92: Hextall struggled to regain his form as Wregget, Peeters and Dominic Roussel filled in for him when he was injured. Also, in 1992 Hextall was suspended again, six games, for slashing a player in a preseason game. The Flyers missed the playoffs both years.
1992-93 to 1993-94: Dominic Roussel and Tommy Soderstrom split time in net, and the Flyers missed the playoffs both years. Also, hockey teams played 84 games these two seasons for some reason? Sure, why not.
1994-95 to 1995-96: Hextall was back! The Flyers traded Soderstrom and a draft pick to re-acquire Hextall, and they made the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 1995 season for the first time since 1989. Hextall actually returned to form in the playoffs in both seasons.
1996-97 to 1997-98: Hextall and Garth Snow (a better name than even Pete Peeters) alternated during these year. The Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997 and were favored to beat the Detroit Red Wings. Naturally, they were swept 4-0, with Hextall losing three of the games.
1998-99 to 1999-00: The Flyers had solved their goalie problem, acquiring John Vanbiesbrouck, who would surely lead them to another cup. In 2000, the Flyers actually rode rookie Brian Boucher to a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost three straight to end their season.
2000-01 to 2002-03: Roman Cechmanek, a third-round draft pick in 2000, quickly became the new solution to the Flyers’ goaltending woes. Wikipedia sums up his tenure in Philadelphia well: “Despite some excellent games, he had an equal number of horrible ones.”
2003-04 to 2008-09: Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett, Sean Burke, Antero Niittymaki and Martin Biron were all hailed as the solution to the Flyers’ goaltending problem. Esche didn’t speak to the media one postseason, earning the nickname Silent Bob. Hackett was diagnosed with vertigo, ending his career. Burke still apparently makes Flyers fans angry for some reason. Niitymaki was MVP (of the 2006 Winter Olympics—naturally, Finland lost in the gold medal game anyway). Biron said “I think expectations are really high,” then lasted one season.
2009-10: Goalie roulette! The Flyers signed Ray Emery and re-signed Brian Boucher to be their goaltenders before the season. But Emery suffered an abdominal tear and Boucher struggled. So the team acquired Michael Leighton off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes. Leighton went 8-0-1 after being picked up! Then he got hurt. The Flyers’ playoff chances naturally came down to a shootout in the last game of the season against the Rangers; Boucher, naturally, saved the Rangers’ last shot in the shootout and the Flyers went to the playoffs. Then they went to the Stanley Cup Final; midway through the second-round series, Boucher was injured. Leighton — who had just returned from his injury — was inserted into the lineup and the Flyers rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Bruins. In the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers played goalie roulette as Boucher and Leighton struggled. Leighton let in the winning goal, a pretty soft one, in overtime of Game 6.
2010-11: Okay, trust me this time: The Flyers had the answer to their goaltending woes. Sergei Bobrovsky, signed from Russia, impressed in training camp and started the team’s opener. He was just 22. He struggled in the playoffs, but plenty of young goalies struggle in the playoffs. He’d be fine.
2011-12 to 2012-13: Wait, no. This year the Flyers had the answer to their goalie problems. They signed Ilya Bryzgalov, a star with the Phoenix Coyotes, to a nine-year contract. On October 27, 2011, the Flyers lost a game 9-8. He became famous for (1) letting in goals and (2) saying things like “Solar system is so humongous big, right?” The latter was pretty awesome, the former not so much. Here’s how his Flyers career went, for the most part.
Now Bryzgalov is out of the NHL, released by the Flyers with a buyout. The Flyers traded Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets after the 2011-12 season. He is now considered one of the league’s best goaltenders, winning the Vezina Trophy last season.
Flyers fans can only hope Ray Emery really is the solution this year. Emery is easily the Flyers’ most fashionable goalie ever, with an endless number of expensive suits, watches, shoes and sports cars. He also once had a pet python. Steve Mason does not have an incredible wardrobe, as far as I know, but he does share a name with the guitarist for Christian alt folk rock band Jars of Clay.
I’m not sure if those facts help Emery or Mason tend goal, but I suppose they might. If not, hey, the Flyers can always try a different guy.