It’s all so very tired, this unending goaltending saga in Philadelphia.
For yet another season, all of the Flyers’ good deeds on the ice are being undermined by an ownership and management group that sees goaltending as Posh Spice sees minimum standards of nutrition: unnecessary, overrated and something only ordinary folk worry themselves sick over.
Look where it’s landed them: down 3-0 in the second round of the 2011 playoffs to the Boston Bruins, a team that looked decidedly ordinary in the opening round against the Montreal Canadiens. Some may say the series isn’t over and point to the Bruins’ infamous collapse against the Flyers last post-season as evidence the Black and Orange could make another historic comeback. Some others will reference the absence of defensive cornerstone Chris Pronger and argue his presence would have evened the playing surface or tilted it in Philly’s favor.
To those people I say: (a) c’mon; and (b) lay off the hookah pipe with the questionable contents inside. This series is effectively done. You could see it in the body language of Philadelphia’s players in the Bruins 5-1 Game 3 win on Wednesday. They must know, if not consciously then sub-consciously, that running the table in the next four games is going to be next to impossible, especially with Vezina Trophy candidate Tim Thomas performing spectacularly between Boston’s pipes.
As for Pronger, while it’s true he is one of the best defensive players in NHL history, even he could do nothing about the cavalcade of baby-butt soft goals allowed by Brian Boucher, Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton. Lack of dependable goaltending nearly did in the Flyers against Buffalo in Round 1 and it is clear now the only reason Philadelphia moved on was because the Sabres had run out of gas just trying to make the playoffs and had nothing left for Game 7 of that series.
You needn’t be a (so-called) hockey expert to know this edition of the Flyers has been let down by its goalies and the management that chose to interchange them as if they were acting out a hockey version of a change-of-clothes movie montage. And it seems to me there is absolutely no way owner Ed Snider and GM Paul Holmgren can look Philadelphians in their anger-reddened faces next fall and say, “You know what, paying customers, we’re going to stick with this philosophy until it works - and you’re going to like it.”
This year’s disintegration leaves the Flyers no option but to go out in their soon-to-arrive off-season and acquire a goalie who asserts himself from Day 1 as the clear No. 1. According to CapGeek.com, Holmgren has nearly $59 million dedicated to 18 players for next season (with some of his own players still to re-sign), leading many to conclude they’ll be unable to chase an unrestricted free agent such as Florida’s Tomas Vokoun or Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov.
But that’s no excuse. If freeing up enough money for a top-shelf goalie means the Flyers must cut in to some of that built up roster depth at forward or on the blueline, if it means saying goodbye to a beloved, but ultimately expendable guy such as Scott Hartnell, Jeff Carter or Matt Carle, so be it. The alternative, the status quo, is simply unacceptable.
Even if Holmgren decides he doesn’t want to spend upwards of $6 million a season on an unproven playoff goalie like Bryzgalov or Vokoun, there are other options the Flyers can pursue. Maybe Holmgren has to bowl over Vancouver counterpart Mike Gillis with a can’t-be-rejected offer for Canucks No. 2 Cory Schneider. Perhaps the Predators can be persuaded to part ways with backup Anders Lindback, or maybe Buffalo would listen to an offer for Ryan Miller’s understudy, Jhonas Enroth.
None of those options are bulletproof, but at this point they’ve all got far fewer bullet holes in them than the Flyers’ current setup. After so much heart-wrenching agony watching the current trio flail and fail, Flyers fans realize it is high time for a change in their team’s goalie-comes-after-everything-else philosophy.
Philly’s goaltending situation has become the Ronnie-and-Sammi-from-Jersey Shore saga of the NHL: everyone involved is utterly exhausted from hearing about it and coping with it and we all just want it to be over. Let’s pray the Pennsylvania powers-that-be finally recognize it.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.