Better With Popcorn

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The conclusion to the 2010-11 season did not end the way that anyone in Philadelphia would have hoped. Coming off of a Finals appearance last June, the Flyers amassed the third-best record in the NHL this season, and many believed this would be the year that Lord Stanley would return to Broad Street.

But alas, the 2010-11 season came and went without a title just like the 36 seasons before it and rather than enjoying a celebration of epic proportions, the Flyers faithful are left with nothing more than speculation. Speculation about next season, speculation about which players will be staying, speculation about which ones will be going, and speculation about who the Flyers will be bringing in to guard the net.

And that is exactly what has occurred since the Boston Bruins effortlessly swept the Flyers out of the rinks and onto the golf links…endless speculation. Although the Flyers may need a true number one goalie, that shouldn’t cause the organization to rid themselves of key players. This team is on the cusp of something special, and while some may believe that a major shake up is necessary, the truth may be that the pieces are already there and just need to be allowed to fall into place.

It has been made very clear that fans want the Flyers to go out and get a legitimate number one goaltender. Even team owner Ed Snider has addressed the topic. Rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovosky began the year on fire, but burned out before the postseason, leaving the masses wondering if he can really handle the job at this stage of his career.

Brian Boucher is an unrestricted free agent who played fairly consistently this season, but soft goals in the playoffs have left many looking at greener pastures, pastures that don’t include the aging veteran.

But is goaltending really the reason that the Flyers are watching their TV’s instead of playing on them?

The loss of Chris Pronger has largely been credited as the reason for the Flyers' decline. Based on the numbers, it seems clear that this was certainly the case. The most telling statistic? Ice time. Pronger takes up a lot of ice time, which means he handles more responsibility than others. This also means that if he is on the ice, someone else is off of it and resting. It’s easy to focus upon goals, assists, and plus/minus rating, but to truly understand where the fall of this team originated, ice time averages are a good place to start.

In the 2010 run to the Cup, the Flyers largely played a four man d-core that saw Pronger and partner Matt Carle playing in excess of 29 minutes per game. The organization actively tried to reinforce this unit so that they would no longer have to rely so heavily upon four guys. Defensemen Dan Hamhuis and goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco were individuals that the Flyers actively tried to bring into the organization. After all three men turned the team down, they went out and acquired Andrej Meszaros and free agent Sean O’Donnell to try and solidify their defensive unit.

Because the team couldn’t find a goaltender via free agency, the plan was to have a deep positional team with average goaltending. The depth of the offense was supposed to provide a large amount of goals and the defense was supposed to compensate for the lack of superstar talent in net. This strategy worked for the majority of the season, right until March rolled around.

At the beginning of the year, Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, and Kimmo Timonen averaged around 22 minutes of ice time per game. Braydon Coburn averaged 20 minutes and Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros averaged around 18 minutes per game.

By March 8th, the end of Pronger’s regular season, Carle, Coburn, and Timonen all had to increase their minutes to around 24 per game. Andrej Meszaros jumped all the way up to around 26 minutes per game and while every one else was increasing their ice time, Sean O’Donnell dropped all the way down to 13 minutes per game.

The 2010-11 Flyers were constructed with the philosophy that they would roll a full six-man defense in order to avoid unbalanced ice time averages. With the injury to Chris Pronger and the decline of Sean O’Donnell, the team once again went into the postseason with only four trusted defensemen. At times this team looked tired, fatigued, and uninterested. Can all of that be attributed to playing too many minutes? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly didn’t hurt.

With Chris Pronger’s future in the air and Kimmo Timonen’s career winding to an end, this team’s defense is no longer the powerhouse that it was in 2010. Considering how tight the salary cap is, as well as how many young, talented defensemen are in the Flyers’ system, it doesn’t seem to make sense for the club to go out and try to re-create a stacked defensive unit.

This is precisely why going out and finding a goalie makes the most sense.

That being said, it is important to realize that this team has consistently improved over the last five years. To blow up the team now in order to get a big name goaltender is just plain silly. Plenty of teams in the post-lockout NHL have proven that consistent goaltending can be just as, if not more productive, than a big name superstar. Look no further than Henrik Lundqvist in New York and Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay.

Lundqvist is a perennial Vezina trophy finalist and Roloson is a 41-year-old journeyman catching fire late in his career. Even though Lundqvist is consistently in contention for individual awards he has never even come close to competing for a Stanley Cup. Roloson is on the verge of his second appearance as a starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup finals, after just a single appearance in the 2004 All-Star game as his major NHL accolade.

Just because a goaltender has an established name does not mean that he will be able to push the Flyers over the edge and into a parade on Broad Street. Considering that the Flyers haven’t had a “number one” kind of guy in so long, it’s easy to say that that's the reason why the team hasn’t won a championship. Keep in mind, even if it’s easy to say, that doesn’t mean it’s true.

Just ask Curtis Joseph and Ron Hextall if their names ever helped them win cups.

Would it hurt to have a big name number one? No, but it’s important to remember that big name number ones also come with big number contracts . The Flyers goaltending may not have been the strongest element of the 2010-11 team, but they are not the only reason that the team’s season finished on May 6th.

The biggest mistake that this organization can make going into 2011 would be to overreact this offseason. Regardless of the disappointing postseason results, this team is among the best in the NHL. Getting a goalie just to get a goalie won’t fix any thing, and certainly won’t help if they have to give up too much to get him. Players with the talent of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter don’t grow on trees. If the Flyers make the mistake of trading either of those players away, it would be a mistake that would undoubtedly come back to haunt them.

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Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

Your final paragraph said it all. If the flyers overreact and reach out to a goaltender, they could find themselves wondering what could have happened. With very little cap room it will be very tough for them to find the right guy at the right price. Their defense has aged rapidly within the past season. Whether it was from the long playoff last season or what, the guys like O'Donnell, Timmonen, and Pronger seemed to be quite injury prone and just flat out tired by the second round. Depending on their D's contracts, I would think to get alittle younger on the blueline is key. I also think they screwed up a little bit with the Versteeg trade. It was both too much to trade away and really not something they needed. I thought they had the deepest forward core in the East if not the NHL. It will be interesting to see how they handle this loss and I hope they dont try something rash or else they might really hurt themselves instead of helping.

George Prax's picture

While you're more tuned in to the Flyers issues than I am, I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you here. Yes, losing Pronger was the catalyst to the Flyers eventual demise in the playoffs, but why did it have to be? The Canadiens lost Markov and Gorges for most of the season, and they're not nearly as strong as the Flyers are everywhere else in their line-up... except for between the pipes. Ya, they lost to the Bruins, but they weren't embarrassed by the Bruins, in fact, I think nearly everyone can agree that the end result of that series could have been completely different. So why did the team that struggled and nearly got upset by the Canadiens turn around and embarrass a cup favorite?

Switch Boucher or who ever with Carey Price, and there's no way the Flyers lose that series. It's pretty obvious that no matter how many games Pronger misses, goaltending is the issue there. Injuries are a reality for every team and they're no excuse, especially when the other five defensemen on the team are no pushovers. The sheer amount of goals the Flyers allowed, and how bad a lot of them were is pretty clear evidence that goaltending is the problem, and that it needs to be addressed this summer. The Flyers don't have a Carey Price in their system so it's going to have to be dealt with externally, and after basically two years of this being an issue I don't think it would be a rash decision to finally address it.

Matthew Brigidi's picture

Thats a fair argument and you're allowed to have your opinion. But in my opinion, the goaltending was not the only reason Boston blew up the scoresheet. To say that the Flyers have five defensemen who are no pushovers is not entirely true. As I tried to prove above, Sean O'Donnell's minutes drastically decreased consistently through out the season. In addition to his time on the ice, his play on the ice just as consistently declined. Kimmo Timonen had some rough patches towards the end of the year that put on full display that he is 36 years old. Most disappointing to me was the play of Matt Carle. I know Frank Servelli is a big fan of Carle and I fully agree that he is a talented defensemen, but his play this year was not to the level that I would have hoped for. Even when Pronger was out there with him, he made some poor pinches and plays with the puck throughout the year.

The defense had some talented players that made up its unit. Those defensemen made little mistakes throughout the year that came back to bite them when the all the chips were on the table. The goalies, while not completely absolved from blame, became the fall guy for a lot of mistakes that defenders made.

To correlate the Bruins-Flyers series to the Canadiens-Bruins series isn't really fair to me. The Canadiens won four of six match ups against Boston this year. Boston won three of four against the Flyers. The Bruins blew out the Flyers then got blown out in game one against the Lightning. Sometimes teams just matchup better against other teams.

In regards to Carey Price, the Flyers could quite possibly have that man in Sergei Bobrovosky. In Price's first year in the NHL he went 24-12-3 with a 2.56 GAA and a .920 save %. Bob went 28-13-8 with a 2.59 GAA and a .915 save %. Bob came right from Russia to the NHL. Price had 12 games in Hamilton (that is over two years, meaning a whole summer too) before playing in the NHL. Bob hit the ground running and until the end of the year he looked great and even then he rebounded from a rough patch in February to tie together some real strong games at the end of the year that shows he has heart.

All in all, my point is the pieces are there. If you can get a goalie at a good price, and no I don't mean low balling some guy, I mean without trading a crucial piece of your puzzle, then by all means get him. But moving Jeff Carter or Mike Richards to bring in a goalie is not going to make this team better.