It seems each time the rumor mill starts spinning, the Flyers just have to get their fingers on the handle for some extra inertia.
This time, those fingers find a familiar niche, simultaneously torquing the lever for trade rumors while sending the goaltending carousel into a nauseating whirlwind that can only end up with someone barfing and getting it all over everyone else. In this case, that barfing will be from about half of the world’s Flyers fans.
This time, the maelstrom centers on Jonathan Bernier, the young, talented, unproven backup (he’s never played more than 25 games) for the impressive Los Angeles Kings. According to various sources, anyone from the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild, and Florida Panthers are interested in his services in varying degrees, so by the time whichever deal goes down, it seems there will be a team in every division vying for his services. Which is bad news.
The Flyers don’t need a goaltender. How could that even be up for debate? Blaming Ilya Bryzgalov for the Flyers’ woes is like blaming your left arm for giving you a heart attack. The brilliant acquisition of Steve Mason gives the team the best tandem it has ever had; there is no denying that both tenders have troubled pasts, but they also have a psychotic level of talent and will push each other for starts. Lest we forget (and Philly fans make a case for a collective conscious marked by selective amnesia), Bryzgalov put the team on his back to start the season, and when both backups got lit up he started the rest of the games until Mason arrived, either in front of a team that couldn’t score, a defense that turned pucks over constantly, or both at the same time.
Bryzgalov isn’t without fault, but everyone on the team struggled at one point last season, and scapegoating a goalie in Philadelphia, at this point, is embarrassingly short-sighted. Worse than that, pedantically acquiring a new one hasn’t fixed anything. Ask Sergei Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, Ray Emery, Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett, and Roman Cechmanek. All of them had promising starts, and none of them were the answer.
In contrast, look at any other team who is cozy with their starting goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur, Jonathan Quick, Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford, and Ryan Miller were groomed from within their own organizations. It didn’t matter if their results didn’t equal a playoff berth instantly. They don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll get played again if they’re pulled after a bad game. Their organizations have confidence in them, and thus they have confidence, which is the one intangible for goaltending that you will not find in Philadelphia. No other player in the sport requires confidence like a goalie, and in this down if he shows up confident you can be sure that he’ll be ruined by the time he’s run out of town, and that’s not on the fans and the media alone. The GMs and coaches of this team have had a tendency to panic and replace a talented but faltering goalie with another talented goalie. They then ride the hot hand. What happens when the hot hand cools off? You switch back to the one who faltered? Get a new goalie and wait for him to befall the same fate? Does this thought train have a logical conclusion? Could this experiment be brought to bear in a realistic environment so we can study the results?
Oh, right, it was: the Flyers have been riding the hot hand since Ron Hextall, and it has led to zero championships since 1975.
What does this have to do with Bernier? For starters, he’s the most coveted goaltender on the market right now, which means if the Flyers want to get him, they’ll have to overpay with assets. Like they do with defensemen. Then they have to negotiate a contract, since he’s an RFA. With the Flyers’ history of overpaying to fix problems already in Bernier’s agent’s back pocket, he can milk the Flyers for all they’re worth, and his cap hit would rival Bryzgalov’s. But throwing money at a problem rarely fixes it in sports. Just ask Glen Sather.
In any case, they’ll then have to buy out Bryzgalov, who will find another team, play for a smaller cap hit, and become a success. Then, two things happen. First, the goaltender carousel spins again, and by buying out Bryzgalov, the Flyers set a standard that if you don’t deliver to their lofty expectations within two seasons, you can expect to be cut loose. Who wants to play in that atmosphere? The Flyers are great at attracting free agents (Roenick, Forsberg, Briere, Weber, etcetera), but that trend will reverse if they keep dumping players.
Second, Bernier becomes just the next guy. Could he be the missing piece for a Stanley Cup championship? Doubtful, if you look at the team’s track record; the excitement over his acquisition will disappear and be wiped from history when he has a few bad games, and whomever the backup is will seem to be a tantalizing, unrecognized hero. News flash: Boucher, Cechmanek, Esche, Niitymaki, Leighton, and Bobrovsky were all backups who became starters.
The log line here is that a new goalie is not the answer in Philadelphia. Hasn’t been for more than a decade. The one thing that hasn’t been tried is hanging on to a goaltender even through a rough patch; what a novel idea! Teams that retain the services of the same core of players have the benefit of familiarity. They learn each other’s tendencies and how to compensate for mistakes. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are both poised to get a healthy number of names repeated on the greatest trophy in professional sports. Or how the Red Wings always seem to make the playoffs. But don’t ask yourself if a new goalie is worth the risk.