Fact or Fiction: Are the Flyers a Goalie Graveyard: Part 1

Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers (Credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport
Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers (Credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport /
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There are a lot of enduring narratives that Flyers faithful are tired of hearing, but none are as popular as the “Goalie Graveyard” narrative that has clouded the team for as long as I can remember. For the uninitiated, the narrative surrounds the team’s goaltending woes, focusing predominantly on the team’s lack of franchise goaltending outside of Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall.

Well, I sought out to discover whether this narrative is more fact or more fiction by pouring over Hockey Reference stat grids to try and put a definitive stamp on the age-old question. A few ground rules that are important to establish first, the Flyers have been around for a long time, so this article will only cover from the team’s inception to the turn of the century with the rest of history being analyzed at a later time.

Also, logistically, goalies that never saw any ice time, i.e. backups who dressed but never played, don’t count. I also decided to use 10 games played as a yardstick to determine who should be considered as actually playing for the team, which filtered out 11 players who only had a brief cup of coffee with the franchise. And one last thing, goaltending stats from this era can get pretty wonky compared to today’s numbers, so don’t bug out when I say an .880 save percentage is actually good.

Now, the beginning of Flyers goaltending history is about as gilded as it could possibly get. The team claimed Bernie Parent off the Boston Bruins in the expansion draft, and he got to putting up outstanding numbers right away. Parent and backup Doug Favell were top five in the league in save percentage by season’s end, and the two maintained this elite play through the team’s early years.

Favell played so well in fact that the Flyers traded Bernie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving Favell the starter, and the newly acquired Bruce Gamble serving as backup. Michel Belhumeur would also see some time in the 72-73 season, though didn’t make any particular impact. All three goaltenders would do an admirable job, but the team would struggle without Parent.

Naturally then, the best course of action was to go get him back. Bernie had taken a year off NHL hockey to play in the competitor league the WHA, so Toronto started looking for places to send him, and a trade that sent Favell to Toronto and brought Parent back to Philadelphia was struck. Bobby Taylor, who had actually seen some time during the Favell era, would serve as Bernie’s backup for the next several years, though he wouldn’t be needed much.

Bernie exploded in his return to Philadelphia, stacking up back-to-back Vezina trophies, back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies, and, oh yeah, back-to-back Stanley Cups. Bobby Taylor would eventually be traded, leaving the backup role to Wayne Stephenson, who served as Bernie’s primary backup until Parent’s retirement in 1979.

Filling the hole Bernie left behind proved tricky, as the next several years give us the first true attempt at a homegrown goalie. Stephenson would be traded in the offseason, leaving the position of both starter and backup to fall to three goaltenders. Pete Peeters, who had played sparingly in Parent’s final year, would emerge as the starter, with Phil Myre and Rick St.Croix both trading backup duties.

Peeters was only 24, but his 22 year old backup was showing flashes of greatness, so when Peeters had a rather pedestrian 81-82 campaign, he was shipped up to Boston, and the kid was handed the starting spot. Peeters would win the Vezina in his first year in Boston, but that kid who replaced him was far from a slouch in his first year starting, landing top 10 in save percentage and top 5 in Goals Against Average. You may have heard of him. That 22 year old kid? That was Pelle Lindbergh.