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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Pelle got to work quickly, winning the Patrick Division in his first year, and though he and his backup/tandem partner Bob Froese would struggle in their first year together, they would find themselves winning the Patrick Division again in Pelle’s third year as starter en route to a Cup Final loss to Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers. This campaign would grant Pelle the Vezina trophy, and third place in Hart trophy voting.

Things were looking great for Flyers goaltending heading into the 85-86 season and beyond, but tragedy struck partway into the season that would change the face of Flyers goaltending for the next several years. Pelle Lindbergh died in a car crash in November 1985, shocking and saddening the league at an incredible level. Pelle would be posthumously elected to the All-Star game, and his number 31 has not been worn by any Flyer since, and likely never will be again.

Following the passing of Linbergh, Bob Froese stepped into the starter spot, and Darren Jensen was elevated to backup. Jensen and Froese would go on to win the Jennings trophy (the trophy awarded to the team whose goalies allowed the least goals), with Froese finishing second in Vezina voting.

But that would be the end of Froese’s time in Philadelphia. Three games into the next season, Froese would be traded to the New York Rangers, leading to Glenn Resch, a 37 year old chasing rings in his final years, being named back up. Who would start? That would be the rookie Ron Hextall, who shredded the league in is first year, taking home the Vezina trophy, as well as All NHL First Team honors en route to a cup finals loss to the Edmonton Oilers that saw Hextall take home the Conn Smythe trophy despite losing the series in seven games.

Hextall obviously took control of the starting spot from there, being backed up by Mark LaForest for the next several years. LaForest, or “Trees” as he would occasionally be called due to the pine trees that adorned his mask, would be traded to Toronto, which led to Ken Wregget stepping in as the backup and even starter in the 89-90 season when Hextall missed most of the year due to injury.

That 89-90 season would also see the return of Pete Peeters, who I mention here predominantly to say how terrible he was in his return, winning only one of the 19 games he played where he was granted the decision. He would perform better the following season upon Hextall’s return, but still would never be particularly good, leading to his retirement.

Dominic Roussel would replace Peeters as the team’s third goalie, and eventual backup to Hextall after Wregget was traded to Pittsburgh midseason. Hextall too would be traded the next offseason in a massive deal that netted the Flyers Eric Lindros, but put the goalie situation into an instant tailspin.

Rookie Tommy Soderstrom would take over as starter following Hextall’s trading, with Roussel serving as backup, and the newly acquired Stephane Beauregard playing 13 games before being then traded away following the season’s end. Roussel and Soderstrom would duel for the starting spot the following year, as the Flyers again failed to make the playoffs due in part to their goaltending.

The last time the Flyers traded away an elite goaltender and immediately struggled they just re-acquired him, so naturally, they did the same thing with Hextall. Hextall returned via trade in the 94-95 season in exchange for Tommy Soderstrom, reuniting Hextall and Roussel, and leading to a deep playoff run that fell short of the Cup Final.

From here to the turn of the century Hextall was firmly the teams starter, with the backup position being a rotating cast of veteran goalies that included a few years of Garth Snow and a year of Sean Burke, before Hextall stepped into a backup role, handing the reins to John Vanbiesbrook before retiring following the 1998-99 season.

And that is how things shook out for Flyers goalies in the 20th century. The goalies in this era netted a pair of Stanley Cups, three Conn Smythe trophies, and four Vezina trophies. The Flyers had pretty consistent elite play outside of a few dark years, thanks in no small part to the big three of this era, namely Parent, Lindbergh, and Hextall.

So to answer the question of whether I think the Flyers were a goalie graveyard at this point? I’d say definitely not. While the team fell short of the big prize pretty routinely after Parent’s retirement, they regularly made Cup Finals appearances, and rarely had stretches lacking a true “franchise goalie.” But let me tell you, look out for the second part of this historical dissection, because holy cow, the next 20 years of Flyers history gets very interesting.