For a long time, the Flyers and great goaltending went together like peanut butter and jelly. If you look at their pre-1990 goalies, you had legends like Bernie Parent, Pete Peters, Bob Froese, and Pelle Lindbergh in between the pipes. Throughout the 90s, as the NHL was changing rapidly, you still had Ron Hextall, the last goalie that most Flyers fans, and hockey fans, would consider to be the last great Flyers goalie.
Since 2000, the Flyers have had 36 different goalies in net. Some of them were great. Quite a few are very forgettable. And even a few of them are regrettable. And if you want to check them out and go on a trip down Goalie Lane, click here to see them all.
But is the reputation true? Did the Flyers have “poor goalies” after Ron Hextall retired? Is Carter Hart truly the savior of the Flyers’ goalie woes?
Well, to start off, I’m eliminating John Vanbiesbrouck. Not that he wasn’t good. He was. The Flyers just had him for two seasons, 1998-2000. After that, he left for the Islanders before being traded as a backup to Martin Brodeur before retiring in 2002. And since his last season was in 2000, I decided to cut him from this list.
Before we get to our list, let’s take a look at the goalies who just barely missed the cut: Ray Emery, Michael Neuvirth, Michael Leighton, Martin Biron, and Roman Cechmanek
Emery, Leighton, and Neuvirth couldn’t crack the top five because of injuries. Their careers in Philly were constantly marred by being hurt. Sadly, when they did play, they were good. Plus, Emery gave us this fond memory.
Biron was a pretty good goalie for the Flyers but was narrowly edged out by our number 5 goalie because they were so very similar in style, stats, and play.
Cechmanek should’ve been in the top five. To be honest, he could’ve cracked the top three. He is one of the Flyers’ greatest regular season goaltenders and could’ve been the guy between Hextall and Hart. However, in the playoffs, he collapsed.
Not only that, but he blamed his teammates, publicly, for his failures. A team has to have their goalies back and vice versa. As much as I wanted to include him on this list, because he threw his teammates under the bus and then backed that bus back over them, I couldn’t in good conscience add him here.
Now, onto the goalies!
Flyers: 5. Robert Esche
The Whitesboro, NY native (home of Flyers announcer Jim Jackson), was acquired by the Flyers with center Michael Handzus for Brian Boucher and a draft pick. After some playoff collapses, Boucher became expendable, especially with the rise of the aforementioned Cechmanek. Philly needed a forward and a reliable goalie, and Boosh was traded for a change of scenery.
In comes Esche. He would play four years in Philly; first backing up Cechmanek, then being the starter in his own right, then sharing time with Biron and Antero Niittymaki. During his tenure, he posted a 60-40-16 record with a 2.65 GAA and a save percentage of .901.
However, Esche’s career was marred by early exits of the Flyers in the playoffs. He did take the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003-04 where they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game 7. Biron was brought in 2007 and at the end of the 2006-07 season, he was released and not resigned.
Esche would play a few seasons in the KHL after failing to catch on in the NHL afterward. He is a lot better than people give him credit for but was the goalie of a Flyers team in a post-lockout transition that saw the team go from contender to basement dweller. Despite that, he put up good, steady numbers.
Flyers: 4. Steve Mason
After the Flyers’ magical run in 2010 with a hodgepodge of goalies, they decided that they needed to find a starting goalie. Two years later, they traded for Iyla Bryzgalov, which as we all know was a huge disaster.
With Bryz floundering, the team needed a goalie. Much of the same cast from 2010 were there, such as Boucher and Leighton were there, but, again, they just couldn’t stay healthy. The Flyers found a trade partner with the Columbus Blue Jackets. They had a young stud goalie who had lost his confidence and needed a change of scenery. Philly traded Leighton to CBJ for Steve Mason.
In his six starts in 2012-13 after being traded, he went 4-2 with a stellar 1.90 GAA and a save percentage of .944. The Flyers missed the playoffs that season, but with Mason in net, they came back the next season. In his first full season, he would post a record of 33-18-7 with a .917 save percentage and a GAA of 2.50 to finish seventh in the Vezina Trophy voting. But in the playoffs, the Flyers were a first-round out again.
Mason played five years in Philly. He won 104 games, had a GAA of 2.47 and a save percentage of .908. He had a good tenure as a goalie, however, the team never made it past the first round of the playoffs.
And as happened, the team moved on. Still. Mason is one of three goalies to win 100 games as a Flyer, with Hextall and Parent being the other two. He is also in the top 5 in save percentage and shutouts and top ten in goals against average. Despite being on average teams, he was better than we give him credit for.