The Philadelphia Flyers may not be desperate for a goalie, but they’re not in the best of shape either. Heading into the off-season, the Flyers will likely say goodbye to impending free agent starter Steve Mason, but re-signed Michal Neuvirth to a two-year, $5MM extension earlier this season. Behind Neuvirth, Philly has Anthony Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick who looked great in seven appearances in his rookie season. The Flyers also have promising prospects Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom in the system, but it seems unlikely that either is ready for NHL action just yet.
So it’ll be Neuvirth and Stolarz next season? That’s not too bad. However, this is the 2017 off-season approaching and nothing is that simple. Both Neuvirth and Stolarz are eligible for the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft and both should be attractive to GM George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights. Stolarz is young and under team control as a restricted free agent and could be valuable to Vegas as either an investment or a potential trade chip. Neuvirth is relatively cheap at $2.5MM per year through 2018-19 and was drafted by McPhee when he was with the Washington Capitals. He would immediately provide some veteran presence to a goalie group that is expected to skew very young.
The question then becomes: if Vegas has interest in both, who should Philadelphia protect? At first, the obvious answer seemed to be Stolarz. Not only is he much younger than Neuvirth, but he simply outplayed him when given the chance in 2016-17. Stolarz has just as good a chance to be the goalie of the future in Philly as any of the other Flyers’ keeper prospects. However, there was a wrinkle added to than plan recently when Stolarz was injured in an AHL game, suffering a serious knee injury that required surgery. Now, Stolarz is expected to be sidelined all summer and likely not ready for game action into next season. What that means for the Flyers is, if they stay the course and protect Stolarz, an expansion selection of Neuvirth leaves the Flyers with no goalies to start the 2017-18 campaign.
Is that threat enough for them to potentially lose a top-end young goalie? It might be. The Flyers already have about $60MM committed to just 16 players for their cap payroll next season, and while many of their reinforcements will come from the minor leagues, you can expect GM Ron Hextall to be on the lookout for some veteran assistance as well. That very well may include a goalie, even if they do retain Neuvirth and Stolarz. However, the Flyers may not have the cap flexibility to deal with a potential loss of Neuvirth on top of a Stolarz injury. Such a predicament may force Philly to look at top-end free agents like Ben Bishop or Ryan Miller or may cause them to have to add two mid-level options like Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier, or Darcy Kuemper or even a return to Mason. Either of those strategies would severely limit the team’s ability to add anyone else in free agency.
So that’s the situation: will the Flyers’ protect the future (Stolarz) at the possible expense of the present? Or will they play it safe (Neuvirth) and almost surely lose a talented young goalie? McPhee and the Knights would love to have Stolarz, but they may have their eye on Neuvirth as well. Either way, it’s your move Hextall.