Things have been going well for the Philadelphia Flyers. The team has won six of their past ten games and are firmly engaged in a battle for a Metropolitan Division playoff spot. However, the one shortcoming of the Flyers for years now has again reared its ugly head: goaltending. Philly’s goalies have performed well this season, with starter Brian Elliott holding 21 wins and backup Michal Neuvirth performing statistically even better as Elliott’s understudy. For the first time in years, goalie performance has not been a defining issue for the Flyers. However, Elliott is now out of the picture for the time being after suffering a core muscle injury earlier in the month which required surgery and could keep him sidelined through the end of March. Meanwhile, Neuvirth succumbed to a lower-body injury earlier today and had to leave the Flyers’ match-up with the rival New York Rangers. While young Alex Lyon performed admirably in relief, allowing only one goal en route to his first NHL win, the Flyers face a real possibility of being without their top two goalies for some time. So what do they do?
1) Stand Pat
It’s too early to know how long Neuvirth will be out, so the Flyers could let cooler heads prevail and wait to see what the prognosis is on his injury. If Neuvirth will simply miss a few games, the team could rely on Lyon and veteran journeyman Dustin Tokarski, acquired in October for this exact emergency situation, for the time being. Lyon, a former phenom at Yale University, has struggled in limited NHL action this season, but has been good for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms in each of the last two seasons. Now could be a good time to see what the 25-year-old brings to the table.
2) Acquire a stopgap
Perhaps if Lyon had more than three NHL appearances or Tokarski had more than 10 minutes of NHL action in the past two years, the Flyers would be willing to stick with this tandem, even if Neuvirth remains out for a week or two. Maybe if Anthony Stolarz, shut down for the season after knee surgery in September, was available they would be fine with waiting for Elliott and Neuvirth to return to health. However, the Flyers are in the middle of a playoff race and cannot afford to stick with such inexperienced options for more than a handful of games nor wait on injury timelines with the NHL Trade Deadline a week away. Instead, they could turn to the trade market and look for a short-term option. There isn’t much goalie talk on the rumor mill right now, other than the fact that the Flyers turned down a recent offer from the Detroit Red Wings of Petr Mrazek for a third-round pick. They could certainly revisit bringing in the impending restricted free agent for a tryout down the stretch. The team could also look at trading for San Jose Sharks backup Aaron Dell, who’s having a breakout year and comes with a cheap price tag for the remainder of the season. However, the Sharks are a fellow playoff-chaser and might be hesitant to move their backup unless they were getting another in return, either Neuvirth or Elliott. Other options could include Michael Hutchinson from the Winnipeg Jets (though they too have injury issues in net), Andrew Hammond from the Colorado Avalanche, or one of the many minor league keepers from Toronto or Calgary, if those teams are willing to deal.
3) Acquire a starter
Of course, the Flyers could also take this opportunity to bring in a starting-caliber goalie; one who could eliminate the worry of whether Elliott will be healthy by playoff time. Philadelphia could look at short-term starter, such as impending free agents Antti Raanta from Arizona or Robin Lehner (RFA) from Buffalo. However, more interestingly, they could also look for a long-term fit. Both Elliott and Neuvirth are only signed through next season. If they could send one or the other back in a trade, they could look to acquire a starter with term on his contract. That could be as easy as bringing in Lehner or Mrazek with the intention of extending them. Either one could do the job for a few years, bridging the gap to star prospect Carter Hart. It could also open the door to Detroit’s other goalie, Jimmy Howard, who could benefit from a change of scenery with one year left on his deal. The Vancouver Canucks could entertain moving Jacob Markstrom during a down year, though he may not be much of an upgrade over Philly’s current stable and is signed for two more seasons. One possible dark horse candidate would be Colorado starter Semyon Varlamov, who has been outplayed by backup Jonathan Bernier this season and is signed through 2018-19 at an expensive $5.9MM cap hit. For those of you thinking Carey Price though, think again.