Now that the 2018-19 season is all but lost, it is time to start evaluating talent for next season. Now that Carter Hart has proven he can hang in the NHL, the Flyers mission should be finding a strong backup goaltender rather than taking a waiver on an expensive free-agent or another aging star. Could the Flyers already have their backup on the team?
Anthony Stolarz was once the Flyers golden prospect in goal, but due to other draftees and a string of injuries, Stolarz has moved to the back of the line and has to earn his ice time just like everyone else. After tearing his meniscus in September of 2017, he was on the shelf for most of the 2017-18 season. He made his AHL return late in the 2017-18 season, though getting crushed in his sole start.
Stolarz returned to the Phantoms to start the 2018-19 season thanks to a crowded net at the NHL level. However, due to the seeming endless injury carousel of the Flyers goaltenders, Stolarz got his chance to be recalled and made his return start two years to the date of his very first NHL game. Stolarz played nine straight games from late November to mid-December before succumbing to an injury that has cost him over a month-and-a-half of the season.
News broke on January 28 that Chuck Fletcher intends on signing Russian goalie prospect Kirill Ustimenko and bringing him to the States to develop. He also mentioned bringing Swedish prospect Felix Sandstrom, who is already signed to his ELC, to America from the SHL. That means the Phantoms tandem could very well be two high-caliber prospects that could battle each other for ice time. Right now, that would mean the NHL tandem would be Carter Hart and Alex Lyon, but it seems as though Fletcher doesn’t see much in Lyon, so the backup role could be open for the taking.
Assuming Hart takes the full-time starting role in 2019-20, which is typically 55-60 games, the Flyers only need a goalie that can take a spot start and play half of a back-to-back. Given Stolarz’s injury history, he is best served in a lesser role only playing once or twice a week. Fresh off his 25th birthday, he will have his chance to backup Hart for a few weeks until Brian Elliott returns from injury. Stolarz made his return to the Flyers crease on January 29 with a 38-save shutout against the Rangers.
Through his 17 NHL games, Stolarz has registered a 2.86 GAA and a .909 SV% with two shutouts. Even though this season hasn’t gone his way, his call up happened at the absolute low point of the Flyers season. Of his 10 starts so far this year, he has only recorded a save percentage above .900 just four times. Those games happened right before Dave Hakstol was fired and the whole team was playing with no confidence. It’s no surprise Stolarz got the shutout in his first game back against the Rangers, which was the Flyers fifth straight victory.
Anthony Stolarz has a lot to prove for the rest of the year as he doesn’t currently have a contract for the 2019-20 season. He has proven he is capable of giving the team around him a fighting chance, and with some offensive support, he can be a real threat at the NHL level. As the Flyers continue to improve, it should be easier for Stolarz to make those spot starts behind Hart. Even though Stolie the Goalie may not live up to the man he borrowed that title from, nothing is stopping him from completing a solid tandem with Carter Hart for years to come.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com