After a disastrous 2018-19 season which saw the Flyers run through eight different goaltenders, the organization made a bit of a head scratching move re-signing Brian Elliott to a one-year, $2 million extension on June, 26.
A big part of the reason the franchise was forced to utilize so may goaltenders is because they entered the season with Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott penciled in as their starting duo. Neuvirth didn’t even make it through the pre-season without getting hurt, and Elliott missed three months of action from mid-November to mid-February with a lower-body injury.
With Carter Hart at the helm, the need for a bona-fide backup is both less, and more, necessary now than ever.
Let me explain.
Relying on a 20-year-old with 31 NHL games under his belt isn’t the best idea, no matter how good he has looked thus far. Top young goaltenders have a history of coming into the league like a bat out of hell then failing to find that fire for the following season or two. Now, that being said, Hart is a stud and may not have a sophomore slump this season, so he could still see a lion’s share of the starts, though it should still be a priority to not run him into the ground like we have seen recently under Dave Hakstol. If Hart can hold his own, they don’t need to rely on a platoon system that Hextall seemed hell bent on installing.
The biggest question mark for Brian Elliott is his recent injury history. He missed a couple months late in the 2017-18 season with an abdominal injury, then he was rushed back to play in the playoffs, where he was schlacked by the Penguins. He had surgery over the summer to “clean up” the previous surgery.
Now 34, the injury concern only increases. Ideally, there should be a 50/30 spilt between Hart and Elliott, so, he shouldn’t have as much on his plate as he has had in seasons past. However, injuries have a funny way of happening when you least expect them.
Protecting Hart should’ve been one of the top priorities this summer, and it is at least safe to say that they didn’t directly do that. The goaltending free agent market was slim, in fact, Elliott and Cam Talbot were two of the top options outside of the big two of Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov. After Talbot fled to Calgary after being horribly under-used during his short stay in Philly, and with cap space tight after other moves, the Flyers tied their hands and were essentially forced to re-signed Brian Elliott, as well as former Islander Jean-Francois Berube as an insurance policy.
Some blame Dave Hakstol for Elliott’s frequent injuries, and that is totally warranted. Now that Hak is out of the picture there is a fresh start for a position he failed to properly handle for years. For the most part, Vigneault has always had a number one goaltender to utilize at a persistent pace. He relied heavy of Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and even harder of Henrik Lundqvist in New York. So, if history holds up, Hart will be the guy for the Flyers this season.
At this point, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope Elliott is stitched up well enough to hold out for one more season. For the sake of Carter Hart’s future, let’s sure hope he can stay healthy and provide a solid, frequent, backup option so they don’t have to run Hart into the ground, he is far too valuable to ruin.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com