Going into the 2021 season, the one position that held the least amount of question marks for the Flyers was the goaltending. Carter Hart had posted phenomenal numbers during the playoffs and Brian Elliott, who has been an acceptable backup, returned for his fourth season in Philadelphia. The expected strength in net quickly turned to a weakness when both Carter Hart and Brian Elliott struggled to hold down the fort. Hart is still the number one guy in Philadelphia, but it’s clear they need an upgrade for the backup gig as a plan B if things go off the rails once again. So who are some of the likely targets the Flyers could pursue during the 2021 free agency?
Brian Elliott- 36 years old, 15-9-2 w/ 3.06 GAA, .889 SV%
May as well start with the in-house option for the Flyers. Brian Elliott has spent the last four seasons in Philly and has done his absolute best given the circumstances. Though, as he continues to age he is becoming less and less capable of handling the lion’s share of the starts, a situation that became obvious during the 2021 season when Carter Hart faced his fair share of struggles. If Hart could be guaranteed to play 55+ games and Elliott’s workload could be limited to a spot start every now and again, he could still be a viable option, but with Hart’s fate in limbo, there’s no reason to take the same risk they did this year and doom yet another season next.
Chris Driedger- 27 years old, 14-6-3 w/ 2.07 GAA, .927 SV%
Driedger is a pretty cool story of perseverance as he was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft and didn’t make the NHL on a regular basis until the 2019-20 season when he suited up for 12 games. He returned to back up Sergei Bobrovsky in 2020-21 when he saw 23 games of NHL action registering a .927 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average. Posting a solid season will have many teams circling around him in free agency as he is the odd man out in Florida. Though with only 38 games under his belt, the question of sample size rises. Can he handle a heavier workload on a weaker defensive team? Could he step into the starting role and play multiple games in a row if Hart gets hurt? It’s a risk with a potentially high reward if his numbers in Florida turned out to be legit.
Jonathan Bernier 32 years old, 9-11-1 w/ 2.99 GAA, .914 SV%
Bernier was a name the Flyers were potentially linked to at the trade deadline, but were too far out of the race to give up assets to acquire him at that point. For a guy playing in Detroit for the last three seasons, Bernier numbers have been relatively impressive. He registered a .914 SV% and 2.99 GAA in 24 games this season. Posting those kind of numbers on one of the few teams that’s worse than the Flyers leads us to believe that he may be able to overcome the shortcoming of the team defense and could be a respectable backup. Bernier will turn 33 in August which is still plenty young for a goalie, especially considering he may get a contract with some term this summer.
Frederik Andersen 31 years old, 13-8-3 w/ 2.96 GAA, .895 SV%
Far and away the outlier on this list, Andersen would be the epitome of a 1B goaltender. Freddy Andersen may be priced out of the cap-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs and could seek big money on the free agent market. Now, let’s pretend for a second that the Flyers would have enough money to throw their hat in the ring. Andersen has played some heavy minutes for the Leafs over the last five seasons. He has played 268 out of a possible 372 games during that stretch, but only saw 24 games this season due to injury. While it makes little sense to target Andersen, he’d be the perfect guy to roll out if Hart has a repeat of this season. A guy who can play play multiple games in a row, be counted on as a starter if need be, and provide a solid presence in net. It’s their contingency omega, but it’s a card they have in their arsenal that they probably won’t draw.
Jaroslav Halak 36 years old, 9-6-4 w/ 2.53 GAA, .905 SV%
Halak is an interesting option. At 36 years old, he doesn’t solve the age factor of Brian Elliott, but he has been the better goalie of the two over the last few seasons. Obviously, the age is the main concern. Can Halak put up one more sparkling season? And with only 19 games under his belt during the 2021 campaign, could he handle 25-30+ games if necessary? He wouldn’t be the worst option out there, but he’d be a last-ditch effort on the realistic end of the scale, a risk that may not be worth taking given the landscape of the current Flyers roster.
David Rittich 28 years old, 5-8-2 w/ 2.86 GAA, .901 SV%
If Carter Hart was the unquestioned number one in Philly who posted yet another dominant season, Rittich may be an acceptable backup option who could spot-start a game once ever two weeks. But with Hart’s immediate future at least a bit murky, there’s no reason to aim so low. Even when Rittich was at his peak splitting starts with Mike Smith, his numbers were not overly impressive with a career best 2.61 GAA and .911 SV% in 2018-19. He’s not the kind of guy you want starting on a semi-regular basis in the case of injury or lackluster play from Hart.
Devan Dubnyk 35 years old, 6-11-2 w/ 3.20 GAA, .895 SV%
This is probably the one of the last options the Flyers would pursue, but with the rap sheet Dubynk possesses, and his longstanding ties with Minnesota, there’s at least a possibility he will be on Chuck Fletcher’s radar this summer. He hasn’t exactly aged well, as his number have slowly declined for six straight seasons, but he’d still be that veteran presence to mentor Carter Hart, that for some reason is more important than finding an actual good goalie. This would be a long shot, but it shouldn’t be ruled out completely, either.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: floridapantherfault.com / nhl.com / detroitnews.com