It is no secret that Flyers fans have grown frustrated with the lack of quality goaltenders. Without a clear number one goalie for a few years now, the hope for fans seems to be the future. Flyers GM Ron Hextall has drafted a handful of promising goaltending prospects the last few seasons, and there seems to be some hope on the horizon with the likes of Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. However, with a team likely to make the playoffs again this season, where do the Flyers currently stand at the goaltending position? Let’s take a deep dive on Flyers’ goalies heading into this season.
How Should We Evaluate?
Evaluating goalies can be harder than it appears on the surface. Many goaltending statistics are more team-based than individual-based. Take, for example, goals-against average (GAA). The leaders in GAA in the NHL usually play for teams that let in the least goals. Obviously, high-quality goaltending contributes to this statistic, but it is nonetheless a team-driven stat, as teams that do well overall defensively and have strong team defenses tend to let in the least goals.
A poor team penalty kill can also negatively affect the ability to judge a goalie’s ability. The Flyers are a prime example of this last season. The Flyers sat 29th in team penalty kill last season and clearly had one of the worst units in the entire league. Unsurprisingly, this led to an absolutely abysmal penalty kill save percentage and GAA from Flyers’ goalies last season. Using penalty kill save percentage for goalies is not a very accurate overall statistic, as the opposing team is at a clear statistical advantage.
Arguably the best way to evaluate goaltenders based upon their own talent and ability is through a statistic called 5-on-5 save percentage, or even strength save percentage. 5-on-5 save percentage takes into account only the percentage of saves a goalie makes while at even strength or 5-on-5. This eliminates some (unfortunately not all) team-based anomalies, statistically speaking. In other words, even strength save percentage is not a perfect statistical gauge of goalies, but it is a significantly more accurate gauge than overall save percentage and overall GAA.
So how do the Flyers goalies stack up heading into the season? Let’s take a look.
Elliott had a pretty typical Brian Elliott season. Historically, Elliott has ranked in the middle to top half of NHL goalies at even strength save percentage. Last year was no exception. At even strength, Elliott boasted .926 save percentage, ranking him at 16th amongst goalies who are in the top 50 in the league in terms of minutes played.
Elliott found himself in the company of John Gibson, Tuukka Rask, Jon Quick, and Devan Dubnyk with his save percentage mark in this category. This is honestly an excellent group of players to compare within this statistic. All are considered starters, and in the case of Quick and Rask, they have been for some time.
Elliott also finds himself slightly above the league average of even strength save percentage amongst starting goalies. The average last year was .923; Elliott is just above at a .926.
So what can we take away from this statistic for Brian Elliott? He is, statistically speaking, a very average NHL starter. He is also an excellent bargain with a low cap-hit of $2.75 million a season. Compare that to others with similar statistics and the Flyers are getting excellent value from Elliott overall. If anything, Elliott is an excellent stop-gap until a Flyers’ prospect is ready to take on the reigns as a number one goalie. With a career .921 even strength save percentage, look for the same consistency from Elliott over this season.
While Elliott has boasted decent numbers in the regular season, there is no question his playoff performances have left much to be desired. His statistics last playoffs were absolutely horrendous, and his career playoff save percentage is an abysmal .903. This, obviously, does not give much hope to Flyers fans who are tired of poor playoff goalie performances. The Flyers may once again look to bolster this position at the trade deadline like last season, especially if Elliott struggles to stay health or his play drops off heading into the trade deadline.
Similar to Elliott, Neuvirth had excellent even strength save percentage numbers in limited duty. Neuvirth had a .934 even strength save percentage last season, an excellent number for a player in a backup role. Neuvirth has struggled to stay healthy, however, and this season will start on injured reserve. At this point in his career, Neuvirth is a decent backup option for the Flyers, but nothing more. With a career .922 even strength save percentage, Neuvirth gives the Flyers a chance to win in spot duty.
Some Flyers fans may be asking, “Who is Calvin Pickard?” Pickard was recently pick(ar)ed off waivers by the Flyers from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pickard spent last year bouncing around the league a bit. He was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft but was sent to the minors quickly last season. Eventually, he ended up in the Maple Leafs’ farm systems where he was a backup to eventual AHL goalie of the year, Garrett Sparks.
Pickard played only one game in the NHL last season, so statistically, we don’t have much of a gauge from last season. Career-wise, Pickard has 76 games to his credit and has a .915 even strength save percentage. Pickard once played 50 games in a year for the Colorado Avalanche, but it was the year when they were the worst in the league and his statistics were pretty below average. At this point in his career, Pickard is a decent depth goalie. He is a fringe backup candidate (a decent number three option for most teams) and a likely AHL starter. Look for the Flyers to attempt to send him to the AHL, through waivers, once Neuvirth and/or Alex Lyon is healthy.
Alex Lyon is an intriguing goaltending option for the Flyers this season. Like Neuvirth, Lyon is starting the season on injured reserve. If healthy, Lyon would have likely been the backup option for the Flyers because of the Neuvirth injury. Lyon is an intriguing option for the Flyers in that he has proven himself as a worthy AHL starter. He was a star for the Phantoms in the AHL playoffs last season, and at age 26, he may be reaching his goaltending prime. A bit of a late bloomer, Lyon found himself in the NHL for a handful of games last year but boasted below average even strength statistics. If he builds off his AHL playoff form, Lyon may get a look if the Flyers’ goaltending stumbles. However, his most likely destination is that of AHL starter for the Phantoms once healthy.
Last year was a wash for Stolarz. In general, injuries have plagued his attempts at establishing himself as both an AHL starter and an NHL back-up. At 6’6″, Stolarz takes up a lot of net. He uses his frame well and is decently athletic considering his size. At one point, Stolarz was labeled a potential goalie of the future. He has started the year on the Flyers’ 23 man roster, due to the Neuvirth injury and Flyers’ brass being uncertain of Pickard’s ability, but look for him to likely spend the year in the AHL once the team’s injury situation plays out.
Goaltending will remain a question mark for this Flyers team again this year, but if Elliott can maintain his league-average play between the pipes, then hopefully the offense can carry the team to their expected finish near the top of the Metropolitan. Speaking of the team’s forwards, be sure to tune in over the next few days as we continue our roster preview with a look at the Flyers’ forwards and defensemen.