During this millennium, the Philadelphia Flyers have become the graveyard of goalies. Since Ron Hextall’s retirement after the 1998-99 season, the Flyers have experienced a bizarre and quite unlucky goaltending reshuffle with their fair share of drama. However, the account is simplistic. The franchise’s success in the decade leading up to its 2010 Stanley Cup Final appearance was made possible by the short-lived success of five flash-in-the-pan goalies who never maintained a level. high game play for an extended period and failed to provide stability in the Flyers’ fold.
The Flyers drafted Brian Boucher in the first round of the 1995 NHL Draft. After Hextall’s retirement, he entered the 1999-2000 season, competing with John Vanbiesbrouck, 36, who was in the twilight of his career. . An excellent 1.91 goals-against average (GAA) earned Boucher a spot on the NHL Rookie All-Star Team and the first nod for the Flyers entering the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs .
Boucher helped the Flyers advance in an electrifying race to the Eastern Conference final. Most memorable still, he made one of the biggest saves in NHL history against Patrick Elias of the New Jersey Devils in Game 3. However, Elias had the last laugh with a game-winning goal in the last few minutes. minutes of Game 7 for the future Stanley Cup champions. Boucher played two more seasons in Philadelphia but never regained that momentum. He was transferred to the Phoenix Coyotes after the 2001-02 season to make room for emergence Czechoslovak goalkeeper Roman Cechmanek.
The Philadelphia goaltender carousel really started when Cechmanek, a 29-year-old NHL rookie drafted in the sixth round last summer, stole the starting spot from Boucher in 2000-01. The rookie phenomenon posted a save percentage of .921 (SV%) and an average of 2.01. He finished second in voting for the Vézina Trophy and fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy behind Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
However, Cechmanek’s consistency issues began when he struggled with the Flyers’ first-round loss of the series to the Buffalo Sabers in 2001. He posted comparable numbers over both seasons. regular following, but the team felt they couldn’t count on him in the big moments. Huge flashy saves were often followed by soft goals that dampened their momentum, especially in the playoffs. He was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round pick in 2003.
Michael Handzus, a strong second-row center, was the main comeback in the deal that sent Boucher to Phoenix and paved the way for Cechmanek. Goalkeeper Robert Esche was seen as a secondary part of the profession and was to be the team’s replacement. However, the unpredictable goalie reshuffle continued in 2003-04. Acquired veterans Jeff Hackett and Sean Burke both disappeared down the stretch for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, and Esche became Philadelphia’s best option in net. He started 18 playoff games and finished with an SV% of .918 and GAA of 2.32.
However, the Flyers suffered another close loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and Esche never regained his form after those playoffs after the following season was canceled due to the lockdown. -out. He played two more seasons in Philadelphia but struggled statistically, proving to be another flash in the pan for a team that desperately needed a long-term solution in net.
Former Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made sweeping roster changes in response to the squad’s struggles during the 2006-07 season, the worst in franchise history. He acquired 29-year-old goaltender Martin Biron from the Sabers in addition to big names like Danny Brière, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.
Biron never became an NHL superstar, but he was considered one of the best goalies available at the time. He was acquired in February 20017, played the stretch and spent the next two seasons in Philadelphia. He was the full-time workaholic the Flyers were looking for with a .918 SV% in 62 games in 2007-08 and a .915 SV% in 55 games in 2008-09. The mark of his success was his strong performance in the Flyers’ return to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008, but his great rival Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated Biron and the Flyers in five games.
After another series loss to the Penguins in the 2009 playoffs, the Flyers let the 31-year-old walk in free agency. They had recently signed with redeemed goalie Ray Emery on a one-year, $ 1.5 million contract, while Biron received $ 1.4 million on the open market. While Emery’s signing didn’t go well, the organization made the right decision to accept short-term contributions from a veteran without forcing him into a role as a future building block. Biron was never a full-time NHL starter again.
The Philadelphia goalie carousel reached new heights after a string of goaltending injuries in 2009-10. Emery’s stint with the team ended quickly after he suffered a serious hip injury early in the season. Boucher, who returned for a second stint as a substitute, also struggled with injuries as the team limped through a brutal first half that cost head coach John Stevens his job.
The Flyers then claimed their mate Michael Leighton on waivers in December 2009. His record, which included four games with the Flyers in 2006-07, was disappointing to say the least. However, the team’s sudden turnaround under new head coach Peter Laviolette wouldn’t have been possible without Leighton’s solid play between the posts. The 28-year-old found a pace that helped the Flyers get back into the race. He suffered an injury down the stretch, which returned the job to Boucher before the playoffs.
Yet the carousel didn’t stop there. Leighton returned as a backup in Game 5 of the second round series against the Boston Bruins, coincidentally the night Boucher suffered another injury. He helped continue the Flyers’ historic comeback to progress after losing the first three games of the series. His exploits peaked with three shutouts in the Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite the pivotal role he played in the franchise’s most successful season of the millennium, Flyers fans will always associate Leighton with the disappointment of falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. In Game 1, he was pulled out after allowing five goals in less than two periods, and he infamously allowed a puck floating off Patrick Kane’s stick to squeak through him to kick off the Game 6 overtime streak. He only started six NHL games after the devastating mistake.
Flyers hope for stability with Carter Hart
The organization’s inability to replicate its 2000-10 success over the past 11 seasons is in part because of its goaltenders. They’ve seen colossal disasters between the posts, including signing Russian goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov with one of the worst contracts in league history in 2011 and starting a record eight goaltenders in one season in the NHL. in 2018-19. However, Steve Mason played fairly well for five seasons in Philadelphia from 2013 to 2017 as a solid “1A” option in a goaltending tandem.
The team struggled with goaltending again in 2020-21 and finished with the worst SV% in the NHL. Carter Hart, even after a tough season, is still considered one of the best young goalies in the league. The Flyers are hoping that a recently extended Hart rebound season could be the start of the long-term stability of the net that has eluded them for more than two decades.
Colin Newby is a freelance reporter from Delaware County, Pa. Who covers the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. It’s an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to bring out the stats of 2004 Flyers goaltenders and every Stanley Cup winner in their lifetime. The depth of his knowledge stems from the fact that he has spent his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to anonymous like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin is also an editor / co-expert for Broad Street Buzz, a Philadelphia Flyers blog via FanSided, and author of fictional sports stories.
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