Finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 16 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers had a disappointing season to say the least.
The goaltending situation in Philadelphia
One of the biggest stories of the past season was the arrival of Carter Hart as the Flyers’ primary goaltender. The Flyers finding out that they have a reliable NHL goaltender in Hart can give them confidence in making other moves to bolster their team. Alongside Brian Elliott, who signed a one-year deal to remain with the Flyers, the tandem should stabilise the workload in net.
Hart and Elliott both played a part in getting the Flyers into the NHL history books during 2018-19. Unfortunately, it wasn’t due to stellar performances or anything of that sort. Instead, it was related to their chaotic roster.
From their season opener on October 4, 2018 against the Vegas Golden Knights to their season finale on April 6, 2019 against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Flyers started eight different goaltenders. Eight. Different. Goaltenders.
Goaltender loving care
“Hug your goalies.” A sentiment often echoed inside hockey locker rooms as well as online, the Flyers had a first-hand experience of goaltending woes. Virtually all season long, there was little to no consistency from inside the crease. Their goaltending depth was tested past its limits by season’s end.
Below is a data visualisation highlighting when each of the eight goaltenders started a game throughout the season. Hart led the battalion of Flyers goaltenders with a whopping 30 starts.
Update: Given feedback about the colour palette choice, new versions of the above graphic were made with distinct colours with a dark and light version. The updated images are also included at the bottom of the post.
One. Two. Three.
The first quarter of the season started with Elliott and Calvin Pickard between the pipes. In the first 20 games, the duo made 19 starts. Michal Neuvirth, who was injured to start the season, made the only other start in that span. However, Neuvirth was immediately injured after his start, which kept him out of the lineup for another long stretch of games.
During those first 20 games, Elliott was also injured once due to a collision during practice with Travis Konecny. He was out of the lineup and Alex Lyon was called upon to backup Pickard. However, Elliott returned before Lyon made his first start of the season.
Unfortunately, Elliott sustained another injury just three games after returning, and this was the lower-body injury that kept him out for much of the season. Lyon was recalled again, and in backing up a struggling Pickard, Lyon’s case for starting a game became that much stronger.
Interestingly enough, Lyon was a part of another piece of hockey history in May 2018. Playing with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (the Flyers’ AHL affiliate) during the second round of the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs, Lyon took part in the longest game in AHL history. In Game 4 versus the Charlotte Checkers, Lyon stood on his head, making 94 saves on 95 shots in a quintuple-overtime win to take a 3-1 series lead.
Lyon made his first NHL start of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. His goaltending was not great, which was cause for some worry, but worse news came as he was also injured. He was sent back to the AHL after he was healthy enough to return to game action.
Lyon’s injury prompted the recall of Anthony Stolarz. Stolarz played well to start his NHL campaign, and with Neuvirth on the cusp of returning, the Flyers decided to waive Pickard. Pickard was promptly claimed by the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes were going through some goaltending injuries themselves with both Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper being sidelined as well.
Stolarz started the majority of games with Neuvirth as his backup, but Neuvirth requested time off to be with his girlfriend, Karolina Gudasova, to welcome the birth of their daughter. Gudasova happens to be former Flyer Radko Gudas‘ sister.
In Neuvirth’s absence, Lyon was once again recalled, but made no starts as Stolarz remained the first choice. Unfortunately for the Flyers (there’s a theme here), Stolarz suffered a lower-body injury.
Enter Carter Hart. With Stolarz’s injury sidelining him week-to-week, Hart was called up. Neuvirth also returned from his leave, but it seemed all too likely that Hart was going to make his NHL debut. Coming off a gold-medal World Junior Championship performance, the anticipation of Hart coming in to save the day built up to an all-time high.
Between Hart and Neuvirth, the former played surprisingly well while the latter left much to be desired. Hart deservedly started more games than Neuvirth when the two of them shared the reins, but early in the new year, Neuvirth sustained, you guessed it: a lower-body injury. He wouldn’t make another start for the Flyers for the remainder of the season.
Up north in Ottawa, Mike McKenna was a part of the Senators’ goaltending group before he was traded the the Vancouver Canucks in a trade that saw Anders Nilsson go the other way, among other players. McKenna backed up Jacob Markstrom for two games before he was waived.
The Canucks’ plan to use McKenna in the AHL was quickly foiled by the Flyers, who claimed him off waivers to back up Hart. Amidst Hart’s best attempt to save the Flyers’ season, McKenna made one start.
It wasn’t a great performance on McKenna’s part, but at this point, the Flyers tied the NHL record with seven different goalies starting an NHL game in one season.
McKenna continued to backup Hart, but eventually, both Stolarz and Elliott were healthy and ready to return, so McKenna was put on and also cleared waivers.
Back up north, this time a bit further west, the Edmonton Oilers were facing a salary cap conundrum. Having just re-signed Mikko Koskinen to a three-year, $13.5M deal, the Oilers made it abundantly clear that they were moving on from Cam Talbot. Talbot’s $4.17M cap hit was not going to work for Edmonton and something had to be done.
As the trade deadline approached, the Oilers made a move. They traded Talbot for Stolarz, one-for-one. The move cleared up much needed cap space for the Oilers, but in not starting Stolarz in at least ten games over the remainder of the season, he became an unrestricted free agent.
Back to the Flyers. Cam Talbot was poised to be the eighth goaltender to start a game for the Flyers, which was going to set an NHL record. However, issues in obtaining a work visa delayed Talbot’s Flyers debut. By the time he was cleared to play, Elliott was healthy and ready to go after his recovery and AHL conditioning stint.
With three goaltenders on the Flyers’ active roster in Hart, Elliott, and Talbot, the newly acquired Flyer was the odd one out and was scratched for a string of games. However, like some kind of twisted clockwork, Hart suffered a lower-body injury. An ankle injury kept Hart out of the lineup, and Talbot was finally going to start after being scratched.
On Friday March 1, 2019, Talbot started a game for the Flyers. His start cemented the Flyers’ place in NHL history, being the eighth goaltender in to start a game for one team over the duration of one season.
Forecasting the Flyers’ future
To end the season, the trio of Hart, Elliott and Talbot rotated starts, but as the offseason progressed, it appeared as though Talbot was once again going to be the odd man out.
Hart is all but a lock to be the Flyers’ starter come October 2019, and Elliott opted to re-sign with the Flyers, taking a one-year, $2M deal. If all goes well and the Flyers can avoid dreaded injuries, then this is the tandem that will take the brunt of the work in Philadelphia next season.
The other six goaltenders all have different trajectories. Lyon is the only goaltender still a part of the Flyers’ organisation, playing in the second year of his current two-year deal.
Neuvirth is currently unsigned, as are Stolarz and McKenna. Pickard signed a two-year, $1.4M contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Finally, Talbot signed a one-year, $2.75M deal with the Calgary Flames.
For the Flyers, the best outcome for the coming season will include avoiding injuries. Hart should be expected take the reins and improve with experience. With Elliott as his backup and Lyon third in the depth chart, the Flyers can rest a bit easier on the goaltending front.
Colour Palette Changes
Below are two new versions of the chart above with different colour palettes.