The Flyers need to address their goalie dilemma immediately. Not in a month, not in 2019, and especially not at the trade deadline.
It has to be done now.
The Flyers have five goalies in training camp and not one of them can truly be counted on at the beginning of the season, which starts on Thursday in Las Vegas. They need to identify two netminders who can stay healthy and stop pucks at the NHL level. General Manager Ron Hextall choose not to upgrade the position during the offseason, at least for a reliable and veteran backup, and it’s now coming back to haunt him.
Brian Elliott, the No. 1 goaltender, had abdominal surgery last February and his hip cleaned out over the summer. The 33-year-old played his first full preseason game on Monday against the Bruins and did not look sharp.
When asked if Elliott was on track to start the opener, coach Dave Hakstol didn’t give a ringing endorsement.
“I can’t answer that right now,” he said following Monday’s game. “I mean there is no point making a prediction. We have to go through the steps and that is the bottom line.”
Elliott’s assessment was a bit more encouraging.
“This is a big, big step, making it through a whole game and not really laboring,” he said after making 33 saves in a 4-3 loss against the Bruins B team. “It’s a big step for me and I don’t want to put any percentage on [how close he is to being ready for the season].”
However, there is more clarity on the availability of his two immediate backups but the news is not good.
Veteran Michal Neuvirth left practice last week with a suspected groin injury, is out indefinitely, and not expected to be ready this week. While he has played well when called upon, Neuvirth can’t stay healthy anymore and the team should consider moving on without him.
Rookie Alex Lyon, who served as a backup in 11 games when Neuvirth was hurt last year, will miss about a month with a lower-body injury.
It leaves Anthony Stolarz and Carter Hart as the next best options. Stolarz looked promising in the seven games he played for the Flyers two years ago, but he has missed all of last year with knee injuries and it would not be ideal to toss him into the fire.
Hart is projected as the team’s future ace and has looked the part at times in the preseason, but the team prefers he get some experience with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. However, Hart’s play and the current state of the position may force the Flyers hand to keep him in Philadelphia.
“If it’s right for the team, sometimes you have to do it,” Hextall told reporters earlier in the week on the prospects of keeping Hart with the Flyers.
Hextall could have avoided this situation, though, if he had signed a more reliable backup goalie this offseason. Instead, he has to tiptoe around health reports and untested rookies.
The GM must decide whether the club should part ways with the fragile Neuvirth, add a journeyman goalie, stick with one of the kids as the backup, or just let the situation play itself out.
Unless it’s the latter, Hextall needs to address it now.