Come On Flyers, Don’t Go Chasing Goaltenders

Goaltender Roberto Luongo has been rumored to be traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.Hey, the National Hockey League lockout has ended. That means two things. One, it means we will have professional hockey this year, and two, the Philadelphia Flyers are now going to be linked to every player who remains on the market, free agent or, more accurately right now, via trade. The current rumor is that the Orange and Black are in the running for goaltender Roberto Luongo. Considered one of the best goalies in the league in the regular season, Luongo has fallen out of favor in Vancouver because he has a habit of getting shellacked in the playoffs. I’m not just talking a standard deviation away from his regular season production that could be explained by random variance. No, he seemingly loses all his talent and gives the Canucks barely a shot to win a game let alone a series. It seems like the team is ready to give Cory Schneider a chance to run full time in net.

Excuse me if I’m not excited over here.

For those who don’t know, the Flyers currently have their own enigmatic netminder in Ilya Bryzgalov. When he’s not talking about exploring space, Bryzgalov alternates between prime Patrick Roy and Roman Cechmanek-in-an-elimination-game-against-the-Sabres between the pipes for the team. On paper, Luongo is the better deal, but the thing is that the stats bear out very similarly. Luongo and Bryzgalov have identical career goals-against-averages and very similar save percentages. They’re similar in age, but Luongo’s been a starter for longer; Luongo has faced roughly double the shots in his career that Bryzgalov has. However, Luongo is actually cheaper than Bryzgalov by about $4M per year under their current contracts. So really, where would the upgrade be? I’m not sure there would be any.

It would be one thing if the team was just a goaltender away from making a deep run in the playoffs. Quite the contrary, the team has a glaring need in front of the goalie that they need to address. Ever since Chris Pronger went on the shelf, almost permanently, during the 2010-11 playoffs, the team’s blue line has not been the same. When the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, they did so on the backs of a defensive unit that had a healthy Pronger, Kimmo Timonen playing at a high level, and Braydon Coburn having the best season of his life. The goaltenders that year were Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, and Johan Backlund (no relation to former WWE Champion Bob Backlund, unfortunately). None of those three were fit to strap Bryzgalov’s pads or shine his helmet, and yet the Flyers came within a few bounces of upsetting the Chicago Blackhawks for the Cup.

A great goalie, or even a hot goalie, can make a lot of difference, but even the best goalies are not going to stop every shot. A good defense will help minimize shots, specifically bad shots that a goalie has trouble getting a read on. With a good defense in front of Bryzgalov, I have no doubt this team could make a long run into the playoffs. However, Pronger may never play another NHL game again. Coburn has lost a step, as has Timmonen. The best player on the blue line this year may be an injury-plagued and inconsistent Andrej Meszaros. The best addition to the team was Luke Schenn, who didn’t live up to his billing in Toronto. It doesn’t matter if Bryzgalov or Luongo is playing in front of him. The results will more than likely still be the same.

The point is that while this team is constructed to compete, they may not have the horses to compete even in the division with the Rangers or Penguins. This isn’t something that trading laterally for a goaltender who may or may not be an upgrade will solve. The Flyers have a little bit of rebuilding to do before they can get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but Paul Holmgren can’t just trade for an iffy goalie to hope it’ll be the panacea for what ails this squad.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tom Holzerman

Tom Holzerman has been a fan of Philadelphia sports teams for as long as he can remember. He's been writing about them and other things for almost ten years now, first as a columnist for the Drexel Triangle and then as a freelance blogger for several pages, including his own site The Wrestling Blog. He believes sports are meant to be both analyzed and savored and thinks that all the fighting between the "nerds" and the "meatheads" is unnecessary. You can follow him on Twitter @tholzerman, especially if you're a wrestling fan like he is.