The Flyers’ spirited playoff push just hit the first hurdle, and it was an unexpected one.
The team announced Tuesday afternoon that starting goaltender Brian Elliott suffered a core muscle injury Saturday in Arizona that required surgery earlier this morning and will keep him out for 5 to 6 weeks.
GM Ron Hextall admitted that this was related to the injury that kept Elliott out of the lineup for a few games in January, saying that the club knew it would have to be corrected eventually. The hope was that Elliott would be able to tough it out until the end of the season.
“It’s certainly not what you want with a player who has been important for us to this point,” Hextall said. “But what it does is give someone else an opportunity. We believe in Michal Neuvirth. He’s shown at times he can be very good in goal.”
The key words in Hextall’s response are “at times.”
Because the Flyers know he’s as inconsistent as runny eggs. Not to mention, he has a history of mysterious injuries and illnesses that crop up at the most inopportune times.
Elliott has been one of the Flyers best players this season, but especially the past two months, going 15-5-1 in his last 21 games with a 2.51 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
The Flyers will now have to run the February and March gauntlet with Neuvirth and… someone else.
Hextall said he hopes to Have Elliott back playing in the NHL in late March.
Alex Lyon has been recalled from the Phantoms to back up Neuvirth, but he’s not a real long-term option, although Hextall did say he’ll probably “have to give us some minutes.”
Although he wouldn’t say for certain, it sure sounded like Hextall was dancing around the questions about bringing another goalie in via trade – meaning it’s probable to happen.
The Flyers will likely have to make a move to add another veteran goalie to the roster prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, but that will also create a conundrum once Elliott returns, as they will be forced to carry three goalies, which is never an ideal situation.
The best goalie that is likely available right now is Robin Lehner of the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are terrible, so Lehner’s numbers may seem a little high – but considering how putrid they are, a 2.90 GAA and a .910 save percentage isn’t that bad.
However, Lehner is a restricted free agent, meaning that he will probably cost a little more than the Flyers might be willing to pay.
When asked if he were to make a move to trade for a goalie if he would be looking for someone with less term on his contract, Hextall replied simply, “That’s fair to say, yes.”
So the Flyers will likely try and go the cheap route – grabbing a veteran backup who will be an unrestricted free agent next year.
They can still look to Buffalo at a guy like Chad Johnson, who has a 3.57 GAA and an .886 Save percentage this season but who shared time with Elliott in Calgary last season.
Or, a guy like Calvin Pickard, who is wallowing in the AHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs and could give the Flyers a handful of starts without putting them at great risk.
However, either option would suggest the Flyers have to rely heavily on the unreliable Neuvirth to carry the load, which isn’t an ideal scenario, even in the best of times, never mind when the team is fighting for a playoff spot.
A longshot possibility for the Flyers is to not make a move and turn to Phantoms goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has both NHL experience and NHL playoff experience.
Don’t expect to see Anthony Stolarz though. Stolarz has missed the entire season so far recovering from a meniscus tear. Hextall did give an update on him saying they hope to get him into some kind of game action in March, but he wouldn’t commit to what level that would be – but it’s a good bet that he’ll start his recovery at the ECHL level with the Reading Royals.