I’ve always said that the toughest job in sports is the goaltending position, particularly in hockey. A goalie’s sole purpose of play is to stop this little rubber disk, no bigger than the palm of a hand, from finding entry into one of the countless holes in a four-by-six foot area. Easier said than done, right? Well, picture yourself in net with players scattered all over your end of the ice. The opposing player shifts to your right, behind the net, takes a shot and the puck bounces off your pad and into the net. The opposition has scored and your team just lost Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. I wish I could tell you that was just some made up scenario, but it remains an ever so heartbreaking moment in the hearts of Philadelphia Flyers fans everywhere.
Michael Leighton, the goalie who gave up the infamous game-winning goal, knows the harsh reality of what it’s like to be an NHL goaltender. In fact, he’s one of 15 goalies to have played in net for the orange and black over the past 10 seasons. That’s right, I said 15.
The never-ending goaltending carousel has haunted the Flyers for what seems like forever now. Players either can’t stay healthy or they’re just not getting the job done. Hold on, though. The Flyers have a reliable goaltender in Steve Mason, correct? Don’t hold your breath Flyers fans. Remember when Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to be the answer and signed a nine-year, $51 million contract?
Mason may be playing well, but as history proves, it’s going to take a lot more than a season or two for him to be considered the “franchise guy.” Talks have circulated over the past two months that Mason would probably be getting a new contract with Philadelphia. The only exception is that Mason’s agent, Anton Thun, is supposedly talking about big-time money. But after being burned once with Bryz, don’t count on it.
If anything is almost certain, it’s the probable departure of Ray Emery, who’s been having the worst year of his career. Cal Heeter has been posting solid numbers in the AHL with the Adirondack Phantoms, and prospect Anthony Stolarz has been stellar in the OHL with the London Knights. Stolarz is currently ranked in the top five for goals against average, save percentage, wins and shutouts.
Whether one of these two kids gets called up will ultimately depend on the Flyers’ confidence in Mason. However, don’t put it past the front office to be stubborn and sign another washed up veteran out of desperation.
So, when all this hoopla is settled and the dust is cleared, what can Philadelphia fans expect the goaltending department to look like next season? It’s safe to say that Mason will be back and Emery will be out. Who replaces Emery is still a question, and much like the replacement situation, Mason’s contract structure remains a mystery.