Goaltending is arguably the most vital asset to an NHL team’s roster. It is being proven time and time again this playoff season.
Just look at the Montreal Canadiens; they did not get to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 21st ranked scoring unit. How about those Los Angeles Kings? Again, they are proving that they can raise the cup on the back of Jonathan Quick, who has them one win away from a date with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals. It is hard to think that their 26th-ranked scoring unit got them this far.
There is no taking away from the importance of a starting goaltender, but the backup is just as important. In their series with the Kings, backup John Gibson has kept his Anaheim Ducks teammates afloat. Who could forget the carousel of backups that helped the Minnesota Wild earn a playoff spot this year?
When the Philadelphia Flyers brought Ray Emery back for his second stint this past season, they did so under a one-year deal with the probable intentions that he would be the backup to Steve Mason. Emery had plenty of time to prepare the right mindset for the season. While he did do everything he could, the Flyers shouldn’t even think twice about letting him go this time.
It looked as if the Flyers were getting an absolute bargain when they signed him. With a 17-1 record the previous season as well as a ring, it was hard not to be excited about the deal. In the end, though, the orange and black got exactly what they paid for — mediocrity.
Emery’s overall performance was borderline junior league. He posted a 9-12-2 record alongside a .903 save percentage and a 2.96 GAA. In his short playoff stint, he went 1-2 with a .888 save percentage and horrendous 3.49 GAA. Some even blame the Flyers’ first round loss on Emery’s missed opportunities.
Emery gave up four or more goals in nine of the contests he took part in this past season. Four of his 12 losses were against teams in the NHL’s bottom 10 for goals per game and five of his nine wins came against the same bunch.
The Flyers have a lot to address this offseason. They have speed issues, defensive issues and size issues, but come July 1, they will officially only have one goalie signed; and that’s another issue they must take care of.
There are plenty of potential candidates to succeed Emery as the backup goalie in Philly, but it is highly unlikely that the Flyers will be able to bring in any of the younger guys at the price both parties are looking to lay on the table, so you can count out guys like Brian Elliot and Jonas Gustavsson. However, as Emery proved, the age is not a factor.
At 38 years old, Evgeni Nabakov had a better starting campaign for the New York Islanders than Emery did a backup. He managed to finish with a 2.74 GAA and .905 save percentage. Those numbers are not a world’s difference when compared to Emery’s, but considering he played with one of the worst defenses in the league in front of him, you have to give him a little more credit than what those numbers show. The Islanders finished 28th in the league last season for goals given up per game (3.18).
If Philadelphia can sweet talk its way into changing the mind of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who says he intends on retiring this summer, he too would make a great fit as a back up in Philly. At 36 years old — again, older than Emery — he managed to up a 2.62 GAA and a .913 save percentage as the primary backup with the Colorado Avalanche last season.
Finding a backup goalie is not the primary focus for the Flyers heading into this offseason, and it should not be at any point. However, it is an issue they will want to have right beside the defensive plans. Getting the right guy to back up Mason can happen, but it would have to happen fairly early.