What are the Flyers to do with the Sudden Vacancy In-Between the Pipes?
(Photo Credit: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
With the recent heart-wrenching news that Flyers goalie Carter Hart had to ask the team for an indefinite leave of absence due to him being named a person of interest by the London Ontario Police Department in their ongoing 2018 Team Canada rape investigation, Philadelphia has been left in not the best of situations.
On the one hand, they do not want to overreact and trade for a starting goalie with the possibility of Carter still being found innocent of any wrongdoing and thus cleared of all impending charges. But on the other hand, they don’t know how long this ongoing investigation will last or how much time Hart may be looking at if convicted.
So, what are their options? Well, they still have Samuel Ersson on the roster. Still, while this 24-year-old netminder has looked rock solid at times this season (especially in shootout situations), the idea of forcing a kid who has only played in 37 career NHL games into solely taking over the starting role does seem a bit too much to ask of this promising youth.
And in saying that, if you thought that goalie Cal Peterson (who the Flyers acquired from the Kings in the trade of Ivan Provorov) was a viable option to back up Ersson for the rest of the season, you are sadly mistaken. For example, in fifteen American Hockey League games played this year for the Phantoms, this now 29-year-old veteran netminder who is signed to a five million-dollar-a-year deal has managed to win just five games. In addition to that, when he played with the Flyers this year, Cal managed to win just one game out of his three appearances. And to add insult to injury, in those three outings, Peterson maintained a less-than-impressive goals-against average of 3.38 and a .889 save percentage.
With those facts now out in the open, it is my opinion that if the Flyers wish to stop their current skid and remain in playoff contention, they better be willing to go out and obtain Ersson some help.
One way that they could do that so it would not cost the Flyers to have to cough up that much for a player’s services would be to watch the waiver wire closely. Waiting for a team to be forced to waive one of their up-and-coming netminders that they intend to send back down to the minors after one of their everyday NHL netminders returns from injury would be ideal. However, there is no guarantee that it will happen again any time soon, considering the Blue Jackets just lost goalie Spencer Martin to the Carolina Hurricanes when the team recently tried to send him back down to the minors.
If the Flyers did not wish to wait for a similar situation to happen, they could try to acquire 27-year-old Finnish netminder Kaapo Kahkonen from the San Jose Sharks. Kaapo is in the last year of a contract that pays him a reasonable 2.75 million dollars, making him an impending free agent. Kahkonen rose to fame a few years ago while playing for the Minnesota Wild in his rookie campaign, where he was able to win 16 of the 24 games that he saw time in.
But, after Marc-Andre Fleury joined the team, Kahkonen was quickly dealt to the Sharks, and his progression then came to a grinding halt. Now, while there’s no telling that if attained by the Flyers, Kaapo would be able to return to his winning ways, he would undoubtedly be an improvement over Cal Peterson.
Another short-term-ish option for the Flyers that might be made available in the coming weeks would be Czech-born Karel Vejmelka of the Arizona Coyotes. Karel, who is also 27 years old, is a big, bodied guy whose 6’4, 224-pound frame tends to take up a lot of the net. And, while his stats may not appear at first glance to be that impressive, you have to remember he has been stuck playing with a team in the Coyotes who have been in a rebuilding phase since they moved to the desert from Winnipeg back in 1996. Because of this, though, Vejmelka should be able to be had for a minuscule return. Karel is currently signed for this year and next at the rate of $2,725,000 and could prove to be a solid 1B option until the club’s already drafted goaltender prospects come to fruition.
The last and possibly the best trade option for the Flyers, in the long term, may be to obtain the 29-year-old Latvian-born guardian of the blue paint, Elvis Merzlikins, from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since his first appearance in the NHL some five years ago, Elvis has been a solid option for the struggling Blue Jackets. That is until recently when he felt that his apparent starting job had been taken away from him undeservingly by the Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent in an effort to give newcomer Daniil Tarasov, who is 24 years old, more playing time to prove himself capable of being the starter of the future. This decision infuriated Merzlikins so much so that he asked the team for a trade because he only just started to not have to share his crease after his former goaltending partner Joonas Korpisalo was traded to the Los Angeles Kings last season. But it won’t be easy to obtain Elvis because he is in just the second season of a five-year $27 million deal that pays him $5.4 million a season. Now, you notice I said difficult but not impossible, and that’s because the Blue Jackets are well aware that in order to expedite getting this now frustrated goalie out of the teams’ locker-room, they know they may need to retain some of his salary.
And, if things weren’t already hard enough to attain Elvis, he has a 10-team no-trade clause that he has the right to invoke.
These are, of course all options to gain help A.S.A.P. ONCE/IF it is deemed that Carter Hart will no longer be returning to the Flyers and thus be forced to play for the Canadian Penal Hockey Leagues.
If the team is relucent to make a trade, what then may be in the best interest of the Flyers (especially if the team continues its recent descent in the standings over the next few weeks) is to wait it out until potential reinforcements come next season in the form of one of their already drafted goalie prospects.
One of those such players for the Flyers who could perhaps be deemed the most NHL-ready out of the bunch would be the already-signed goaltender Alexei Kolosov. Alexei, who was drafted by the Flyers back in the third round of the 2021 draft, is now 22 years old, and after being loaned to the KHL this season so he could play for the Dinamo Minsk, he has managed to play in 37 games so far, this year. In those games, Alexei has managed to average a very respectable 2.39 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
As for the other prospects in the system that strap on the pads, neither Carson Bjarnason, who was drafted by the Flyers last summer in the second round, or Yegor Zavragin, who was taken in the third, will be ready to make that jump next season.
In the end, there is no good option for the harsh reality of what recently blindsided most fans. And I fear that regardless of the outcome of this case, Hart’s wholesome reputation will forever be tarnished in this city. Ultimately, leading to his eventual departure from Philadelphia, that is, if he ever returns. So, in an effort to make the best of a bad situation, I feel it is imperative that the Flyers try and acquire Samuel Ersson some help sooner rather than later before the pressures of being thrown into a starting role affect his development so much that he becomes the next goalie in a long line to play for the Flyers whose promising career was for not.
I’m a lifelong Flyers fan who has been playing the sport of Ice Hockey we all know and love competitively for over 30 years now. I grew up playing in-between the pipes where I was able to take in the whole game and analysis just what the team needed to do to help us win. Over the years I always enjoyed reading and gaining as much knowledge as possible about this great sport, but always thought it lacked something. A players prospective!