The Philadelphia Flyers enter the offseason with four goalies under their control, and they run the gamut in regards to expansion rules. Steve Mason, who started a majority of the games in net last season is an unrestricted free agent. Michal Neuvirth, their backup for most of the year, is under contract at $2.5M until the end of 2018-19. Anthony Stolarz, the 23-year-old former second round pick who posted a 2.07 GAA in 7 games in the NHL is an RFA owed less than $1M next year. And Carter Hart, another 2nd round pick, is exempt from the Expansion Draft.
Most believed the Flyers would allow Mason to enter free agency, at least through the Expansion Draft letting them to protect another goalie. There was some debate over whether or not GM Ron Hextall would protect Neuvirth or Stolarz.
There is a familiarity with George McPhee as he drafted, let go, re-signed, and traded Neuvirth during his time in Washington. Thus despite his disastrous 2016-17 season, the idea of protecting the more experienced Neuvirth due to fear of being left in the dust heading into free agency likely entered Hextall’s mind. The easier choice was to protect Stolarz, the heir-apparant and stay the course for the future.
Now, there’s a wrench in the works. Stolarz had a serious knee injury down the stretch and recently had surgery on his MCL. He’s out at least all summer and likely into early next season. This has led one local beat reporter back to the idea of protecting Neuvirth.
The Jackson, N.J., native (Stolarz) has a long rehab process ahead of him, and the Flyers might not protect him in the expansion draft. It was doubtful that Vegas, the new NHL team, would select Stolarz in the expansion draft before the injury, but the latest development could cement things. That means the Flyers probably will protect goalie Michal Neuvirth. –Sam Carchidi, Philly.com
The injury and his contract would make Stolarz an interesting option for the Golden Knights if left unprotected. Vegas is going to have to have at least one goalie to stash in the AHL. Assuming goalies have the largest trade value, we can expect McPhee to select at least four, if not closer to five or six goalies in the draft. One or two to keep in the NHL, one prospect to groom for the future, and a few to use as pawns to acquire draft picks or other prospects.
The injury may end up being a blessing for the Golden Knights as it may now cause the Flyers to protect an average goalie in Neuvirth while leaving their potential future goaltender exposed. Philadelphia, and especially Ron Hextall entering his fourth season as the GM, need to show a bit more success in 2017-18 than the Golden Knights do. If they leave Neuvirth exposed and he’s selected by Vegas, lose Mason to free agency, and have Stolarz on the shelf with the knee injury, they’ll be left picking up the scraps off the free agency market at the most important position in hockey.
The key to this whole situation will come down to what McPhee, goalie coach Dave Prior, and the rest of the pro scouting staff think of Stolarz. If they see him as a future star, this injury could wind up being a huge break for Vegas, if not, you just read 565 words on something that means absolutely nothing.