Did anyone in Philadelphia really think that goaltender Ray Emery was the answer? Those that smartly didn't are nonetheless probably wishing he was healthy and back in nets, because the alternative is so much worse.
With Emery and career-back-up Michael Leighton (who has actually performed quite admirably this season) currently on the shelf, the weight of the City of Brotherly Love has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Brian Boucher, who, throughout his career, has been plagued by consistency issues. And, seeing as the Emery experiment hasn't exactly turned out as planned when he was healthy (aside from a decent stretch to start the season), it is clear that in nets is the position most requiring a changing of the guard of some kind in the off-season.
Meanwhile, following Tuesday night's 2-0 shutout loss to the Ottawa Senators, it has become readily apparent that goaltending isn't even as bad as it gets right now for Philly, in the midst of a playoff race. Without leading-point-and-goal-scorer Jeff Carter in the lineup (injured against the Atlanta Thrashers the game before; broken foot), it stands to reason that the team everyone thought was going to comprise the "Beasts of the East" heading into the season is actually going to go soft and soundly into that good night.
Come the off-season, it is clear that major changes will be needed, and, yet, the Flyers have pretty maxed out all of their cap space. Considering the fact that only forward Arron Asham, defenseman Lukas Krajicek, and goalie Leighton (all depth players) will be unrestricted free agents, not much cash will be freed up to pursue a Marty Turco, for example, who just might fit the bill in nets.
It would seem that somehow, someway, the Flyers will have to unload one of their big contracts in often-injured Daniel Briere (cap hit of $6,500,000 per year) and Simon Gagne ($5,250,000), captain Mike Richards ($5,750,000), budding superstar Jeff Carter ($5,000,000), power-play quarterbacks Kimmo Timonen ($6,333,333) and Chris Pronger ($4,921,429 after this year), and rough-and-tumble forward Scott Hartnell ($4,200,000).
I know what you're thinking. Firstly: Wow, that's a lot of money. Secondly: Wow, that's a lot of big contracts… what were they thinking in doling out all that cash? Thirdly: Who would give Hartnell over $4,000,000 per year (admittedly, his salary drops to below $4,000,000 in 2011 and he did have a good year last year, but still... $4,000,000?!)?
All logical comments to be made. It's ironic though that Hartnell, along with Gagne, are the two that might seem the most attractive to other teams (or at least would be the most available); Hartnell for his "cheap" salary, and Gagne because the others, aside from maybe Timonen and Briere, are just too valuable to let go. Trading away one or two of those players would definitely free up the necessary cash to go after Turco, better insulate Emery's net for the time being, and fetch a cheaper replacement for anyone who was traded. Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay, whose stats have dropped off in recent years, could be two options at forward, while Kim Johnsson or Joe Corvo could conceivably replace Timonen at a fraction of the cost.
Now, it is true that the Flyers may still make the playoffs, but the fact remains that this team has been a huge disappointment up until now (especially recently, going 2-5-1 in their last eight games), and all signs point to the team becoming an even more huge disappointment in the nine games remaining in their schedule.
Currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 37-31-5, the Flyers really only have two "gimmes" left: April 1 against the New York Islanders and April 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, with the Leafs going 6-2 in their past eight games, one can make the argument that those two games are just more opportunities for the Flyers to show their fans how wrong the hockey experts were heading into this season. And, not that it matters all that much, but one of those two Toronto losses came at the hands of the Islanders.
Call it what you will: bad luck, bad management, bad coaching, lack of heart, lack of experienced leadership (Richards) or the presence of overrated leadership (Chris Pronger)… I'm sure there are points to be made for all of the above. All would surely be forgiven and forgotten if the Flyers finished strong and made a run into and in the playoffs (history books are written by the victors after all), but, unfortunately, instead of peaking at the right time, the Flyers are downward spiraling at the wrong one.