PITTSBURGH -- With Sergei Bobrovsky off to Columbus, the Flyers now have a hole to fill in net.
Should they not acquire a goaltender this weekend, the Flyers’ brass will arrive back in Philadelphia on Saturday night with two rookie goaltenders in the system, and a backup needed for Ilya Bryzgalov.
Besides Bryzgalov, the Flyers have only Finnish giant Niko Hovinen and undrafted free agent Cal Heeter under contract for next season.
Hovinen, 24, is a massive 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds. On loan with the Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), Hovinen posted a stellar 2.26 goals against-average and .920 save percentage in 41 appearances last season.
Heeter, 23, signed a two-year deal with the Flyers in March. He netted a .918 save percentage in 32 games with Ohio State last season.
Hovinen is the only one among the two who could possibly make the jump to the NHL. Even if he does, Hovinen wouldn’t likely get the work needed - in Bryzgalov’s shadow - to continue his development.
And even if the Flyers went ahead and drafted a goaltender in the first round on Friday night at the Consol Energy Center, such a prospect would be years away from even sniffing the NHL. Goalies take the longest to develop.
Therefore, Bryzgalov needs a backup, and he could certainly use one that brings a calming, veteran presence. Though Bobrovsky was a fellow Russian, Bryzgalov rarely communicated with his countryman and the two were not close friends. It would be natural to view Bobrovsky as competition, especially after a rookie season in 2010-11 in which he posted 28 wins.
Now, Bobrovsky will get a chance to fight for a No. 1 job in Columbus with Steve Mason.
“He’s had a great first year in the league,” Columbus GM Scott Howson said of Bobrovsky. “He’s won over 40 games in the league. I think he has the potential to be a very good NHL goalie. He's still a young goalie... I think he has a chance to be a No. 1. We’ll see how it plays out.”
But who will backup Bryzgalov?
There are a host of veteran free agent backups on the market, including former Flyer Marty Biron, the Devils’ Johan Hedberg and Florida’s Scott Clemmensen.
For my money, the Flyers’ most likely next backup is a guy under contract in Carolina for next season, in one Brian Boucher.
In fact, the Flyers wanted to re-sign Boucher last summer but could not find a viable trade partner for Bobrovsky. This summer, it took three picks, including a No. 45 overall second rounder in which the Flyers desperately needed.
Boucher ran out of time and signed a 2-year, $1.9 million deal with Carolina on July 1. Boucher, 35, played just 10 games for the Hurricanes this season after sitting out with a tough groin injury.
At this point, a source said no dialogue between the Flyers and Hurricanes has taken place. But Boucher makes sense for a variety of reasons:
One is Boucher’s personality. He knows his role as a backup, has played in the league for a long time, and has always been one of the most well-liked players in any dressing room he’s been included. Having been through it all with the Flyers, Boucher could help pass on some of his knowledge in how to deal with pressure situations to Bryzgalov. Though a year older since his second stint with the Flyers ended, Boucher is dependable and reliable in case of an injury.
Two is Boucher’s availability. Coming off an injury-filled campaign, Boucher could likely be had for a low-round draft pick, which the Flyers usually dangle like candy anyways. Carolina would likely be willing to part with Cam Ward’s backup because the position is usually insignificant and they have all the cap space in the world to sign a new one.
Three is Boucher’s cap hit. At $1.75 million for next season, Bobrovsky was the second-highest paid backup in the NHL. Boucher would be available for almost half the price at $950,000. His actual salary for next season would be $1 million. That newfound cap space, for instance, would take care of a new deal for a restricted free agent like Marc-Andre Bourdon.
Boucher has close ties to Paul Holmgren. Despite playing in Carolina last season, Boucher’s family is still in South Jersey.
The other backup options are less than stellar. Clemmensen, who pulled in $1.3 million for the last three seasons, is too expensive. A source close to Biron said he would like to remain with the Rangers, where he had a tremendous relationship with Henrik Lundqvist. And Hedberg played well in 27 games for New Jersey but will turn 40 during next season.
Yes, the Flyers could draft a goaltender in Pittsburgh. But that would be stockpiling for the future. They need to make some other sort of move to aide Bryzgalov.
Time will tell.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers