Ford: Flyers still seeking Bernie Parent's replacement

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Bernie Parent helped the Flyers win the Stanley Cup twice in the 1970s, and the team has looked for his goaltending magic and another title ever since. On the right, he was honored anew on Dec. 8, 2010, when his No. 1 banner was raised at Wells Fargo Center after having hung at the Spectrum.

Bernie Parent.

In some ways, that is where every look at Flyers history should start, and where every attempt by the team to make more history often dead-ends.

No aspect of putting together a roster capable of winning the Stanley Cup has been more frustrating for the franchise than finding the guy who will finally replace Bernie Parent. Forty-one years after the last Cup, it hasn't happened yet. Along the way, there have been tragedy and comedy, near success and utter failure, homegrown talent that bloomed and withered, outsiders past their prime or never to reach one, and always the belief that if they could ever find that one guy . . .

Wayne Stephenson, Pete Peeters, Phil Myre, Rick St. Croix, Pelle Lindbergh, Bob Froese, Darren Jensen, Ron Hextall.

The Flyers, at least judging by last week's NHL draft, aren't convinced Steve Mason is the guy, either, or Michal Neuvirth, who is with his fourth organization. One year after selecting three goaltenders, Hextall, now the team's general manager, grabbed another in the second round, making Carter Hart the first goalie taken in the draft.

Hart, a 17-year-old from Alberta, is a long way from challenging Mason, or anyone else, for a job in the NHL, but a second-round pick is a valuable commodity in the draft, and the decision to spend it on yet another goaltender is telling.

The Flyers have goalies stockpiled seemingly everywhere now. Anthony Stolarz, a 2012 draft pick, is the starter for the Phantoms. Merrick Madsen, who was taken in the 2013 draft, is playing at Harvard. From last season's draft, Felix Sandstrom is playing in Sweden, Matej Tomek of Slovakia is at the University of North Dakota, and Ivan Fedotov is playing in the Russian KHL. In April, the Flyers signed 23-year-old Alex Lyon from Yale, who will compete for a Lehigh Valley roster spot.

Add Hart to the list. He won't be the answer if Mason fails, but he might be the answer if the others between him and the NHL don't make it, either. Hextall keeps adding to the pipeline because he knows as well as anyone how difficult it is to fill this position and keep it filled.

Ken Wregget, Tommy Soderstrom, Dominic Roussel, Garth Snow, John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Boucher, Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche.

Mason played well as the Flyers went down the stretch of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs. He led the league with 10 wins after March 5 and went into the first round against Washington on a roll. He left it having been rolled.

It wasn't all his fault the Flyers lost the first three games to the powerful Capitals, after which Mason was benched in favor of Neuvirth, but he didn't help. The defining moment was the 100-foot deflection that somehow trickled through his pads when the Flyers were down 1-0 in the second period of Game 2. A game later, with the Flyers down a goal in the third period, Mason gloved a shot, but dropped it in front, and that killed that game.

Maybe it isn't totally fair, but when an organization sees that from the starting goalie in a major moment, it starts looking over his shoulder and somewhere down the road. Down the road, it might be Stolarz or Madsen, or farther down Sandstrom or Tomek, or way, way down the road, there is Carter Hart, grinding through the minors.

Jeff Hackett, Antero Nittymaki, Martin Biron, Ray Emery, Michael Leighton, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Bryzgalov.

Drafting kids is a low-reward business for the NHL, which is required these days to scout the entire world. (The Flyers' first-round pick was a Russian named German.) For every selection that makes it to the big league, another five or six fizzle out. And for the ones who do make it, only those very special few can get you where you want to go.

The best way to beat the odds is to pile up the picks and figure out what is important. For the Flyers, it is apparent they believe piling up goaltenders is a very good idea. What this says about their current goalies, both of whom are only 28, is probably obvious.

Hextall wants to find the guy who can replace Bernie Parent. He knows that's not easy. He's been there. But he also knows nothing else great can happen until that does.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports