THE GOALTENDING market appears to be evaporating before the Flyers' eyes.
Veteran Mike Smith inked a 6-year extension with the Phoenix, er, Bettman Coyotes yesterday to avoid hitting the free-agent market on Friday. Nik Backstrom re-signed in Minnesota for $10.25 million last week.
Vancouver shipped Cory Schneider to New Jersey as Martin Brodeur's heir apparent, leaving buyout target Roberto Luongo as the Canucks' starter.
And two more netminders high on the Flyers' list might not work out, either.
There's a very good chance Ray Emery, who many believe is the Flyers' No. 1 choice to work in tandem with Steve Mason next season, will soon re-sign with the Cup-champion Blackhawks to avoid hitting the market.
Emery's agent, J.P. Barry, met with the Blackhawks on Sunday night after the draft to discuss Emery. Terms of a deal had not been agreed upon yesterday, but the two sides are pretty confident that Emery can remain Corey Crawford's backup next season.
Teams can begin negotiating with free agents beginning tomorrow at noon. Contracts are not allowed to be signed until Friday at noon, when free agency officially opens.
Emery, 30, was an astounding 17-1-0 with Chicago. The common thinking was that he'd be more interested in a raise from the $1.5 million he earned last season to compete for a starting job elsewhere. Apparently, capturing the Stanley Cup while playing a significant share of the games is enough to stay.
Flyers management is now operating under the assumption that Emery will re-sign.
So, with Emery crossed off the list, some believe the next likely target is free agent Tim Thomas, the 39-year-old former Cup winner who took last season off. Thomas spent the year with his family.
Thomas' agent, Bill Zito, told reporters yesterday that he has been instructed by his client to explore options for a comeback next season.
Newsday reported that Thomas, who has spent his entire 8-year career in Boston, will become a free agent on Friday. The Bruins traded Thomas' rights to the Islanders, who used his contract to hit the salary-cap floor, during the season. Since Thomas never reported to play, the Islanders could "toll" his contract and force him to play next year under the same terms.
Even though the Islanders need a goaltender for next season, general manager Garth Snow told Newsday that the club has no interest in tolling the deal.
Would the Flyers have interest in Thomas?
"I think we've got to look at anything and everything to try and make our team better, and that includes goaltending," general manager Paul Holmgren told the Daily News. "That includes both the free-agent and trade market."
Holmgren was not permitted to talk specifics about pending free agents, at least not until tomorrow.
Yet, it's safe to say that the Flyers would have major concerns about Thomas, who hasn't played in more than a full calendar year. Thomas hasn't surfaced much outside of Colorado. What if he's ballooned to 300 pounds?
Besides, how much money would Thomas require to come out of "retirement?" Perhaps not coincidentally, he decided to skip the final year of his deal, which paid him the least ($3 million) out of his 4-year, $20 million deal.
So, who does that leave? The list isn't long, or exciting. Evgeni Nabokov is 37 and had an .842 save percentage in the playoffs. Dan Ellis is 33 but didn't post strong numbers in Carolina. Jose Theodore is 36.
Which means the Flyers will continue to peruse the trade market for Mason's partner. Remember those negotiations with Edmonton involving Braydon Coburn? Perhaps Oilers starting goalie Devan Dubnyk was one of the names coming back to Philadelphia.
The clock is ticking until Friday.
Flyers chairman Ed Snider was at the club's draft table on the floor at the Prudential Center on Sunday, marking the first time he'd been actively involved in the team's draft day activities in years.
Snider, 80, said in an interview with NBC 10 yesterday that the Flyers are on "high alert" and his involvement was to make sure that the team gets back to the playoffs next spring.
He also spoke candidly about the Flyers' decision to buy out goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last week.
"I don't pick the players. I didn't pick Ilya Bryzgalov," Snider said. "All of our scouts, our goalie scout, our pro scouts, including Paul [Holmgren], we had a meeting and I happened to attend it. Of all the goalies that were available, he was considered to be the best.
"We brought him in. He played well. He wasn't horrible. It didn't fit for a variety of reasons. It was a mistake. We're paying the price for it."
When asked about Bryzgalov's off-ice antics, Snider said: "I think you'd have to be a psychiatrist to figure out what the problem was."
The Flyers made a minor league trade yesterday, swapping out defenseman Danny Syvret to the Rangers for forward Kris Newbury. Newbury, 31, is the highest-paid ($300,000) player in the AHL. He has 72 NHL games on his resume . . . The Flyers made qualifying offers to restricted free agents Erik Gustafsson, Oliver Lauridsen, Eric Wellwood and Brandon Manning, likely keeping all of them in the fold for next year. Fellow restricted free agents Blake Kessel and Mitch Wahl will become unrestricted free agents.
DN Members Only: Just for fun, watch Sam Morin get crushed in a fight.
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