Crashing the Crease: Buyout Plan B’s

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Yesterday, Kevin Christmann discussed the possibility of an amnesty buyout clause being introduced in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that would allow teams to buy out one contract without any cap hit penalties.

He, and many others, have suggested the possibility of using that buyout on Ilya Bryzgalov, ridding the Flyers of what is undoubtedly a bad contract no matter how one may look at it.

While the merits of choosing to use this buyout on Bryzgalov are up for debate, one thing is fairly clear: if Paul Holmgren were to exercise this buyout on the Flyers’ starting goaltender, he would have to make a move to shore up his depth between the pipes for the immediate future. Even if he and Peter Laviolette were comfortable with thrusting Michael Leighton into the de facto starting position, they would have no safe backup option, as none of Cal Heeter, Scott Munroe, or Niko Hovinen are really close to being NHL ready.

In looking at goaltenders around the league who may or may not be available, it is fairly evident that there are no top-notch long-term solutions up for grabs without overpayment. Fortunately, Holmgren is a fairly seasoned bargain shopper when it comes to goaltending, and there are some low-cost, minimal-risk goalies out there who may be just the bridge the Flyers need between Bryzgalov and their hypothetical goalie of the future. The following possibilities are listed in no particular order.

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1. – Josh Harding

Why he’d work: At age 28, Harding has quietly solidified his backup role with Minnesota over his six seasons with the Wild. In 152 NHL games, he has registered a respectable 2.64 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, and in the 2011-2012 campaign he reached a career best 34 appearances with a 2.62 GAA and .917 SV%.

He just inked a new three year contract that pays $1.9M per season, which is an affordable number for a goaltender who has the potential to become a starter but also a certain comfort level with being a backup. Moreover, while he has been good for Minnesota and GM Doug Risebrough has not been keen on letting Harding go, Matt Hackett had a very solid showing last season and may be ready to establish himself as the goalie of the future. If Risebrough gets curious about what he has in Hackett, he may be willing to swap Harding out in order to get Hackett some NHL playing time.

Why it might not work out: Niklas Backstrom is a top notch goaltender, but isn’t getting any younger and as injuries have caught up with him Harding has gotten more and more starts. Minnesota has made huge commitments to Parise and Suter in the hopes that they will become top tier contenders, and if Backstrom’s lower body injuries persist they won’t want to risk losing a capable goaltender in Harding with Matt Hackett still being unproven.

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2. – Scott Clemmensen

Why he’d work: A nine-year veteran on a two year contract averaging $1.2M, Clemmensen has proven himself time and time again as both a backup and a split-time starter. Despite spending the majority of his career in the shadow of Martin Brodeur, he’s earned a reputation for being reliable with his best season coming in 2008-2009 when Brodeur was sidelined with an injury for much of the year. In that season, Clemmensen appeared in 40 games and notched 25 wins, a .917 SV% and 2.39 GAA.

Last season in Florida, he played in 30 tilts with a .913 SV% and 2.57 GAA. The Panthers have relied on the combination of Clemmensen and Theodore to carry them in recent campaigns, but their goaltender of the future is undoubtedly Jacob Markstrom. In limited action, Markstrom has posted a .923 SV% and 2.66 GAA while averaging 31 shots against per game. Markstrom is still young at 22, but he appears capable. It is therefore possible that GM Dale Tallon may be willing to part with Clemmensen in order to start grooming Markstrom.

Why it might not work out: Florida made big strides last season in security a playoff seed and taking the eventual Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils to seven games in their first round series, and a lot of their success comes from the ability to play both Theodore and Clemmensen for a decent share of games in order to keep each rested. After finally breaking their playoff drought and getting competitive in the process, Tallon may not want to upset the apple cart by trading away the goaltender he just signed to an extension.

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3. – Dan Ellis

Why he’d work: The 32-year-old Ellis has had a tumultuous past few seasons since leaving Nashville. His numbers were never stellar, even while he was in the music city, as his career averages are only a .908 and 2.68. After signing as a starter in Tampa Bay in 2010-2011, he had a disastrous turn before being shipped to Anaheim where he has taken on a sparser backup role. However, he seems to have righted the ship a bit as he’s posted a .917 and .911 in each of his two seasons with the Ducks. As an unrestricted free agent, he’s a low-risk situation as the Flyers are able to negotiate a low salary and not lose any assets whatsoever to acquire him. He won’t be the guy you turn to night in and night out like Harding or Clemmensen would, but at least he’d be an experienced backup option for Leighton.

Why it might not work out: The past few seasons have not been great to Ellis, and his decent numbers in Anaheim came while only playing about a dozen games in each season. If Leighton falters considerably, it remains to be seen if Ellis can be pressed into service for half a season or more.

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4. – Ty Conklin

Why he’d work: Another UFA option, the 36-year-old Conklin is an experienced vet with plenty of Winter Classic experience to boot. Like Ellis, he is a more pedestrian option for the Flyers with only 215 career games and a 2.69 GAA with a .906 SV%. Unlike Ellis, he has historically always been viewed as a backup. He struggled with Detroit last season, registering a sub-par .884 SV% alongside a 3.28 GAA, but in the past he has demonstrated the ability to hold things down adequately.

Why it might not work out: Conklin is most certainly on the downswing of his career, so it may be unreasonable to expect that he will be much improved on a Flyers squad that lacks the defensive prowess that the Lidstrom-led Red Wings possessed in Conklin’s last year there. If Leighton should prove inadequate, leaving it all up to Conklin could be an issue.