With Bryzgalov Out of the Picture, What’s Next for Flyers in Net?

With Bryzgalov Out of the Picture, What’s Next for Flyers in Net?

The Flyers need a goaltender. I know that comes as shocking news at any given point in time – today especially – but it’s true.

Ilya Bryzgalov is gone, much to the delight of many in Philadelphia. That leaves only Steve Mason on the current roster however, and little else within the organization – unless the front office decided to rush 19-year-old Anthony Stolarz to the NHL, which would seem outside the realm of possibility.

It’s apparent the Flyers will either dip into free agency or make a trade to fill the void. The million-dollar question is who, or what kind of player, will they target? Paul Holmgren didn’t have the pieces to land Jonathan Bernier from the Kings – a young netminder who could have nailed down the position for years to come – so what’s Plan B?

Here are some of the proposed options. What route do you think the front office to take?

Roberto Luongo

Holmgren was quick to dismiss Luongo as a potential replacement at the press conference to announce Bryz’s departure, but the Flyers’ GM only ruled out a trade. If Vancouver amnesties Luongo, Homer conceded that might change things. The perception around the league is a buyout is likely.

Still, Luongo to Philly will be far from a done deal even when that happens. Bill Meltzer of HockeyBuzz thinks the 34 year old would be one of the more coveted options on the market, commanding as much as three-to-four years around $4 million per – more than Niklas Backstrom just re-signed for in Minnesota. That could price the Flyers out of the market seeing as they are still up against the salary cap.

Tim Thomas

As easily as Homer shutdown Luongo noise, he seemed to welcome the idea of 39-year-old Tim Thomas. It’s no secret Flyers chairman Ed Snider is a fan of the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, citing Thomas' performance in Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup run as a reason for signing Bryzgalov back in 2011.

"It had to be done," Snider told the Daily News, just after arriving here for tonight's NHL Awards show at The Palms Casino and Resort. "I was part of making it happen. It was hard to sit there and watch the Stanley Cup final, knowing what [Tim] Thomas was doing for Boston."

Now an unrestricted free agent, there have been rumors Thomas could be suiting up in Orange & Black for years. The trouble is Thomas just spent last season out of hockey, so while his run with the Bruins culminated in a fourth-consecutive All-Star selection, it’s anybody’s guess what the Flyers would be getting. It might be worth seeing what’s left in the tank – using Mason as a fallback – if it’s only going to be a one-year arrangement.

Evgeni Nabokov/Jose Theodore

As long as we’re looking at aging veterans who the Flyers could attempt to squeeze another year or two out of, Nabokov and Theodore should be on the list. Both can be had in free agency for mid-to-lower-level salaries, which would provide the front office some flexibility, while neither would necessarily push Mason into the shadows.

Tim Panaccio mentions Theodore as one of his “obvious” free agent candidates. He turns 37 in September and is coming off of a down year where he battled injury on a miserable Florida squad, but played well as recently as one season earlier and would come cheap. TSN’s Darren Dreger believes Nabokov will be of some interest as well as the Islanders weigh their options after the soon-to-be 38 year old helped them reach the playoffs for the first time since ’07. The Flyers already failed to agree to terms with Nabokov once in 2010 though, so we’ll see.

Ray Emery

Dreger also mentions Emery as a free agent possibility, as will virtually any report about the Flyers and goaltenders. Emery, 31 in September, is coming off of arguably his best season in the NHL, posting a 17-1-0 record with a .922 SV% and 1.94 GAA. He also has a familiarity with the organization having already played for Philly in 2009-10.

The man known as Razor is apparently as recovered as one can be from avascular necrosis, the disease that nearly ended his career while he was a Flyer. Apparently that’s not what the club should be concerned about. What they should be concerned about is to what extent the numbers Emery produced in 2013 were a product of playing for the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks, a team that racked up only seven losses all regular season. Still a solid option to split ice time with Mason presuming there isn’t a bidding war for his services.

Brian Boucher/Michael Leighton

As long as we’re talking retreads…

Bahaha just kidding.

Mike Smith

It sounds like the top free agent goalie on the market this summer could be staying put. The Coyotes are described as “comfortable” in ongoing negotiations with Smith, so there’s a good chance the 31 year old won’t be available come July 5.

Not sure how much interest the Flyers would have anyway. Holmgren has to be hesitant to sign another netminder from Phoenix, especially for big dollars and years again. Smith also came back down to earth a bit this year after a stellar campaign in 2011-12. It’s just hard to envision the Flyers going down the path of another big commitment to a 30-plus goaltender this summer – or maybe I just don’t want to.

Ryan Miller

Of all the names on this list, Miller’s might be the most exciting – although perhaps one of the most unlikely as well. The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner continues to pile up decent albeit not spectacular numbers on a consistent basis with a fairly ordinary club in Buffalo, and could benefit greatly from a change of scenery.

A change of scenery the Sabres may be willing to grant. Some housecleaning could be in the works up north, and the time is now to get something back for Miller, who turns 33 in July and has one year remaining on his contract. The $6.25 million cap hit might be a bit hard for the Flyers to swallow, and it’s already assumed they would ask for Sean Couturier, so don’t count on this coming to fruition. That said, Miller would look great in Orange & Black, even if his addition to the roster does move Mason into a pure backup role.

Jonas Hiller

This is an idea currently being floated by Panotch, and it is intriguing. One of his earlier reports indicated the Flyers were again talking to the Anaheim Ducks about a swap involving winger Bobby Ryan. The rumor initially suggested Ryan would come to Philly in exchange for Braydon Coburn and the 11th overall pick in Sunday’s draft. Could Hiller jump into the equation?

From the Ducks’ standpoint, almost certainly yes. Viktor Fasth stepped up for Anaheim in a big way last season, perhaps making Hiller expendable. It’s all about whether or not the Flyers are willing to give up their top pick in what is said to be a deep draft.

I hope not, but the 31-year-old Hiller wouldn’t be a terrible short-term solution. He has one year remaining on his current deal at $4.5 million, and is coming off of another decent season – 15-6-4, 2.36, .913. Such a move would seem to relegate Mason to backup as well.

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

Doug Pederson: Eagles rebound after getting 'lip bloodied a little bit'

They were great before the bye. They were bad since.

The Eagles rallied against the Lions only to lose late because of two turnovers. Then last week at Washington, they laid an egg.

But on Sunday, they looked like the pre-bye team — at least defensively — and handed the Vikings their first loss of the season.

"This is a team that for two weeks in a row has kind of got their lip bloodied a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said after the 21-10 victory (see Instant Replay). "The Detroit game, obviously feeling sick about that one, and then last week in Washington not playing well and up to our potential.

"These guys are professionals. They know how to get themselves ready to go. I don't feel like I have to motivate them. ... They really took it upon themselves this week to really make the corrections, No. 1, from last week and the adjustments. The veterans, the leadership stood up today, took command of the game, and that's what you like to see from this group."

More from Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz:

The defense
If the Eagles were going to win this game, the defense would have to dominate.

It did (see story).

The Vikings finished with only 282 yards from scrimmage — or 52 more than the Redskins rushed for last week against the Eagles.

The Eagles held Minnesota to 93 yards rushing (3.4 per carry) and battered Sam Bradford, who was 24 for 41 for 224 yards with a pick and a garbage-time TD. They sacked him six times (they had zero last week) and forced him to fumble four times. Bradford entered the game without a turnover this season.

"I think the guys just put it in their mind to play better than last week," Pederson understated. "Our defensive line really came off the ball today, really took it upon themselves to just attack the line of scrimmage and play on their side.

Two of the Eagles' three takeaways occurred in the red zone and in the first quarter, when the game was scoreless. They picked off Bradford on 3rd-and-goal at the 6 and forced a fumble on 1st down at the 17.

"It's huge," Pederson said. "Our defense playing as well as they did down there and stopping them. ... It was fun to watch our defense today. That's the defense that we expect every week going forward."

Bring the heat
The Eagles blitzed more than they had all season (see story). 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prefers to let his front four bring the pressure, but it hadn't worked the last two weeks, and now they were facing Sam Bradford, who was familiar with the scheme.

"Anytime you know a quarterback on the other team and kind of know his strengths and weaknesses and things like that — just try to give him some different looks, put some pressure on him from different areas," Pederson said. "It was a great game plan. ... Sometimes just changing things up to help your guys be in position — we benefitted from that today, and guys did a nice job."

Going for two after a made PAT
Midway through the second quarter, Pederson took a point off the board and decided to go for two after the Vikings were penalized for hitting Caleb Sturgis on an extra point, which was successful.

Wentz made the conversion with a QB sneak.

"It was kind of a no-brainer, because you get the ball at the 1," Pederson said.

"I've got a lot of trust in our guys. If you don't work those situations in practice and talk about those situations, then yeah, negative things can happen. But I felt totally 100 percent confident in our guys to execute that play."

Another "no-brainer"
Pederson hasn't been afraid to go for it on fourth down — the Eagles entered the game 4 for 4 on fourth downs — and on Sunday he converted another.

On the aforementioned drive, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-2 at the Vikings' 44. After unsuccessfully trying to draw the Vikings offside, the Eagles called timeout ... and sent the offense back out to go for it.

"Sometimes at that point, they feel like you're going to rush the punt team out there and burn the timeout," Pederson said, "but I went with the offense. I just had total confidence that we were going to get the first down.

"It was a kind of, again, a no-brainer — almost like the two-point conversion."

The play was an run-pass option ... until Wentz dropped the snap. He then ran six yards for the first.

"Obviously when he dropped it, at that point, it was run all the way," Pederson said. "But great execution."

"One more shot"
With 15 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles had the ball at the Minnesota 17. 

Pederson sent out the field goal unit for a 35-yarder, but when the Vikings called timeout to ice Sturgis, it gave Pederson time to change his mind.

The offense came back onto the field. Wentz threw incomplete to Jordan Matthews in the end zone, and then Sturgis came back and hit the field goal.

"Take one more shot," Pederson said. "Max the protection. It's two-man route. It's either a completion or an incomplete pass."

Wentz said there was "a little indecisiveness on the sideline," but once the play was decided on ... 

"It was just a max protect throw to Jordan or throw it away," Wentz said. 'It was pretty plain and simple: Don't take a sack."

All's well that ends well
Wentz botched a handoff. He threw two ugly interceptions in the first quarter. 

OK, those things happen (see Wentz's overall evaluation).

But he also dropped three snaps. How?

"I'm not really sure," Wentz said. "I just have to catch the ball, for starters. Some of them were a little off, but those are the things that we have to clean up."

On one of the dropped snaps, he converted the 4th-and-2. On another, he recovered and found Darren Sproles for a 19-yard gain.

Now, about those interceptions. On the first, he overthrew a blanketed Brent Celek. On the second, he forced a throw to Nelson Agholor with too much purple around.

"That one was 3rd-and-12, and there's no need to force that one," Wentz said. "As a quarterback, sometimes that happens. There's really no rhyme or reason. You see things and you kick yourself in the tail after the play, but you learn from it and move on."

Picks aside, Wentz's numbers weren't pretty — 16 for 28 passing for 138 yards with a TD. Pederson said Wentz "might have been pressing a little bit early" but overall "played efficient."

"Love the way he settled in," Pederson said. "There was no panic for him and any of us on the sideline."

Big V
Wentz was sacked five times last week. On Sunday, he wasn't sacked at all.

The Eagles at times max-protected, but they also benefitted from the improved play of rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who was in his second game in place of suspended Lane Johnson.

Pederson said he didn't help Vaitai as much as he did against Washington.

"I felt he kind of settled in this week, did a nice job," Pederson said. "The run game obviously helps. ... We were in some two tight-end sets a little more today, and that obviously helped him a little bit. We'll evaluate the film tomorrow, but I thought overall he did a nice job."

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

For the first 40 yards of Josh Huff’s kick return touchdown on Sunday, he went untouched.

When he got to the Eagles’ 42-yard line, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was the only guy left in his way.

Huff ran through him.

“Yeah, I can’t let a kicker tackle me,” Huff said. “If he would have tackled me, I really would have been pissed at myself.”

The 170-pound Walsh couldn’t make the tackle and was sent spinning as Huff ran through. Fifty-six yards later, Huff took off from the 2-yard line, flipping into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead in an eventual 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).

Huff said he knew he was scoring as soon as he saw that he had just the kicker to beat.

With the Eagles’ down 3-0 and with their offense sputtering through the first quarter and change, Huff’s play was a game-changer (see 10 Observations).

“Josh did a great job on the return,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores.”

After Wendell Smallwood’s kick return touchdown last week, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have had kick return touchdowns in back-to-back games. They also have the NFL’s only two kick return touchdowns of the season (see Standout Plays).

“It’s super cool,” Smallwood said. “Now teams have to pick their poison. They can’t go away from one. They can’t say they’re not going to kick to Smallwood, then they kick to Huff and he takes it. I think we’re going to get a lot of teams’ attention.”

Huff also had a role in the Eagles’ offense against the Vikings. He caught four passes for 39 yards, including two that picked up first downs. His 14-yarder in the third helped set up the touchdown that sealed the win for the Eagles.

This season hasn’t been great offensively for Huff. He is clearly the Eagles’ fourth wideout and came into Sunday with just eight catches for 24 yards.

“Obviously, I want to play good on offense, but we have three great guys in front of me,” Huff said. “I’m doing what I can to stay ready and I’m at my best when those guys do need me. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing my job and as long as I stay ready, today was evident. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.”

Huff finished off his 98-yard kick return touchdown the same way he finished off his 41-yard receiving touchdown in New England last year: With a flip.

Huff took off from the 2-yard line and did a front flip, landing in the middle in the black end zone on his backside.

“It’s just something that happens,” Huff said. “Everybody says I should have stuck the landing, but I’m not a gymnast.”