Expect the unexpected from Ron Hextall as Flyers search for goalie
Anders Nilsson and Keith Kinkaid are two low-key names to watch out for when free agency starts.
The NHL free agency market is officially open for business on Saturday, and for the fourth straight year the Flyers are expected to sit on the periphery of it.
General Manager Ron Hextall said at the draft last week that he will be on the hunt for a veteran goalie to platoon with Michael Neuvirth, but also will possibly look for an experienced defenseman — maybe bring back Mark Streit on a one-year deal? — to add depth and leadership to a young unit and hopes to re-sign forward Jordan Weal.
Otherwise, don’t expect a bidding war for any high-profile free agents. The true action will be between the pipes.
There are a handful of proven veterans that have been tied to the Flyers such as Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier and, of course, Steve Mason. Each one is a safe choice and conveniently checks off the right boxes like low cost and a short-term tenure.
If history is any indication, though, Hextall has rarely been predictable — see the Brayden Schenn trade at the draft last Friday or the hiring of Dave Hakstol as head coach — and typically zags when others zig.
Which leads us to believe Hextall has not targeted any of the netminders mentioned above as his top options, and has already stated he is not yet in favor of handing the backup job to Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz.
Instead, our best guess is to look for the GM to raise some eyebrows and reach out to Anders Nilsson. Last season, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound goalie went 10-10-4 as a backup in Buffalo. Despite a porous defense in front of him, the 27-year-old finished with a 2.67 goals against average and an impressive .923 save percentage. Basically, he saw a lot of shots in the 23 games he started and stopped many of them.
Despite his size, Nilsson is athletic, moves well and obviously takes up a lot of space. The Flyers are familiar with him after he turned aside 39 of 40 shots in a 4-1 win over them in January.
After making $1 million with the Sabres last season, he could be signed for less than $2 million per season over two or three years and make 30-40 starts — all important factors the Flyers are looking for in their search.
Another name to keep an eye on is Devils backup Keith Kinkaid. He is 23-27 with a respectable 2.68 GAA and .912 save percentage over the last three years with New Jersey and made just $725,000 last year.
Nilsson or Kinkaid aren’t splashy but both are ideal and inexpensive stopgaps to work alongside Neuvirth for a couple of seasons until one of the Flyers’ coveted prospects is ready.