As far as running sports jokes go, one of the longest-running knee-slappers has to be the comedy of errors that has surrounded the Philadelphia Flyers and their goaltending position.
In the early days of the franchise, it had Bernie Parent manning the net and he rewarded the Flyers with two Stanley Cup victories. In the early- to mid-1980s, Pelle Lindbergh renewed hope that the team would again challenge for the Cup, but a drunk driving accident would cost Lindbergh his life on November 11, 1985.
In 1987, Ron Hextall arrived on the scene and immediately made an impact. He led the team to the Stanley Cup finals in his rookie season, and even though the team fell to the mighty Edmonton Oilers in that series, the young, brash Hextall earned respect and accolades for his performance.
In defeat, Hextall took home the Conn Smythe as the MVP of the playoffs and also earned the attention of Wayne Gretzky, who claimed Hextall to be, “probably the best goaltender I've ever seen in the National Hockey League, that I've every played against.”
Since Hextall’s rookie season, the team has had its ups and downs, but mostly downs, making it to the Cup finals twice since the loss to the Oilers, winning a total of two games in those two Cup final series.
Last summer, after years of goalies not lasting more than a season or two, the Flyers decided to bet the bank on Ilya Bryzgalov, signing the former Phoenix Coyote to a deal worth $51 million.
Some Flyers fans celebrated the move, some scratched their heads and some slapped their foreheads in wonder. When Bryzgalov’s play failed to impress anyone during the 2011-12 NHL season, almost all of the Philly faithful, whether they will admit it or not, said to themselves, "Here we go again."
Here we go again, indeed.
Not long after word came down that the 2013 NHL season would kick off on January 19, the Flyers made a trade for Brian Boucher and were rumored to be in talks with the Vancouver Canucks for Roberto Luongo.
The team denied those rumors, but really, if they were true, did you expect Flyers GM Paul Holmgren to admit that Bryzgalov is a goner at the end of this season and that Luongo is the next goalie to take a turn on the carousel?
And make no mistake about it: Bryzgalov is a goner as soon as the teams are allowed to name their compliance buyout candidates.
Who gets the most time in the Flyers' net?
The question now is just who will be the Flyers’ goaltender in 2013? Bryzgalov was a headcase in 2012 and that was when he was pretty certain that he was locked into a long-term deal with the Flyers. Knowing he’s probably going to be pink-slipped at the end of the season, how reliable will he be?
Boucher has had some great moments over his career, but hasn’t been consistent over long stretches. The same applies to Michael Leighton. And then there’s the whole Luongo thing—who goes in that trade if it happens and how badly does it hurt the team?
The only thing certain at this point is that somewhere down the road, the Flyers will have yet another starting goaltender, who, if he is smart, will rent and not buy his Philly home.