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Flyers Desperate for Goalie, Calling Atlanta?

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The suburban Philadelphia Delaware County Times ran a story by Anthony J. Sanflippo speculating that the Flyers are trying hard to trade for a goalie with a big injury to the Philadelphia starting goaltender Ray Emery.

An inordinate number of visiting scouts were jammed into the press box Thursday to watch two struggling teams in the Flyers and the Senators. While the 16 men representing 14 different organizations could have been there to look at the Sens or just for a night out, there was enough rumbling to think they might be there scouting the Flyers because they are in need of another goalie with Ray Emery on the shelf for at least six weeks.

Apparently, the sharks are circling around the Flyers. According to another organizational source, the Tampa Bay Lightning, ready to hand their starting job to Antero Niittymaki, contacted the Flyers to gauge their interest in goalie Mike Smith.

Apparently the Flyers are "shocked! shocked!" that other teams in the Eastern Conference would try and screw them over! Let's think about this for a moment. There are 15 teams in the East and just 8 playoff spots. The Devils, Caps and Pens are probably all locks to make the post-season. The Canes and Leafs are probably locks to miss. That means there are 10 East teams fighting for 5 playoff berths. Each team has only a 50% chance of getting in. Guess which teams might have a spare goalie? Atlanta, Islanders and Tampa--all playoff contenders. All three of those teams have a strong self interest in watching the Flyers totally fall out of the playoff race (Flyers currently sit at #11 in the conference standings. If the Flyers do fall out that then leaves 9 teams battling for 5 spots. All the other GMs have to do is just sit back and enjoy the show. Why should they bail out the Flyers who spent big on Pronger and went cheap on goalie depth?

One of the teams with two scouts at the game was the Atlanta Thrashers, who have three goalies. Kari Lehtonen hasn’t played yet this season, recovering from two surgeries on his back, but he is expected to start skating soon. That could make veteran Johan Hedberg or youngster Ondrej Pavelec expendable.

One Flyers source said general manager Paul Holmgren has spoken with Atlanta G.M. Don Waddell in the past about Pavelec, but not recently. Pavelec 22, is a second round pick of the Thrashers (2005, No. 41 overall) out of the Czech Republic and has played in 19 games this season with Atlanta, amassing an 8-7-3 record with a 3.03 GAA and a .914 save percentage along with a couple of shutouts.

Now the Thrashers WILL presumably have 3 NHL goaltenders at some point this season. But given Lehtonen's injury history, it would be premature to deal away a net minder and call up MacIntyre or Mannino before the Christmas trade freeze kicks in. Perhaps if the Flyers were to offer a 1st rounder for next year (strong draft) but the Flyers gave up two 1st rounders already in the Pronger deal so they don't that available for a trade.

Whenever Lehtonen does return to full health, I suspect it will be Kari not Pavelec who will be available for a trade. Kari has worn out the organization. They have waited for him to step up and become the star goaltender he was projected to become. He certainly has the talent but the determination is not there often enough. He swings between an elite and very ordinary from one game to the next. Elite goalies are prepared to play 60 games a year and they are outstanding most of those nights.

Furthermore, Lehtonen has not endeared himself to his teammates with his behavior. One example is the irritation he shows when a puck is tipped or screened in front of him. You don't see Hedberg or Pavelec throw little tantrums after a goal--even if it is the fault of the skaters. It is a team game and some nights the offense bails out the defense and vice versa.

Now Lehtonen has NHL All-Star talent, he just hasn't played like one in a Thrashers uniform. Sadly, he will probably play better after a trade--some guys have to be shook up a little to get them them to concentrate on their career and reach their full potential. The problem for the Thrashers is that they are unlikely to get great value for him after all the injuries and inconsistency over the years.

The one trade I could see happening is a move involving Hedberg. He's playing the best hockey of his career and has great numbers. Now if the Flyers were to offer a good young prospect, perhaps it would make sense for Atlanta to do that. But after receiving good goaltending most of the season management will probably be reluctant to mess with success. Also the offer would have to be pretty enticing--why weaken your own team and strength a rival in your conference?