Philadelphia Flyers: All We are Saying is Give Stolarz a Chance

Dec 22, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz (41) during the second period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 22, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz (41) during the second period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

Why won’t the Philadelphia Flyers give Anthony Stolarz a chance to play?

There’s an old saying attributed to Winston Churchill. It goes something like this: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It’s one of those bits of received wisdom many hear, but few internalize. When it comes to the development of young goalies, the Philadelphia Flyers fall into the latter category. Once again, Flyers fans are left to wonder: what exactly is the organization’s plan for Anthony Stolarz?

In 2012, the Flyers invested a second round pick in Stolarz, a native of Edison, New Jersey. The 6’6″ goaltender has the height that general managers around the NHL increasingly covet. One needs to look no further than the play of Ben Bishop and Pekka Rinne to see the value of tall goalies.

Stolarz has also proven himself a capable goalie during his professional career. Aside from his first season with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, “Stolie” has posted a respectable goals against average and solid, if at times unspectacular, save percentage numbers.

In his current stint with the Flyers, Stolarz has shown some promise. In his first NHL start, the netminder faced a Calgary Flames squad with some dangerous offensive weapons. After conceding a bad shorthanded goal, Stolarz settled in, played a competent game, and claimed his first professional win. The victory started the Flyers’ 10-game winning streak.

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Eight games later, Stolarz was tapped for a second start. He recorded a 28-save shutout against the Detroit Red Wings, playing an instrumental role in a hard-fought road victory.

In his two starts, Stolarz has proven himself to be an athletic, capable goaltender. He moves well in the crease, fights through screens to get a view of the puck, and consistently makes saves.

So, why doesn’t he play?

Twenty-one games have been contested during Stolarz’s tenure filling in for the injured Michal Neuvirth. In that time, Stolarz has found himself in between the pipes a grand total of three times. Meanwhile, Steve Mason has been called upon at a rate that rivals his workload at the tail end of last season. Philadelphia Flyers fans remember how well that situation worked out during the playoffs.

Perhaps Dave Hakstol feels he does not have the luxury to start an inexperienced goalie in a season in which points are at a premium. Indeed, the Flyers are playing in the NHL’s toughest division. All their protracted win streak did was solidify their place in the final wild card slot.

Or maybe the organization does not believe Stolarz is capable of playing at a high level in the NHL. How else to explain the rationale behind keeping both Mason and Neuvirth this season?

However, Flyers fans must wonder on what evidence such a hypothetical assessment might be based. The Flyers cannot possibly know the caliber of player they have in Anthony Stolarz because they refuse to play him at a rate befitting a capable backup goaltender. No personnel manager, no matter how gifted, could determine a player’s value as he flounders at the end of the bench.

Philadelphia Flyers
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports /

Normally, a casual hockey fan would not concern himself with the playing time of a backup goalie, even if he is young and has potential. However, the Philadelphia Flyers have a checkered history with players who fit this category. Sergei Bobrovsky emerges as the best example of the organization giving up on a young netminder before he has fully developed. Now Bob appears well on his way to earning a second Vezina Trophy in Columbus. Meanwhile, the Flyers are paying Ilya Bryzgalov until 2027 to philosophize elsewhere.

Admittedly, it is unfair to hold the Bobrovsky decision against the current Flyers regime. The jettisoning of Bob was the product of an impatient coach working for a short-sighted general manager laboring on behalf of an anxious owner looking to win a Stanley Cup immediately. Nevertheless, Ron Hextall should learn some valuable lessons from the Bobrovsky experience.

Most importantly, Hextall should determine in short order exactly what kind of player Anthony Stolarz can be next season. Can he handle the workload of a starting netminder? If not, can he play 30-35 games in a backup role? In the NHL’s salary cap era, the answers to these questions are essential.

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Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are both entering unrestricted free agency. Do the Flyers need to retain one or both of these players? Can they depend on Stolarz as the starter and use the financial savings to bolster other areas on the roster? Can they rely on Stolarz to back up either Mason or Neuvirth next season and save themselves the trouble of finding another goalie in free agency?

Ultimately, the Flyers need to figure out if Anthony Stolarz is ready to play significant minutes in the NHL. Leaving him on the bench won’t answer the question.