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If Flyers explore goalie market, Sabres’ Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen should be their top priority

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

The Philadelphia Flyers have been put into a goaltending predicament.

With Carter Hart out and being one of five NHL players charged with sexual assault in the aftermath of the 2018 Team Canada scandal, the Flyers are looking for an answer in net.

Samuel Ersson has become the de facto number one goalie for Philadelphia and has put together a relatively decent season, going 15-10-4 with a .898 SV%, 2.64 GAA, and 3 shutouts this year. Cal Petersen, who was recalled on an emergency basis from AHL Lehigh Valley, is 2-1-0 with an .890 SV% and 3.00 GAA in limited action this season.

The Flyers have won four of their last six games, as Ersson won thrice against Florida, Winnipeg, and Arizona while Petersen won his last outing against Seattle in front of a nationally televised audience.

For now, it seems that the Flyers may be able to ride this tandem to their first Stanley Cup Playoffs berth in four seasons. However, given Ersson’s inexperience and Petersen’s struggles at times, it’s hard not to imagine that Daniel Brière and company have explored the goalie market. The last two performances by Ersson against Toronto and New Jersey likely didn’t help calm the front office’s nerves, either.

Yes, the Flyers’ brass know they are still in a rebuild and will look to sell off pieces as the trade deadline approaches, but they know they have a competitive hockey team that finds different ways to keep winning games. If the price is right and they can recoup assets from other players on the roster – a la Sean Walker, Rasmus Ristolainen, Scott Laughton, and Marc Staal – a deal for a goaltender could be on the organization’s radar to continue their playoff push while also staying the course.

There aren’t too many goaltenders that initially jump out at first glance. A lot of the veteran goalies on the trade market such as Jacob Markström, Jake Allen, and Marc-André Fleury probably don’t catch the Flyers’ eye given their ages and likely asking prices by their teams. Philadelphia – if they are looking – should be looking for younger goalies that could be had that may either be looking for a change in scenery or are mired in a battle for playing time.

One goaltender that could help benefit both parties is Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

Luukkonen, a former second-round pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2017 NHL Draft, is currently in his second full NHL season, registering a 14-14-2 record, .910 SV%, 2.54 GAA, and 4 shutouts as Buffalo’s starter this year.

After an impressive 7-game run last season that almost propelled the Sabres to their first postseason berth since 2011, top prospect Devon Levi looked to be more ready than most people thought to take the reins in goal for Buffalo. However, the 22-year-old has struggled this season and has split time between Buffalo and AHL Rochester, paving the way for Luukkonen to try and stake his claim as the Sabres’ starter again.

Between the three netminders that have suited up for Buffalo this season, Luukkonen has easily been the best option between he, Levi, and Eric Comrie.

Player Record SV% GAA SO
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 14-14-2 .910 2.54 4
Devon Levi 9-7-2 .891 3.30 0
Eric Comrie 1-6-0 .868 3.87 0

If you look at their advanced statistics, Luukkonen clearly still stands out as the top dog in Buffalo.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 13.4 2.2 6.64 15.79
Devon Levi -1.6 -0.2 -7.61 -1.68
Eric Comrie -0.1 0 -6.18 -0.7

GAR – Goals Above Replacement, WAR – Wins Above Replacement, GSAA – Goals Saved Above Average, GSAx – Goals Saved Above Expected

Luukkonen has put a disappointing Sabres team on his back all season long and has produced really solid numbers. In saying that, Buffalo is eerily close to the Flyers in multiple categories including shots allowed and goals allowed, but Philadelphia’s elite penalty kill is what really separates them defensively from the Sabres – and that’s where Luukkonen especially shines.

His advanced numbers between both the Flyers’ and Sabres’ netminders while shorthanded are simply amazing to look at, and it’s even crazier to see when you consider the Flyers’ PK is ranked 2nd (86.4%) while Buffalo’s is 14th (79.8%).

Player xGA SV% GSAA GSAx
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 21.95 .913 7.09 9.46
Devon Levi 14.01 .824 -3.94 -3.09
Eric Comrie 7.06 .872 0.35 1.52
Samuel Ersson 18.34 .883 1.81 6.8
Cal Petersen 2.56 .938 1.41 1.38

xGA – Expected Goals Against, SV% – Save Percentage, GSAA – Goals Saved Above Average, GSAx – Goals Saved Above Expected

If Brière were able to pry him away, just imagine what he could accomplish in Philadelphia.

Of course, there are a lot of variables to this hopeful and hypothetical acquisition.

For Buffalo, why would they trade Luukkonen if Levi isn’t ready to be a full-time starter yet? Luukkonen is only about to turn 25 years old in a few weeks and is finally breaking out, and maybe he’s their temporary answer for longer than people expected. Or maybe he ends up being the guy for them instead of a stop-gap. Who knows?

If you’re the Flyers, there’s two things to heavily consider before acquiring a goaltender. First, they have some young goalies on the way. The most notable of the bunch is Alexei Kolosov, who signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers in the offseason and he could possibly make the jump to North America once his KHL season with Dinamo Minsk ends. There are also others such as Egor Zavragin and Carson Bjarnason in the pipeline, both of whom were drafted this past summer.

Trading for a goalie could create an extreme logjam at that position between Ersson, Petersen, Kolosov, Zavragin, Bjarnason, Felix Sandström, and then Luukkonen. Maybe they can trade Sandström to the Sabres or elsewhere to avoid that issue, but that’s still a lot of younger goalies to have around. With Zavragin and Bjarnason still a few years away from making a true impact on the organization, though, maybe they could get away with trading for a young, budding player in Luukkonen.

Regarding the other dilemma at hand, trading assets for roster-ready players isn’t exactly what you do during a rebuild. However, if the right price can be found or you absolutely have to make a move (see the Jamie Drysdale-Cutter Gauthier trade), then it’s fine, especially if it’s someone more youthful that fits your timeline, like Luukkonen.

Of course, you can make the argument that Ersson and Petersen can captain the ship in goal for this season and then the Flyers can reevaluate things in the summer. In all honesty, that’s probably what will end up happening, but if Luukkonen’s asking price isn’t exactly a king’s ransom – say a couple mid-round draft picks – then maybe the Flyers should bite and roll with him and Ersson.

All advanced statistics mentioned and found in this article were courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.

Managing Editor at Flyers Nation. Proud lifelong supporter of the Philadelphia Flyers and all things hockey related. Steve Mason's #1 fan.

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