The Question in the Crease

It is no secret that the Flyers have engaged in an off-season overhaul, yet there is one position that has been overlooked in the midst of high profile trades and signings. There are two potential candidates for the starting goaltender job in Philadelphia, a position that could make or break the team as it attempts to rebuild the respect and fear of the rest of the league.

Amid all of the off-season changes and developments made by the Philadelphia Flyer’s organization, some find a question mark hovering over the crease at the Wachovia Center. At the start of 2006-07, it was crystal clear that Antero Niittymaki had the starting job between the pipes due to an impressive performance in net for the Flyers, not to mention the Finnish Olympic team. Due to inconsistencies and a managerial overhaul, fans became accustomed to a revolving door in the crease that saw a shuffle between Niittymaki, Robert Esche, and even former Predator, Mike Leighton over the course of the season.

On February 27, 2007, the Flyers acquired Martin Biron from the Buffalo Sabres, a franchise that boasted impressive depth in net starting with all-star Ryan Miller down to Adam Berkhoel. This past season, Berkhoel could be found in Dayton as he led the Bombers to the Kelly Cup Finals and even picked up the Rbk Hockey Goaltender of the Year award for 2007.

Back in the Delaware Valley, the starting job in net for the Flyers was still undecided. To eliminate one option, Robert Esche became a free agent on July 1st and will not be signed by the Flyers, thus leaving two potential contenders, Niittymaki and Biron.

The answer to the goaltending query is unanimous amongst everyone involved with the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Martin Biron will have the starting job in Philadelphia come October 4th. Not only has he shown consistency in his short tenure with the team, he is a much more athletic presence on the ice. Not to mention a two-year, $7 million contract that cemented his spot in the crease.

Biron was seen in 16 games with the Flyers following his trade and played for a total of 935 minutes. He won six games, lost twice, and took two into overtime. He also registered 462 saves leaving him with a 0.908 save percentage.

As for Biron 101 for Flyers’ Fans, he turns 30 on August 15th and has played a total of 316 games in nine NHL seasons. Buffalo drafted him in 1995 in the first round, 16th overall. He made his NHL debut in the 1995-96 season, but only played three games before returning to his junior team, the Beauport Harfangs of the QMJHL.

Biron then skated back and forth between Buffalo and AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. In 2001-02, he had the starting job in Buffalo following the trade of Dominik Hasek to the Red Wings for Slava Kozlov. In the following four seasons spent with the Sabres, Biron had the likes of Mika Noronen and Ryan Miller breathing down his neck. Miller was able to take a decent chunk of Biron’s ice time in 2005-06 and started 48 games. After watching Miller’s reception, Biron requested to be traded in the off-season of 2006. This request was not met and neither were his hopes for more playing time. Biron sat on the bench for all but 19 games behind Miller.

Despite the tendency for backup goalies to come out a little rusty, Biron was credited with three wins in his last five games as a member of the Sabres. On February 22, 2007 in particular, Miller replaced Biron after he was ejected for fighting his Ottawa counterpart, Ray Emery. The Sabres came out of the match- up victorious although Biron was not credited with the win. In his first game with the Flyers, the team won 4-3 in overtime in Boston. On March 6, 2007, Biron made his Wachovia Center debut in orange and black with an overtime victory against New Jersey.

There is extreme pressure on Biron to perform as the Flyers take on the daunting task of reforming their entire franchise. Lucky for him he will have a much different supporting cast than Niittymaki and Esche had in 2006-07. Biron is the perfect man for the job because he exemplifies the poise and hard work of the Philadelphia Flyers and will take the pressure in stride. There is no question Biron will be the main man in Philadelphia and will prove to be a crucial piece to the Flyers’ foundation in upcoming months.

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