Amnesty roulette: Briere or Bryz?

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Steve Mason (left) or Ilya Bryzgalov next season?
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Steve Mason (left) or Ilya Bryzgalov next season?
Posted: April 19, 2013

WITH THE HEAD coach apparently returning for at least the start of next hockey season, and the general manager likely to survive the Flyers season that wasn't, this star-crossed team seems poised for yet another franchise-shifting decision.

And wouldn't you know it, it revolves around a goalie.

Alas, who to use their amnesty buyout on - Danny Briere or Ilya Bryzgalov?

From a performance standpoint, Briere seems to be the no-brainer. He's 35, just back from a concussion, just a few months removed from a hand injury suffered while playing in Germany, which began his worst season since he was an underachieving kid in Phoenix. He's due to make $5 million over the last 2 years of his contract and has a cap hit on the team of $6.5 million.

Bryzgalov's stats have been unimpressive this season, but he has played with a revolving-door defensive corp that has, at times, been more AHL than NHL. Bryzgalov has been one of the Flyers better players on more nights than not, at least over the first half of this season.

Ah, but the intangibles. Briere wants to stay. Bryz doesn't seem to care. If I am reading the tea leaves right, he may even want out. "You gotta understand every year I get older and older," he said the other day on Long Island. He will turn 33 in June. His contract with the Flyers takes him to almost 40.

"I'm not getting younger and younger. Believe me or not, some veterans tell me how could you be tired? I said wait until you get 30. You can feel everything. Your body changes."

His departure also gives you more cap relief in the short- and long-term, which could expedite Paul Holmgren's attempts to rebuild his defense this summer.

On a team of young, talented but inconsistent players, Briere also remains a respected teammate and leader. He took Claude Giroux into his home when he was a rookie. He had Sean Couturier stay there his first year too. He believes he has plenty more elite-level hockey in him too. So do I.

I also believe what Bryzgalov told reporters when he said that "Stats are for losers." Bryz was brought to Philadelphia from Phoenix because of some gaudy numbers, and despite highly critical reviews from teammates who played with him there and those who watched on a nightly basis.

I think of him as the hockey equivalent of Bobby Abreu. You look at his minutes and numbers and say they need him. You watch him play and say, no they don't.

It will be interesting to see how the Flyers play these last five games, especially after what Steve Mason did to the Rangers Tuesday night. "He looked calm," Kimmo Timonen said after Mason stopped 38 of 40 shots, including 17 in the third period while protecting a one-goal lead. "When he looks like that, it makes hard shots look easy. He's able to play the puck behind the net. He broke up a lot of plays like that. That's a big plus for us too."

Mason will cost $1.5 million next season. So far the change of scenery and some tinkering by Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese has cleared a lot of weeds off a 24-year-old goalie that just a few years ago was seen as one of the NHL's brightest stars. Banking on that to continue for an entire season as a No. 1 goalie is a big risk for certain. But given the age of your core players, the limitations on upgrades in keeping Bryz and his monstrous deal for even another season, you could argue it the other way too.

Sounds funny doesn't it? After all these seasons pleading for a goalie to improve this team quickly, the best way to do that now may be to dump one.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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