Bryzgalov has big contract, but no net worth

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has not played up to expectations.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has not played up to expectations.
Posted: June 21, 2013

FORGET THE MONEY. That is the imperative here, as we begin another conversation about Ilya Bryzgalov. It is easy enough for all of us to say, seeing as how it isn't our half-a-hundred million, but it is the only way to make the correct decision here. The Flyers signed him for the big deal, and he still has 7 years and about $34 million left to run, and that is a number that cannot easily be ignored. Yet it must be.

If you want to say that the Flyers have botched this goalie thing for 15 years, you will get no arguments here. If you want to argue, too, that their impatience in all things - but especially in goal-tending things - has not served them well, the case can be persuasively made.

But Bryzgalov has nothing to do with John Vanbiesbrouck or Roman Cechmanek or whoever you want to pull from a long list. The past is the past. It has to be, if they are ever going to get this right.

Once upon a time, the Flyers' philosophy about the relative importance of goaltending proved wrong. Bob Clarke always said that the great Soviet Red Army goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, once told him that it was more important to build the team in front of the goaltender than to obtain a superstar goaltender, that the goalie was a reflection of what was in front of him. We can only wonder if this was some kind of misinformation designed to gain retribution for when Clarke broke Valeri Kharlamov's ankle in 1972.

Anyway, they have been trying to catch up forever, it seems, but they have been unable to grow a goalie of their own and they have been impatient far too often with the players they have obtained from the outside. All of that history leads people to say that, if the Flyers were to pull the chute on Bryzgalov and buy him out after only two seasons, they will be simply perpetuating the errors of the past - besides the waste of cash.

But to do this properly, the money has to be put aside. The question, then, becomes much neater and simpler. Pretend Bryzgalov did not have a long contract. Pretend, instead, that the Flyers had signed him for two seasons, and that the two seasons were over.

Neat, clean and unencumbered, then. Which leaves the question: In those circumstances, if you were the Flyers, would you be looking to re-sign Bryzgalov? I say no.

He was 48th in the NHL this year in save percentage among goaltenders with at least 10 games played, and he was 45th the year before. There is nothing special about these numbers. When he played in Phoenix, his rankings were much better - 16th, 11th, 36th and 11th in the preceding four seasons. Either the big contract changed things somehow or playing for the Flyers - where the forwards are sometimes overcommitted to the forecheck, and where the defensemen are sometimes not very good - changed things. Just be careful about pinning all of it on the defense - because then you become Tretiak, and we decided several paragraphs ago that he was mistaken.

Then there is the arrival of Steve Mason, and the success he had. We do have a bit of a sample to work with here.

Mason first entered a game on April 6 in relief of Bryzgalov, and started six times in the last few weeks of the season. It was noticed by most everybody that the team tightened up defensively during this period of time, either because they were becoming more proficient at playing the Flyers' system or because the system was simplified after a ton of injuries left you and me playing on the third defense pair.

Whatever the explanation, here are the save percentage numbers during that stretch:

Bryzgalov, .907 Mason, .934 Again, this is a snapshot, a moment in time. But it is another snapshot that is not overly flattering to Bryzgalov.

So take all of that. Take what everyone acknowledges is a complicated personality within the Flyers' dressing room, whether he fell asleep in a team meeting or not. Throw in the comments he made during the World Championships, praising Stalin and ripping the poor of Philadelphia. More complications.

Add it all up. His play has been ordinary. He has not built up some great store of goodwill within the organization or the locker room. If Bryzgalov were a free agent, the Flyers would not be pursuing him.

And if that is the case, they should be buying him out and moving on.

DN Members Only : Simon Gagne is waiting, hoping to hear from the Flyers.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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