Philadelphia Flyers: Ilya Bryzgalov Not Feeling the Brotherly Love?
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren saw the free agent Bryzgalov as an opportunity to fix the goaltending issue that has plagued Philadelphia since the days of Hextall.
Since his arrival in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love has been anything but loving towards Bryzgalov. The longer into the season that Bryzgalov goes without finding his form, the more Philadelphia fans criticize his every move.
When Wayne Gretzky brought Bryzgalov from Anaheim to be the Coyotes goalie during the 2007-08 season, there was very little criticism because Bryzgalov had been the backup for the Ducks, so the price was low and expectations were within reason. Going into a small market that had very little media attention and a conservative team approach, Bryzgalov went to the playoffs twice in four seasons with the Coyotes, but failed to get past the first round either time.
Before the 2011-12 season, Paul Holmgren decided to sign the UFA Bryzgalov to a nine year, $51 million deal, which seemed pretty high for a 31-year-old goalie who has not had extensive playoff success.
However, if Bryzgalov was the missing piece that would solve the Flyers goaltending problems, that contract would be considered a bargain to Flyer fans.
Bryzgalov started the 2011-12 season for the Flyers, and did not get off to a good start by any means: To this point in the season, Bryzgalov has a 2.82 goals against average (35th in the NHL) and an .898 save percentage (44th in the NHL). The Flyers are not a bad defensive team, ranking seventh in the NHL with only 28.7 shots against per game. They do not put Bryzgalov in a situation where he is being asked to steal wins every night.
Bryzgalov mentioned in the HBO special 24/7 that coming to Philadelphia was “hell” for goaltenders, and that the fans are very critical and expect a lot from their goaltenders, which I believe is warranted.
But at nine years, $51 million, the fans are pretty justified in their expectations. Maybe the always-watching eyes and critical words of a hardcore Philadelphia fan base are too much for Bryzgalov, coming from the laid-back Phoenix market where fan interest is questionable and critics are few and far between.
With the Philadelphia market being so different from everything Bryzgalov has been a part of for the majority of his career, at this point in time, people need to consider that Bryzgalov might not be suited to play in a large and critical market.
It is always unfortunate to see a player struggle and, coming from former success, it would have been almost impossible to see this Bryzgalov collapse coming, but many goaltenders have struggled for different teams until they finally find the right team for their style (e.g. Mike Smith, Brian Elliot, and Craig Anderson). For Bryzgalov, maybe that perfect fit for his style and his attitude was the desert of sun in Phoenix, and maybe he won’t be able to recapture his former success in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia fans are very demanding, and they expect their team to make the playoffs every season. Currently, the Flyers are falling in the standings in a very competitive Atlantic Division. While the Flyers are a very talented offensive team, ranking first in the NHL in goals for and goals per game, they need their goaltender to stop just enough shots to get some wins. But that might not be enough in the playoffs.
Bryzgalov has been under the magnifying glass of Philadelphia fans all season and has struggled so far. It appears that, for the next nine seasons, he won’t be going anywhere, so to make his stay in the City of Brotherly Love a pleasant experience, he will need to figure his game out.
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