In the animal kingdom, some animals have been known to eat their own. In the sports world, Philadelphia Flyers fans do the same with the men that patrol the goal crease for the team. Ilya Bryzgalov is the latest goaltender to be subjected to the wrath of the Philly fans; and if he thinks it’s going to get any better, he’s in for a rude awakening when the Flyers' season begins this fall.
The carousel that has been the Flyers' goaltending rotation came to an end last season when the team inked Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal worth $51 million. When that deal was announced, many fans feared the worst. Sure Bryzgalov performed well in Phoenix, but let’s face it, the media and fan scrutiny in Phoenix are nothing compared to the microscope the Philadelphia media and fans put their hockey players under—and no position is as scrutinized as the Flyers' goaltender.
Any player that patrols the Flyers' crease is automatically compared to Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh or Ron Hextall. While this may be unfair, it’s a fact. Those three goalies are the standard for Flyers goaltenders. If a player cannot live up to the standard that they set, that player will have a rough road in Philadelphia.
The reason any Flyers' goalie will be compared to Parent, Lindbergh and Hextall is simple—success. They are the three goalies that had the most success for the team.
Parent led the team to a Stanley Cup victory in 1974 and 1975, while winning the Vezina and Conn Smythe in those same years.
You want to know how loved Parent is? When he came out at the alumni game, he received the biggest cheer of any player, including Bobby Clarke. Need more proof? Watch Ron Duguay breaking in alone on Parent and firing the puck directly into his pads, perhaps sensing that to score a goal on the Flyers legend would not have been the best decision in front of tens of thousands of Flyers’ fans.
Lindbergh, a young Swedish goalie, looked to be the future of the Flyers when he was named to the All-Rookie team in 1983. In 1985, he led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were defeated by the Edmonton Oilers in five games. At the conclusion of that season, he would become the first European born player to win the Vezina Trophy. Sadly, Lindbergh would die in November of 1985 after crashing his Porsche into a concrete wall in a drunk driving accident.
Hextall spent parts of two seasons in the AHL before joining the Flyers for the 1987 season; and what a season he had, taking the team to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers. His play in that seven-game series led Wayne Gretzky to remark, “Hextall is probably the best goaltender I've ever seen in the National Hockey League, that I've every played against.”
Hextall’s team fell short in that series, but he still captured the Conn Smythe as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Other accolades he received that year included being named to the All-Rookie and first-team All-Star squads, as well as capturing the Vezina trophy.
Hextall’s play was only one part of his appeal. His take no prisoners attitude and willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve endeared him to the Philly fans. You never got the feeling that Hextall was cheating you as a Flyers' fan. To use a cliché, he bled orange and black.
With nine years on his contract, Bryzgalov will mostly be in pursuit of Hextall. Hextall’s name is carved into the Flyers' goaltending record book. He has played the most games (489), racked up the most wins (240), most career playoff wins (45), most career points (28), most career penalty minutes (476) and, if that’s not enough, he has two goals to his name.
Will Bryzgalov play out his contract in Philly?
If Bryzgalov can play out his contract, he has a chance of breaking some of those records; but that’s a big if. The Flyers have a win-now attitude; and after a few years of not winning now, the team will either trade or bench Bryzgalov and move on. In Philadelphia, there’s little room for sentimentality if there’s no Cup involved.
Bryzgalov should be prepared for a long summer; and the questions will only ramp up as the season nears. The longer he goes putting up average numbers, the worse things will get for him; and the more he will hear, “he’s no Parent, Lindbergh or Hextall.”
Eight years remain on Bryzgalov’s contract, and they will be eight long years unless he does one simple thing: bring the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia; and really, how hard can that be?