It's hard to think of a player that was signed to a nine-year contract worth $51 million as an experiment, but like it or not, that’s what Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is, a very expensive experiment.
Look at it this way, what’s the one position the Flyers are known for, good or bad? It’s goaltending and there’s no way around that. The Flyers organization and their fans have chewed through goalies through the years. Even favorite sons Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall were shipped elsewhere during their careers before returning and retiring as Flyers.
If the organization had no problem shipping those two out in trades, that does not bode well for any other goalie that signs with the orange and black, no matter what their contract is worth or how long it runs.
With that in mind, Bryzgalov is on the hot seat in Philly and you can be sure that if he has another year like he had in 2012, he will be riding the bench and he will hear his name in trade rumors. You can say that the Flyers would never do that, that his contract would not allow the team to sit him or move him and while I can understand that point of view, I have also seen enough of Flyers’ owner Ed Snider over the years to know that if the choice is between money and winning, winning will get the nod every time.
It may be a painful pill to swallow for Snider, since he was the one pushing for a steady presence in net, but pride won’t get in the way of the pursuit of a Stanley Cup, not for him and not for his general manager Paul Holmgren.
The Flyers said all the right things about Bryzgalov at the end of the 2012 season, such as when Holmgren remarked:
I absolutely think being here a year will help him. He had a lot of things to adjust to and adapt to. From playing in Philadelphia, the scrutiny of the media in Philadelphia compared to where he came from, the scrutiny of the fans compared to where he came from, the different style of play. I don't think there's any question Ilya will be better next year.
Will Bryzgalov play out his contract in Philly?
But, what if? What if Bryzgalov doesn’t come out of the gate strong? What if he is remembered more for his zany quips and observations than for his puck-stopping ability? What then? There’s no way the fans will accept a collective shrug from the Flyers’ brass and a “oh well, that’s just Bryz being Bryz.” They’ll want action and results.
How much leeway will Bryzgalov be allowed? That’s the big question. In another division, in another conference, he would probably be given a significant amount of time to work through any difficulties, but in the Atlantic Division where the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins are also vying for the top spot, that allowance will be extremely short. Expect the hook to come out fast and without pity or worry about his contract.
One other interesting possibility is if the NHL adds an amnesty clause in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement. If that’s the case you can bet that the Flyers will at least look into what they can do to shed Bryzgalov’s contract. It only makes business sense for the team to do so.
Many players will be under the microscope in 2013—none more so than Bryzgalov—and if he stumbles, the Bryzgalov Philadelphia experiment will end in a spectacularly unceremonious fashion.