What Should Philadelphia Flyers Do with Disappointing Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov?
He arrived from the Phoenix Coyotes as a dependable netminder capable of earning 35-plus victories per season and being a workhorse who could start in 80 percent of his team's games.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, they have gotten very little value in return for the nine-year, $51 million contract (per Capgeek) that Bryzgalov signed with them in the summer of 2011.
The 32-year-old veteran had a respectable 33-16-7 record in his first season with the Flyers, but he had a lackluster 2.48 GAA and his worst save percentage (.909) since the 2008-09 season. The 59 games he played in were his lowest total since 2007-08.
This season has not been much better for Bryzgalov, who has failed to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. Not only does he have a mediocre 17-15-3 record, his GAA (2.88) and save percentage (.896) have also gotten worse. It wouldn't be surprising if he set new career lows in save percentage and GAA, which are currently .906 and 2.95, respectively.
In addition to his disappointing performance in net, Bryzgalov has created some distractions with the way he's handled the Philadelphia media and some of his comments.
After being relatively quiet through the first half of the 2013 season, Bryzgalov has started to make headlines again for what he's saying/doing off the ice instead of his play on it.
The latest distraction involves a report about him not being able to stay awake during a meeting, which has been denied by a few players including veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen (per Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia):
Kimmo Timonen, who is on leadership group, emphatically denied 97.5 report that Bryz fell asleep at a team meeting and was benched yesterday— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) April 10, 2013
When the Flyers acquired Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason on trade deadline day, many fans speculated that the move was a sign that Bryzgalov's future with the club might already be decided. Mason, who has not played well since he won the 2009 Calder Trophy, signed a one-year extension for $1.5 million earlier this week.
In an important game on Monday night against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum, Mason got the start instead of Bryzgalov.
Heading into this matchup, Philadelphia was five points behind the Islanders and New York Rangers for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, but instead of starting its No. 1 goalie who has a huge contract, head coach Peter Laviolette chose to go with Mason.
The 24-year-old goalie gave up three goals in a 4-1 defeat in his first start with the Flyers, which dropped the team's chances of reaching the postseason to 5.1 percent (per Sports Club Stats).
Bryzgalov had won four of his last five starts and was starting to build some confidence, so there was no reason to play a newly acquired backup like Mason in a game that would impact the team's playoff hopes. What kind of confidence do the Flyers have in Bryzgalov if a mediocre goalie like Mason, who was acquired just a few days earlier, gets the start in a meaningful game?
To be fair, the defensemen in front of Bryzgalov have played terribly this season with too many turnovers and losing too many puck battles in the defensive zone. However, plenty of goaltenders are able to perform at a high level without an all-star group of defensemen in front of them.
Sergei Bobrovsky, whom the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired from the Flyers at last year's draft, has arguably become the top Vezina Trophy candidate this season, and he's an example of a goalie having success without an elite defenseman playing in front of him.
Bryzgalov is way too inconsistent and cannot be trusted to win important games. He fails to make the necessary saves late in games that help preserve leads and earn victories. This is why it would be a mistake not to buy him out in the summer.
He has seven years and $34.5 million left on his contract, and with the salary cap going down from about $70 million this season to $64.3 million next year, the Flyers cannot afford to have an underperforming player like Bryzgalov on the payroll with a $5.67 million cap hit.
Claude Giroux, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier need to be re-signed over the next two years, and keeping these players won't be cheap. Not only do the Flyers need additional cap space to re-sign these forwards long term, they also need room to upgrade their blue line, which is the team's most glaring weakness right now.
Should the Flyers buy out Bryzgalov this summer?
Since the Flyers are already close to the cap ceiling, their best option to create cap space is to buy out Bryzgalov. If that were to happen, pairing Mason with a veteran or acquiring a young and talented goalie like Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings via trade during the summer are Philly's two best options at the position going forward.
General manager Paul Holmgren needs to go to owner Ed Snider and have him sign a huge check to buy out Bryzgalov. He's not worth his cap hit and salary now, and he won't be after the summer of 2014, which is the final offseason when teams can use the two compliance buyouts given to them as part of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) from the most recent lockout.
The Flyers' future cap situation and Bryzgalov's inconsistent performance should make the decision on whether or not to buy him out in the summer an easy one for Holmgren. It's time to part ways with the Russian goaltender.
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