So, it was no surprise that the Philadelphia Flyers became the first suitor in the Bryzgalov sweepstakes.
Bryzgalov can be best described as an enigma.
Sure, he put up strong numbers with the Coyotes, but his production was essentially erratic, and he was known for giving up goals at the most inopportune of times. Plus, his playoff performance the last two years was clearly a major factor why the Coyotes lost two years in a row to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“After several discussions with Ilya and his agent, it became very clear to us that we were not in a position to sign Ilya to a long-term contract,” Phoenix general manager Don Maloney said in a statement. “We will now focus our efforts on adding another goaltender to our roster for the upcoming season.”
As a result, the Coyotes dealt the negotiating rights to Bryzgalov, who will be a free agent July 1, 2011, to the Flyers for Philly’s third choice in the 2012 draft, future considerations and forward Matt Clackson, whose contract expires June 30, 2011.
A native of Togliatti, Russia, Bryzgalov could be the first of several Coyotes to sign with other teams. Defenseman Keith Yandle is an unrestricted free agent and must re-sign with Phoenix. However, Ed Jovanovski, who missed 32 games last season because of various injuries, is not expected back. Jovanovski will be 35 on June 26 and his five goals and nine assists for 14 points was by far the lowest of his 15-year NHL career.
Also, forward Lauri Korpiloski, who emerged as a solid two-way player and chipped in 19 goals and 40 points, could be headed elsewhere.
The timing of the Bryzgalov trade was also interesting. On June 6, the Coyotes signed backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera (15-11-4, 2,89 goals against, two shutouts last season) to a two-year deal. For his career, LaBarbera has an low goals against average (2.90 in 141 NHL games), but is not considered an everyday netminder.
In trying to re-sign Bryzgalov, the Coyotes faced two challenges.
First, Bryzgalov admitted, on more than one occasion, he was lost in the desert. He could not find a Russian community in the American southwest, and felt, from an ethic and culture standpoint, he was cut off from traditions, language and customs.
Philadelphia offers a clear, cultural alternative, and a Russian conclave is a close-knit community in the northeast part of the city. Plus, a city like Philadelphia is more culturally diverse than Phoenix and a destination where Bryzgalov would likely be more comfortable.
More important, the nature of the Phoenix franchise was a prime factor in the Coyotes inability to sign Bryzgalov.
Because there was been no principal owner, Maloney essentially works on a budget created by the NHL. The league took control of this troubled franchise two years ago, and the city of Glendale, site of the Coyotes home rink Jobing.com Arena, feverishly wants to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.
The budget from which Maloney works is not conducive to construct long-term deals and open checkbooks. That’s the job of a bonafide owner and right now, the NHL is more of a care-giver than an actual owner with strong financial commitments.
After the Coyotes were swept by Detroit in the 2011 playoffs, coach Dave Tippett said firm management must be in place for the team to be successful, and the Coyotes need to find an owner as soon as possible.
“A stable franchise gives you a chance to succeed,” he said after Game 4. “Everyone wants a solution and the players want to win.”
In mid-May, the Glendale city council approved payment of $25 million to the NHL to continue control over the Jobing.com Arena for the next year, and the Coyotes as the building‘s main tenant. That essentially gives them the next 12 months for the city to find an owner, or relocate. Rumors of a possible move to Winnipeg are now silenced with Atlanta moving there, so the quest of finding a buyer for the Phoenix franchise immediately becomes beyond critical.
For now, the Flyers get Bryzgalov, whose numbers are deceiving as well as his caliber of play. He tends to give up soft goals early in games, and the Coyotes, in several games, were forced to play come-from-behind hockey from the first period on.
Plus, his numbers are not striking. Though he was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in 2007, he failed to carry Phoenix to any playoff wins in the past two years. In fact, his goals against average increased over time.
In the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Bryzgalov allowed 24 goals in the seven game series, lost Game 7 on home ice 6-1, and had a 3.44 goals against average. In losing four straight in 2011, his goal against average jumped to 4.36, and his save percentage was a lofty .879.
No question the Flyers suffered in the playoffs because of their three goalie rotation, but history and numbers indicate Bryzgalov will have to be much sharper to withstand the chorus of boos which will surely cascade throughout the Wells Fargo Center in south Philly.
Mark Brown is a Phoenix Coyotes Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Dave Tippett's quote was obtained first-hand after Game 4 of the Phoenix-Detroit playoff series.exp