Ilya Bryzgalov: Can the Flyers Sign a Goalie Without Trading Jeff Carter?
Before this past season, the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated one of their glaring weaknesses: a poor third defensive line.
General manager Paul Holmgren acquired Andrej Meszaros from the Tampa Bay Lightning and subsequently traded Simon Gagne to the Lightning in order to clear cap space.
Along with the newly signed Sean O'Donnell, Meszaros gave the Flyers some of the best defensive depth in the NHL.
Add that to the deepest offense in the league that included six 20-goal scorers and a 19-goal scorer in Ville Leino, and the Flyers' skating bunch proved to be a winning force.
As the Flyers played atop the Eastern Conference standings for much of the season with excellent depth on both sides of the ice, only one question remained: Will their goaltending duo of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and career backup Brian Boucher be sufficient in the playoffs?
It certainly was not.
Bobrovsky faltered in Game 2 of the opening round and was pulled and even benched in favor of Michael Leighton (a poor choice by coach Peter Laviolette).
Boucher started the next few games, doing fine until his Game 5 performance put the Flyers one loss away from elimination.
Leighton was put in net for Game 6 and was absolutely atrocious, giving up three soft goals and nearly costing Philadelphia its season.
The issues continued throughout the second round, and though a seemingly unmotivated Flyers team was eliminated, the biggest issue with that team appeared to be goaltending.
Young Sergei Bobrovsky has been stellar at times and undoubtedly has the potential to be a very good NHL goalie. However, the Flyers' best option would be having a proven, developed goalie that is already capable of backstopping one of the best teams in the league.
Holmgren wasted no time in addressing the need, acquiring the rights to Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who is possibly one of the 10 best goalies in the entire league.
Bryzgalov's play propelled the Coyotes into the playoffs, a place they surely would not have been without him. Phoenix's 43 regular season wins were tied for the fewest among all playoff teams.
If Bryzgalov could bring Phoenix to the playoffs, what he could do with one of the deepest teams in the NHL in front of him is downright scary.
Philadelphia unfortunately has the least salary cap space of any team in the entire league. In order to sign Bryzgalov, cap space will need to be cleared.
Nikolay Zherdev, Dan Carcillo, Andreas Nodl, Ville Leino, Darroll Powe, Sean O'Donnell and Brian Boucher are the lineup regulars set to be free agents in this upcoming offseason.
The inconsistent, lazy, selfish, one-dimensional Zherdev should not be resigned for any price.
Leino will likely want a raise following his breakout season, with an asking price between $3 million and $4 million a season.
Boucher would obviously be let go with Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky in the lineup.
For the sake of simplicity, while reviewing the options it will be assumed that the rest of those free agents are re-signed for the same price (or replaced with a similar player for a similar price).
Since it's unclear what Bryzgalov will ask for, it will be assumed that he wants anywhere between $5 million and $7 million a year. Who the Flyers will have to trade in order to clear cap space is affected by this.
Along with Leino and Kris Versteeg, defenseman Matt Carle could also be on the move. His cap hit of $3.4 million seems too high considering the way he played (badly) without Chris Pronger as his defensive partner.
Beyond that, the Flyers would need to trade away a player from their core, Jeff Carter (and his $5 million per year salary) being the most likely candidate.
Using CapGeek.com's calculator, the following options have been evaluated for the potential salary space they would clear for the signing of Bryzgalov. With the cap expected to increase by about $3 million for next season, the following scenarios assume a $62.4 million salary cap.
Option 1: Don't sign Leino, trade Versteeg
With this lineup, the Flyers could spend $5 million on Bryzgalov, which is probably not enough. (Line matchups have not been greatly considered here; this is simply to give an idea of what the roster would look like.)
*Zac Rinaldo was added as the last player. Based on Laviolette's lineup choices late in the regular season and in the playoffs, he or Ben Holmstrom is likely the next player on the Philadelphia depth chart.
Option 2: Don't sign Leino, trade Versteeg and Carle
If Carle is traded also, Matt Walker could take his place. This would clear an extra $1.7 million, and the Flyers could spend up to $6.8 million a year on Bryzgalov with this lineup.
To expand further on this option, the Flyers could put Walker in the AHL to clear his $1.7 million salary and sign free agent John Erskine if the Washington Capitals do not re-sign him. They are similar players, with Erskine making about half the salary.
The Flyers could also simply call up a younger defenseman such as Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon or Oskars Bartulis for a cheaper price.
Either replacement of Walker would leave nearly $8 million in cap space.
Option 3: Don't sign Leino, trade Versteeg and Carter
This would leave $7.6 million in cap space to sign Bryzgalov.
This option is far from ideal, as it takes away three starting forwards and eliminates the offensive depth that Philadelphia had last season. The next option proposes a way to fix that.
Option 4: Trade Versteeg, Carle and Carter, sign Leino
Instead of letting Leino leave in free agency to clear up the $3 million-$4 million salary he will likely be demanding, the Flyers could trade defenseman Matt Carle. This would tap into the defensive depth in order to maintain the offensive depth.
This lineup leaves over $9 million to spend between Bryzgalov and Leino.
Just as in option two, there could be a cheaper replacement for Walker that increases the cap space to more than $10 million available.
Obviously, there are more options available. The players included in these scenarios simply seem to be the most realistic.
Based on these choices, option two would be the way to go. Carter at $5 million is a much better value than Leino at $3 million or $4 million. Trading Carle ensures that the offensive depth is not destroyed by signing Bryzgalov.
By losing Leino, Versteeg and Carle, the Flyers lose a bit of their depth but greatly improve the one position in hockey that can completely change a game.
Ilya Bryzgalov can be signed without trading Jeff Carter.
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