Ilya Bryzgalov: 6 Reasons His Signing Will Cost Paul Holmgren His Job
The Russian goaltender has posted six wins and six losses (two in overtime) with a sub-.900 save percentage and has given up 2.85 goals per game.
While inconsistency was to be expected in the early going from the Flyers as the personnel and culture changes came together, signing a free agent Vezina Trophy Finalist to a nine-year, $51 million contract over the summer was thought to be a way to offset these inconsistencies.
While Bryzgalov was, first and foremost, brought to the City of Brotherly Love to deliver a Stanley Cup, building a true Cup contender takes time.
Philadelphia's General Manager Paul Holmgren had already built a team capable of reaching the finals, then blew it up after the media ran wild with allegations of locker room disharmony following a disappointing semifinals sweep via the eventual champion Boston Bruins.
If this team takes a few years to come together, as the Briere-Richards-Carter core did, will the architect be around to see if it all pays off?
Flyers President Ed Snider is a loyal man, but he is not a patient man. He is 78 years old and wants a Cup now.
Can Bryzgalov deliver enough in the short-term to validate Holmgren's offseason decisions and, ultimately, the GM's job?
The "Negadelphian" in me is not very confident. Given this city-bread proclivity for the downside, here are the six reasons Ilya Bryzgalov will cost Paul Holmgren the general managership of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Stanley Cup Expectations
It was mentioned in the opening but bears repeating: Ilya Bryzgalov was brought to Philadelphia to win the Stanley Cup.
But, top-notch goalies do not guarantee championships. The Buffalo Sabres had Dominik Hasek for nine years and Ryan Miller the past six, two of the best goalies of this generation, and never sealed the deal.
While All-Star net-minders Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov are seen as playoff pretenders, second-tier stoppers Chris Osgood and Antti Niemi have had plenty of postseason success.
But, the mantra for years has been the Philadelphia Flyers are missing the goalie to win a Stanley Cup.
On the Lindros teams and the Primeau teams and the post-lockout core, the goalie has been the scapegoat.
Ilya Bryzgalov is said to be the man to fill the void, but when?
Certainly no judgements can be made about Bryzgalov's playoff success until he plays in the postseason behind the Broad Street Bullies and in front of the most intimidating fans in hockey.
But, say success does not come in 2012 or even 2013. Will Paul Holmgren still be around if it takes four or five years for Giroux-Couturier-Schenn to really pan out?
I have a friend who is a Devils fan. It's a tough relationship, but one constant is my telling him, "You have no idea how lucky you are."
No matter how much better the Philadelphia Flyers were than the New Jersey Devils on paper, the Devils had Marty Brodeur.
The NHL's all-time leader in wins, losses and shutouts. A three-time Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Quite simply, the greatest ever. (Wikipedia him for a further list of accomplishments. The awe he inspires balances the hatred.)
What every Flyers fan really meant when they said, "I want a stud goalie," was, "I want Martin Brodeur."
While Ilya Bryzgalov's career numbers certainly demonstrate he is an upper-echelon goaltender, he is not the greatest of all time.
This expectation by fans that the goalie has to be able to shut a team out three times in a best-of-seven series (as Brodeur has done twice in his career: another record) and cover each and every one of his team's deficiencies, especially when the games mean the most, has created an unobtainable image of what the goalie needs to be.
Of course, the franchise's two best goalies, Ron Hextall and Bernie Parent, also cast a large shadow over the accomplishments of any Flyers goalie, but as generations go by, fans tend to remember the here and now, and since 1993 (I was five), the here and now of goaltending has been playing in a half-empty arena 90 minutes away.
As Flyers fans we have been secretly lusting for Brodeur for so long, as any second-rate replacement will not do. That is, of course, unless Bryzgalov delivers several Stanley Cups.
Ilya Bryzgalov has been rather inconsistent in this early stretch of the season.
Bryzgalov has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his twelve appearances, including a 20-save shutout against the New Jersey Devils on October 8th.
But, the other six have seen Bryzgalov give up 25 goals on 157 shots, a save-percentage of around .841%, including the ten-shot, four-goal relief loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 27.
Everybody knows the adage "it's the team with the hot goalie."
Bryzgalov has shown an ability to get hot and dominate, as he is expected, but also to go very far south, very quickly.
His volatility also extends past his on-ice performances.
Following the Winnipeg disaster, Bryzgalov blew up, admitting, among other self-deprecating characterizations, he was "lost in the woods."
This downtrodden, self-loathing was a far cry from the upbeat Tony Montana impersonator fans came to read about shortly before his performance dipped.
If Bryzgalov's locker room personality is as inconsistent as the beginning to this season, fans, and the general manager, should be concerned about potential chemistry disruptions along the lines of Richards and Carter or Roman Cechmanek.
And remember, the general manager who brought Richards, Carter and Cechmanek to Philadelphia is no longer here either.
Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and an Aging Defense
The Flyers have drafted and developed forwards with a great amount of success over the past years.
Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier and Matt Read just to name a few (I know Read was not drafted, but signing him out of college seems like the same thing).
But, the defense has not been as much of a focal point.
Defensemen Joni Pitkanen, the fourth overall pick in 2002, and Luca Sbisa, 19th overall in 2008, are the two largest defensive investments the Flyers have made in the draft recently, and neither had memorable tenures in Philadelphia.
Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are two of the best all-around blue-liners in the game, but both are 36 years old. Behind them sit Matt Carle, 27, as well as Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros, both 26.
While these five make up one of the most complete groups in hockey, without Timonen and Pronger, the list is not as promising.
Given the thought this team needs to gel and come together before their potential can be reached, will the two iron men on the blue line still be as productive (or even on the active roster) when the $51 million goalie is fully confident in his defenders, and the youngsters and veterans up front all fully understand their roles?
The $51 Million Contract
Forget the expectations that go along with being the $51 million savior in net for a franchise that has been dying for exactly that; those have been addressed.
The contract itself poses quite an issue for the Philadelphia Flyers.
According to CapGeek.com, the Flyers have zero salary cap space, although I heard it estimated elsewhere that the actual wiggle room is around $21,000.
Given the previous concerns, the Flyers' best chance to win the Cup may be this year, while Pronger, Timonen, Briere, Jagr and Hartnell are still around.
But, the orange and black have already shown holes.
Fixing these holes becomes an impossibility given the cap space and contract restrictions currently dogging the Flyers.
Clearing Hartnell's $4.2 million cap hit is the most logical step, but, alas, he has a no-trade clause, and it would be impossible to get value for a salary dump. Despite everything he lacks, Hartnell has scored 13 points over the first 15 games and has a +7 rating.
Furthermore, the Flyers will only have an estimated $5 million of cap space next season, despite six players coming off the books, including restricted free agents Jake Voracek and Harry Zolnierczyk, both of whom will receive considerable raises.
So, Paul Holmgren has literally put all of his eggs in the Bryzgalov basket. While the Flyers have shown no qualms dumping players with large commitments (see this past summer) one must wonder how many restarts Ed Snider will allow.
Sergei Bobrovsky was last year's rookie sensation who was put on the back burner after the Flyers failed to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Ilya Bryzgalov was signed in light of the embarrassing goalie carousel that put a spotlight on the piece that has never been addressed after all these years.
Bob was dubbed the goalie of the future both before and after the signing, but given the long-term deal Bryzgalov signed, it is tough to imagine the younger Russian getting much of a chance in Philadelphia.
The previously mentioned cap space issue creates quite a bind for the Flyers.
Bobrovsky has only appeared in four games so far this season, and Bryzgalov has averaged over 64 games a year over the past four seasons.
While Bob is only due $1.75 million this and next season, he is one of the few expendable pieces on this roster with any value.
Eventually, Paul Holmgren will have to move Bobrovsky.
Therein lies the problem.
Bobrovsky is only 23 years old and has already shown flashes of greatness.
His trade will only work out one of two ways. Either the Flyers get some value and win a Stanley Cup, or Bob will be the next great thing.
As a lifelong Philadelphian, I know only extremes, and this one is glowingly obvious as to the potential outcomes.
Bobrovsky's future in the league will ultimately determine the legacy of Paul Holmgren and whether signing Bryzgalov was a panicked overreaction to the ugly end of 2010-11 or a franchise-saving acquisition that brought the city, the fans and Ed Snider what he's been asking for since that beautiful May day in 1975 (or so the pictures have shown me).