For the Philadelphia Flyers, the position of goaltender has always been an entertaining one. With the likes of Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh and Ron Hextall, the Flyers have had their fair share of talent in between the pipes during their 46-season history. But the last 15 years have been entertaining in a different way, much the way people watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians. It’s been a train wreck.
The Same Old Situation…
The goaltending controversy in Philadelphia is a story that feels like a bad rerun – every time it looks like the Flyers have found that franchise goaltender, it blows up in their face. Sometimes players, for whatever reason, couldn’t take the pressure and fizzled out, others were simply bit by the injury bug and the rest were either cast aside too early or a quick-fix to save money on the free agent market.
Well, early Tuesday afternoon Philadelphia added a new chapter to that story, when it announced plans to amnesty goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov next month. The Flyers must pay the 33-year-old Russian netminder $23 million in order to send him packing – but is it the right move?
For years Flyers fans have been urging the orange and black to spend money on a high-caliber goaltender and every season the team went a different route, hindering its ability to build a winner. It was then, in 2011, that owner Ed Snider made an executive decision – which he has since denied – to sign the best free agent goaltender on the market, which just happened to be Bryzgalov.
The Flyers inked the Phoenix Coyotes goaltender – a finalist for the Vezina Trophy two seasons earlier – to a monstrous nine-year, $51 million contract, making him one of the highest paid players at his position. It was a steep price to pay for the best available player but finally the Flyers had their guy.
Fast forward two seasons later and suddenly the mouthy, yet often misunderstood goaltender has unfairly become the scapegoat for a franchise struggling to find an identity and a direction.
Bryzgalov was definitely overpaid when he was brought in, but sometimes that’s what has to be done in order to get the best available player. The contract often affected the fans’ perception of him. There aren’t too many goaltender’s who could perform up to that contract and while he didn’t break any records or stand on his head during his tenure, the blame shouldn’t be put entirely on his shoulders.
Let’s start with the defense. Over the last two seasons the Flyers have given up an average of 28.5 shots per game, which is about in the middle of the pack with the rest of the league. After missing out on Shea Weber last offseason, the Flyers scrambled to find a replacement, settling on Luke Schenn and with the loss of Matt Carle, Schenn and the aging Kimmo Timonen were forced to play big time minutes. For much of the season the remainder of the defense – other than Braydon Coburn – was a revolving door, thanks to injuries. At times the defense looked lost, forcing turnovers in the defensive zone and struggling to get the puck through the neutral zone – whether it was because of outlet passes and puck carrying. It’s no wonder the team is eying a defenseman with the 11th overall pick in this week’s draft.
One other major component working against Bryzgalov was the lack of support. Philadelphia basically had no back up last year as the Russian started 40 of the shortened 48 game season, which was crammed into a shorter amount of time. Bryzgalov has been known to carry the load but that kind of load would begin to wear any goaltender down by the time April rolled around.
On April 3 Philadelphia traded for Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Steve Mason. Mason started six games for his new team, at which point Bryzgalov began to play better. He played in just four of the final 10 games – three starts were against playoffs bound teams – but did not allow more than three goals in any start, looking more like a goaltender trying to earn that expensive paycheck.
It was certainly the second average season for Bryzgalov, who finished the year 19-17-0-3 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Could it have just been difficult for the opinionated, oddball goaltender to transition from a small market to a large market – perhaps?
Who is Next for Philadelphia?
Flyers fans must now sit back and figure out who will be the next potential goaltender, and while all signs point to a much cheaper replacement in Steve Mason – who has failed to be anything but mediocre since his rookie season in 2008-09 – general manager Paul Holmgren could have another trick up his sleeve. Will the change of scenery do Mason well – maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Mike Smith and Roberto Luongo have both been mentioned as potential targets by the Flyers, since anything is possible in the city of brotherly love.
However, sending Bryzgalov packing is a move that will prove to be a mistake in the next two or three seasons and Flyers fans certainly won’t be pleased if he has success in another city and proves the Flyers wrong.