Could Ilya Bryzgalov become a Toronto Maple Leaf this summer? The media speculation has already begun.
Lyle Richardson (also known as Spector) wrapped up articles by Damien Cox and Adam Proteau on the subject this way:
If Bryzgalov is available this summer Burke should absolutely pursue him and lock him up for at least three seasons. Yes, Reimer has shown plenty of promise in his short tenure with the Leafs, but I agree with Cox that it wouldn’t be a smart gamble on Burke’s part returning with Reimer as the starting goalie next season. If Bryzgalov isn’t available, Tomas Vokoun could be, and if he’s unavailable Dwayne Roloson, Jose Theodore and Ty Conklin would also make affordable, short-term investments, with Reimer in the backup role. If the Islanders don’t attempt to retain Evgeni Nabokov next season he might also be a good option, as could Ray Emery.
I suspect that probably reflects the consensus of Leafs fans. James Reimer has had a strong season, but he has a short track record and it would be a risky bet to assume that he’s ready to run with the ball he has so ably carried to date.
Is Ilya Bryzgalov the answer?
As much as I would like to disagree with Adam Proteau and Damien Cox, I can’t argue the fact that Bryzgalov is a legitimate star goaltender. In three of the last four seasons, he has a save percentage of 0.920, and over his career has a very good 0.915 SV%. He and Tomas Vokoun are clearly the class of this summer’s free agent crop.
However, despite Cox’s contention that “goaltending matters more than any other position,” goaltending has never mattered less than it does now. Virtually every team has a quality goaltender, and despite that quality goaltenders abound. Despite all that quality, last year’s Stanley Cup finals featured waiver-wire selection Michael Leighton and soon-to-be summer castoff Antti Niemi. The Detroit Red Wings have employed nobodies in net for years. An elite starter isn’t a necessity.
This isn’t an argument against signing Bryzgalov – this is an argument against giving Bryzgalov lots of money and many, many years. The market has changed, and the Leafs aren’t in a position where they need to go crazy trying to add a goaltender. They can add one of the other names that Richardson mentions, play him in tandem with James Reimer, and reassess next summer.
In short: yes, the Leafs should look at Ilya Bryzgalov. If they can sign him for a reasonable – not a cheap, simply not excessive – contract, they should do it. If they can’t, they should avoid overpaying, sign one of the other 300 goaltenders out there, and see what happens/