Shortly after the Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs, I wrote a piece on the difference in the general perception of Sergei Bobrovsky versus Corey Crawford: the former was denounced as just another mediocre goalie in the Flyers sordid history of puck stopping futility. The latter was hailed as a potential Calder candidate. This despite the fact both players had almost the exact same results during the regular season, with just 0.002 or 0.2% separating their overall save rates in about the same number of games played.
As I noted in the linked piece:
This goes to show how powerfully narratives and expectations can influence analysis. The Flyers on-going lack of an established, celebrated starting goaltender continues to grow and add momentum. It’s become the reason the Flyers “can’t win it all”: nevermind that the club made the Stanley Cup finals with Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton in 2010. And nevermind a number of recent Cup champions have won it all with…less than elite names between the pipes. Philly needs a goaltender. They always need a goaltender.
The narrative moved nearer a resolution yesterday, with Paul Holmgren acquiring the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov for Matt Clackson, a third round pick and future considerations. The intention is obviously to re-sign Bryzgalov before he hits the open market in July 1 and finally get the Flyers the established, elite goalie they need to put them over the top. Or so the story goes.
Let’s first establish that Bryzgalov is indeed a very good goalie. His ES SV% over the last three years has been .931, .932 and .918. Aside from the mediocre 2008-09 season, those are top-5 type save rates. To add further context, the average ES SV% of the top 53 goalies who played in at least 20 games last season was .922.
The issue, of course, isn’t necessarily Bryzgalov’s pedigree: it’s what he will cost the Flyers to retain. Philadelphia currently boasts the most cap-heavy roster in the league, with nearly $59M in space already committed to next season and more than a few free agents to either re-sign or replace (Ville Leino, Nikolai Zherdev, Darrel Powe, Andreas Nodl, Daniel Carcillo, Nick Boynton and Sean O’Donnell). Cramming another contract into the Flyer’s line-up isn’t going to be easy, particularly since Bryzgalov’s salary demands are apparently “off the charts” according to Pierre LeBrun. There’s obviously room for interpretation there, but it’s entirely probable Bryzgalov is looking for north of $5 million per season given LeBrun’s statement and the fact the Coyotes traded him for magic beans rather than continue to negotiate a renewal.
As such, it’s entirely possible that Holmgren will have to liquidate one of his existing bigger tickets in order to shoe-horn Bryzgalov into the Flyers crease. Candidates include Daniel Briere ($6.5M), Mike Richards ($5.75M), Jeff Carter ($5.272M) and Kimmo Timonen ($6.33M). There is also the option of selling off multiple lesser pieces like Scott Hartnell ($4.2M), Kris Versteeg ($3.083M) and Andrej Meszaros ($4.0M) although each player that is subtracted will have to be replaced (likely by a much cheaper, much less capable facsimile). In addition, the demand for their more expendable, bigger contract guys (Timonen, Briere) is probably limited due to their low value-to-cap hit ratio. It’s entirely probable therefore that Philly will have to move one of their valuable centers up front in order sign Bryzgalov.
It seems one way or the other, the Flyers depth is bound to take a big hit should they ink the 30-year old Russian. That is the natural equilibrium effect of the salary cap: spend more in one area, spend less elsewhere. The conundrum for Holmgren and company is whether the investment in Bryzgalov will result in a net gain in goal differential (and therefore wins) going forward given the potential for a significant loss elsewhere in the line-up.
It’s possible to estimate the potential impact, granting a few assumptions. If, for example, Bryzgalov was signed and Jeff Carter traded (and replaced by a minimum-wage, replacement level forward) what would be the potential impact to Philly’s goal differential be?
Let’s assume Bryzgalov will stop 93.0% of the shots he faces at ES next year*. Sergei Bobrovsky was a .923 ES SV% goalie last year, but let’s assume he’d regress a little in his sophomore season and manage a .920 save rate, which is rather mediocre. If we use the 68 games Bryzgalov played last year and the same number of ES shots he faced (1666), the total number of goals he would add to the Flyers bottom-line over and above Bobrobsky is (134-117) +17. Six goals is equivalent to about one win in the standings, so with all things being equal Bryzgalov would be worth an estimated 2.8 wins over and above Bobrovsky next year.
*Special teams save percentages tend to bounce around erratically, so we’ll restirct our inquiry to the relatively more stable ES save rate.
Of course, losing Carter means all things wouldn’t be equal. As one of the Flyers best all-around contributors, Carter is obviously worth a lot to the the club in terms of scoring and driving play against other quality players. Tom Awad’s GVT (goals versus threshold) shows Carter was worth an impressive 16.6 more goals than a replacement level player to Philadelphia last year. Granting the goaltending analysis above, then, Bryzalov’s net addition to the Flyers bottom-line becomes about +0.2 goals in this hypothetical scenario. Or “not a whole lot”.
Of course, the other justification for acquiring the former Phoenix Coyote may be to have a proven performer in the post-season. Bobrovsky certainly struggled for the Flyers in the playoffs with the kid posting a ghastly .877 SV% in six games. Of course, Bryzgalov finished with a .879 save rate in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Wings, which just goes to show that anyone can struggle when it comes to a small sample of games against a good team.
Things may not play out exactly as described here, but the exercise shows just how limited Bryzgalov’s true effect may be should Philly move another significant contributor to get him under contract. Improving their puck stopping probably won’t be worth nothing to be sure, but it’s unlikely to suddenly cure all the Flyers ills and propel them to a Stanley Cup.