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.

Comments (12)

  1. Good peice and I agree with alot of what is analyzed here. However, it should be noted that Carter could fetch a very good return (high pick + legit prospects) from a team in need of a top flight centre… Moving an asset like Carter when the team is already goal happy may be a good move regardless of whether the freed up cash will go to the G position. I think its very important that Philly keeps Leino some how as he can more than handidly replace the loss of Carter over the long term… in my opinion. Interested to see how this plays out… paying Bryz any more than 5.5 would be a grave mistake.

  2. And my Carter for Kipper dream dies a slow death…

    Good read.

  3. [...] than head start at snatching up a player looking for a raise. Paul Holmgren took that risk when he acquired the rights to Ilya Brizgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes for Matt Clackson, a third round pick and future considerations.It’s a risk that Holmgren and [...]

  4. As a Flyers fan since I shot out of the womb, I can’t stand these articles that suggest Philly is making a mistake paying for a legit starter when it means having to subtract some of their depth up front. Your rationales are meaningless. You’re comparing the save percentage Bryzgalov accumulated on a painful Coyotes team against the save percentage Bob put up behind the second deepest (if not deepest) D in the league. Scoring chances and quality of shots have not even been taken into consideration which makes your comparison ludicrous. I like Bob, but since mid-December all three of our starters allowed 1-2 softies per game (and it got worse come playoff time). Not only does that obviously hurt your chance of winning, it’s demotivating and eventually demoralizing for the skaters. Bryzgalov is clutch and more than capable of making the big saves needed to swing momentum. If you can’t comprehend that, you’ve obviously never played a competitive game of hockey in your life! If you don’t think solid goaltending can elevate a team, look no further than the Bruins and Tim Thomas. He’s the main reason the B’s are in the Finals and win or lose he will be rewarded with the Conn Smythe. As for the Flyers – minus Jeff Carter (not even taking into account the much-needed prospects/picks we’d get in return), Philly would still be deeper up front than the B’s and almost every other team in the league. They’d still have a best-in-class D AND one of the top 3 tenders in the league. That has the makings of a championship team written all over it. And if you’re going to knock Bryzgalov’s play this Spring, you should also point out that he did play a role in Anaheim’s Cup, his overall playoff stats are solid, he won a Bronze at the Olympics, a Silver at the World Juniors and a Gold at the World Championships. Plain and simple, he’s been one of the most consistent goalies in the NHL over the past 4 seasons (despite playing for sub-par teams) and he’s delivered when it’s mattered. No matter how deep the Flyers are, I’m tired of cringing every time our opponent skates over our blueline. We need this guy and I’m tired of reading all this negative garbage….

  5. As I said to my friends who are Flyers fans: is the difference between what Bob can develop into and what Bryzgalov is going to be worth another $6million per year contract? Bob’s got two years left on a cheap ($1.75m per) ELC, and they’ll want to focus on keeping a young core together, not continuously bumping against the cap ceiling, over the next couple of years. Let’s save the criticism against a Russian goaltender in his first year in the U.S. and only 22 years old; he’s doing more than what Bryzgalov did at the same age (he wasn’t even in the NHL), and he could get better just as much as he could regress next year.

    @Corey “clutch”, “shot quality”, “you’ve obviously never played a competitive game of hockey in your life” ? Are you kidding me? That’s like a Bartlett’s of unoriginal anti-stats rants.

  6. @Bettman’s Nightmare

    The whole premise of your meaningless post was to defend Bob but then you say ‘he could get better just as much as he could regress next year.’ For the record, I like Bob (and I already said that). I think he’s as quick and as athletic a goalie I can ever recall seeing. And I’m optimistic he’ll be an above-average starting goaltender in the NHL in 3 or 4 years. But as you’ve already alluded to, he could also still end up a bust. Yes, he played phenomenal in October and November, but he was sub-par beyond that. Unlike you, I’m not basing that on stats or heresay or things I’ve read on the internet. His overall season stats were only slightly below average. Not bad for a rookie. But I watched all 82 games this year and he continually got worse as the season wore on. You could argue he was tired. You could argue Philly rushed him (they did). You could argue that shooter’s were simply figuring him out. But the bottom line is that he was nowhere near good enough. Not yet. And given Philly’s mantra of going for the Cup each and every year, he is not the guy to get the job done. I don’t know who you cheer for, but you certainly sound patient and complacent. I’m not. Philly fans are not. And if you can’t understand my rationale about Bryzgalov facing tougher shots last season then Bobrovsky, you’re an idiot. But throw up your ridiculous handle and continue to police random hockey blogs raising your un-passionate, ignorant and irrelevant opinion. Nerds like you bore me to death!

  7. First off, stop trolling. Second, you are basing your argument on stats more than you think. Third, as a Rangers fan, I’d like nothing more than for you guys to saddle yourselves with cap issues for the next two years and sign Bryzgalov to an expensive contract; it would also be pretty sweet to see you make a good young goaltender either stew on the bench or try to slip him through waivers (good luck with that) and send him down.

  8. ‘Stop trolling’ says the Rangers fan after he initiates cheap shots towards a Flyers fan who was minding his own business and commenting on a story about the Flyers. I can just picture your pimply little pasty face as you make smug Bartlett’s references while trying to discern the difference between stats and facts. What a tool. And you’re defending a player you clearly know very little about other than the media hype you bought into during the opening quarter of the season. Sure, Bob’s lateral movement, quickness and flexibility are second to none (and he’s got a pretty solid glove-hand as well). But he’s WAY too predictable, drops on virtually every shot directed his way, consistently over-commits and gets easily pulled out of position, constantly loses awareness of his net, hasn’t developed the mental fortitude to play in the NHL, lacks the endurance to play 82 games let alone the playoffs and is the worst puck handler I’ve ever seen. In terms of stats, his 2.59 GAA ranked him 32nd among goalies who played 10+ games while his .915 save % ranked him 30th among goalies who played 10+ games. Not good enough. And especially not when you consider he played behind Pronger, Timonen, Meszaros, Coburn, Carle and O’Donnell (not to mention stud forwards like Richards, Giroux, Betts, Leino and Nodl). That said, for the third time I like Bob and believe Jeff Reese will tap has potential. He may even evolve into an elite NHL goalie, but it’s not a given and it definitely won’t happen next season. So back to my original post, Flyers fans have bitched about our goaltending for 12 years. It’s been a weakness and it’s been a distraction. Quality stoppers ain’t cheap, and now that we’re on the verge of signing one of the top five tenders in the league, we’ve gone into full panic mode. This is the right move and I’m tired of hearing us whine about it. And leave it to a Rangers fan to stir the pot and make us feel like we’re making a mistake. Chris Drury was a mistake. Sean Avery was a mistake. Bryan McCabe was a mistake. Wade Redden was a mistake. Etc, etc….

  9. [...] Flyers rushing to address their goaltending situation in advance of free agency season by trading for Ilya Bryzgalov’s negotiating rights, now is a perfect time to take a look at the goaltending landscape with an emphasis on unrestricted [...]

  10. @corey

    I agree with a lot of what you say. You are also not accounting for losing carter. Not only do you lose carter’s goal scoring, you lose his size defense and affect on other players. Also I know the comparison in this article is off becuse of difference in teams and so on. Look at Brygalov ‘s playoffs he stunk this year. People keep saying we have great defense when where did they finish in team defense 10th-12th un their. Bryzgalov had one real good playoffs against the avs and the rest were average. Is that worth strapping your team? Not too mention they will have to replace a good two way forward with a rookie. Who knows if they can resign leino too so that another loss. I agree we need a goalie. I am just mot sold on strapping the team and weaking the core. Who knows if bryzgalov can deal with philly he has been only in a small markets. IMO they Flyers still lose this year with BRYZ in net.

  11. @Fran

    Good dialogue. As for Carter, I threw him in as he’s the biggest rumor out there in terms of a player leaving though I believe Homer doesn’t want to move him. That said, if he is the guy to go, IMO he’s not irreplaceable. First in terms of depth down the middle, we’d still be left with Giroux, Briere, Richards and Betts. Solid. In terms of top six forwards, we’d still have Giroux, Briere, Richards, JVR, Hartnell and Versteeg (and/or Leino if we can sign him and/or Nodl who I believe will pot 20 in this league). And let’s entertain the Columbus rumor whereby we’d get Voracek and the 8th overall pick this year, and suddenly we’d have another serviceable top-6 forward in Voracek and a decent prospect for the near future. Build a decent checking line around Betts (Sestito? Powe? UFA?) and we’d still be left with an elite group of forwards. I’d be concerned about losing Carter’s size if he actually used it to his advantage. He doesn’t.

    In terms of our D, I still believe our top 5 are second-to-none (Vancouver may have more depth but I’d take Pronger, Timonen or Meszaros over anyone on their backend). Slide Gustafsson into the 6th spot (he’d be cheap and he’s earned it) and we’d still have an elite group of defenseman. Your point about the team D is well-taken, but goaltenders obviously play a HUGE role there. And I find the fact that we finished 11th overall in GA amazing given that Bobrovsky probably wouldn’t have been a starter on any other team, Boucher definitely wouldn’t have been a starter on any other team (and wouldn’t even be a backup on at least 12 teams), and Leighton…well… Seriously, we were the only team in the league not to record a shutout last year despite a number of games where we should have. Our goalies found a way to allow a head-scratching goal in every single game.

    Say what you will about Bryz (but for that matter, what has Jeff Carter ever done in the playoffs???), but he’d be a great mentor for Bob and I think he’d win the Vezina next season in the Orange & Black. His numbers don’t lie, he’s still in his prime and he’s been a champion at all levels. I’m not worried about 4 bad games this postseason behind an over-matched club dealing with off-ice distractions. Plain and simple, Phoenix wouldn’t even have made it to the dance without him (and they certainly won’t next year). He’s top five in the league right now and he won’t come cheap. Look no further than the Bruins to see the effect a goalie can have on a team. He is single-handedly carrying that team right now. I’d sacrifice a forward for that!

  12. [...] Bryzgalov is still the best goalie to step between the Flyers’ pipes in years. Of course, he isn’t the solution to all of the team’s problems, but having a stable goaltender in net will go a long way for the team. Just knowing you have [...]

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